Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
John Henry Ward, who was the Vikings' first-round selection (25th overall) in the 1970 NFL draft and played as an offensive lineman with the team for six seasons, has died.
Ward, 64, was a businessman in Oklahoma City.
Here is a story from the Daily Oklahoman's Berry Tramel.
John Henry Ward, a two-sport all-American at Oklahoma State and a lineman on Bud Grant’s grand Minnesota Viking teams in the 1970s, died of cancer Tuesday in Oklahoma City. He was 64.
“He was much more than an amazing football player and wrestler,” said Ross Powell, who played little league football on a team coached by Ward. “His post-NFL career is every bit as impressive as his football career. He was a mentor to hundreds of kids, not only as a football coach but a life coach as well.”
Ward came to OSU from Tulsa Rogers and became a 1969 all-American tackle in football and a 1969 all-American in wrestling, with a third place finish at heavyweight in the NCAA Championships.
Ward played on two Viking Super Bowl teams.
“One of the most likable guys there,” said Terry Brown, a teammate of Ward with both OSU and the Vikings. “Everybody liked to be around him. He was an ultimate teammate. Would go to battle for anybody.”
Ward loved to hunt. He suffered a broken leg in a Viking game. Two weeks later, his cast came off. Turns out Ward would go hunting with his broken leg. So doctors put him in an L-shaped cast so he couldn’t walk.
“Bud Grant would come to Oklahoma and go hunting with him,” Brown said of the iconicMinnesota coach. “They spent a lot of time hunting together.”
After football, Ward ran a cattle ranch, managed a farm/ranch retail store, was elected a county commissioner and eventually became executive director for the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.
In 2002, Ward became vice president of The Poultry Federation and director of its Oklahoma City operations.
Cris Carter will take another run at making the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The ex-Vikings receiver was among the 27 semifinalists named today for the Hall. The list will be narrowed to 15 in early January for the group of selectors, who will meet and vote Feb. 2, the day before the Super Bowl, to elect five modern inductees and vote on the two senior candidates.
First-time eligible players among the candidates are: guard/tackle Larry Allen, kicker Morten Andersen, safety John Lynch, tackle Jonathan Ogden, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, and defensive end Michael Strahan.
Cornerback Albert Lewis, who was previously eligible, is also a first-time candidate.
Andersen played one season for the Vikings, as running back Roger Craig, who was a star with the 49ers, played two with the Vikings.
The others have all been semifinalists before. The complete list:
• Larry Allen, G/T – 1994-2005 Dallas Cowboys, 2006-07 San Francisco 49ers
• Morten Andersen, K – 1982-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-2000, 2006-07 Atlanta Falcons, 2001 New York Giants, 2002-03 Kansas City Chiefs, 2004 Minnesota Vikings
• Steve Atwater, S – 1989-1998 Denver Broncos, 1999 New York Jets
• Jerome Bettis, RB – 1993-95 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1996-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
• Tim Brown, WR/KR – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
• Cris Carter, WR – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins
• Don Coryell, Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers
• Roger Craig, RB – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings
• Terrell Davis, RB – 1995-2001 Denver Broncos
• Edward DeBartolo, Jr., Owner – 1977-2000 San Francisco 49ers
• Kevin Greene, LB/DE – 1985-1992 Los Angeles Rams, 1993-95 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1996, 1998-99 Carolina Panthers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers
• Charles Haley, DE/LB – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys
• Joe Jacoby, T – 1981-1993 Washington Redskins
• Albert Lewis, CB – 1983-1993 Kansas City Chiefs, 1994-98 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders
• John Lynch, FS – 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004-07 Denver Broncos
• Karl Mecklenburg, LB – 1983-1994 Denver Broncos
• Art Modell, Owner – 1961-1995 Cleveland Browns, 1996-2011 Baltimore Ravens
• Jonathan Ogden, T – 1996-2007 Baltimore Ravens
• Bill Parcells, Coach – 1983-1990 New York Giants, 1993-96 New England Patriots, 1997-99 New York Jets, 2003-06 Dallas Cowboys
• Andre Reed, WR – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins
• Warren Sapp, DT – 1995-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004-07 Oakland Raiders
• Will Shields, G – 1993-2006 Kansas City Chiefs
• Michael Strahan, DE – 1993-2007 New York Giants
• Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner – 1989-2006 National Football League
• Steve Tasker, ST/WR – 1985-86 Houston Oilers, 1986-1997 Buffalo Bills
• Aeneas Williams, CB/S – 1991-2000 Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, 2001-04 St. Louis Rams
• George Young, Contributor – 1968-1974 Baltimore Colts, 1975-78 Miami Dolphins, 1979-1997 New York Giants, 1998-2001 National Football League
The Seniors Committee nominees, who were announced in August, are defensive tackle Curley Culp, (1968-1974 Kansas City Chiefs, 1974-1980 Houston Oilers, 1980-81 Detroit Lions) and linebacker Dave Robinson, (1963-1972 Green Bay Packers, 1973-74 Washington Redskins).
