Minnesota Vikings: Looking Back at The Legendary Purple People Eaters

Andy RAnalyst IApril 24, 2009

Ask any Vikings' fan who their favorite Vikings' player of all time is and more than likely, they'll choose any player from the most dominating defensive lines the NFL has ever seen: Jim Marshall, Carl Eller, Alan Page, and probably less likely, Gary Larsen.

What did all these players have in common?

They are the only defensive line to have all four starters go to the Pro Bowl in the same year! That year happened to be 1969.

What made them so dominant? The fact that over their careers, the Vikings credit them with over 447.5 sacks is a good indicator.

All time greats like Johny Unitas and Bart Starr called those Purple People Eaters the best pass rushers they'd ever seen.

Of the four legendary Purple People Eaters, two are in the Hall of Fame. Those two being Carl Eller who was inducted in 2004 and Alan Page in 1988.

The year 1975 was a historic one for the NFL. It was the first time ever that a team led the league in total defense, pass defense, and rush defense. Only one other team, the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles have accomplished that feat.

The only problem with 1975 is the fact that Gary Larsen retired the year before, missing out on such a historic year.

Larsen will never be called by Canton, but he was one of the best run stuffing defensive tackles in the NFL. He is an ex-marine who made a living destroying running backs instead of quarterbacks.

He is the least known of the four. He played all but one year, his rookie year, for the Vikings. He was voted to two Pro Bowls, one in 1968 and the other in 1969.

Jim Marshall is known throughout the NFL nation as the best player ever not to be inducted in the National Football League Hall of Fame. It's one thing that has angered not only Vikings' fans, but NFL fans from all over. Many critics use the fact that he was only voted to two Pro Bowls as an excuse for him not being in the Hall of Fame.

Marshall holds several NFL records. He currently holds the records for most career fumble recoveries (30), consecutive games played* (over 300 counting playoffs), consecutive games started (270), and shortest play in NFL history (-66 yards).

If you are unaware of what exactly happened, Marshall picked up a fumble and ran 66 yards for what he thought was a touchdown. He didn't know any better because fans were screaming loud like they normally do on a big play.

There is one big difference though. They weren't screaming for joy, they were actually screaming "WRONG WAY!" Marshall threw the ball in the air and it landed out of bounds. The result was a safety for -66 yards!

The Vikings credit Marshall with 127 sacks. They didn't become an official stat until well after Marshall had already retired. His number 70 jersey has been retired by the Minnesota Vikings.

The Honorable Alan Page was the leader of the Purple People Eaters. The Vikings drafted him with the 15th overall pick in the 1967 NFL Draft. Throughout his luxurious 15-year career, the Vikings credit him with more than 148.5 total sacks.

1971 was arguably Page's best season as he became the first winner of the AP most Valuable Defensive Player as well as the AP Most Valuable Player.

Page was voted to nine Pro Bowls, a six time First Team All-Pro, and three time Second Team All-Pro. He was voted to the NFL 1970's All-Decade Team.

Though he didn't finish his career with the Vikings (his last four seasons were with the Bears), his number 88 jersey was still retired by the Vikings.

Even before his professional playing days in the NFL were over, Page was working on his post-football career. He attended the University of Minnesota Law School which he would graduate from in 1978 to become a justice in the Minnesota Supreme Court. He still holds that title today.

Page also is very involved in charity work. In 1988, he started his own foundation, the Page Education Foundation, which gives money to minority college students in exchange for volunteer services throughout their communities.

Finally, there's Carl Eller. He has had some minor legal troubles lately which is still somewhat ongoing. Go ahead and look up the case if you want, but basically Eller has been accused of 4th degree assault on a police officer, fleeing in a motorized vehicle, and refusing to take a Breathalyzer Test. Eller counter-sued the Minneapolis Police Department for using excessive force for $75,000 plus.

Anyway, back to football. Eller was the sixth overall pick by the Vikings in 1964. He played his college ball in the University of Minnesota.

In his 16-year career, the Vikings credit Eller with 133.5 sacks. He along with Page was voted to the NFL 1970's All-Decade Team.

Eller was voted the NEA Defensive Player of the year in 1971. He was also voted to six Pro Bowls, five First Team All Pro's, and one Second Team All Pro.

He played all but one season for the Vikings. They traded Eller in 1979 along with an eighth-round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for Steve Niehaus. This trade was yet another failed Vikings' trade as Steve was constantly hampered by injuries which ultimately ended his career.

Oddly enough, his jersey is not retired by the Vikings. Current Viking Visanthe Shaincoe currently has the number 81.

To go with those 19 total Pro Bowl selections, those very same Purple People Eaters were the first players to participate in four Super Bowls (all with the same team). Larsen is the only one to have played in only three. The Super Bowl dates and records were as follows:

SB IV (Jan. 11, 1970): Kansas City 23 Minnesota Vikings 7

SB VIII (Jan. 13, 1974): Miami Dolphins 24 Minnesota Vikings 7

SB IX (Jan. 12, 1975): Pittsburgh Steelers 16 Minnesota Vikings 6

SB XI (Jan. 9, 1977): Oakland Raiders 32 Minnesota Vikings 14

All four are still alive to this day. While the legends may never have gotten their Super Bowl rings, they are still undoubtedly the best defensive line ever to play the game.

Let's hope our modern day "Purple People Eaters" can perform at the same level as those monsters of the late '60s and early '70s.

* Jeff Feagles actually holds the record for consecutive played games, but he's a kicker. Sorry, but that doesn't count in my book.