Marie Green, the widow of former Vikings coach Dennis Green, was asked what Denny would think about being honored before today’s game against the Vikings and Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Standing in the corner of the south end zone, Marie smiled and said, “Dennis was a humble man. So I think he would say, ‘Oh, you all don’t need to make a fuss over me.’ But I think he would be really flattered and appreciative, especially with all the fan support. I think he’d be thankful.”
Green, who died on July 21 at age 67, will be honored shortly before today’s noon kickoff. He coached the Vikings from 1992 to 2001 and the Cardinals from 2004 to 2006.
Green’s children — Patti, Vanessa and Zachary — will be honorary captains for today’s game.
“The family is so honored and feels so privileged to be at this beautiful new stadium honoring Dennis,” Marie said. “What an amazing tribute.”
Asked for her favorite memory of Dennis’ coaching career, Marie joined together family and football in a way that Dennis would have appreciated.
“One that really comes to mind is in 1998, when Zach was born in November,” Marie said. “He was born after a practice on a Friday. And then Dennis came and picked us up at the hospital on Sunday after a big victory. That’s something really special. It’s our family and the Vikings and a great win, and the birth of our son. That really sticks out.”
Green was the third African-American coach in NFL history. He also was became the second African-American coach in NCAA Division I-A history when he was hired at Northwestern in 1981.
“That was such an honor,” Marie said. “Dennis was such a pioneer. He was the first African-American to coach in the Big Ten, the first African-American to coach [Stanford] in what is now the Pac-12.
“I know that he was really, obviously, very proud to hold that position with the Vikings. I think in the back of his mind he probably thought there should have been more before him. But he was glad he broke through that barrier.”
When Tony Dungy went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year, he credited Green for helping him go from Vikings defensive coordinator to a successful, Super Bowl-winning head coach. Even when Dungy was in the same division, as head coach of the Buccaneers, he would call Green for advice. Green always helped him.
“I was so glad that Tony mentioned it, and so flattered and appreciative,” Marie said. “I remember at the time being in awe of how Dennis really wanted to develop people around him. He wanted to make everyone around him better. That really was a lesson to me. Tony was his defensive coordinator, but he knew Tony could do better. That was really a big part of Dennis. He loved developing players and coaches. Helping the people around him to grow and to be better.
“I think Dennis’ biggest legacy is helping the people around him reach their potential and be their best. he was always going to be the best he could be. he was so driven and so determined. But I think his legacy is he helped everyone around him to be better.”
Said Zachary: “My dad paved the way for a lot of African-American coaches to come behind him. even when he was out of the game, he helped a lot of coaches get into the league.”