Michael Bennett, who made the Pro Bowl for the Vikings as a rookie in 2002 after rushing for nearly 1,300 yards, will spend 15 months in jail in Florida.
The former Wisconsin standout was sentenced on Friday.
He played five seasons for the Vikings, but after his standout second season, he was plagued by injuries and inconsistency. He also played for Kansas City, Tampa Bay, San Diego and Oakland. He was briefly with the New Orleans Saints, but did not play any games for them.
Here's the AP story on Bennett:
By Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A former NFL first-round draft pick has been sentenced to more than a year in prison for taking part in a fraud scheme.
Michael Bennett was sentenced to 15 months on Friday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He pleaded guilty to wire fraud three months ago.
The 34-year-old Bennett was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and played for six teams, last appearing for the Oakland Raiders in 2010.
Prosecutors say the FBI operated an undercover check-cashing store in North Miami used by Bennett, two other former football players and five others from February through April. The group allegedly cashed about $500,000 in fraudulent tax refund checks.
Former Raiders and New York Giants defensive tackle William Joseph and former Syracuse player Louis Gacheline have also pleaded guilty to related charges and are awaiting sentencing.
In his 12-year career, outside linebacker Matt Blair was named to six straight Pro Bowls, was an all-Pro once. He played in two Super Bowls.
In honor of that career the Vikings will induct Blair into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of Thursday’s game with Tampa Bay at Mall of America Field.
But when Vikings coach Leslie Frazier introduced Blair to reporters Monday, his main message was thanking Blair for helping the team win this year. Seems Frazier likes to have former Vikings standouts talk to the team before training camp starts. Last year it was Jim Marshall, this year Blair.
“He talked to players about visualizing success,” Frazier said of Blair. “And he talked to them about not getting caught up in the past, but just focusing on the moment. And that really was something that was a part of our approach with our team. And so, without me even talking to him about what direction I wanted to take our team in that first meeting, it was so apropos to listen to him talk about success and visualizing success.’’
Blair’s message was about players putting all their emphasis on preparation so that execution becomes nearly second nature. “It takes your entire heart to make it happen,” Blair said.
Blair related a story about a game against the St. Louis Cardinals during his rookie season. He made a few mistakes covering Cards tight end Jackie Smith and was benched. But coach Bud Grant put him back on the field to start the second half. “After the game Bud was asked ‘What did Matt Blair bring to the game?’ And Bud said, ‘Lack of experience.’ From that day on I decided I need to do a little bit more. And that’s what it’s all about.”
When asked what his induction into the Ring of Honor meant, Blair got a bit emotional.
“It’s very humbling to be put in with great players – the Tarkentons, the Ellers, the Carters, the Marshalls, the Grants, those guys are just legendary.’’
One of the highlights of Sunday’s defensive effort, according to Frazier, was the pressure the team was able to get from the front four without having to resort to blitzing. It was encouraging, even though the injury-plagued Arizona offensive line has struggled.
“I don’t know if we’ve done it that effectively without blitzing,” said Frazier of the Vikings seven-sack effort. Of those, a career-high three came from end Brian Robison, two from end Jared Allen and one from tackle Kevin Williams. “In the past we probably would have mixed in a little more pressure than we did (Sunday). That was our goal, to go into this game and be able to generate a pass rush without having to bring five or six guys, and our D-line stepped up to the challenge. They dominated just like we hoped they would and really took a lot of pressure off our secondary.”
Through Sunday’s games the Vikings ranked third in the NFC with 22 sacks, with Allen tied for eighth individually with six.
Frazier said not having to blitz allowed the rest of the defense to concentrate on slowing receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., who wound up with four catches.
ON SECOND THOUGHT…
Frazier admitted that he probably would do things differently if he had the final moments of Sunday’s first half to do over.
The Vikings decided to go for a field goal rather than take a knee late in the half. The result was a Christian Ponder interception. The Cardinals missed a field goal as the first half expired.
“Looking back on it, it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do,” Frazier said. “We probably could have went in at the half and taken that 14-7 lead and say, ‘Hey, let’s just start the second half.’ ‘’
SMITH STAYS AGGRESSIVE
Vikings safety Harrison Smith is learning how to play aggressively without going over the line and incurring the fines he’s had to deal with this season.
