Part II: 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 Carle Eller, Alan Page and Jim Marshall what they would do if they played in today's game. The second of this two-part series looks at the rules changes that affect today's defensive linemen and the size difference between the PPE and the current defensive linemen.

Comparing eras in any sport is never easy because there are many differences between the NFL of the 1960s and ‘70s and the NFL of 2004.

It's probably not comparing apples to apples when putting Hall of Famers Carl Eller and Alan Page, plus Hall hopeful 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 aren't sure that bigger is better in today's game. They will acknowledge, however, that many of the rules changes since their playing days favor the offense.

Different era, different rules
While the defensive linemen 30 years ago may have been more cohesive, they also were allowed more leeway in the rules with their moves on the field, and they had a chance to set up the opposing offensive linemen better because they were playing almost every down.

"From a defensive lineman's perspective, we played four downs. Whenever the other team had the ball, we were on the field and we really paid attention to the game because if something happened you had to get on the field right away. That's one of the big changes," said Eller, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 8. "Our defense really dominated to the extent that they had to give the offense more weapons and more flexibility.

"Most of the rule changes have been to benefit the offense. I think defensive players can compensate and adjust, if you get the right combination of players. … When a player has the talent, they're still going to be effective."

Being big isn't always better
Then there is the matter of size. The starting defensive linemen for the Vikings' final game of 2003 — Kenny Mixon, Kevin Williams, Chris Hovan and Chuck Wiley — averaged 288 pounds.

Eller is listed by the Vikings as having played at 237 pounds, Marshall at 248 and Page said he played anywhere from 270 to 210 — no kidding, 210 pounds, lighter than the average running back on today's Vikings roster and 54 pounds lighter than quarterback Daunte Culpepper's listed weight for 2003.

"There's a whole different technique that you use now than you used then. The players are different. You've got some pretty large people out there now," Marshall said. "We would probably be playing in the backfield if we were playing today. Alan was probably at some points in the season 215, 220. I was 215, 220, 225. I generally started out 235 and by the end of the season I was lucky to stay about 220."

Page, known for his quickness off the snap, was asked if he would have to play defensive back in today's game because of the bigger players on the offensive line (the Vikings' starting offensive line averaged 325 pounds in 2003, about 100 pounds more than Page's playing weight).

"I wish I had people that big to play against," Page said. "The laws of physics suggest that they may be strong, but everybody's strong, but you can only move so fast. When I did play against players that were 300, 320, I thought that was an advantage.

"Most of the years I played I was 245, 250, but I played for four or five years when I was 220."

A big offensive lineman moving backwards into his pass-protecting set stands little chance against a quick defensive lineman who is beating him to the spot and knows how to use momentum and leverage to accomplish the task, Page said.

Marshall agreed.

"You had to be quick and there was a lot of technique that you used back then," Marshall said. "They don't teach that now. They have their own way of playing, not to say one way is better than the other. What they've done is adjust to the size and weight of the players now. It's a different game."

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