Goldberg, Marshall "Biggie" : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Goldberg, Marshall "Biggie"

Goldberg, who earned the nickname 'Biggie' as a child because he could play football with boys much older than he, was an All-America at the University of Pittsburgh before enjoying an outstanding professional career with the Chicago Cardinals. Marshall led Pitt to the Rose Bowl title in 1936 and to the National Championship the following year. He then played in the NFL for eight seasons and was considered the greatest defensive back of his time.

During his career, Goldberg earned the praises of sportswriters, teammates, and coaches. Ave Daniell, an All-America tackle at Pitt in 1936, said, "Marshall Goldberg was a winner by nature. He was an elusive runner-like Tony Dorsett in his prime -- and he was a good blocker -- something Dorsett couldn't say because the system didn't call for him to block. Like Tony, Marshall had natural instincts; he was born with it. They don't coach that kind of football."

Goldberg's coach at Pitt, Hall of Famer Jock Sutherland said, "Marshall is a football player's player. He's the first fellow on the practice field and the last one off. He was one of the finest backs I ever saw on any college team, and just about the best I ever coached." Biggie himself said of his football career, "I don't like to live in the past and talk about my athletic accomplishments all the time. I prefer to live in the present. I'm more proud of my accomplishments off the field. To me, playing sports should be a stepping stone to a career. It's not an end in itself."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. October 24, 1917 - d. April 3, 2006

Career Highlights:
Goldberg was a West Virginia high school legend, captaining his football, basketball, and track teams, and being selected All-State in each sport. Although rumors had him attending Notre Dame, Goldberg decided to play at the University of Pittsburgh instead. A natural lefthanded passer and kicker, he was converted into a righthander by Pitt coach Jock Sutherland. In 1936, Biggie became one of the few sophomores to start at Pitt and was an instant success.

In the first game of the 1936 season against Ohio Wesleyan, Biggie scored two touchdowns, one on a 76-yard run. In the fifth game of the year, however, Goldberg rose to national prominence. He carried the ball 22 times for 117-yards and led the Panthers in a 26-0 demolishing of previously undefeated Notre Dame.

Following the game, Grantland Rice wrote, "No one who saw that game will ever forget Goldberg. He smashed the Irish line, lanced the Irish ends, drove the Irish almost frantic, so that more than once they took time out to catch their breath - which was easier than catching Goldberg -- and to try to devise some means of stopping him." Pitt finished the season with a record of 7-1-1 and then defeated Washington in the Rose Bowl, 21-0; they won partial share of the national championship. That year, Biggie gained 866 yards rushing, scored six touchdowns, and was named Grantland Rice All-America honorable mention.

In 1937, Biggie had another outstanding season as he led the Panthers in passing and rushing (701 yards) and scoring 5 touchdowns. He also starred on defense and led the team in interceptions. Goldberg helped pace the Panthers to a record of 9-0-1 and the consensus national championship. That season, Biggie was the winner of the first Walter Camp Award, as well as Grantland Rice, AP, UP, and INS All-America first team; he also finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

The Associated Press wrote, "Goldberg, the climax runner and sparkplug of the powerful Pitt array...Pittsburgh has a wealth of fine backs but only one Goldberg. The big Jewish boy for two years has paced the most ferocious offense in the United States. Coaches say that he is the fastest man they have observed in years. But Biggie is not only a hard-driving deceptive runner, especially dangerous off the tackles or around the ends. He is a good blocker, hard-hitting on the defensive, and plays the safety spot."

In 1938, Biggie voluntarily switched from halfback to fullback -- against the initial advice of his coach --and Pitt's famed "Dream Backfield" was born. That season, he adjusted well to his new position, scoring seven touchdowns and gaining 375 yards and Pitt had a record of 8-2-0. Biggie was named Grantland Rice, AP, UP, and INS All-America first team at fullback, and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. Rice said of Goldberg, "...has been a great halfback and Jock Sutherland rates him just as great a fullback...No one who ever played loves the game better."

