At the beginning of the 1978 season, the Vikings named Bob Holloway as their new defensive coordinator, replacing Armstrong, who had joined Finks in Chicago. Holloway made some major changes in strategy designed to stop the run, against which the Vikings had always been weak. Instead of bursting into the backfield, the defensive linemen would now control their blockers, detect where the play was flowing, then react. "The first day he put it on the board," Page says, "I told Jim Marshall I doubted I would ever make another play. It was a retreat to the old days of Abe Gibron or what have you, when they said, 'Here's a tract of territory, defend it.' For me to stand around and do battle with people is a waste of time and of energy. But I went along with it. And though I didn't really play very well, statistically I was still the best lineman they had."
True. At the time of his release, "based strictly on performance," Page had two of the Vikings' six blocked kicks and led all linemen in unassisted tackles with 15. For weeks there had been persistent rumors that the Vikings wanted to trade Page, but on Oct. 10, the trading deadline, Minnesota General Manager Mike Lynn steadfastly maintained that he had not made any deal. That was correct. The Vikings simply gave Alan Page away.
"Bud got hold of Alan around five o'clock," Diane Page says. Alan, who does not often interrupt, does so now. "It was 6:37. Bud told me he had released me at four. He said I probably knew the rules regarding waivers better than he did. He said, 'We started out together 12 years ago, and I hate to end it this way, but....' " Page pauses. "After 12 years they fired me over the phone. That hurt a little bit." Page had gone to the Vikings in 1967 straight from an undefeated national championship team at Notre Dame. Grant arrived in Minnesota the same year.
The morning after Page was released, it was almost as if he had never played for the Vikings. Jim Marshall and Doug Sutherland, whose lockers had been on either side of Page's for years, now found themselves next to each other. Page's nametag had been taken down, all his equipment had been removed, and everyone else had been moved one over. "That's not the usual procedure," Page says. "Usually there's just an empty locker." Bobby Bryant and Carl Eller returned most of Page's personal items to him that afternoon. The Vikings sent the rest by parcel post.
"Every time I turned on the TV, there was Bud Grant telling people I was through," Page says. "Would you pick up a guy after his coach of 12 years tells you he can't make the plays? Plus being 33? Plus my salary? Plus my union activities? I had a lot of strikes against me."
When Eller heard the news, he said, "I don't think Grant is going strictly on what's happening on the field. If they want to get rid of a player, I wish they would just come out and say so."
Grant and Page had had their problems last year. In August, the coach fined him $50 for being late for a team meeting. When the fine was taken out of his paycheck, Page, who is the type of man who will take a parking violation to court, countered by filing a grievance with the Players Association. Then he filed a second grievance, charging that Grant had not given the Vikings the required 24 hours off during a particular work week. "It's a two-way street," Page said. "If the club is going to pull the book out to fine a player, let them follow the book to the letter." Both grievances are still pending.
The last straw may have been this: In the Vikings' fourth game of the season, which happened to be against the Bears, Grant substituted Duck White for Page midway through the second quarter. Page started the second half, but before the third quarter was over he was benched in favor of White a second time, without explanation. With two minutes left in the game, Sutherland was injured. One of the assistant coaches signaled Page to go back in, and Page, who had not seen Sutherland go down, replied moodily, "What for?" Then he reached for his helmet. Grant put his arm out to stop him, and sent in another replacement for Sutherland.
Following that incident, a Minnesota writer asked Page how players could be disciplined if the system of fines was abolished. Page responded, "If a player isn't responsible and doesn't live up to the rules and regulations, a coach should ship the player out."
Eight days later, Grant did just that.