The Best Minnesota Vikings Not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Defense)

JW NixSenior Writer IIMarch 15, 2011

The Best Minnesota Vikings Not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Defense)

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    Minneapolis almost had two professional football teams in 1961. A year earlier, the American Football League planned on putting a franchise in the "Twin Cities".

    The National Football League, who had a 40-year old agreement with Ole Haugsrud, pressured the AFL to move their team. That team headed to Oakland and became the Raiders.

    Haugsrud once owned the Deluth Eskimos, who are linked to the Washington Redskins. He named his new expansion team the Vikings because that, and the colors the team would use, was the name of his high school football team in Wisconsin.

    Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was named the first head coach of the Vikings. He had just retired as a player, having led the Philadelphia Eagles to a title in 1960. The first Vikings draft saw them acquire Fran Tarkenton in the third round.

    Though Van Brocklin and Takenton had a fiery relationship, the future Hall of Fame quarterback known as "The Mad Scrambler" grew with the team.

    The team had one winning season and one .500 season in seven years under Van Brocklin, but "The Dutchman" drafted several key Vikings that would eventually make the team one of the best.

    Three of the six men who have had their numbers retired by the team were acquired by Van Brocklin, but that did not stop him from being fired after the 1966 season.

    Minnesota then hired a guy who actually grew up in the same Wisconsin town as Haugsrud, and attended that same high school the Vikings were named after.

    Bud Grant had already had success as a coach in the Canadian Football League. He was a two-sport star who had won an NBA Championship as a player and he still owns a CFL record by intercepting five balls in one playoff game. He has also been a start two-way player for the Eagles, but had bolted to the CFL after contract issues.

    Grant coached his CFL teams to four titles in 10 years. He was lured to the Vikings, where his beliefs in discipline and poise would steer the Vikings into quickly becoming a powerhouse. His first year was met with a losing record, and Grant would not have a losing season again until 1979.

    Minnesota reached the Super Bowl four times between 1969 and 1976. The stars of the team was on the defensive side of the ball. They were the "Purple People Eaters".

    The offense was also stacked, featuring a few Hall of Famers and several Pro Bowlers. Though the Vikings never won a Super Bowl, they were certainly one of the greatest teams in modern NFL history.

    The team began rebuilding slowly in 1977, but Grant keep them competitive for the most part. He took them to the playoffs four times in seven years. The future Hall of Famer retired for a year, but was coaxed back to coach one more season until retiring for good.

    The post-Grant years have been met with mixed results. They have been to the playoffs 14 times since 1986, but have failed to reach a Super Bowl. Some think the reason for this was a move the franchise made in 1982.

    From their first year up until that point, the Vikings played in Metropolitan Stadium. It was an outdoor arena that gave the Vikings a huge advantage. Teams would walk into a blizzard only to see the Vikings running around without long sleeves. The mental battle was won right there.

    The team moved inside to a domed stadium in 1982, and it is no coincidence the lack of Super Bowls soon followed. They are getting ready to move into a new stadium again, one that has a retractable roof. Old school Vikings fans are hoping the team never closes the roof and lets the snow back onto the gridiron once again.

    Here is a list of some of the best Vikings not yet inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Several more belong with the 10 already enshrined, but some believe the lack of Super Bowl trophies has kept many from attaining their deserved respect.

Defensive Tackle : Keith Millard

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    Millard was a first round draft pick of the Vikings in 1984, but he decided to sign with the Arizona Wranglers of the United States Football League instead. The Wranglers traded him to the Jacksonville Bulls. The USFL folded in 1985, so he joined the Vikings.  

    Minnesota had the 6'6" Millard play backup nose tackle as a rookie, which is extremely rare for a player of that height. The rookie started five games and led Minnesota with 11 sacks, which placed in the top 10 in the league. Counting the USFL, Millard had 23 sacks in 1985. 

    The Vikings switched to a 4-3 defense in 1986, moving Millard to defensive tackle on the right side. After getting 22 sacks over three years, including the strike-shortened 1987 season, Millard was set to have one of the greatest seasons ever by a defensive tackle. 

