Lurtsema's Reaction: Kassulke's passing

Former Viking Bob Lurtsema was set to be roommates with Karl Kassulke in 1973, when the former safety suffered a paralyzing motorcycle accident. Lurtsema remembers that day well, along with the player and the man that Kassulke was. Kassulke died of a heart attack earlier this week.

Former Vikings safety Karl Kassulke, who died earlier this week of a heart attack at age 67, is remembered as being a hard-hitting player and fun-loving man. He played for the Vikings from 1963-72 and was scheduled to go to Mankato for the start of training camp in 1973 when a motorcycle accident paralyzed him.

Kassulke founded the "Viking Report" newsletter in the late 1970s – now Viking Update – which has gone through many transformations until its current form 30 years later. Below are some thoughts on Kassulke from Lurtsema, one of Kassulke's teammates and friends.

On Kassulke and the day of the accident … "Karl Kassulke was the hardest-hitting strong safety I ever played against or played with. The neatest thing about him is that he had the most contagious laugh. It was absolutely priceless. The respect he had from everybody was second to none. When he had that accident on the first day of training camp, he was going to be my roommate. We were supposed to meet at 4 o'clock at The Left Guard (a since-closed restaurant and bar), but I flew in early. I always said, ‘Why didn't I call him? It would have changed everything. It would have changed the day.' You know how sometimes you think that stuff. He was going to be my roommate. He had so much energy. Between practices, that was our time. We'd go bowling. We'd go to The Left Guard. Whatever it was, if there was something going on, it was always Karl and I leading the pack, more Karl than myself."

On first impressions … "The reason I really got to know him, when I came here from the Giants, I had a pin in my hand from a broken thumb – I had a couple of pins. I'm in there talking to (former Vikings trainer Fred) Zamberletti and we're looking at the pins. Karl is looking at the pin and he says, ‘Here, let me see that.' He goes over and he grabs one of the pins – one of them is still in there – and he pulls it out (laughing). I have no idea what's going on or what the doctor recommended and he sees it sticking out a little bit and thinks it looks like it's starting to come out. Real fast he picks at the scab and pulls it out. I go, ‘Oh my God, now my thumb's going to fall off.' (More laughter). It was just time to come out, so I've always called him Doc. We always had a good time. Everywhere we went, ‘Hey, Doc.' He called me the patient."

On the work ethic … "When he got in that accident, obviously he had our respect from his work ethic and positive attitude. Sometimes it sounds redundant, but when the Vikings had those teams, we played together for a lot of years. The reason we played together was that the majority of us had that attitude that was contagious and was very positive. The ones that didn't have that positive attitude, they just moved on to different teams."

On the day of the accident … "When that accident happened … I can remember this day like it just happened. Bud (Grant) got up in front of the team and said, ‘We have to pray for one of our teammates.' It was in the auditorium there in Mankato. He was up on stage and of course we were in our seats. He broke down and started crying. So did I and the majority of the other players. That's the type of respect he had from Bud Grant. When you win Bud's loyalty like that, that pretty much tells you how special you are. You really don't have to deal anymore with character issues."

On their games off the field … "We used to fight for seats at lunch for card games. We couldn't deal them fast enough or late enough into the morning. We could play cards all night if we had to. Everybody loved Karl, and, like I said, he's the toughest, hardest-hitting strong safety I've ever played with. Great special teams guy as well."

Visitation for Kassulke will be from 4-8 p.m. Wednesday at Klecatsky and Sons Funeral Home in Eagan and at 10 a.m. Thursday at Oak Hills Church in Eagan, followed by an 11 a.m. funeral.

Memorials are preferred to Wings Outreach, "a Christian ministry to the disabled that Karl loved and worked with for many years," according to his obituary.

Wings Outreach
PO Box 49983
Blaine, MN 55449

Kassulke's obituary can be found here.

Bob Lurtsema registered 57 careers sacks as 12-year veteran defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.

Viking Update Top Stories