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Mid-day talker: Hoping Jared Allen to Bears isn't the same as Alan Page to Bears

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • March 26, 2014 - 12:51 PM

Jared Allen is going to the Bears, which is weird but fair. He got a four-year deal worth a reported $32 million. About half of that is guaranteed, meaning both he and his new team got a reasonable deal. It will be strange watching him line up against the Vikings twice a year, just as it will be weird for Bears fans to see Julius Peppers play for the Packers.

There is some precedent for Vikings players heading to Chicago and vice-versa, but one of the examples that ranks among the strangest and among those with the biggest impact is one that remains somewhat hidden from history -- at least for the current generation of fans.

Alan Page, to refresh your memory, was a dominant player for the Vikings for more than a decade. He even won the NFL MVP Award in 1971. But in 1978, at age 33, he was cut by Minnesota in the middle of the season. The reasons why often descend into matter of whose story you believe, but the basics of it are outlined very nicely in a 1979 SI story that is very conveniently on display in the wonderful SI Vault. Here are some of the key sentences:

"Not too bad for a guy who they said couldn't play anymore," Page says.

That is what Bud Grant, the Vikings' coach, maintained last Oct. 10 when he broke the news to a shocked Minnesota press that Page, who had started 160 consecutive games for the Vikings, had been released. "Alan can no longer meet the standard he set for himself," Grant said at the time. "He just can't make the plays anymore."

It was widely reported that Page's weight—through running, he trimmed down from 245 pounds to the 222 he weighs today—was a major factor in the alleged erosion of his skills. Grant said as much when pressed to defend his decision: "Here is a man we had to take out in short-yardage situations, who was not strong enough to rush the passer. He averaged 10 tackles a game for years, and now he was down to one or two. He was not doing the job."

Although Page had also weighed 222 in 1977, when he tied for the club lead in tackles (109), most members of the Twin Cities press did not take Grant to task over this small point. If Grant said Page was through, then he was through. "In Minnesota, Bud Grant is like Mom and apple pie and the flag," Diane Page says. "It's fun to be able to sit back now and call him a turkey."

Because this time the old gobbler was wrong. There was still a lot of football left in Page, who had been the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1971—the only defensive player ever to win the award. And the Bears, whose general manager (Jim Finks), coach (Neill Armstrong) and defensive coordinator (Buddy Ryan) had all been in Minnesota with Page, knew it. They paid the waiver price of $100. "A hundred dollars more than the Vikings deserved," says Page, who responded by melding an inexperienced, injury-beset line into a strong, proud unit. Though playing in only 10 games at right tackle, Page led the Bears in sacks (11½) and was tied for second among linemen in tackles with 50. Chicago's defense surged from 22nd in the NFL to 12th, passing, among other teams, the Vikings, who dropped to 14th.

Some people know about this. Other die-hard Vikings fans we run into have no idea this ever happened. The Vikings did still win a bad division that year with an 8-7-1 record (the Bears were 7-9), but the season generally signaled a descent into mediocrity.

Allen's parting to the division rival is filled with far less acrimony. For the Vikings, looking to get younger, it was time to move on. For the Bears and Allen, it was a good fit. But this generation's Allen, like last generation's Alan, could prove to have a lot of football left in him.

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