    The 1989 season saw him get 18 sacks, the most ever by a defensive tackle in the NFL and only 15 players have ever gotten more. His teammate, Chris Doleman, led the league with 21 that season thanks to lining up next to Millard.

    Even Al Noga and Henry Thomas were extremely effective. Noga had a career-best 11.5 sacks, while the nine Thomas had was the second best total of his career. Millard also picked off a pass, rumbling for 47 yards and took a fumble 31 yards for a touchdown. 

    He was given his second and last Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro honors, while becoming the second, and so far last, Viking named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Hall of Famer Alan Page was the first NFL player to ever win it in 1971 while with the Vikings.  

    Millard was also named the UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year, an award only Page and Doleman also won while with Minnesota. Page was the first defensive player ever to have won that award, which went defunct after the 1996 season.  

    Suffering a major knee injury in the fourth game on the 1990 season, he did not suit up again until 1992 as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. Despite a sack in two games played, Seattle released him and the Green Bay Packers had him on their roster for two games. Millard joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1993, appearing in 14 games and starting five. He had four sacks, then retired. 

    His 53 sacks with the Vikings still rank fourth best on the NFL list for the franchise, but Hall of Famers Page and Carl Eller had 108.5 and 130.5 "unofficially" with Minnesota, and Jim Marshall, who should be in Canton, had 127 himself.  

    Though injuries shortened a career that appeared destined for Canton, Millard was ranked 21st of the 50 Greatest Vikings Team put together in 2010. Minnesota has two defensive tackles enshrined in Canton with Page and John Randle, but Keith Millard was surely on their level for a short time before his injury.  

Defensive Tackle : Henry Thomas

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    Thomas was drafted in the third round of the 1987 draft by the Vikings. Though his rookie year was cut short four games by a players strike, he started every game and intercepted a pass.  He scored a touchdown off a fumble recovery the nest year, while intercepting another ball.

    His teammates called him "Hardware Hank" because Thomas would line up over center and dismantle the opposing offenses point of attack. 

    This helped allow his three fellow defensive linemen to get 50.5 sacks. Thomas collected nine himself, while scoring again off another fumble recovery. Thomas was widely respected and a noted tackling machine. 

    The 1990 season was one of his best, getting a career best 109 tackles and 8.5 sacks. He followed that up with his first Pro Bowl year after getting eight sacks and 100 tackles. Thomas had collected an amazing 466 tackles in his first five seasons. 

    Thomas made the Pro Bowl for the last time in his career in 1992 even though his tackle totals began to dwindle. He got nine sacks, as well as recording a safety, in 1993 despite missing three games due to injury. 

    He joined the Detroit Lions in 1995 and got a career best 10.5 sacks while mentoring rookie, and future Pro Bowler, Luther Elliss. Thomas left the Lions after the next season, joining the New England Patriots in 1997. 

    Thomas played four years with the Patriots. He was very effective, getting two interceptions and 21 sacks over that time. He took one interception 24 yards for the last score of his career. Thomas retired after the 2000 season. 

    Of his 93.5 career sacks, 56 came with the Vikings. Hall of Fame defensive tackles Alan Page and John Randle are the only Vikings defensive tackles with more. He ranks third on the Vikings list in tackles. 

    The Vikings have many fantastic defensive tackles in their franchises history. Henry Thomas certainly ranks near the tip as one of their best ever. He is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings. 

    Gary Larsen, Doug Sutherland, Charles Johnson and Paul Dickson deserve mention.

Defensive End : Jim Marshall

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    Jim Marshall was a fourth round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns in 1960. He had played the year before in the Canadian Football League for the Saskatchewan Roughriders after leaving Ohio State University upon the completion of his junior year.

    When Marshall came to the Browns, he started right away at right defensive end. He started the first three games, but had a falling out with legendary head coach Paul Brown. He soon lost his starting job, but continued to play the rest of the season.  In the offseason, Brown had plans to move Marshall to offensive tackle, but Marshall contracted encephalitis and lost a great deal of weight.

    This fact, coupled with the problems Marshall and Paul Brown were having, did not bode well for Marshall's future in Cleveland. Both teams have different versions on how Marshall became a member of the expansion Vikings.

