Minnesota Vikings Memorial Day

While Americans honor those that served their country today, Viking Update also wanted to reflect on those players and coaches who served the Minnesota Vikings and have since died. Here is a short list with fond memories of six of the most memorable.

Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who gave their life serving the United States. Keeping those brave men and women in mind, Viking Update also wanted to take a look back at some of the more memorable Vikings who have also died.

The team has been relatively blessed to have many of their past players and coaches still living, but the last year has seen a couple of the all-time greats pass on. The following is a quick glance at their career, but more important their personalities in the words of long-time Vikings player and supporter Bob Lurtsema.

Lurtsema summed up his feelings on many of these players with this statement: "I don't know why the good Lord is taking the good ones."

But he also wanted to emphasize that he isn't just trying to give false praise to those who have passed, emphasizing that "I haven't got one positive thing to say about Gene Upshaw," the former executive director of the NFL Players Association.

The same can't be said for these Vikings that he came to know and embrace over the years, a couple of them being former teammates and even a training camp roommate.

"With me saying positive things about these guys, I'm speaking from the heart. I'm not trying to make these people more than what they were," Lurtsema said.

Karl Kassulke, safety, played with the Vikings from 1963-72. Kassulke died in October from a heart attack. He was a hard-hitting safety for part of the glory years of the Vikings, but his career ended suddenly and prematurely in 1973, when he was paralyzed from a motorcycle accident on reporting day to training camp.

Lurtsema says: "He and I were supposed to room together. The sad part about it is I was supposed to meet him at 4:30 at The Left Guard (a bar and grill), and I flew in early the day that he got hurt. I always said, ‘Why didn't I call him,' because I was going to surprise him and hit The Left Guard. You can't blame yourself. So you know how much I loved Karl. At training camp, he had the energy that I had. We loved to have fun, and that's just the way Karl was, just a totally fun guy. During our time off, we'd go bowling. We looked for anything to do for excitement. A lot of guys would sit around or complain or want to take a nap. We'd go bowling or we'd play with our rocketry or play cards. He was always such a positive influence. He had a goofy laugh, but oh was he tough. Just tough. Just the greatest guy in the world. He always had a 100-percent positive attitude. You never had to worry about Karl bringing his best come Sunday, or even in the locker room. He was a 10."

Wally Hilgenburg, linebacker, 1968-79. Hilgenburg died in September after a battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).

Lurtsema says: "Wally, the prankster? I talked about Karl, but Wally was a little bit different. Wally was sneakier being the prankster. It was his idea in Super Bowl IX when he came up to me and Alan Page and said, ‘Grab your wastebaskets, fill them full of water and we're going to throw water on Howard Cosell.' We snuck up behind Howard, threw water on him and his toupee moved. It was hysterical. We'd always tease Wally about his big hairdo. He'd always have his big pick with for the big hair of his. Wally liked all the gay jokes back when we didn't have to be politically correct. There was another guy that played guard for the Bears, Mark Nordquist, that liked the same type of jokes. When Grady Alderman went to Chicago, he told Nordquist about Wally. We both knew those were the guys where that was their sense of humor. Before the game, Wally has Grady drop some roses off to Nordquist. Then Wally pancakes him early in the game. He had him right on his back. In a rather unique voice, he said, ‘Say, I hear you're one of us.' You've got to realize when you're a professional athlete, we can pull a prank and refocus immediately. But when you're playing it was fun and you didn't short yourself or your coaches or your teammates by pulling a few pranks. We could go for hours about pranks guys pulled on me during games, like Bob Lurtsema Day when they were all over my case – Wally being the leader. He wanted to have three guys lay me out during a special teams play, but I heard about it the day before. Wally was always messing around like that. I just light up when you bring up Wally and Karl. Just two great people. The neat part about it is that both of those great athletes gave back to the community big-time and appreciated the game."

Dave Huffman, offensive lineman, 1979-83; '85-90. Huffman died in a car accident in 1998 while on his way to the season finale of his alma mater, Notre Dame.

Lurtsema says: "I didn't play with Dave, obviously. He was a prankster too. He had a great sense of humor. Unfortunately, he got in that car wreck going to a Notre Dame game. He had stay up all night and was short on sleep. Whenever I was around, he would rip on me for being ugly and rip on my crooked elbows. It was constant badgering back and forth. With Dave, we'd always try to come up with one more rotten saying that we'd try to throw on each other's shoulders. He was very quick-witted."

Korey Stringer, offensive tackle, 1995-2000. Stringer, a mammoth of a man, died during training camp in 2001 after suffering complications from heat stroke. He collapsed just after practice on the field and later died at the hospital.

Lurtsema says: "With Korey, there's another guy that gave to charity. I don't know why the good Lord is taking the good ones. Korey was such a wonderful man. He made a point one time that he wanted to get more involved with charity work and made sure that I knew to call him whenever there was an opportunity for him for charity work. He was that giving. One of the last times I talked to Korey, I said, ‘You know, you've got the ugliest dreads I've ever seen in my life.' He looked at me and said, ‘You're the ugliest white person I've ever seen, so what's your point?' I said, ‘I guess I haven't got one.' So we high-fived and walked away. The thing with all these guys, there is no racial aspect with any of them talking about the whites or the blacks. Nope. We were friends. It made no difference what color you were."

Chuck Evans, fullback, 1993-98. Evans was a lead blocker for Robert Smith and a special teams standout for the 1998 Vikings, a team that set the then-NFL record with 556 points scored. He went on to play until 2000 in Baltimore. He died in October last year from heart failure.

Lurtsema says: "Chuck was always at all the events and helped me out on many occasions, signing autographs at my restaurants. Chuck was involved in charity – he went on snowmobile rallies and we went up North with him and did a lot of things with him. But he was a little on the quiet side. He was just a steady Freddie, consistent guy. You always knew where you stood with him. A lot of people would say I'm a big-mouthed extrovert, whereas he was a very, very nice person that was more of an introvert."

Chip Myers, wide receivers coach, 1995-98. Myers was set to take over as offensive coordinator for the Vikings in 1999 when he died of a heart attack. He had played wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers (1967) and Cincinnati Bengals (1969-76).

Lurtsema says: "I played golf with Chip quite a few times and the players loved him. He was the wide receivers coach. Chip was always optimistic. He made the game fun. A lot of coaches that stick around have success and longevity because they make the players enjoy it. Some coaches can take the love away from you, but Chip re-instilled your enthusiasm for the game each and every week. Wonderful, wonderful man."


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



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