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Pat Putnam
December 14, 1970
That's the front four—three blacks and a white—and last week Chicago was on the receiving end as the Vikings clinched the title
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December 14, 1970

Message From Minnesota: Three Dots And A Dash

That's the front four—three blacks and a white—and last week Chicago was on the receiving end as the Vikings clinched the title

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"They were only a day old," says Jones. "Everybody in Cleveland buys day-old doughnuts."

If the idea of great, muscular grown men fighting over doughnuts sounds silly, it isn't. It's part of the team's unique group therapy. Down deep in every Viking is the soul of a Don Rickles. Make a mistake and not only the coaches but 39 players will let you know about it loudly and colorfully. There is even a weekly Rock Award to the injured player who misses the most practices.

"It gets you healed in a hurry," says Larsen. "Everybody rides you, so you don't waste any time getting better. Make a bad play and wow! In a game against Washington I fell for a few sucker plays. A couple of days later the team gave me a giant candy sucker with a sign telling me to shape up or I'd be replaced by a button. As a result of all the ribbing, there are no hidden resentments on the team. We keep everything, and I mean everything, right out in the open. People come here and they can't believe how close we all are. We're all good friends. There are no cliques, no black and white. After every game there's a party somewhere and everybody goes. And if you can't make it you had better have a good excuse. Laughter eases an awful lot of tensions."

Of the four defensive linemen, Larsen is the toughest against the run. Because he is the slowest, he usually hangs back to check against the draw before joining the pass rush. "Gary is the most reserved of us, the quiet one," says Marshall. "A very enjoyable and genuine person. If I was ever going somewhere, and I was a little worried about my safety, Gary is the kind of person I'd like to have with me."

For Larsen, there is his football and there is his family. Everything he does, his wife Wende and their four daughters do. And usually whatever they do, they do outdoors.

"The two oldest girls, Robin [9] and Debbie [7], are even playing football," says Larsen with some amazement. "Tackle. The other day I heard Robin saying something about tackling this boy and I said, you mean touch, don't you? She said no, she meant tackle. They aren't coming home with any bloody noses, so they must be doing something right."

There is a fifth member of the front four, Paul Dickson, who fills in at tackle on occasion and is in his 12th season with the pros. He is a philosopher who suffered with the Vikings in their early years under Norm Van Brocklin.

"We went through some tough times," Dickson says. "Van Brocklin made us overly aggressive, and we were going in all different directions. Then Grant came in and did what Lombardi did at Green Bay—he molded 40 people into a single unit. Now we're a wedge with all the collective force at one end pushing toward a single fine point. Success is only the willingness to do something longer, harder and better than anybody else. Success is no magical thing, just a lot of damn hard work. Norm demanded from us in an overt manner. Bud demands the same things, but he has allowed us to demand it of ourselves.

"This team is a unit of one, with no one individual greater than the team. Like the Sphinx said, 'A grain of sand is a desert and a desert is a grain of sand.' I didn't know what that meant until I saw Camelot. A little boy asked King Arthur if he could fight, and Arthur sent him away. As he watched the boy go, Arthur said, 'We are all drops of water, but some of them sparkle,' This team is 40 drops of water that sparkle."

When Grant came to Minnesota, he brought a great calmness and order to the Vikings. "What I had was timing," he says. "The team was ready to move. Coaching is overplayed. The graveyard is full of coaches. You can't win without players. Then we had a great draft to go with some experience, most of it on defense, which was good. Nobody wins without a defense."

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