To younger Vikings fans, Matt Blair is a player that is part of Vikings lore, but not all that familiar. Suffice it to say, they missed out.
Back when the Vikings were dominant but aging, Blair was the next generation of Vikings in the long, arduous place of replacing legends. In his first three NFL seasons, Blair played in two Super Bowls and was on the field for the Hail Mary pass that has old-school Vikings fans still claiming “Pearson pushed off” 37 years later.
Ask Bud Grant about Matt Blair and the first thing he will bring up (or at least did in previous interviews with Viking Update) is that Blair changed how special teams were played in the NFL. As legend has it, Don Shula was on the NFL’s competition committee and Blair had blocked two kicks against Miami that he found objectionable and changed the rules to prohibit guys like Blair from altering the outcome of games.
Those who saw Blair play were impressed. It seems only fitting that Blair will join the other Vikings legends in the team’s Ring of Honor Thursday at halftime of the Vikings-Buccaneers game.
Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said Blair exemplified the tone he was hoping to set for the 2012 Vikings – focusing on the task in front of them and not dwelling on the disappointment of the last two years.
“He talked to our players about visualizing success and he talked to them about not getting caught up in the past, but just focusing on the moment,” Frazier said. “That was really something that was part of our approach with our team as we opened training camp. Without me even talking about what direction I wanted to take our team in that first meeting, it is so apropos to listen to him speak to our team and talk to them about success and visualizing success.”
Asked to amplify on those comments, Blair said that he took his own experience as a player during the salad days of the organization when young players were the exception to the norm. He came into a veteran team that had bonded for years and had to prove himself more to his teammates than his opponents. In a different era, the message rang true to a team that was viewed as an also-ran coming into the 2012 season.
“In general, there are ways that you can win, but you have to pay the price,” Blair said. “I told them what I did when I played is that you watch film, you look at the plays, you look at what you need to do as a linebacker, running back, wide receiver, and I said, ‘Just visualize it. Look at the film, visualize it. Keep it there. Continue thinking about it, and when they call you to run the play, you can do it within seconds.’”
The story Blair related resonates through the ages. He was part of a changing of the guard in the history of the franchise and imparted the same message to this year’s Vikings – make your own mark and make your own piece of history.
“You have to focus, you have to leave things that you do in life, you have to let it go and come to practice and you practice at it every day, every play,” Blair said. “You just do it over and over and over in your mind and physically you do it, and I just said, ‘You guys, it takes your entire heart to make it happen. It’s not just today. It’s your heart and you give it all. You focus on it and you’ll accomplish it.’”
Blair’s acceptance speech will be limited to two minutes at halftime of Thursday’s game, but appreciation from those who witnessed his contributions might run over. The current crop of Vikings won’t mind a delayed start to the second half. They owe Matt Blair already.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.