    The Vikings state that Marshall was traded with Jim Prestel, Paul Dickson, Jamie Caleb, Dick Grecni and Billy Gault while Cleveland received a second round choice and an 11th round choice that turned out to be Chuck Hinton and Ronnie Meyers.  

    The Browns state that, "Jim Marshall was released by the Browns on September 11th, 1961. His rights were picked up by the Minnesota Vikings soon after, and the Browns, in a “gentleman’s agreement”, which is how Paul Brown carried out many deals, received cash and “future considerations.”

    Regardless, Marshall was then a Viking until 1979. Marshall was with the team through the good and bad times. He led the team in sacks their first six years in the NFL.  

    He may best be remembered for his 66 yard "wrong way" run, the longest safety and shortest play in NFL history. Billy Kilmer, then a running back with the San Francisco 49ers, had fumbled the ball. Marshall scooped it up and bolted for the wrong end zone.  

    The Vikings won the game, as Marshall came up with a key sack in the fourth quarter. The "wrong way run" is truly a NFL classic moment to this day. But Marshall also achieved many more great feats on the field.  

    Many fans know he played in a then-league-record 282 consecutive regular season games and 302 games counting his playoff appearances. Punter Jeff Feagles passed this number, but the NFL still recognizes Marshall's consecutive starts streak because Feagles was a punter.  

    Marshall also owns the NFL record of 282 consecutive games played by a defensive end and he also recovered 29 fumbles, an NFL record for a defensive player.  

    He is listed as the Vikings franchises second leading All-Time leading sack totals leader, behind Hall of Famer Carl Eller, with 127. Marshall was the Vikings team captain for 17 seasons.  

    In all, discounting CFL games, Marshall played in 409 games (preseason, season, postseason and Pro Bowls), had over 1050 tackles, and over 133 sacks. His teams won 11 Divisional Championships and played in four Super Bowls.  

    Twice he kept his streak intact by walking out of hospitals where he was recuperating from pneumonia and ulcers. On another occasion, he played after accidentally shooting himself in the side while cleaning his shotgun.  

    In the final home game of his illustrious career, Marshall sacked Buffalo's Joe Ferguson twice and even played offensive tackle during the Vikings final series. Minnesota won 10-3, and Marshall was carried off the field by his teammates. He was awarded the game ball, the first one ever given to a Viking player by Hall of Fame Head Coach Bud Grant.

    Many fans may best remember Marshall in his days of the Purple People Eaters. Teamed with Alan Page and Carl Eller, Gary Larsen then Doug Sutherland, Marshall helped lead one of the greatest front fours in NFL history.  Paige and Eller are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Vikings may not have won the Super Bowl, but their teams were annually amongst the most feared and respected during the era.

    Marshall was one of a kind. We have seen Darrell Green and Jackie Slater play as long since, but neither matched Marshall's consecutive games streak. Marshall played in 270 games in 19 seasons with the Vikings and never missed a game.

    These are probably records that will stand for a very, very long time.  He was versatile enough to play on either side of the ball, and anywhere along the defensive line. His toughness is legendary.

    Many in the Twin Cities remember how Marshall and 16 others on snowmobiles got caught in a blizzard in Wyoming. Many of the party broke up in small groups as the snowmobiles conked out one by one.

    A bank president from Minnesota died. Marshall was with five other people as they tried to walk through snow that was 10-15 feet deep.  They made a snow cave to rest for the night by burning everything they had. Marshall's money, checkbook, and other papers were amongst those things burned.  

    They made it another 24 hours as they froze in their camp before help arrived. Marshall called the experience, “the toughest thing I’ve ever encountered in my life.”  

    When you look at Jim Marshall's stats, he is Canton worthy. When you factor in his legendary streak, it should be concrete proof that he is undeniably a Hall of Fame player. Maybe the voters won't let him him because of Eller and Paige or the lack of titles? That should not be a deterrent for the voters.  

    Paige and Eller finished their careers elsewhere, but certainly are worthy. Marshall? He was as consistent and reliable as they come. He should have been in the Pro Football Hall of Fame years ago.

