A dominant NFL defense goes down in history differently than other positions. An offense is often defined by the dominant individuals who lead it. At the same time, the defense is considered a team effort attributed to the biggest names. One of the most famous examples of this is the Purple People Eaters, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense from the late ’60s and ’70s.
Who were ‘The Purple People Eaters?”
Although the Purple People Eaters became a staple of the early days after the NFL-AFL merger, reports The Star Tribune, their origins go back to the years before the history-changing moment. Their foundation was laid when they traded for defensive end Jim Marshall of the Browns. Over the next few years, Alan Page, Carl Eller, and Gary Larsen were added to the mix. One of the best defensive eras of professional football was born.
Starting in 1968, the Vikings became a force in the NFC, winning the division 10 times in 11 seasons. All four players became staples of the Pro Bowl, and running against Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Bart Starr; the team made its name for a relentless play style that made the opposition panic. In 1969, the team tackled the opponents’ quarterback 49 combined times, and all four players made the Pro Bowl because of it.
Although the team took on many forms, it was this core four that got the group its reputation, and for a decade, they were one of the most feared forces in the NFL. The Purple People Eaters might never have won a Super Bowl despite making it to the Big Game multiple times. Still, their status in NFL history cannot go ignored.
The Purple People Eaters’ impact
Perhaps the team that’s best compared to the Purple People Eaters was the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom, details Bleacher Report. However, what makes the Vikings version so unique was the prolonged success. Ten years is a lifetime in the NFL. Save for the Tom Brady-led Patriots, no team boasted such a consistent presence on offense of defense for that long.
As the players began to go away and retire, their importance on the Vikings history began to take on a new form. Vikings fans born years after the Purple People Eaters had a soft spot for the greatest show in franchise history. While other Vikings teams have found limited success in the ensuing years, none have matched the Purple People Eaters’ reign.
The Purple People Eaters’ legacy
Perhaps the greatest asset that the crew had working for it was its status as misfits. Now more than 40 years removed from the end of their reign, all four members are still here to look back on their time in Minnesota. Still royalty in both Minnesota and across the NFL, the Purple People Eaters are the benchmark for defensive success in the NFL.
In 2011, Larsen spoke about the impact that his time in the NFL had on him, according to The Olympian. Larsen’s humble roots made his NFL career special and helped him reach his full potential.
“I never dreamed of playing in the NFL,” said Larsen, who now lives in Lacey. “It’s not like kids today who start preparing for the NFL in high school. In high school, I played 8-man football in Northern Minnesota. I went to a small college.”
All of these men had their own stories that helped shape their success. Page, the rare defensive player to win the NFL MVP, rode his success to the Hall of Fame. Eller, a six-time Pro Bowler, also joined the Hall. While Marshall and Larsen never got the same respect, they are still honored by their former team regularly and can often be seen cheering them on while being cheered themselves.