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Blair emotional, honored by ROH announcement
Matt Blair (Bill Smith/Getty)
Posted Jul 31, 2012
Former Vikings linebacker Matt Blair recounted a career that involved 20 blocked kicks and an inauspicious beginning. His tough beginning didn’t define his successful career, one that will be memorialized in the Vikings Ring of Honor.
Vikings fans will have a chance to honor one of the faces of the Vikings franchise, one that earned his stripes at a critical time in team history, when Matt Blair is inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor during the Oct. 25 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Blair’s place in Vikings history is iconic and ironic at the same time.
When Blair was selected by the Vikings in the second round of the 1974 draft, he was brought in simply for his talent. However, he wasn’t going to get to start right away. He was behind a trio of linebackers that weren’t about to give up their jobs – Wally Hilgenberg, Roy Winston and Jeff Siemon. Complicating matters was that the Vikings’ first-round pick that season was Fred McNeill, who also played outside linebacker. If Blair was going to make his mark, he was not only going to have to do it with a venerable head coach (Bud Grant) with a general disdain for rookies on a veteran team that was reaching its peak. Long story short (too late), odds weren’t good in the short term.
In the summer of 1974, the Vikings were at the height of their Purple People Eater largesse. It was a time when shorts were
short and NFL starting lineups were consistently the same from year to year. With no free agency, players spent their entire careers with one team. Teams were good for a long time. Teams were bad for a long time. Blair was one of the first replacement parts of the Vikings dynasty. But things would get complicated early on.
Grant decided to see what his replacement part had early on. In a preseason game, Blair was given a shot against the first-team Miami offense and things didn’t go well.
By his own admission, Blair blew a play in which he got burned for a long gain. Grant and Don Shula were the NFL version of a Hatfield-McCoy type feud and Blair would be in the middle of it. From that inauspicious first moment, Blair would not only become a fixture at linebacker, he would change the way special teams were played … until Shula made sure Blair was a dying breed.
Over the years, Grant has maintained the skill of players like Alan Page and Blair as kick blockers was thwarted by Shula, who served on the NFL’s competition committee at a time that the Vikings were blocking kicks with such regularity that the rules in blocking a kick had to be changed. Blair was the reason. He had mastered the art of using a defensive lineman to assist his leap to block a kick, until Shula promoted a chance disallowing that. Blair finished his career with 20 blocked kicks – a total that could have been doubled if not for rules changes specifically put in place to stop him.
Blair said he was humbled by the decision to make him the 20th member of the Ring of Honor and was surprised when he got the call to the Ring.
“I thought they were going to do an interview,” Blair said from the practice field of Mankato Monday afternoon. “I didn’t think I was going to be inducted into the Ring of Honor for the Vikings. I came down (to Mankato) and they said that this morning and I was very emotional, very touched by it.”
Blair knew his contribution to the franchise was enough to earn his spot on the Ring of Honor wall, but didn’t know when it was going to come. When it did, he felt his career had come full circle as a representative of the franchise.
“The Ring of Honor, I think, is something that is very special,” Blair said. “(Was getting in) on my mind? Oh yeah, it’s on your mind and I knew that there (would) be a time – when there’s a chance – and this is my chance. I’m honored to be a part of it.”
The Ring of Honor now has 20 members. Blair may be as good a representative of the transition from the Purple People Eater era into the Metrodome vintage Vikings as any. Long before Monday’s announcement, his place in Vikings history was etched in stone. On Monday, the team memorialized it and gave it a sense of well-deserving permanence.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for
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