    He is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings as well as being a member of both their 25th and 40th Anniversary Teams.

Defensive End : Chris Doleman

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    Doleman was the Vikings first round draft pick in 1985, as well as the fourth overall selection. Minnesota was running a 3-4 defense, so they had Doleman play left outside linebacker.  

    He was asked to primarily play the run, and he had a career best 113 tackles that season. He also picked off a pass and the half a sack he had that year would be the lowest total of his career. 

    Though he took an interception 59 yards for a touchdown the next year, his production dwindled drastically. The Vikings would then switch to the 4-3 defense in the strike-shortened 1987 season. 

    The move paid off as the Vikings soon featured a young, exciting and explosive defensive line. Doleman has 11 sacks in the 12 games he played, as well as forcing a career high six fumbles. He was named to the first of his four consecutive Pro Bowls. 

    The 1989 season is considered the best of his career. He piled up a Vikings record 21 sacks, still the third best total in NFL history, and forced five fumbles. He was named First Team All-Pro on a defense that had an amazing 71 sacks. It is one less than the NFL record set by the 1984 Chicago Bears. 

    After failing to make the Pro Bowl in 1991, he returned to it the next year after getting 14.5 sacks and matching his career high mark of six forced fumbles. Doleman was also named First Team All-Pro for the last time of his career after recording a safety and scoring a touchdown off an interception. 

    The 1993 season was his last as a Viking. He joined the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent in 1992, lasting two years with the team and going to the Pro Bowl once. Doleman then joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1996. 

    His three years with the 49ers were very productive. He piled up 38 sacks, scored a touchdown off a fumble recovery, and made the Pro Bowl one final time in his career. He then left to rejoin the Vikings for the 1999 season. After getting eight sacks, he retired. 

    Doleman ranks fourth on the NFL career sacks list with 150.5. His 96.5 with the Vikings is officially recognized as the second most in team history because the NFL did not recognize sacks until 1982. He ranks second in tackles and safeties as well.

    One of the most impressive statistics in his career is that he missed only four games and played in 232 contests over his 15 seasons. The Vikings have one defensive end, Carl Eller, in Canton and another, Jim Marshall, who should be.

    Doleman is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings.and has been a finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame three times. His induction seems likely, but it is safe to say he is one of the best defensive ends in Vikings history. 

    Mark Mullaney, Doug Martin, and Al Noga deserve mention.

Outside Linebacker : Matt Blair

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    Blair was drafted in the second round of the 1974 draft by the Minnesota Vikings, and was the 51st player chosen overall. The Vikings started him in six games during his rookie year, and he was named to the NFL's All-Rookie Team after getting an interception and fumble recovery.  

    Minnesota would go on to appear in Super Bowl IX that year, where Blair would block a punt leading to the Vikings only points in their 16-6 defeat. He played as a reserve next season, but earned the starting left outside linebacker job in 1976.  

    He had a career high five fumble recoveries and had two interceptions that year, as the Vikings made it to Super Bowl XI before losing. In the NFC Championship Game two weeks earlier, he had helped block a field goal attempt that Vikings cornerback Pro Bowl Bobby Bryant took 90 yards for a touchdown that accounted for the first points of the game.

    The 1977 season saw Blair make the first of six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. His penchant for the big play was widely known throughout the league, as was his solid, steady play backed by great fundamentals. The entire defensive personnel around him changed at every position except his. He was named the captain of the defense in 1979 and held that position until he retired.

    Gone were Hall Of Famers like defensive tackle Alan Page, defensive end Carl Eller and free safety Paul Krause, along with Vikings legends like defensive end Jim Marshall, defensive tackle Doug Sutherland, linebackers Jeff Sieman and Wally Hilgenberg and defensive backs Bobby Bryant and Nate Wright. Blair continued to be an upper echelon linebacker in the league despite these massive changes.

    Many other changes occurred on the Vikings offense after 1977 as well. Minnesota went to four Super Bowls between 1969 and 1976, but none after that. After making it to the NFC Championship Game in 1977, the Vikings made the playoffs in 1978 and 1980 and lost in the first round each time. Blair would not appear in a postseason game again.