Goldberg played in the 1939 East-West Shrine Bowl but maybe his highest praise came from coach Sutherland at the end of the season when he said, "If I had a son, I would want my boy to have all the fine traits of Marshall Goldberg." When he graduated, Biggie held all of Pitt's rushing records including total rushing yards with 1,957 (still eighth all-time in school history).

In 1939, Biggie was selected in the second round (12th overall) by the Chicago Cardinals in the NFL Draft. The Cardinals, one of the worst teams in the league, were not immediately helped by their new backfield star. With little help on offense, Biggie and the Cardinals struggled to a combined record of 9-42-3 from 1939-1943. Biggie, however, showed that he was equally marvelous playing defense and became the best defensive back in the league. In 1941, he led the league with seven interceptions. He also led the league in kickoff return average with 24.2 (12 returns for 290 yards).

In 1942, Biggie again led the league in kickoff average with 26.2 (15 returns for 393 yards with one touchdown). After serving in the Navy in 1944 and 1945, Goldberg returned to the Cardinals in 1946; that year, they improved slightly to 6-5-0. In 1947, the Cardinals finally gave Biggie support and fielded a championship team with a dominant offensive line and a new "Dream Backfield." Biggie showed his willingness to win when Cardinals coach Jimmy Conzelman asked him to forego running the ball in lieu of the other backs. Despite laboring for years with the lowly Cardinals, Biggie did not lament the personal sacrifice of allowing others to run behind a powerful offensive line. One critic called Biggie the most valuable 'member' of the Dream Backfield because he got the others the ball (as a tremendous defensive back). After hurting his knee in mid-season, Biggie played exclusively on defense and the Cardinals had a record of 9-3-0, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Championship game, 28-21; it was the franchise's first championship in 22 years.

Following the 1947 season, Biggie intended to retire, but was persuaded by teammates to remain with the club. In 1948, Goldberg played exclusively on defense (he was named defensive back All-Pro for the third consecutive year) and the Cardinals finished the regular season with the best record in the league (11-1-0). In the Championship, though, they lost to the Eagles, 7-0. Biggie retired following the season, still considered the best defensive back in the league; he played in a total of 77 career NFL games.

After retiring, Goldberg said, "Football taught me to look for and expect only victory. It also taught me singleness of purpose, poise, competitiveness, the ability to get along with others and the ability to sacrifice." A member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Goldberg was named by Sports Illustrated to the 1930s "College Football Team of the Decade."

In 1958, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1987, when the University of Pittsburgh celebrated its 200th anniversary, Biggie was honored with a Bicentennial Medallion for his contributions to the school. Biggie was also named to the Cardinals All-Century Team.

Elkins, West Virginia

Career Dates:
Goldberg played halfback and fullback at the University of Pittsburgh from 1936-1938. He played as a halfback, fullback, and defensive back in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals from 1939-1943 and from 1946-1948.

Physical description:
5'11", 183 pounds

Career Statistics:
In the NFL:
Games: 77

Passes attempted: 8
Passes completed: 28
Passing percentage: 28.6
Passing yards:115
Passing touchdowns: 1
Interceptions thrown: 3

Rushes: 476
Rushing yards:1644
Rushing average: 3.5
Rushing touchdowns: 11

Receptions: 60
Receiving yards: 775
Receiving average: 12.9
Receiving touchdowns: 5

Interceptions: 19

Kick returns: 34
Kick return yards: 844
Kick return average: 24.8

Punt returns: 21
Punt return yards: 259
Punt return average: 12.3

Punt yards: 47

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Also, read a chapter from The Jew in American Sports by Harold U. Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow

encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
Great Jews in Sports, by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football edited by David L. Porter (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987)
The Encyclopedia of Football, by Roger Treat (New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1976 -- 14th Edition)
Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League, edited by Bob Carroll, Michael Gershman, David Neft, and John Thorn (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999)