Purple Stain

Securities scams, karaoke-bar brawls, and the occasional boozy ride: At least there's one championship the Vikings might be winning

On March 14 a 49-year-old man, a bit bookish-looking in his round wire-framed spectacles, appeared in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, where he entered a plea of guilty to a single count of mail fraud. The event made the papers the next day, in part because the man's legal woes were linked to a much-publicized federal investigation into a real estate scam known as "flipping." But for local football fans, there was a more compelling cause for curiosity than the latest vogue in mortgage rip-offs. The accused was Chuck Foreman--Number 44, a revered veteran from the greatest era in the history of the Minnesota Vikings.

Back in the Seventies, Foreman was among the most electrifying running backs in the game, a five-time Pro Bowler with a silky 360 degree spin move that always seemed to make the highlight reels. If you stay up late watching ESPN, you can still catch Foreman in reruns of the old NFL footage, where his balletic feats and those of his famed fellow Purple People Eaters are immortalized in delicious slow motion. The basso-profundo narration of John Facenda details each exquisite triumph against the backdrop of memorable scenes from the old Metropolitan Stadium--grounds crews thawing the turf with flamethrowers, purple-clad Goliaths exhaling dragonlike vapors, the steely gaze of head coach Bud Grant. It all evokes a seemingly better time for the NFL: a time when the league was not yet despoiled by millionaire crybabies and common criminals, when the Vikings kept making it to the Super Bowl and when, perhaps, fans didn't feel like suckers after a close reading of the sports pages.

Of course, news of a football player tumbling from gridiron glory to civilian disgrace hardly comes as a surprise to any NFL fan--especially in Minnesota. In their 1998 book Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL, journalists Jeff Benedict and Don Yeager opined that, during the Nineties, the Vikings "may have been the most out-of-control team in the NFL." It was a weighty assertion, considering both the notoriously lawless Dallas Cowboys teams of the same era and the authors' most frequently cited conclusion--that one in five active players in the league had been charged with at least one "serious crime."

While the findings of Pros and Cons were widely ignored by the major television networks, and hotly disputed by the NFL's front office, the league's burgeoning reputation for bad behavior has generated plenty of howling and handwringing on other fronts. Newt Gingrich once went so far as to propose that any NFL player caught with drugs be banned from the league if he failed to roll over on a dealer. Columnists from major dailies across NFL-dom have contributed the predictable squawking about role models.

Last month the NFL commissioner's office got into the act with some tough talk of its own, for the first time handing out suspensions for violent off-the-field conduct. (In the past the league was quick to suspend players for offenses like gambling and steroid use, but wife-beating and bar brawls often resulted in little more than a trip to a counselor's office.) The league's new, and widely praised, posture emitted more than a whiff of damage control, coming as it did in the wake of the sensational arrests last season of two active players: The Carolina Panthers' Rae Carruth faces the death penalty in connection with the November slaying of his pregnant girlfriend, and the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis was indicted in connection with two stabbing deaths outside an Atlanta nightclub on the eve of the Super Bowl.

In comparison Chuck Foreman's troubles with a couple of mortgage companies seem downright quaint--a curiosity, easily forgotten. But the headline triggered vague recollections of the many Viking arrests, convictions, dismissals, acquittals, and civil settlements that have dotted the news capsules over the years. Poring over those old accounts, we found ourselves wondering: Does something in the nature of the game demand a healthy percentage of crooks, cretins, and con men on the roster?

In short order, we laid aside Purple Pride and set out to compile a list of Vikings new and old who have just one thing in common: off-the-field misadventures. Intriguing patterns soon emerged. For instance, we found that Vikings quarterbacks seem to spend a lot of time in their lawyers' offices--from the legendary Fran Tarkenton, whose dubious post-football business doings sparked a federal investigation, to Warren "Yes, this was a case of domestic violence" Moon, to the thrice-busted, once-convicted DWI poster boy Tommy Kramer. Defensive linemen appear to attract trouble (drug dealing, bigamy, assault, you name it), as do running backs. But offensive linemen seem to keep their noses relatively clean--with the exception, perhaps, of former Viking guard Bernard Dafney who, unhappy at a joke over his girth during a joint appearance at a karaoke bar, broke teammate Everett Lindsay's beak back in 1995. And punters, it seems, strive for sainthood.