    It was in that 1977 season that he scored his first touchdown, which came off a blocked kick. He scored again for the final time the next season off of a lateral that went 49 yards. It set the stage for maybe the finest year of his career, which happened during the 1980 season.

    He was named to his only First Team All-Pro team that year, and was named the Most Valuable Linebacker of the NFC. Blair was also being recognized for all of the work he did away from the gridiron.  

    Working in several charities that included the Children's Miracle Network, Multiple Sclerosis Society, March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Lupus Foundation of Minnesota, Special Olympics and the United Way, he was named the 1981 NFL Man of the Year. He also was the Top 10 Outstanding Young Men of America by the Jaycees in 1983. His work with the homeless and hungry has raised millions of dollars as well.

    He missed the first games of his career in 1983 after becoming injured enough to miss five games. The Vikings drafted Chris Doleman in the first round before the 1985 season, and Hall Of Fame Head Coach Bud Grant had Blair teach him how to play linebacker and rush the quarterback from the edge. After appearing in a career low six games because of injury that year, Blair decided to retire.

    The Vikings have never had a linebacker better than Blair. His 1,452 career tackles still ranks second in team history. No other Vikings linebacker has intercepted more passes than him either.

    Though sacks were not a recorded statistic until the 1982 season, he was known for his ability to come hard off the edge and create havoc on opposing teams. But he was more than just an excellent player who supported the run and rushed the passer.  Minnesota liked to keep him on the field as much as possible, because he was so excellent defending the pass and creating turnovers on special teams as well.

    His athleticism was on display in the 1975 season. The Vikings could not find a consistent punt returner that year, and used six different players that year. One of them was Blair, who took two punt returns that year. He may be the last linebacker ever in NFL history to be asked to field a punt.

    His ability to block kicks was amazing. It didn't matter if it was a field goal, extra point, or punt, because he was a force each time the ball was snapped. His 20.5 blocked kicks in the regular season is a Vikings record, and this stat becomes even more spectacular when you factor in the fact Page blocked 16 more as well. In all, counting post season, he blocked 23.5 kicks. It is the second most in NFL history.

    His 20 career fumble recoveries is tied as the 11th most by any defender in NFL history. What makes this statistic more impressive is the fact his teammates (Marshall, Page and Eller) all had more in their careers.  It is a testament to the Vikings defense being able to create multiple turnovers, and Blair's abilities around so many teammates who shared his proclivity to jump on loose footballs.

    How the voters of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame can induct a one dimensional linebacker like Andre Tippett, while ignoring better players like Blair, shows a process full of politics where the actual play on the field is disregarded. Tippett just rushed the passer and went to the Pro Bowl a measly four times, while Blair did everything and more a linebacker could be asked to do and had more accolades.

    Some may point to his six Pro Bowls and question if it is enough, especially when nine time Pro Bowl linebacker like Maxie Baughn still await their call to the hall. What puts Blair over the top for induction over many other outside linebacker legends is his ability to play all over the field in every aspect of the game on defense and special teams.

    He is a member of both the Vikings Silver and the 40th year anniversary teams, and soon will be inducted into the teams Ring of Honor. If one looks at the fact he continued his greatness long after all of the other "Purple People Eaters" had left the team, it should become quite apparent that Matt Blair deserves to be inducted into Canton.

Middle Linebacker : Jeff Siemon

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    Siemon was the Vikings first round draft pick in 1972. He ended up starting eight games as a rookie and picked off a pair of passes. 

    He earned the starting job full time next year and held it until 1979, not missing a game over that time. He made the Pro Bowl in 1973. Siemon was an every down player capable of being effective against the run or pass. 

    Minnesota had one of the most dominating defenses in NFL history during the 1970's. The "Purple People Eaters" were a stifling unit that did not allow other teams to do much offensively. Siemon went to the Pro Bowl three straight years starting in 1975. The Vikings went to the Super Bowl in 1976 but lost.

