They list Vince Wilfork at 325 pounds.
They are wrong.
“I don’t think he has been 325 since he was in the eighth grade,” Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said of the Texans nose tackle that he’s grown fond of despite the frustrations of facing the giant lineman over the past 13 seasons.
“He is big, and it takes a lot to move him. You’re not going to move him.”
Wilfork is known around the NFL as a gregarious soul who’s comfortable enough in his overstretched skin to pose nude for ESPN the Magazine’s 2016 Body Issue. He spent his first 11 seasons in New England, where he played in five Pro Bowls, including one coached by then-Chargers head coach Turner.
“He’s a really unique person,” said Turner, who coached that Pro Bowl because Wilfork’s 2007 Patriots went to 18-0 by beating the Chargers in the AFC title game. “A lot of fun to be around.”
Just not a lot of fun to block. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Wilfork has been part of a top-10 scoring defense 10 times, including last year in his first season in Houston. Now 35, he’s part of the No. 8 scoring defense (18.3) that will try to match bruises with the Vikings’ No. 2-ranked scoring defense (12.5) at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
“Him and [Terence] Newman must have the same red wine,” cracked Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, referring to the alleged elixir that the Vikings’ 38-year-old cornerback credits for his unusual longevity.
In NFL history, nose tackle might be the most underrated of all positions. The only true nose tackle in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is Curley Culp, who was enshrined in 2013, 33 seasons after his career ended.
Cleveland’s Bill Willis (1946-53) and Detroit’s Joe Schmidt (1953-65) are Hall of Famers who played the “middle guard” position when teams used five-man fronts with two linebackers. The middle guard would stand and drop occasionally until the 5-2 eventually morphed into the modern-day 4-3.
In 1969, the Vikings won the final NFL championship before the merger. They were favored by 12 points against the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs.
The Vikings were 12-2 with the Purple People Eaters defense and a running game that was powerful, quick and led by a 237-pound center named Mick Tingelhoff. But Chiefs coach Hank Stram pulled off a 23-7 upset by throwing a 265-pound wrench into the middle of the Vikings’ game plan.
The Chiefs caught the Vikings off guard by going old-school with a five-man line. Culp, a former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion, was assigned to neutralize Tingelhoff. The effort Culp gave on that massive stage — the Vikings rushed for 67 yards — played a part in him reaching the Hall of Fame and Tingelhoff having to wait until 2015, 37 years after his great career ended.
When Culp was traded to Houston in 1974, the Oilers became one of the first teams to switch to a 3-4 front because they had what was then considered a massive 265-pound space eater to put on the nose. At 265, Culp surpassed Willis’ playing weight by 52 pounds.
Years passed and players grew. When William Perry got his nickname “The Refrigerator,” he was 310 pounds heading into Super Bowl XX. Gilbert Brown was “listed” at 345. Locally, Pat Williams was well beyond his listed weight of 315 when he helped form the “Williams Wall” in Minnesota.
And Ted Washington, perhaps the biggest of all 3-4 nose tackles, played 17 seasons as “Mount Washington” because he stood 6-5 and checked in at 375.
“I don’t know who’s the biggest ever,” said Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph, who, at 6-4, 329, looks lean next to Wilfork. “But the biggest I’ve ever seen is Vince.”
For the Vikings to establish balance and rhythm offensively on Sunday, they’ll have to pay close attention to Wilfork. He won’t be hard to find in the middle of Houston’s 3-4 defense.
“He’s a load,” left guard Alex Boone said. “But I remember playing him a long time ago in Gillette Stadium. He’s also very smart. He’s one of those guys I feel is reading you as you’re reading him. Guys like that are not to be underestimated. He’s older, he’s savvy.”
Yeah, but what do you think he really weighs, Alex?