As we forged on with the research, all sorts of other questions arose: How do the lost boys from head coach Bud Grant's days stack up against Dennis Green's wayward minions? Or the wild Jerry Burns bunch? What's more embarrassing--the venal (Walker Lee Ashley accused of taking money from a kids' program), the foolish (Keith Millard's 'Vette mishap at the Hardee's drive-through), or the flat-out cruel (Keith Henderson's dangerous liaisons)? And how come you never read about stuff like this involving, say, the Twins?

We'll leave such head-scratchers to the sociologists. But one conclusion leaped to mind: You could field a veritable dream team from the ranks of tarnished Vikings, drawing on star performers, sturdy role players, and the occasional obscurity. So, of course, that's what we did.

In keeping with the number-crunching ways of fantasy leagues, we devised a simple system to calculate the status of any Viking's reputation--what we'll call the Purple Stain Index (PSI). We gave a zero-to-ten ranking to both the stat sheet, which takes into account a player's accomplishments and standing in Viking lore, and the rap sheet, which considers the nature and headline-worthiness of the accusation against him. Then, in the interest of fairness, we subtracted from that total a third set of points based on mitigating circumstance or redeeming irony.

What conclusions may be extracted from such an exercise? Frankly, we're not sure, except that the whole thing does cast doubt on one old bromide: Sports may build character. But it sure as hell doesn't require it.

 

 

WHITE-COLLAR BLUES

BACK IN THE aforementioned good old days, million-dollar signing bonuses, lucrative endorsements, and fat contracts were still the domain of movie stars and corporate execs, not football players. As a result, lots of ex-Vikes from before the big-money boom of the mid-Eighties have had to scrape to get by after their playing days were through. A few learned a hard lesson: Bending the rules--a chop block here, a hold there--may be part of the fabric of the game, but off the field it can spell trouble.

 

PLAYER: Fran Tarkenton

POSITION: Quarterback (1961-66; 1972-78)

STAT SHEET: From his rookie season with the then-expansion Vikings until his retirement 18 years later, Tarkenton defined the franchise's burgeoning mystique more than anyone this side of former head coach Bud Grant. One of just three Vikings players to garner a spot in the Hall of Fame, Tarkenton led the team to three Super Bowl losses and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1975. Tarkenton's improvisational play, especially his penchant for scrambling, made him an enduring favorite of fans--if not coaches and players.

SCORE: 10

RAP SHEET: Since retirement, Tarkenton seems to have applied his trademark freewheeling style to his business ventures. By one count, Tarkenton has started as many as 30 separate companies, including a short-lived fast-food franchise called--you guessed it--Scramblers. Tarkenton's boardroom notoriety stems from his former role as chairman and CEO of the Atlanta-based software firm KnowledgeWare, where he allegedly orchestrated what the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) later called a multimillion-dollar "financial fraud scheme" designed to inflate the company's stock value and attract investors. In a 1999 lawsuit, the SEC alleged that Tarkenton had "personally instructed" underlings to concoct phony sales reports. The suit was settled in 1999 with an agreement under which Tarkenton made no formal admission of wrongdoing but agreed to cough up a $100,000 fine and some $54,000 in bonuses.

SCORE: 4

MITIGATING FACTOR: A deserving victim? One of the biggest losers in the KnowledgeWare fiasco was former Tarkenton friend and Twin Cities-based corporate raider Irwin "The Liquidator" Jacobs.

SCORE: 1

PSI: 13

 

PLAYER: Chuck Foreman

POSITION: Running back (1973-79)

STAT SHEET: Despite his relatively short career, Foreman remains the team's all-time leading rusher (5,879 yards). His soft hands made him a receiving threat as well, and he led the team in receptions three straight seasons. In 1975 he scored an amazing 22 touchdowns, a team record that stands to this day. He was named to five straight Pro Bowls.