    The team started to age by then, but he maintained a steady presence in the middle of the defense. Scott Studwell started in 1980, relegating Siemon to the bench mostly. Minnesota switched to the 3-4 defense the following year so Siemon and Studwell could both start. He retired after the 1982 season. 

    No middle linebacker in Vikings history has been to the Pro Bowl more than Seimon's four appearances. There was little he couldn't do on the field and he was known for his quickness, speed and cerebral approach to the game. 

    There is no question that Jeff Siemon is the best middle linebacker in Vikings history. He is is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings as well as being a member of both their 25th and 40th Anniversary Teams. 

    Scott Studwell, Rip Hawkins, Ed McDaniel and Jack Del Rio deserve mention.

Outside Linebacker : Wally Hilgenberg

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    Hilgenberg was drafted in the fourth round of the 1964 draft by the Detroit Lions. He spent three years with the Lions mostly as a reserve, then was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 1966 season. Pittsburgh cut him in training camp. 

    Minnesota picked Hilgenberg up in 1968 and he started half of the season. He then would start the next eight years, missing just two games due to injury. He was tough and dependable. 

    Though he never made the Pro Bowl, he was an important member of the "Purple People Eaters". He was always around the ball, able to defend against the pass and especially stout versus the run. He scored a touchdown off a fumble recovery in 1973 and recorded a safety the next year.

    Hilgenberg played in all four of the Vikings Super Bowl appearances. He became a reserve in 1977 because Fred McNeill, the Vikings first round draft choice in 1974, was ready to start.

    Hilgenberg stayed with the Vikings until 1979 before retiring. He played in 158 games in his 12 years with the team and is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings. 

    He was reliable, tough, durable and smart. Hilgenberg was also a noted prankster who kept the team loose. He is easily one of the greatest linebackers in Vikings history. 

    Fred McNeill and Roy Winston deserve mention

Strong Safety : Joey Browner

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    Browner was the first round draft pick of the Vikings in the 1983 draft. He comes from a family deeply ingrained into the NFL fabric. Three of his brothers and a nephew have played in the NFL, a record for one family. 

    Minnesota brought him along slowly in his first two seasons, starting nine games total and even seeing time at cornerback. He was able to score off a fumble recovery over that time. Browner was named the full-time starter in 1985, immediately becoming a star. 

    That season began a string of six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. Not only was he a punishing hitter, but Browner was always where the ball ended up. He also came up with the big play often, returning three interceptions for touchdowns. 

    Browner was considered the best strong safety in the NFC for a number of seasons. He was named First Team All-Pro three times and recovered 17 fumbles in his first six seasons as a player. He also set a Pro Bowl record by returning three fumbles for scores. The 1990 season may have been his best.

    He had a career best seven interceptions for 103 yards and three sacks. Besides scoring the last time in his career, Browner also made his Final Pro Bowl. Though he picked off five passes the next year, but he missed the first two games of his career. 

    Minnesota released him after that 1991 season, so Browner signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played seven games in 1992 then decided to retire. Though tackles were not an official statistic in his era, historians say Browner piled up at least 1,100 in his career. 

    The 37 interceptions Browner had with Minnesota is the fourth most in team history and the most ever by a Vikings strong safety. His 17 fumble recoveries are the seventh most in team history. Though the NFL does not recognize his 18 forced fumbles as an official statistic, it shows the force of impact he brought when tackling.

    He has been on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot five times so far, and could one day find himself inducted. He is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings as well as being a member of their 40th Anniversary Team. The Vikings strong safety position has had many great players, and Joey Browner may be the best in franchise history. 

    Robert Griffith, Todd Scott, Corey Chavous, Jeff Wright and Karl Kassulke deserve mention.

Free Safety : Orlando Thomas

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    Thomas was drafted in the second round by the Vikings. He earned a starting job immediately and may have had the finest season of his career in his rookie year. 

    Though he started just 11 of 16 games as a rookie, Thomas led the NFL with nine interceptions. He recovered a career best four fumbles and also scored a touchdown off both an interception and fumble recovery.

