Vikings history: Two backs at a time

  • Article by: Chris Miller
  • Star Tribune
  • September 8, 2007 - 2:55 PM


3-11 record, 135.5 rushing yards per game

Key backs: Hugh McElhenny and Mel Triplett

McElhenny 570 rushing yards, 37 receptions; Triplett 407 rushing yards.

• In the Vikings' first season, McElhenny, 32, made the Pro Bowl in the last standout season of his Hall of Fame career. Rookie Tommy Mason, the No. 1 overall choice in the draft, waited in the wings.


1963: 5-8-1, 131.6 rush yds/game; 1964: 8-5-1, 155.9; 1965: 7-7, 162.7

Key backs: Tommy Mason and Bill Brown

1963: Mason 763 rushing yards, 40 receptions; Brown 445 rushing yards.

1964: Brown 866 rushing yards, 48 receptions; Mason 691 rushing yards.

1965: Brown 699 rushing yards, 41 receptions; Mason 597 rushing yards

• Brown was the fullback and Mason the halfback in the classic old-school backfield. Mason took over as the featured back in 1962 and made the first of three consecutive Pro Bowls. Brown was acquired from the Bears in 1962 and started to get lots of work in 1963. He would finish his career with a team-record 1,627 carries. Both backs made the Pro Bowl in 1964, the year the Vikings had their first winning season. In '65, the team set a record for rushing yards per game that still stands. In 1966, gimpy-kneed Mason was replaced by Dave Osborn.


1966: 4-9-1, 149.4 rush yds/game; 1967: 3-8-3, 129.4; 1968: 8-6, 137.2; 1969: 12-2, 132.1; 1970: 12-2, 116.7; 1971: 11-3, 121.1

Key backs: Bill Brown, Dave Osborn and Clinton Jones

1966: Brown 829 rushing yards, 37 receptions; Osborn 344 rushing yards

1967: Osborn 972 rushing yards, 34 receptions; Brown 610 rushing yards

1968: Brown 805 rushing yards, 31 receptions; Jones 536 rushing yards

1969: Osborn 643 rushing yards; Brown 430

1970: Osborn 681 rushing yards; Brown 324

1971: Jones 675 rushing yards; Osborn 349

• In 1966, Brown got all the work as Mason eventually was replaced by Osborn. Bud Grant's first season in 1967 came with a reshaped offense, and Osborn finished second in the NFL in rushing yards. Brown made his fourth Pro Bowl in 1968, and the injured Osborn was replaced by Jones. The Vikings also made the playoffs for the first time. In 1969, the Vikings won the NFL title behind a powerful defense but lost to the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. Both Brown and Osborn were hampered by injuries in 1970, and the team's 3.2 yards per carry is a record low. Osborn, however, made the Pro Bowl.


8-7-1, 96.0 rush yds/game

Key backs: Chuck Foreman and Rickey Young

Foreman 749 rushing yards, 61 receptions; Young 417 rushing yards, 88 receptions

• Foreman, who had made five consecutive Pro Bowls, was fading by this season. Young, picked up from San Diego, led the NFL in catches in Fran Tarkenton's final season.

1979, 1980

1979: 7-9, 110.1 rush yds/game; 1980: 9-7, 102.6

Key backs: Rickey Young and Ted Brown

1979: Young 708 rushing yards, 72 receptions; Brown 551 rushing yards, 31 receptions

1980: Brown 912 rushing yards, 62 receptions; Young 351 rushing yards, 64 receptions

• The Vikings took Brown in the first round (16th overall) in 1979 to replace the injury-plagued Foreman. In 1980, the duo combined for 126 receptions and the Vikings made the playoffs.


8-8, 113.0 rush yds/game

Key backs: Darrin Nelson, Ted Brown and Tony Galbreath

Nelson 642 rushing yards, 51 receptions; Brown 476 rushing yards, 41 receptions; Galbreath 474 rushing yards, 45 receptions

• The three running backs were the team's top three receivers, too — by far. Maybe that's why Grant retired.


3-13, 115.3 rush yds/game

Key backs: Alfred Anderson and Ted Brown

Anderson 773 rushing yards; Brown 442 rushing yards, 46 receptions

• In coach Les Steckel's disastrous season, Anderson, a rookie from Baylor, stepped in, and Nelson got a fair amount of work as well.


8-8, 137.6 rush yds/game

Key backs: Herschel Walker and Terry Allen

Walker 825 rushing yards, 33 receptions; Allen 563 rushing yards

• In coach Jerry Burns' final season, it was clear the tough rookie Allen eventually would replace Walker, who was released following the season.


11-5, 126.9 rush yds/game

Key backs: Terry Allen and Roger Craig

Allen 1,201 rushing yards, 49 receptions; Craig 416 rushing yards.

• New coach Dennis Green brought in the modern West Coast offense.


9-7, 101.4 rush yds/game

Key backs: Scottie Graham and Barry Word

Graham 487 rushing yards; Word 458

• Allen's knee injury made it official: The Vikings were a pass-first team behind Jim McMahon.


8-8, 108.3 rush yds/game

Key backs: Robert Smith, Scottie Graham and Amp Lee

Smith 632 rushing yards; Graham 406 rushing yards; Lee 71 receptions

• In his third year as a pro, Smith took over for Allen and had the first of six strong seasons. Graham and Lee got busy when Smith went down because of an injury.


9-7, 146.4 rush yds/game

Key backs: Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith

Williams 745 rushing yards, 65 receptions; Smith 579 rushing yards

• Michael Bennett's knee injury forced him to miss the first eight games of the season, but the work Williams and Smith put in led to the second-best rushing season (2,343 yards) in team history.


9-7, 91.7 rush yds/game

Key backs: Mewelde Moore and Michael Bennett

Moore 662 rushing yards, 37 receptions; Bennett 473 rushing yards

• The worst rushing season in team history. Even worse, however: the Love Boat scandal.

Chris Miller •

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