SCORE: 9

RAP SHEET: Pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud last month in connection with an effort to avoid foreclosure on his Eden Prairie townhouse via a series of bogus sales. Foreman could face as much as one and a half years in federal prison, but he has pledged to cooperate in the prosecution of former associates linked to the "flipping" scandal and may receive probation.

SCORE: 2

MITIGATING FACTOR: So you've never been tempted to screw the bank for a change? Besides, he lost his home.

SCORE: 0.5

PSI: 10.5

 

PLAYER: Walker Lee Ashley

POSITION: Linebacker (1983-88; 1990)

STAT SHEET: A perennial backup during the Jerry Burns regime, Ashley saw most of his playing time on special teams and was said to be disgruntled in that role.

SCORE: 2

RAP SHEET: Following his retirement, Ashley worked as director of a youth development program for the City of Eagan. Faced with accusations that he'd forged checks, Ashley issued vigorous denials, saying, "I don't rip off kids." Three months later he pleaded guilty to a single count of theft. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to make $1,300 in restitution to Eagan plus $500 to kids whom he allegedly shortchanged, and to perform 50 hours of community service.

SCORE: 2

MITIGATING FACTOR: The job only paid $37,000 a year.

SCORE: 0.5

PSI: 3.5

 

 

FEEL THE POWER

ACCORDING TO THE authors of Pros and Cons, domestic abuse is the leading cause of arrest among NFL players, and more than a few Vikes have made headlines for such transgressions. Former team president Roger Headrick once confided to a reporter that more than a few accusations have never seen the light of day; even so, by 1995 waggish fans had begun to refer to the hometown heroes as "the Purple People Beaters."

 

PLAYER: James Harris

POSITION: Defensive end (1993-95)

STAT SHEET: A part-time starter in his three-year stint with the team, Harris was demoted to a backup role in 1995 following a decline in his performance attributed to off-season foot surgery.

SCORE: 3

RAP SHEET: The 260-pound lineman pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in 1995 after breaking his wife's nose and collarbone in what his agent termed a "mutual scuffle" in the elevator of their Eden Prairie apartment building. Fined $3,000 and sentenced to five days in jail, Harris was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. As part of the plea bargain, Hennepin County prosecutors dropped a bigamy charge against Harris: He had neglected to get a divorce from his first wife (whom he had also been convicted of beating in 1992). In 1997, after catching on with the St. Louis Rams, Harris was indicted by a federal grand jury as the money man in a cocaine distribution ring. He won an acquittal in court and landed a starting job with the Oakland Raiders--a team that has built its reputation on bad-boy reclamation projects.

SCORE: 7

MITIGATING FACTOR: Obviously confused.

SCORE: 0.5

PSI: 9.5

 

PLAYER: Keith Henderson

POSITION: Running back (1992)

STAT SHEET: Henderson was signed as a free agent by the "new sheriff in town," in head coach Dennis Green's inaugural season. The bruising 240-pound fullback, who played under Green in San Francisco, was the Vikes' fourth leading rusher in his sole season with the team, racking up 113 yards and one touchdown.

SCORE: 1

RAP SHEET: Less than a year after his career with the Vikings came to an end in 1992, Henderson was charged with first-degree sexual assault for allegedly raping a waitress from a Mall of America bar in an incident that left her pregnant and, in a separate incident, attempting to rape a 17-year-old he met on the set of the sports film Little Big League (who, as it happens, reached an out-of-court sexual-harassment settlement with the film's star, Timothy Busfield). Henderson was arrested again in May 1994, this time for allegedly raping an acquaintance he'd met at another 494 nightspot. In 1995 Henderson pleaded guilty to reduced charges of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection with the three cases. He was sentenced to six months in jail and ten years probation, during which he must register as a sex offender. According to Pros and Cons, a waitress who worked at yet another I-494 bar subsequently came forward and claimed that Henderson had attempted to rape her in 1992; after she rebuffed him, she alleged, Henderson complained to the restaurant, which promptly fired her.

SCORE: 10

MITIGATING FACTOR: None, but at least the fired waitress was reported to have obtained a payout from the restaurant.