    Despite having superior numbers to Merton Hanks, Thomas was passed over for the Pro Bowl in favor of Hanks. The next season saw him pile up a career high 83 tackles while intercepting five more passes. 

    After scoring the last touchdown of his career in 1997, Thomas got hurt and missed the first game of his career. He rebounded in 1998 to help the Vikings have maybe the best season in franchise history. Minnesota won 15 games that year, sending 10 players to the Pro Bowl. They were first in offense and sixth in defense in the NFL that year.

    Thomas teamed with Robert Griffith as a pair of hard hitting safeties who excelled in run support. The Vikings reached the NFC Championship Game that year before losing in overtime. 

    His last three seasons with the Vikings were frequently met by injury. Thomas missed 13 games over this time. This caused him to retire at the end of the 2001 season. His 22 interceptions with the Vikings is the seventh most in franchise history and his two touchdowns off fumble recoveries is tied with nine others as the most in team history. 

    When you talk free safety for the Minnesota Vikings, the first name to come up will always be Hall of Famer Paul Krause. Yet Orlando Thomas was an excellent player himself with the Vikings for many years. 

    Darren Sharper, John Harris, and John Turner deserve mention

Cornerback : Bobby Bryant

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    Bryant was drafted in the seventh round in 1968 by Minnesota. He was a reserve as a rookie, though he did score a touchdown off two interceptions. Minnesota had his return a career high 19 kickoffs and ten punts that season. 

    Though the Vikings asked him to return just three more kickoffs the rest of his career, they did have him return 59 more punts. The Vikings preferred keeping him mainly on the defensive unit, where he excelled. 

    At barely 170 pounds, Bryant was called "Bones" by teammates and fans. He threw his slight frame around at reckless abandon, often causing nagging injuries. In his 13 years with the team, Bryant would have just four seasons where he played every game. 

    When he was on the field, Bryant was a fan favorite who was the teams lock down defender often making big plays. He was known to blow kisses to the Vikings fans after making a big play. 

    He started and played in just 10 games in 1969, but was able to snag a career best eight interceptions. Bryant was named Second Team All-NFL for his efforts, but his injuries prevented him from playing in the Super Bowl that year. He scored off of one of his three interceptions the next year despite missing three games. 

    Minnesota inserted Charlie West as a starter in 1971, forcing Bryant into a reserve role. He got his stating job back the following season and scored off a fumble recovery. Bryant grabbed seven picks in 1973, scoring the last regular season touchdown of his career off one of the interceptions. 

    The 1974 season would be the only year of his career he failed to intercept a pass because he suffered a season-ending injury in the first game. Bryant rebounded strong the next year, earning his first Pro Bowl nod after picking off six balls. 

    His 1976 season was his last Pro Bowl year. The Vikings would reach the Super Bowl that year before losing a fourth and final time in Bryant's career. He had helped them get there a few weeks earlier in the NFC Championship Game by taking a blocked field goal attempt 90 yards for a touchdown. 

    At an age where most cornerbacks retire, Bryant was still the Vikings top defender. He picked off seven pass at the age of 34-years old in 1978. He held his starting job until 1980, grabbing three interceptions and then retiring. 

    Bryant played in three different decades for Minnesota, as well as being a member of all four of their Super Bowl teams. He was a key member of the famous "Purple People Eaters" defense. 

    The 51 interceptions Bryant had rank as the second most in team history. His three touchdowns off interceptions is tied with seven others as the most in Vikings history, and his 749 yards off interceptions rank as the third most in franchise history. 

    He is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings as well as being a member of both their 25th and 40th Anniversary Teams. Bobby Bryant may be the greatest cornerback in Vikings history.

Cornerback : Ed Sharockman

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    Sharockman was drafted in the fifth round of the 1961 draft by the Vikings, the fifth player ever drafted by Minnesota. He got hurt in his first NFL game and missed the rest of the season. Vikings Hall of Fame Head Coach Norm Van Brocklin plugged Sharockman immediately into the starting lineup in 1962.

    The move was rewarded with six interceptions and two fumble recoveries. One fumble was returned 88 yards for a score, the longest in the NFL that year. He was part of a Vikings defense that was opportunistic.

