Jim Marshall told the pardons board that he was seeking the pardon because he wanted to restore his good name. He also said his drug conviction has prevented him from traveling abroad for the nonprofit he co-founded, for which he campaigns against drug use by young people.
The pardons board, which consists of Governor Pawlenty, Attorney General Lori Swanson and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Russell Anderson, unanimously voted to scrub Marshall's drug conviction.
Marshall declined to be interviewed after the hearing. His attorney, Ron Meshbesher, said he didn't think the pardon would change Marshall's life dramatically. Meshbesher said it was more of a personal matter for Marshall.
I'm nothing without Jim Marshall.Former Vikings coach, Bud Grant
"I think it's just something that makes him feel better personally. He feels like his name has been restored," said Meshbesher. "As a practical matter, I don't think it will affect his life very much. Hopefully if he is considered for the Hall of Fame, they'll recognize this pardon."
Marshall, who is now 70, so far has been denied entry into the Hall of Fame despite starting a record 282 straight games for the Browns and Vikings.
Marshall played for the Vikings from 1961 until 1979. He was one of the Vikings' legendary "purple people eaters" that went to and lost four Super Bowls in the 1970s. The team retired his number 1990 and he is second in quarterback sacks in Vikings history.
Former Vikings Coach Bud Grant testified in support of Marshall's pardon. He told the board that Marshall was "the face of the Vikings."
"If I could help in any way, that would be the least I can do for all he's done for us and for me," said Grant. "Remember, coaches reflect what players do. I'm nothing without Jim Marshall."
Grant also said he hoped the pardon would help Marshall get elected to the NFL Hall of Fame. He noted that other players with longer rap sheets, such as former New York Giant Lawrence Taylor, have already been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Sandy Keith also wrote a letter of support on Marshall's behalf.
Marshall says he has been drug free since his 1991 conviction. Marshall received a four-year prison sentence for the crime, which was stayed. He completed probation in 1996.
Governor Pawlenty said Marshall's work and remorse were reasons enough to pardon Marshall. He said Marshall's history as a Viking had little to do with the decision.
"In this case, we set aside things, like somebody is an ex-Viking, and look at the merits. On the merits, this was the kind of case we would have granted a pardon for whether they were a Viking or worked in South St. Paul or worked anywhere else," the governor said. Eight other people received pardons for offenses ranging from burglary to forgery.