A dark cloud during the Jets Legends Community Weekend activities came with word that one of the community's own, former cornerback/kick returner/special teamer Marshall Starks, died recently. Starks, 77, passed away July 31 in his hometown of Rockford, IL.
Starks (uniform No. 25 in the front row of the 1964 Jets team photo above) was noted for two things as a member of the first team named the New York Jets in 1963: his determination to beat the odds in making the Green & White roster, and one historic play in his second game as a pro.
The play was Starks' 97-yard touchdown return of a missed George Blanda field goal try in the Jets' home-opening 24-17 win over the Houston Oilers on Sept. 22, 1963, at the old Polo Grounds. The play-by-play from that game describes the last play of the first half this way:
*Blanda attempts field goal from N44. Kick short, bounces at N29, picked up by Starks on N3, up middle to N40, cuts to left and dashes down sideline for 97 yards and touchdown. Last defender, Smith, blocked out by [Dainard] Paulson at H15.
*Missed field goal returns for TDs are among the rarest of NFL plays. Starks' return was at the time the ninth in NFL history and is one of 19 in league history and one of only two in Jets annals. The other missed FG return came 35 years later when Aaron Glenn went 104 yards at Indianapolis in 1998.
As for the longshot angle, Starks came to the Jets as a first-year free agent after the
St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the eighth round of the NFL's 1961 draft, then waived him in August that year. Frank Ramos, the Jets' longtime public relations director, set the stage for Starks during a break in today's Legends activities.
"We had 125 players come to training camp — could you imagine that today?" Ramos recalled. "And Weeb Ewbank used to say we had three teams: one coming, one going, and one here. You only had 33 players on a team and a small taxi squad and that was it. Marsh Starks was a free agent. He made the roster, then he made the New York Times 'man of the day in sports' for his return. And the best thing I can say about him was that he was a really good guy."
Starks played in 18 games as a Jet, compiling one interception, 26 kickoff returns for a 20.0-yard average and eight punt returns for a 5.4 average. His career came to a painful end in Game 4 of the '64 season on a return after a muffed punt when he was hit by three Raiders and suffered a broken leg.
Starks' family is organizing a memorial service for late next month.