SCORE: 0

PSI: 11

 

PLAYER: Warren Moon

POSITION: Quarterback (1994-96)

STAT SHEET: When the Vikes signed the former Oiler and Canadian Football League legend, Moon looked to be just what the doctor ordered: a cool, strong-armed veteran who could lead the team to playoff nirvana following unsuccessful experiments with a succession of journeymen QBs. In 1995, his best season as a Viking, he set team marks for passing yardage (4,264), touchdowns (33), and completions (377). But his statistical glories didn't translate to a winning record as the Vikes went 8-8, the worst finish yet in the Dennis Green era. After a series of flat performances the next year, Moon lost his starting job midway through the season.

SCORE: 6

RAP SHEET: The 1989 NFL Man of the Year saw his once-spotless reputation--and a possibly lucrative career as a broadcaster--go down the toilet shortly after he came to Minnesota. In 1994 a fired Vikings cheerleader sued Moon for sexual harassment. Among other things, she alleged that a randy Moon had asked to sip tequila from a glass placed between her legs. Within days after the allegations became public, Moon issued strongly worded denials. Moon and the Vikings, meanwhile, quickly moved to have the lawsuit sealed and then reached a confidential agreement with the ex-cheerleader. But Moon's troubles weren't over: In the summer of 1995, the onetime highest-paid player in the league allegedly choked and struck his wife, Felicia, following a row over her credit-card use. Summoned by a 911 call placed by the couple's seven-year-old son, Texas police arrested Moon and he was charged with misdemeanor assault. Despite public expressions of contrition--he told People that "Yes, this was a case of domestic violence"--Moon fought the charges in a jury trial and was acquitted after Felicia Moon changed the story she originally told police, testifying that her injuries might have been self-inflicted.

SCORE: 7

MITIGATING FACTOR: All work and no play makes Warren a bad boy? According to an interview with the New York Times, the veteran QB--who spent the 1999 season as backup with Kansas City--said he discovered something about himself during counseling: He lacks hobbies.

SCORE: 0

PSI: 13

 

PLAYER: Orlando Thomas

POSITION: Safety (1995-present)

STAT SHEET: Thomas led the team in interceptions in his first two seasons (9, 5), but his production has dropped off following a season-ending knee injury in 1996. Despite losing a step, he remains an above-average player on a below-average defense.

SCORE: 5

RAP SHEET: In August of 1999, Thomas pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of simple battery for what he later euphemistically described as "this incident with my wife." Given a six-month suspended sentence, Thomas was also ordered to pay $600 in fines and court costs and to attend domestic-abuse counseling. In 1997 Thomas was arrested outside a bar in his hometown of Crowley, Louisiana, and charged with one count of inciting a riot and two counts of disturbing the peace. After pleading guilty to a single count of disturbing the peace, Thomas was fined $50 and ordered to perform 300 hours of community service.

SCORE: 5

MITIGATING FACTOR: None apparent.

SCORE: 0

PSI: 10

 

PLAYER: Robert Tate

POSITION: Cornerback (1997-present)

STAT SHEET: Drafted as a wide receiver out of the University of Cincinnati, Tate saw little action in his first two seasons in that capacity--not surprising, considering the depth of the team's receiving corps. His blazing speed and aggressive hitting on special teams made him a coach's darling and, midway through the 1999 season, Tate was converted into a cornerback. It looked like a desperate measure to shore up the team's leaky secondary for the playoff run, but by most accounts Tate made the transition well. With the departure of veteran Jimmy Hitchcock, Tate may compete for a starting job next year.

SCORE: 2

RAP SHEET: In an affidavit filed in Pennsylvania Common Pleas court, Tate's former girlfriend--and the mother of his seven-year-old daughter--claimed Tate had threatened in a February telephone conversation to have her beaten by a cousin. Under the terms of a pretrial diversion agreement, Tate agreed to attend anger-management counseling and to avoid further contact with the woman.

SCORE: 3

MITIGATING FACTOR: Tate's attorney said the cornerback "regretted" his actions.

