[With 29 days until the start of training camp, Redskins.com intern Chris DeLisi looks back at the career of safety Mark Murphy. Murphy’s quest from undrafted free agent to Super Bowl champion is one of the best stories in franchise history.]
As the Washington Redskins prepare to start the 81st season in franchise history, training camp will be the first opportunity for rookie defensive backs David Amerson, Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo to see live competition against a full squad.
While safety remains a question for the Burgundy and Gold in terms of who will be part of the starting 11, Rambo may be the biggest underdog of them all.
Keeping an eye on a longshot, No. 29 safety wouldn’t be new to Redskins Nation. Just 36 years ago, undrafted rookie Mark Murphy battled the same odds.
While few predicted that Murphy would make any NFL team, almost no one expected him to be enshrined into the team’s prestigious 80 Greatest Redskins years later.
Murphy began his football career as a non-scholarship defensive back at Colgate University in upstate New York. After earning a starting gig and being one of the best players in the school history, Murphy decided to try his hand in the draft.
At the 1977 NFL Draft, Murphy patiently waited for his name to be called, but after the Minnesota Vikings selected University of Colorado running back Jim Kelleher with the 335th pick, the safety found himself without a home.
Even though they had taken safety Don Harris in the 11th round, the Redskins were interested in the former Raiders star and invited him to our Nation’s Capital for a tryout. Despite playing without a guaranteed contract like his drafted teammates, Murphy impressed the coaching staff with his ball skills and was offered a spot on the team.
Regardless of his background, Murphy was joining a secondary headlined by Hall of Famer Ken Houston. With Houston and Jake Scott (who was the Miami Dolphins leader in interceptions for the only team in NFL history to go undefeated), the Burgundy and Gold had perhaps the best safety paring in the NFL. However, after a nine-year career, Scott decided to retire at the end of the 1978.
After having finished in the top-10 in overall defense the last two years, head coach Jack Pardee knew what he had in Murphy and anointed him as Scott’s replacement.
In the Redskins first win of the 1979 season, No. 29 snagged his first career interception off of Detroit Lions quarterback Jeff Komlo. It was one of three interceptions on the year for him.
Entering the 1982 campaign, Murphy was the Redskins longest tenured defensive back for a team that was starting several new players on the defensive side of the pigskin. Despite a lockout in the middle of season, Murphy wasn’t affected by the time off and helped lead the Burgundy and Gold to their NFC East title in eight years.
After outscoring the Lions, Vikings and Cowboys in the NFC portion of the playoff bracket by a combined score of 83-31, the Redskins had their ticket punched for a rematch with the Miami Dolphins—a team that had defeated them just 10 years earlier in their first Super Bowl appearance.
Late in the third quarter of their Super Bowl XVII matchup, Murphy made one of the greatest plays in Redskins history.
The Dolphins were marching down the field leading the game 17-13 and looking to extend their lead. After working the ball deep into Redskins territory, it seemed almost certain that Miami was going to make it a two possession game. Murphy, however, intercepted a David Woodley pass on the Redskins’ five yard line.
It was the only interception the Redskins would record in their first Super Bowl victory.
Despite playing only 15 games during the 1983 season, Murphy brought back memories of the ball-hawking Houston with an NFL-high nine interceptions and his only Pro Bowl selection.
After 109 appearances and 74 starts, Murphy retired in 1984 with 27 interceptions and a Super Bowl ring.
While the majority of players enter the “real world” after hanging up the pads, Murphy’s football career was just getting started.
After spending 15 years as athletic director of both Colgate and Northwestern University, he landed the position of CEO of the Green Bay Packers. In 2011, Murphy became the first person to win a Super Bowl as both a player and a CEO in the NFL.
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