EAGAN, Minn. - It was great to see so many Vikings Legends enjoy seeing each other.
Some reunions during Vikings Legends were dozens of years overdue and were made possible when alumni returned to Minnesota in a long time; other catch-ups essentially continued the ongoing conversations, with stories that seem to get better with each retelling.
"Man, fantastic, always good to see all of the former players and a lot of the former coaches and just connect with all of the guys," safety Todd Scott said. "Some teammates, some guys you played against."
Scott excitedly greeted former Vikings and Chiefs teammate Greg Manusky, who is now coaching Minnesota's linebackers with the zeal he had as a player, and made sure folks knew that Vikings receivers coach Keenan McCardell is "one of the absolute best dressers in NFL history."
"I just want his old closet," ribbed Scott, who had worked out with McCardell before the draft that made them professional football players.
The Vikings welcomed more than 100 Vikings Legends for what's become an annual celebration that includes attending a Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium, visiting the team's Saturday walk-through and having lunch at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center and a more formal reception and dinner at Omni Viking Lakes. New this year, the returnees had the option of playing WhirlyBall on Friday.
The returning Legends spanned the first six decades of Vikings football, including 1963 NFL Rookie of the Year Paul Flatley, who played for Minnesota from 1963-67 and for Atlanta from 1968-70. A fourth-round pick out of Northwestern, Flatley recorded at least 50 catches, 777 yards and three scores in three of his first four seasons.
Flatley joked that original Vikings Head Coach Norm Van Brocklin said, "Paul, you've got two things going for you buddy, s* and nothing."
Apparently there was more than that since Van Brocklin brought Flatley to the Falcons as Atlanta's head coach.
"I had a wonderful time playing in the NFL. I wasn't supposed to be here. I just told you how talented I was," Flatley said during the dinner program hosted by Pete Bercich. "Fran [Tarkenton] made it happen. His scrambling used to drive Van Brocklin crazy, but if he had any pressure in the pocket, he would scramble around, and that was good, because that's all I could do, and he would find me."
Sammy White, who became the next Vikings receiver to win an NFL Rookie of the Year award in 1976, aptly followed Flatley during the program.
The Louisiana native described overcoming the drops during his first preseason and trying to adjust to the cold. He also explained the time an injury took original Vikings athletic trainer Fred Zamberletti by surprise.
"Fred thought he saw every kind of injury that could happen in football," but White got hit on the chin and bit his tongue one day. "Fred looked at my mouth and almost passed out, so it was something he had never seen before."
White and teammate Ahmad Rashad led the Legends out of the tunnel before Sunday's 28-24 win over the Lions in which Vikings receiver Adam Thielen tied him with 50 career touchdowns, the fourth-most in team history.
Safety Robert Griffith joined forces with Bercich for Vikings special teams units. He said he appreciated Bercich's role as a wedge-busting hammer that allowed him to get through and make tackles. Griffith, who was undrafted, described the realization of how tough it was going to be to make an NFL roster.
"I remember talking with Vencie Glenn in a meeting with all these guys, 'How many guys did you keep last year?' He said, 'Six, and we brought another guy in from another team.' I said, 'What? There's 14 guys that are going to get cut?'
"That's when I knew I had to stand out and make myself indispensable," Griffith added. "There's this saying about the more you can do, so I went after the more-you-can-do model and knew if I didn't stand out in something that I was going to get cut."
Griffith wound up playing 195 games, including 164 starts for Minnesota (119/88), Cleveland (44/44) and Arizona (32/32) from 1994-2006.
Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell created windows in their schedule to stop by the dinner and thank the Vikings Legends for their impact on the franchise then and now.
"It was important for our football team to end our walk-through and see a huge line of Vikings Legends and families out to support this year's version of the Minnesota Vikings," O'Connell said. "When they looked over, they saw former teammates that hadn't seen each other in a long time, myself included with a guy like [Tony Richardson] over there. They saw teammates that experienced highs and lows as a football team persevere and respond in moments that are quite honestly testing for a football team in our league.
"Thank you for making the trip to be here at what I feel is a critical time for our team," O'Connell later added. "Tomorrow is a big moment for our team. ... Our team is going to play well tomorrow, and a big reason for that is because of the pride they have in this organization and all of those who came before them."
Pro Football Hall of Fame and Vikings Ring of Honor member Carl Eller received a standing ovation from the room when he walked to the stage. His remarks were not scheduled, but they ring true.
"Being a Viking is in your heart, it's in your blood. It's part of who you are," Eller said.