SCORE: 0.5

PSI: 4.5

 

 

UNDER THE INFLUENCE

BY 1990, DWI arrests had become a staple of the Vikings' growing public-relations difficulties, with 13 players arrested in a four-year period. Some beat the rap, and others were sent to treatment. Efforts at spin control encountered mixed success: Former general manager Mike Lynn's 1990 statement that the team's DWI problem had more to do with aggressive policing than an out-of-control club house flopped spectacularly.

Drunk driving has been less of an issue in recent years, with a few exceptions. In 1998 current running-backs coach Carl Hargrave pleaded guilty to refusal to submit to chemical testing in connection with an Eden Prairie fender bender, and in 1997 former Pro Bowl center Jeff Christy and backup tight end Greg DeLong were charged with the uniquely Minnesotan offense of boating while intoxicated. They pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of careless boating.

 

PLAYER: Keith Millard

POSITION: Defensive tackle (1985-91)

STAT SHEET: Millard was a key contributor on the 1987 Vikings team that missed the Super Bowl by one dropped pass, and he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1989. Had his career not been cut short by a knee injury, Millard might be remembered as one of the greats.

SCORE: 7

RAP SHEET: The notoriously hotheaded Millard's troubles were in evidence by the time he reached Washington State University. In 1983 he spent 15 days in a county jail after pleading guilty to simple assault after coldcocking his fraternity president in a dispute over first dibs on a slice of pizza. In 1985 during his rookie season with the Vikes, he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in connection with a late-night row at a Bloomington hotel. In 1988 he was acquitted of head-butting a fellow patron at a Chanhassen bar. Arrested on drunk-driving charges in Washington in 1989, he entered a pre-trial diversion program, agreeing to sober up and attend counseling. Millard attributed a second DWI arrest, in Minnesota in 1990, to "bad luck," though he acknowledged having gone 73 in a 40-m.p.h. zone and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of careless driving. In another motor-vehicle incident, in 1991, Millard smashed his Corvette into a concrete flower planter at a Hardee's drive-through in Mankato and fled on foot to the training-camp dorm. He was not charged, but his 'Vette had a reported $7,500 in damage, and the planter sustained $700 worth.

SCORE: 5

MITIGATING FACTOR: Millard's statement to the arresting officer in the hotel fracas--"My arms are more powerful than your guns"--remains one of the most memorable utterances in Vikings history.

SCORE: 1

PSI: 11

 

PLAYER: Tommy Kramer

POSITION: Quarterback (1977-89)

STAT SHEET: As Tarkenton's heir, Kramer probably never could have lived up to expectations. Still, he proved to be an exciting if erratic performer, racking up three of the four highest single-game passing-yardage totals in team history. His 19 games with 300 or more yards remain a franchise record. He was the highest-rated passer in the league in 1986, his last season as a starter, and he was voted the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

SCORE: 7

RAP SHEET: Plagued by rumors of heavy drinking throughout his career, Kramer was arrested three times on suspicion of drunk driving.

SCORE: 5

MITIGATING FACTOR: He was acquitted the last two times, and later declared that he'd sobered up to avoid further hassles.

SCORE: 1

PSI: 11

 

PLAYER: Terry Allen

POSITION: Running back (1991-94)

STAT SHEET: A gritty and slashing runner at Clemson University, Allen wasn't drafted until the seventh round because scouts doubted he would fully recover from major reconstructive knee surgery. In his brief tenure as a Viking, Allen defused those concerns. His 1,201 rushing yards in 1992 remains the second-highest in team history. Following a second catastrophic injury, Allen became the first NFL running back to return to action on two rebuilt knees.

SCORE: 6

RAP SHEET: In 1997 Allen, then with the Washington team, led Georgia police on a wild car chase. Having been clocked at speeds reaching 135 m.p.h. (and estimated by cops at 180 m.p.h.), he was arrested after crashing his $135,000 Ferrari convertible into a tree. As part of a plea bargain, he spent five days in a county jail, was fined $2,400, and was ordered to perform 40 hours of community service

SCORE: 4

MITIGATING FACTOR: It was a Ferrari and he was drunk.

SCORE: 0.5

PSI: 9.5

 

PLAYER: Chris Walsh

POSITION: Wide receiver (1994-present)

STAT SHEET: Used sparingly as a receiver, Walsh has maintained a spot on the roster thanks to aggressive special-teams play.

