The Vikings locker room was almost empty. Danielle Hunter had just finished praising his teammates and thanking interviewers, his voice low enough to keep him from getting kicked out of any library, his manner as polite as a theater usher.
Hunter had just made history. Now he was ready to prove his appreciation for it.
“I think about it all the time,” he said. “We always talk about it.”
Hunter pointed at former Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema across the room. “He always tells me about the defensive linemen here, the Purple People Eaters we’ve had here,” Hunter said. “And I see them on our walls. I see them every day before we go into our room. There’s a great history behind the defensive line here.”
Does he intend to be the best of them? He paused, smiled, and paused again. “I want to leave a legacy,” he said. “I want to be able to leave a legacy behind me. So people remember how I play, and what I do in order to help my team.”
He’s writing in indelible marker now. Hunter recorded three sacks in the first half of the Vikings’ 20-7 victory over Detroit on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, giving him the first three-sack half of his career and his second three-sack game and making him the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks.
Hunter was 25 years and 40 days old Sunday. He broke the record of Robert Quinn, who reached 50 at 25 years and 167 days.
How did a youngster who grew up in Jamaica turn into the most precocious pass rusher in NFL history?
“It’s all about going outside when you’re younger,” he said. “I think that plays a big role for kids growing up and playing sports. Just have them go outside. Thankfully, I didn’t grow up around video games. We couldn’t afford all of that stuff. So we stayed active.
“We went outside and played sports and had fun. Acted like kids. I feel like that played a big role in me being the person I am today.”
In Jamaica, he’d run out of the door every morning to swim and climb trees. He played soccer and cricket, but his hours in organized sports paled compared to those spent inventing games, and dares.
He and his friend would jump off rooftops. One time they rolled down a hill toward an alligator-infested pond. Hunter came within one revolution of the water, then set a record sprinting to safety.
He moved to Texas, started building the body of a superhero (only taller), played at LSU and was selected by the Vikings in the third round of the 2015 draft.
Even if he acts more like a Purple People Pleaser than Eater, Hunter has become famous smashing quarterbacks to the ground. “He is unreal,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “I kind of understand what quarterbacks go through. He is a crazy player.”
And one of the calmest defensive ends you’ll find. Defensive end is a position played by flamboyant personalities and, often, self-promoters. It’s a position of gaudy face paint, sack dances and, often, fighting teammates for the statistics that define success.
Which makes a conversation with Hunter a strange experience. You keep waiting for someone to turn up the volume.
“I speak when I’m spoken to,” Hunter said. “I observe. I’ll talk if I’m comfortable around people. They say I’m funny.”
“They” refers to his fellow defensive linemen, the group that did the most to beat the Lions. They were planning on a group outing on Sunday night. Knowing Hunter, they had as much chance of ending up at a salad bar as a whiskey bar.
Safety Anthony Harris, his former roommate, said Hunter was quiet and liked to eat chicken.
“We used to always bring chicken home,” Hunter said. “I just eat light. Chicken, all sorts of baked stuff, vegetables. When you play football, you have to keep your body healthy, so you have to put the right nutrients in your body.”
For Hunter, flamboyance is in the numbers, and his legacy is in the works.