“Sometimes when you get fined as often as he’s gotten fined in these first seven games, it can tip your emotions and make you start playing a little tentatively,” Frazier said. “That hasn’t been the case with him. He’s been aggressive. He’s still in tune with everything we’re trying to get done. He doesn’t seem to be sidetracked by anything that happened. … He’s a bright guy, and very, very athletic. But his maturity, not letting stuff hang onto him that can be negative, it’s impressive.”
Smith turned his first career interception into his first touchdown Sunday, a score that gave the Vikings a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter.
“That’s just how I’ve always tried to be on and off the field,” Smith said. “Just learn from your mistakes, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to try to slow down my play or play softer. I’m just going to try and play within the rules and play at a high tempo.”
NOT HIS CALL
Frazier was asked if the short turn-around time between Sunday’s victory and Thursday’s game with Tampa Bay put players at further risk for injury.
He was definitely not going there.
“Touchy area, there,” he said. “That’s a bigger call than coach Frazier standing here at the podium. We do what we’re told to do. We got a game on Thursday night, we’ve got to get prepared to play that game.”
Still, the short time to prepare will make this a different week. The players had the day off Monday. The team will get one full practice in Tuesday, then have the traditional walk-through on Wednesday. The coaches have to get the team ready to play while at the same time allowing players to get over the bumps and bruises of Sunday’s game.
“You have to really be smart in your preparation of how you’re going to get it done without overtaxing them mentally, but yet getting them where they need to be physically to go out and play,” Frazier said.
--Running back Adrian Peterson’s sore ankle came out of Sunday’s game OK. Frazier said Peterson was sore, but less so than he was a week ago. It remains to be seen how much Peterson will practice this week.
--Vikings tight end John Carlson, who left Sunday’s game with concussion-like symptoms, probably will not play Thursday, Frazier said. “We will have to take him through the protocol over the next few days, and in a short week, we don’t expect him make it,” he said. Other than that, there were various bumps and bruises, but nothing Frazier said would keep a player out of the game.
The players had Monday off. But the team was required to post an injury report given the proximity to the game. So, had the Vikings practiced today, Peterson (ankle), Allen (groin), CB Antoine Winfield (knee) Carlson (concussion) and T Matt Kalil (low back) would not have participated; S Mistral Raymond (ankle) and Smith (calf) would have had limited participation; and S Robert Blanton (hamstring), LB Marvin Mitchell (calf), QB Christian Ponder (knee), RB Matt Asiata (knee) and DT Fred Evans (knee) would have fully participated.
Matt Blair will be the 2012 inductee into the Vikings Ring of Honor, it was announced today.
Blair will go in at halftime of the Vikings-Tampa Bay game on Thursday, Oct. 25.
A linebacker, Blair ranks second in team history (behind Scott Studwell) in career tackles.
Here is the Vikings' release:
BLAIR TO BE INDUCTED INTO
VIKINGS RING OF HONOR
Former Minnesota Vikings LB Matt Blair will be inducted as the 20th member of the Vikings Ring of Honor on Thursday, October 25, 2012, at halftime of the Vikings-Buccaneers game at Mall of America Field.
Originally a second round draft pick (#51) in 1974, Blair played in 160 career games (130 starts) for the Vikings and still ranks 2nd in team history with 1,452 career tackles. Only Scott Studwell and Roy Winston played in more games as a linebacker than Blair.
Regarded as a highly productive player with a knack for being in the right place at the right time, Blair holds the Vikings record with 20 blocked kicks, notching two blocks in a single game three different times. His 23.0 sacks and 16 interceptions also rank as the most by a Vikings linebacker.
The Iowa State grad was a part of Vikings playoff teams in six of his opening seven seasons with the team and played on the Vikings Super Bowl IX and XI teams. He was named to the Pro Bowl in six straight seasons from 1977-82, tying him for the fifth-most Pro Bowl berths by a Viking in club history, and was named All-Pro in 1980. Among Vikings defensive players, only Alan Page had more Pro Bowl honors (9) than Blair.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS RING OF HONOR
Fran Tarkenton 1998
Alan Page 1998
Jim Finks 1998
Bud Grant 1998
Paul Krause 1998
Fred Zamberletti 1998
Jim Marshall 1999
Ron Yary 2001
Korey Stringer 2001
Mick Tinglehoff 2001
Carl Eller 2002
Cris Carter 2003
Bill Brown 2004
Jerry Burns 2005
Randall McDaniel 2006
Chuck Foreman 2007
John Randle 2008
Scott Studwell 2009
Chris Doleman 2011
Matt Blair 2012
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