SCORE: 2

RAP SHEET: Arrested for drunk driving on January 3, 1998, Walsh pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of careless driving and was given a suspended sentence.

SCORE: 2

MITIGATING FACTOR: Emotional distress? The arrest came immediately after the Vikings' humiliating 38-22 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers?

SCORE: 0.5

PSI: 3.5

 

 

ODDS AND TIGHT ENDS

THE VIKES HAVE had more than a few iconoclasts on the squad over the years, whose transgressions--if nothing else--represent a departure from that monotonous string of garden-variety raps.

 

PLAYER: Jim Marshall

POSITION: Defensive end (1961-79)

STAT SHEET: The original NFL iron man--and a charter Viking--Marshall started 270 straight games in his 19-year career with the team, a record that stands to this day. The dean of the famed Purple People Eaters defense holds the team mark for most career fumble recoveries (29). He earned the nickname "Wrong Way" for his role in the most famous play in Vikings history: a 66-yard fumble return to his own end zone that resulted in a safety. (As it turned out, the Vikes went on to win that 1964 tilt with the 49ers, 27-22.)

SCORE: 9

RAP SHEET: The free-spirited Marshall's post-Vikings career included a number of failed business ventures, and he lost his Bloomington home over a failure to pay taxes. In 1990 Wrong Way was arrested at gunpoint by Duluth police and found to be in possession of 56 grams of cocaine. He was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest and ordered to perform 3,000 hours of community service.

SCORE: 4

MITIGATING FACTOR: Owned up to his mistake in court. Bonus irony points: The legendary late-Seventies' Vikings party headquarters, located in the basement of Marshall's home, had an amusing moniker--Murder City.

SCORE: 2

PSI: 11

 

PLAYER: Broderick Thomas

POSITION: Linebacker (1995)

STAT SHEET: A big disappointment, Thomas was one of the Vikes' few high-profile free-agent acquisitions in 1995. The former first-round draft pick, who signed a three-year, $5.8-million contract, was expected to bring a pass-rushing threat to the linebacking corps. He didn't and was waived after a single season.

SCORE: 3

RAP SHEET: The image-conscious (or is that cost-conscious?) Vikings cut Thomas after he was arrested with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun in his carry-on luggage at Houston International Airport. He was sentenced to probation.

SCORE: 2

MITIGATING FACTOR: Thomas had experience with the business end of a firearm. In 1991 he was shot in the shoulder by an air-force staff sergeant following a late-night scuffle outside a Tampa nightclub.

SCORE: 1

PSI: 4

 

PLAYER: Randy Moss

POSITION: Wide receiver (1998-present)

STAT SHEET: Coach Dennis Green still looks like a genius for rolling the dice and selecting Moss with the 21st overall pick in the 1998 draft. As a rookie, Moss sealed his reputation as one of the league's brightest stars with a pair of electrifying nationally televised performances: five catches for 190 yards against the Packers and three catches, all touchdowns, for 163 yards against the Cowboys. Though his sophomore season was more erratic, Moss has dominated the highlight reels like no Viking in recent memory.

SCORE: 9

RAP SHEET: Well-known, and the reason Moss--once a consensus top-ten draft pick--saw his stock drop when the details began to circulate. In 1995 Moss was convicted of battery following a fight with a Rand, Virginia, high school classmate. The other youth wound up in an intensive care unit with damage to the liver, spleen, and kidneys, and Moss was sentenced to probation and lost his scholarship to Notre Dame. At his next stop, Florida State, the burgeoning phenom was booted from the team for smoking pot--a violation of his probation--and sentenced to 30 days in jail. Since turning pro, Moss has stayed away from the cops and courts--not that he hasn't shown a lingering impulsive streak. Following the Vikings' dismal playoff loss to the Rams in January, a frustrated Moss was caught on camera squirting a referee with a water bottle. The league fined him $40,000; he appealed and the amount was reduced to $25,000.

SCORE: 4

MITIGATING FACTOR: Youth. Bonus irony points for appearing in Nike ad with the theme from The Dukes of Hazzard.

