Former Vikings running back Tommy Mason, the first draft pick in franchise history, died Thursday morning in Newport Beach, Calif., at age 75.
“The entire Minnesota Vikings organization is saddened by the loss of Tommy Mason,” Vikings owner and team president Mark Wilf said in a statement. “As the team’s first-ever draft pick, Tommy played a significant role in the history of the franchise. After spending six seasons with the team, he remained a part of the Vikings family, appearing at multiple events over the past several decades. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mason family at this time.”
After a standout collegiate career at Tulane, Mason was selected first overall by the Vikings in the 1961 NFL draft. He played six seasons for the Vikings, earning three Pro Bowl nods and becoming the franchise’s first All-Pro selection in 1963.
Mason rushed for 3,252 yards and 28 touchdowns with the Vikings and caught 151 passes for 1,689 yards and 11 more touchdowns.
“Tommy was an enormous talent,” former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton said in a statement. “He was a great player, a humble man and an outstanding teammate. I will always cherish the years I spent with Tommy.”
Knee injuries slowed Mason in his final seasons with the Vikings, and in 1967 he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. He played four seasons there before finishing his career with the Redskins.
“Tommy was as complete of a running back as they come,” long-time Vikings athletic trainer Fred Zamberletti said in a statement. “Because of injuries, Tommy did not have the career that he wanted to have but he was a very talented, hard-running, slashing player. He’ll always be remembered as one of the original Vikings. He will be sorely missed.”
Patrick Reusse wrote a fun profile of Mason as part of the Star Tribune’s “Where Are They Now” series in 2007. You can read that story here.