Long before he became a well-known actor, Ed Marinaro was first and foremost an athlete. He was the talk of college football in 1971 when he led the nation in rushing at Cornell, bringing national attention to the Ivy League through an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
During his career, he appeared in the 1974, 1976 and 1977 Topps sets and also had a card in the 1976 Crane Potato Chips disc set and a 1977 TCMA issue. He’s also been part of some post-career football sets. We recently talked with him about what he saved from his dual careers, autographs and collecting as a kid. He also joined us for an edition of Card Back Q&A:
Tony Reid-Your 1974 Topps rookie card, like many of your early cards do, mention your incredible college statistics, including setting 17 NCAA records during your time at Cornell. Your career, especially your magical senior season, was one for the record books. When you hear some of those numbers or some of those stories, what are your thoughts about that time in your life today?
Ed Marinaro– With those kind of statistics, no one ever plans on doing that. I was pretty heavily recruited out of high school to play football and basketball. I never thought I would ever achieve those kind of statistics. I was lucky to play for a team that played an offense that suited my skillset. Back then, we played freshman football and the varsity team was running a whole different offense my freshman year. They changed it between my freshman and sophomore year. They went into a Deep I formation where I was in a two point stance and they would give me the ball four or five yards behind the line of scrimmage and I could pick where I wanted to go or they pitched it to me. I averaged about 40 carries a game and never got hurt, which is amazing when you think about it. Now, in pro or college ball, no one plays every down. Back then I played every down.
The fact that I was able to survive that and not get injured is pretty remarkable. It was a very heady time. It all happened really quickly. I went from a relatively obscure player at an Ivy League college to by my fourth varsity game I was Sports Illustrated Back of the Week. It was crazy. I broke all of the Ivy League rushing records in the fourth game of my college career.
TR-In 1987 TCMA produced a card set that featured a card of you that mentioned you finishing as a runner up to Pat Sullivan for the Heisman Trophy in 1972. How special was it to receive that level of recognition for your amazing senior football season?
EM-Honestly, it would have been nice to win but I think when you win the Heisman Trophy it can really become a burden on you, moving forward in life. It forces you to live in the past. I wasn’t thinking that at the time but as I reflect back, winning the Heisman Trophy is kind of an annuity. You can make a living being an ex-Heisman Trophy winner. I couldn’t rely in that, so it motivated me to do other things in life. There are certainly Heisman winners that are uber successful like the Roger Staubachs of the world.
It was a different time. The market today is just loaded with football players. Every place you turn there is an athlete promoting something. It’s kind of a saturated market right now.
TR–In 2005 Topps produced an All American set, paying homage to college football greats. On the back it shares some staggering numbers such as your average of 175 rushing yards per game, your incredible 10 200 yard games and the fact that in 1971 you averaged 209 yards per game. I don’t even know what my question is but to see and hear those numbers is amazing.
EM-Looking back at it, I was durable and took a lot of shots but that was probably one of my better qualities. Just gaining all of those yards when they knew what was coming, they knew I was going to carry 40 times. I carried 47 times two times in my career. It wasn’t hard to scout us they just had to stop me. It is a tribute to how good my team was back then. We had a really good team. We had a lot of really great athletes playing offensive line in front of me. They were the unsung heroes. I was lucky, I had three really good fullbacks during my career.
It was fun. I have a lot of friends who I played with who I am still friends with that take a lot of pride in what we did as a team and in what I did. Being an Ivy Leaguer, I think a lot of people questioned my statistics and my success because I was playing in the Ivy League but I went on and had a six year NFL career which would have been longer if I didn’t get hurt. A lot of guys come from much bigger schools than Cornell that never make it in the NFL. You can’t really judge people like that. I wouldn’t change anything.