SCORE: 2

PSI: 11

 

 

INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY

Not all arrests end in charges, let alone convictions. Still, sometimes it's hard to dispel lingering suspicions--and the public-relations stains they leave behind.

 

PLAYER: Leroy Hoard

POSITION: Running back (1996-present)

STAT SHEET: A rugged role-player who contributed to Dennis Green's best teams, Hoard has spent most of his time with the Vikes playing second fiddle to fleet-footed straight arrow Robert Smith. He led the club with nine rushing touchdowns in 1998, specializing in short-yardage and goal-line situations. A free agent, he is not expected to return next year.

SCORE: 5

RAP SHEET: In November, during the Vikings' bye week, Hoard drew the attention of police after reportedly arguing loudly with a female companion outside a Florida nightclub; he was arrested and charged with possession of the designer drug Ecstasy.

SCORE: 1

MITIGATING FACTOR: Ecstasy's most notable effect is the mollification of the angry soul, so one can only assume Hoard hadn't consumed the drug. Charges were dropped following a delay in lab results. Hoard said the pills were painkillers, but police claimed they were emblazoned with a marijuana logo.

SCORE: 1

PSI: 5

 

PLAYER: Carl Eller

POSITION: Defensive end (1964-78)

STAT SHEET: A notch above fellow People Eater Marshall and just a notch below former teammate and current state Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, Eller remains the Vikings' all-time sack leader (130) and is regarded as an integral part of one of the best defensive front fours in NFL history. A perennial Hall of Fame candidate, Eller has yet to make the final cut in balloting.

SCORE: 9.5

RAP SHEET: By Eller's own admission, an out-of-control cocaine habit had him on the brink of suicide by the time he ended his career in 1979 as a Seahawk. After going through treatment, he became a drug counselor, working for the NFL, the state of Minnesota, and his own company, Triumph Life Services. A frequent lecturer on substance abuse, Eller has also been accused twice of sexual assault. In 1988 a college sophomore in St. Peter told police she had been "inappropriately" touched by Eller. No criminal charges were filed, but whispers of a civil settlement circulated. In 1999 Eller was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault by North Mankato police. Eller told reporters that he'd had sex with the complainant, but said he thought the situation was "amicable." He declined to give a statement to police and no criminal charges were filed.

SCORE: 4

MITIGATING FACTOR: Never charged or convicted. In 1986 Eller served on a special University of Minnesota task force as part of an effort to clean up the athletic program following a sexual-violence scandal involving the basketball team.

SCORE: 3

PSI: 10.5

PLAYER: Bud Grant

POSITION: Head coach (1967-83; 1985)

STAT SHEET: The most admired Viking of all time? Probably. Old Iron Eyes was famously undemonstrative on the sidelines; his infectious stoicism played well in Minnesota, where it was seen as the defining virtue of the team's golden age. Grant led the Vikings to four Super Bowls and 11 division championships; he ranks first in team history for victories (158), consecutive winning seasons (6), and consecutive division titles (6), and he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1994. In retirement he has been visible as a spokesman for hunters and anglers, and he has actively campaigned against the exercise of Indian treaty rights.

SCORE: 10

RAP SHEET: In 1998 Grant and five fellow hunters were cited for violating federal waterfowling law by hunting snow geese over an illegally baited field in Nebraska. The coach paid a $250 fine rather than face a federal trial.

SCORE: 0.5

MITIGATING FACTOR: In August 1999 the U.S. Attorney's Office in Omaha announced that it would refund the fine after Grant's guide confessed to having baited the field without the knowledge of the hunting party. Although the action cleared the slate for Grant, it also represented an unusual deviation from the strict-liability standard generally imposed for game violations. Bonus irony points: In 1999 a dealership to which Grant had lent his name--Bud Grant's Boat Buying Club--settled a consumer fraud suit filed by Attorney General Mike Hatch for $1.8 million. Hatch said Grant was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the business.

