Jim Langer, who rose from undrafted middle linebacker at South Dakota State to starting center for Miami's undefeated 1972 team and a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer in 1987, died Thursday at age 71.
A native of Little Falls who grew up in Royalton, Langer lived in Ramsey. The cause of death was related to heart issues. He is survived by his wife, Linda, and four children.
Langer, who ended his 12-year NFL career with the Vikings in 1981, was a six-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl champion. He played every offensive snap in 1972, when the Dolphins went 17-0 while winning Super Bowl VII as the only unbeaten, untied team in league history.
The Dolphins became repeat champions a year later when they routed the Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII. With Langer setting the tone up front, the Dolphins ran the ball 53 times for 196 yards. Fullback Larry Csonka was MVP with 145 yards on 33 carries.
A 1966 graduate of Royalton High School, Langer became an all-conference linebacker and All-America baseball player at South Dakota State. The Browns signed him after the 1970 draft but released him soon after.
The Dolphins signed him to their taxi squad and used him primarily on special teams in their final six games in 1970. After serving as a backup interior lineman in 1971, he won the center job in training camp in 1972 and started 109 consecutive games until suffering a season-ending knee injury with seven games left in the 1979 season.
Wanting to be closer to home, asked to be traded to the Vikings in 1980. As a Viking, he played 22 of his 151 games and made one of his 110 starts.
Langer credited Dolphins coach Don Shula with making him into a Pro Bowler through intense film study and practices.
"When he picked me up on waivers in 1970, I was one of 22 new guys on a team that had won three games the season before," Langer told the Star Tribune in 1993 when Shula became the NFL's all-time winningest coach. "We practiced four times a day even during the season. Older guys said: `This guy is insane.' They fought it and were shipped off."
The Jim Langer Award is presented to the nation's top NCAA Division II lineman each year in his honor. It was that humble start that Langer once said gave him a higher appreciation for a game that took a toll on his body, especially his knees.
"I think a player that comes up the way I did gets a lot more out of the game," Langer is quoted as saying on the Hall of Fame's website. "If my career ended today or tomorrow, I don't think I could say I got a bad deal. I have nothing bad to say about the game. I think it's because of the fact that I came up the way I did. I feel I earned my job and that I'm justified where I am."