Part I: What Would Purple People Eaters Do?

In Minnesota Vikings lore, the Purple People Eaters are almost next to God. So instead of asking "What would Jesus do," we asked Purple People Eaters Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Alan Page what they would do if they played in today's game. The first of this two-part series looks at the camaraderie of those Vikings legends compared to the free-agent system of today.

Bigger. Faster. Stronger. Those three words have been a catch phrase in athletics for decades. Whole training programs were built around the concept.

But when talking to some of the best athletes of the 1970s — at least in Minnesota — the defensive line of the Purple People Eaters, they weren't so impressed. Especially with the "bigger" part of the equation.

It's probably not comparing apples to apples when putting Hall of Famers Carl Eller and Alan Page, plus Hall candidate Jim Marshall into today's game, but who said the media is ever fair?

Still, the old-timers had no problem standing up to the questions and weren't about to succumb to today's NFL player.

Today's player definitely is bigger, but the PPE of the 1970s had chemistry and camaraderie, and they aren't sure that bigger is better in today's game either.

The defensive linemen of the 2000s have free agency to worry about, but Page said today's player could still capture the art of togetherness on the defensive line.

"I think they could (recapture the camaraderie of the 1970s)," Page told VU at a gathering to celebrate Eller's election to the Hall earlier this year. "The way it happens is that you work for a common goal. You can do that, it seems to me, at the same time you're working to line your own pockets, to have your own individuality. Ultimately, the goal has to be success on the field.

"I think one of the things we understood was that the more successful Carl was, the more successful Jim was, the more successful the rest of us were going to be. It wasn't as though we were competing against each other. The goal was whoever gets there (to the quarterback) first was going to make us all better. Whoever has success was going to make things that much better for the rest of us."

If the 2004 starting defensive line is to end up with Kenny Mixon, Kevin Williams, Chris Hovan and Kenechi Udeze, their combined service with the Vikings is seven seasons. Combined.

Gary Larsen played 10 years and Page played 12 years with the Vikings (four together). Marshall played for the Purple 19 years, Eller 15. Marshall, Eller and Page played together all 12 years of Page's service to the team.

With modern-day players leaving every year via free agency, Marshall wasn't so sure today's player would even want to form the deep bonds that developed between the PPE.

"I don't know that they would want to form the kind of relationship we had back then," Marshall said. "It was very difficult when one of the guys left. Today they're leaving constantly. Guys are there for a couple-two-three years and he's off to another team. It was really difficult.

"To be in a sport like football like it was then, and to be able to play with the people that we played with, there was such a high degree of ESP going on. We were really connected to each other, and you don't find that in any other business. I've searched for it outside of football, but you don't get that kind of closeness. Carl and I were roommates for 17 years. I can tell you on any given day how he was thinking, what he was thinking, how he was going to practice, how he was going to play. I knew that, and he knew that about me."

It was a matter of simply getting the job done, according to Page.

"This is a group of people that did what they had to do when they had to do it. The only technique was figuring out a way to do it on the fly," he said.

Marshall agreed. "It's like the Old West — whatever it takes to win," he added.

It was camaraderie for the record books with the Purple People Eaters.

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