SCORE: .25

PSI: 10.25

 

PLAYER: Joey Browner

POSITION: Safety (1983-91)

STAT SHEET: Among the most dominant defensive backs in Vikings history, the martial-arts-trained Browner led the team in interceptions for four seasons. In 1987 he became the only Vikings defensive back ever to lead the team in tackles and he was a cornerstone of the 1988 Vikings defense that, in one five-game stretch, limited the opposition to 26 points, evoking comparisons to the Purple People Eaters. Selected to six Pro Bowls.

SCORE: 7

RAP SHEET: In 1994 Browner was indicted for allegedly raping a 34-year-old woman in her home. News reports at the time quoted Browner as saying, in conversations secretly taped by the woman, "I know what I did was wrong and...I've been praying and hoping that you're okay."

SCORE: 6

MITIGATING FACTOR: DNA specimens taken from the woman didn't match Browner. Hennepin County prosecutors, noting that she had failed to disclose any other recent sexual contact when she was taken to the hospital, dropped the case. The woman later explained that she had had sex with her fiancé and insisted that her attacker had not ejaculated.

SCORE: 4

PSI: 9

 

PLAYER: Donald Igwebuike

POSITION: Kicker (1990)

STAT SHEET: Igwebuike was the NFC's top-rated kicker in his lone season with the team, nailing 87.5 percent of his field-goal attempts, the best connect rate in Vikings history until Gary Anderson's perfect season in 1998.

SCORE: 2

RAP SHEET: Igwebuike was suspended midway through his short tenure following his arrest on charges that he had bankrolled a million-dollar heroin-smuggling operation from his native Nigeria. The chief evidence came from one of Igwebuike's friends, who was arrested at Orlando International Airport with half a pound of high-grade heroin in his bowels. After striking a plea bargain, the man testified against Igwebuike in a federal trial. Igwebuike was acquitted by a jury.

SCORE: 5

MITIGATING FACTOR: Acquittal. Iggie, as he was known, acknowledged having bought his friend's plane ticket but insisted he'd done it purely as a favor. Ostracized by the NFL, he went on to kick in the CFL and Arena League.

SCORE: 5

PSI: 2

 

PLAYER: Dennis Green

POSITION: Head coach (1992-present)

STAT SHEET: The second-winningest coach in Vikings history (71), Green coached the Vikings to their best record (15-1), won three division titles, and took the team to the playoffs seven of eight years. In 1992 and 1998, he was the NFL Coach of the Year. Despite those accomplishments, he has had a notoriously rocky relationship with the local sports press and the fans. Where Bud Grant was considered heroically reserved, Green has been cast as standoffish and arrogant.

SCORE: 8

RAP SHEET: The local press has delighted in exposing Green's allegedly troubled experiences with women; in 1995 the Star Tribune reported that the coach's old employer, Stanford University, had settled out-of-court with a former Athletic Department employee who was suing the school for wrongful termination. According to the Strib, the settlement came just as the woman was prepared to amend her suit to include a sexual-harassment claim against Green. According to a 1993 affidavit from Dan Endy, the Vikings' former director of operations, two other women who did business with the Vikings had complained about sexual harassment from the coach. Green has vigorously denied all the charges.

SCORE: 2

MITIGATING FACTOR: Green never was actually sued. Bonus irony points: If you believe Strib columnist Sid Hartman, Green "has complete control of his players and what they do on and off the field."

SCORE: 1

PSI: 9

 

PLAYER: Richard Solomon

POSITION: Assistant head coach (1992-present)

STAT SHEET: When Green arrived at Winter Park, he brought along Richard Solomon, a former college roommate and close friend with no NFL coaching experience. Hired initially as the outside-linebackers coach, Solomon became the defensive-backs coach in 1994, and he was given the additional title of assistant head coach last season. In the post-mortems following a disappointing 1999 season, several former players blamed Solomon for the team's defensive troubles and morale problems.

SCORE: 3

RAP SHEET: Shortly after Solomon came to the team, a front-office secretarial intern claimed Solomon sexually harassed her; according to a 1995 report in the Star Tribune, the team's former board of directors paid the woman $150,000 before any lawsuit was filed.

SCORE: 3

MITIGATING FACTOR: None provided. Solomon has never publicly commented on the matter.

SCORE: 0

PSI: 6

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