The football gods can be a fickle bunch when it comes to separating the injury prone from the ironman.
“There’s an awful lot of luck involved,” said Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who will become the 50th Viking to reach 100 starts in franchise history when the Vikings play at New England on Sunday.
He should know.
When Rudolph suited up for the 2014 season finale, the 2011 second-round draft pick had missed 15 of 31 games since his 2012 Pro Bowl season.
“Basically,” he said, “I played only one season over two seasons.”
He was injury prone. But it wasn’t anything he did wrong.
He ate right. Trained right. He studied the habits of durable players. He talked to them. He got to know former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan, whose 149 starts from 1982-94 ranks 16th in franchise history.
“I did everything I could think of to stay healthy,” Rudolph said. “But in ’13, when I missed the last eight games, I broke my foot scoring a touchdown in Dallas when a guy misses the tackle and lands on my foot. That’s bad luck.”
A year later, Rudolph lost seven games to a sports hernia caused by the wear and tear of a lifetime playing sports.
Among its many stats, the NFL lists the “ironmen” at each position. It’s based on consecutive games played, not starts. Rudolph is No. 1 among tight ends at 60, all of which were starts.
Adam Thielen is fourth among receivers at 75, 40 of which were starts.
“Thank the Lord,” Thielen said.
Thielen went on to list all the variables that go into a streak of this nature. As the ultimate underdog turned All-Pro, Thielen offered up one he can better relate to as a former scrappy undrafted special teamer.
“You have to be good enough,” he said, “for them to even want to keep you around.”
Tops on the list of players with 100 starts as a Viking is, of course, Jim Marshall. All he did was start 270 of them without missing a game from 1961-79.
“I can’t even imagine,” Rudolph said.
The next three are Hall of Famers Mick Tingelhoff (240), Carl Eller (201) and Randall McDaniel (188). Nine other Hall of Famers are on the list: 6. Ron Yary (180); 8. Cris Carter (177); 9. Fran Tarkenton (171); 13. Alan Page (157); 14. John Randle and Paul Krause (150); 20. Chris Doleman (142); 44. Randy Moss and Gary Zimmerman (108).
“I think of how long some of those guys back in the day played without missing a single game,” Rudolph said. “It’s incredible. And these were guys who in the offseason were working full-time jobs elsewhere. Now, my full-time job is dedicated to just preparing my body to play football.”
Besides Jordan, the only other tight end currently on the list is Jim Kleinsasser (130). The last of Kleinsasser’s 13 seasons was Rudolph’s first.
“I was just a little snot-nosed 21-year-old rookie,” Rudolph said. “Jim taught me a lot about being a professional.”
Rudolph ranks in the top 10 in franchise history in catches (365, eighth), receiving yards (3,578, 10th) and touchdowns (39, fifth). In Sunday night’s 24-17 win over the Packers, he finally reemerged in the passing game with seven catches for 63 yards and three first downs, all in the first half.
“I always want to be involved in the passing game more,” Rudolph said. “It’s not from a selfish standpoint. I think my skill set can help our offense. We have so many weapons on offense that if we spread the ball around and get everyone involved, we become really hard to defend. We were tough to defend on Sunday night.”
Next up: The Patriots in Foxboro, where Tom Brady is 32-4 in December.
“Sunday night, we played one of the best quarterbacks of all time in Aaron Rodgers,” Rudolph said. “This Sunday night, we’ll play the best of all time.
“And even though we feel we have the best defense in football, our best defense against Tom Brady is our offense staying on the field.”
Rudolph will be there. Just like he has every week since the 2014 season finale.