He had a trademark appearance years before having a signature look became popular. Former Packers safety Mark Murphy is still recognized by fans whenever he’s at Lambeau Field for his clean scalp, and it isn’t the result of a razor.
“When I got to Green Bay, a reporter said I shaved my head to stand out,” Murphy said with a laugh. “Not true. I don’t have a choice. I have Alopecia, and all that means is my body attacks the hair follicles, so I haven’t had hair since I was nine. It became synonymous with who I am. I love when I come to Green Bay. I take off my hat and people say, ‘Hey, it’s Mark.’”
Murphy’s also remembered by Packers fans as a hard-hitting defender that paced the team in tackles three times and also led the club in interceptions in 1988 and tied for the team lead in ’90 and ’91. He played both safety spots and started 122 games after being signed as an undrafted free agent in ’80, and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1997.
Of course, he shares his name with Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy, who was an NFL safety for the Washington Redskins during the same time period.
“It’s funny, when he was playing for the Redskins, I’d get his football cards sent to me and his insurance forms,” the former Packer said. “Mark was one of the marquee guys in the NFL. He was a player representative in the NFLPA and the media would call me for quotes and I’d tell them they have the wrong guy. Even now I get his cards and letters, and he gets the same for me. There are some mix-ups.”
When he signed with the Packers out of West Liberty, a Division II school in West Virginia with under 3,000 students, he was an unknown quantity with zero experience in man-to-man coverage. Murphy started to turn a few heads with his hustle and briefly felt good about his chances.
“I got into training camp and I had a couple of good scrimmages and I started to think things were falling in place, that I might have a shot here,” he said. “The first preseason game was in Canton (Ohio), my hometown. I was running down on the opening kickoff and I wanted to make the tackle. I got drilled and I ended up breaking my wrist. I thought I broke both of my wrists.”
Murphy was immediately put on injured reserve and he now describes that as the best thing that could have happened for his NFL career. It gave him a year to grow as a player and understand the speed of the pro game after making such a huge leap in level of competition. In ’81, he was voted the Packers rookie of the year after recording three interceptions.
He went on to have a solid career, his best year, perhaps, being ’88, when Murphy led the club with five interceptions and recovered four fumbles. Though he missed all of ’86 with a stress fracture in his left foot, he finished with 20 interceptions, a touchdown return, 13 fumble recoveries and 11 sacks.
“A lot of people had their own philosophy on how they approached things, but after making the team as an undrafted free agent, I was always uncomfortable,” Murphy said. “I always thought everyone was working hard in the offseason, so I pushed myself harder. I never bought a house in Green Bay because I didn’t want to get too comfortable. I didn’t want to take anything for granted.”
His best memory as a player was the ’89 season, when the Packers finished 10-6 and won four games by a single point. Despite finishing second in the NFC Central, Green Bay did not advance to the playoffs. Murphy played for the Packers until ’91, and the following season ushered in the Mike Holmgren era. By ’93, Green Bay was a perennial playoff contender.
“That 10-6 season was nice,” Murphy said. “We upset some good teams; we won at San Francisco. We knew we could play with anyone that year. What was frustrating looking back is there were a lot of years when we were on the cusp. Free agency might have been big for us. I missed a lot of playoff teams. That would have been nice.”
Murphy retired and went into coaching at Malone College in Canton before moving on to the University of Akron, where he became the defensive backs coach. The staff took over a struggling program and Murphy loved the position and his responsibilities, but he had four children and was either coaching or on the road recruiting most of the time, so he took a job at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Canton.
“I loved working with the higher athlete and coaching was a great learning experience for me, but I had to make a decision,” he said. “I was only seeing my kids once or twice a week. My plan was to get out of college coaching for a year or two. Now 16 years later, here I am at St. Vincent-St. Mary. I still help coach football with kids and I’m assistant dean of students.”
Murphy’s son, Mark Jr., is a sophomore at Indiana University. Like his dad when he was with the Packers, he wears No. 37. As a freshman in 2011, Murphy started three games at linebacker, six at safety, finished second on the team in tackles and added a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“When he was growing up, he would go to bed watching my old game tapes,” Murphy said. “Current players he wouldn’t know, but he could tell you all the starters on the defense from my era. He’s a huge fan. I’ll always feel like the Packers are a part of my history.”
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