    The 1963 season saw them set a still-standing NFL record of 53 fumble recoveries. They caused opponents to fumble the ball an NFL record 50 times, since equaled by the 1978 San Francisco 49ers. Sharockman also scored a touchdown off his five interceptions that year. 

    Though Sharockman was never invited to the Pro Bowl in his career, he was continuously getting the ball back for the Vikings. He led the team in interceptions four times during his career. He had six or more interceptions four times. 

    The 1970 season may have been his best. Sharockman had a career best seven interceptions for 132 yards. One ball was taken 43 yards for the last touchdown of his career. He followed that up with six more interceptions in the 1971 season. 

    Bobby Bryant replaced him in the starting lineup in 1972, and Sharockman played just seven games. Other than his rookie season, it was the only year of his career that Sharockman failed to record an interception. He then retired. 

    His 113 yards off fumble recoveries is the second most in team history, as are his 804 yards off interceptions. The 40 interceptions he grabbed are third most ever by a Viking, and his three touchdowns off interceptions is tied with seven others as the most in team history. 

    He is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings as well as being a member of their 25th Anniversary Team. Ed Sharockman is certainly one of the best cornerbacks in team history. 

    Carl Lee, Aundray McMillan, Nate Wright, John Turner, Willie Teal, Charlie West and Earsell Mackbee deserve mention.

Punter : Mitch Berger

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    Berger was a sixth round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994. He lasted five games before being cut, then he sat out of the entire 1995 season. 

    He made the Vikings squad in 1996, having two punts blocked on a career high 88 attempts. Berger steadily improved over the next three years, increasing his average on yards per punting attempt each year. 

    He became the first, and so far only, Vikings punter to go to the Pro Bowl in 1999. He averaged a career best 45.4 yards per punt, was an excellent tackler in coverage and provided booming kickoffs. One punt went for a career long 75 yards. 

    After solid play the next two years, he left for the Saint Louis Rams in 2002. He left after one year to play for the New Orleans Saints the next three years and made the Pro Bowl in 2004. He sat out of the league in 2006, but joined the Arizona Cardinals for five games the next year.

    Berger joined the Pittsburgh Steelers for 13 games in 2008, earning a ring after the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII. He then played with the Denver Broncos for 10 games in 2009 and hasn't played since. 

    Berger ranks third in Vikings history in punts, punt return yards and yards per punt average. He certainly ranks as one of the best punters in team history.  

    Greg Coleman, Bobby Walden and Harry Newsome deserve mention.

Punt Returner : David Palmer

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    Palmer was the Vikings second round draft pick in 1994. Despite winning the Paul Warfield Award as the top collegiate receiver, the diminutive Palmer never quite found his niche as an NFL receiver. He caught 73 balls and ran the ball 34 times in his career. 

    Where Palmer did excel was returning kicks and punts. He wasn't always healthy, but Palmer did have impact on special teams when he was able to play. He only returned punts as a rookie, being a rarely used player on offense. 

    Palmer led the NFL with a 13.2 average on 26 punt returns in 1995. One return went for a career long 74-yard score. He scored again the very next season on a punt return despite missing five games because of injury. 

    The 1997 season was the best of his career. Palmer averaged 13.1 yards on a career best 34 punt returns, while also returning 32 kicks and catching a career high 26 passes. One reception went for a touchdown, the only receiving touchdown of his career. 

    Palmer returned a career high 50 kickoffs in 1998, gaining 1,176 yards and scoring off an 88-yard return. He also returned 28 punts. After playing only 14 games the next two years because of injuries, Palmer retired at the end of the 2000 season. 

    Not only is his two career punt returns for touchdowns a Vikings record, he ranks second on punt returns and punt return yards. His 9.9 yards return average for a career is a Vikings record by anyone with 75 or more returns. He also holds the single-season punt return average with anyone who had 15 returns or more. 

    Minnesota has had several good punt returners for short amounts of time, but few have been special. David Palmer has probably done the best job at it in the history of the franchise. 

    Charlie West, Leo Lewis, Eddie Payton and Mewelde Moore deserve mention.