*MINNEAPOLIS — *The message was simple, but the challenge is difficult.
Cris Carter, when asked on stage by Greg Coleman if he had advice for Stefon Diggs, said, “Catch everything they throw you.”
The Hall of Fame receiver, who is the franchise leader in receptions (1,004), receiving yards (12,383) and touchdown catches (110), had just received a new purple sport coat that was presented by the second-year pro as part of a Vikings Ring of Honor jacket ceremony at U.S. Bank Stadium’s Delta Sky360 Club.
Just before receiving the new jacket, Carter mimicked the shovel celebration that Diggs sometimes demonstrates, drawing a roar from the crowd.
As part of Alumni Weekend, former Vikings players paid a visit to Winter Park on Saturday.
Carter’s fellow Ring of Honor members Bud Grant, Jerry Burns, Fred Zamberletti, Jim Marshall, Bill Brown, Mick Tingelhoff, Carl Eller, Paul Krause, Chuck Foreman, Matt Blair, Chris Doleman and John Randle also were able to attend the ceremony that was part of homecoming festivities.
Diggs, who recently met Carter for the first time, said he enjoyed attending the event that honored “great guys who paved the way and built the foundation of the Minnesota Vikings.”
“I call them ‘the goats’ (greatest of all time), the guys who have been around for a long time and played the game the right way and laid the ground work for guys like me,” said Diggs, who has 77 receptions for 1,092 yards and five touchdowns in his first 17 games played.
Diggs was joined by safety Harrison Smith and center Joe Berger in presenting the legends with their sport coats.
Marshall was on the original Vikings team in 1961 when Zamberletti became the team’s first athletic trainer. Brown and Tingelhoff arrived a season later. Marshall played a franchise-record 19 seasons, Tingelhoff played 17, Brown was with the team for 13 seasons, and Zamberletti has remained with the Vikings, now as a consultant, for the entire run of the franchise.
As part of the team's Alumni Weekend, the Vikings hosted a homecoming dinner for several former Vikings greats on Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It’s really cool. It just makes you stop and look at the players because I grew up in an era after Bud and Chuck and Alan [Page] and Jim Marshall and Carl, but they were here in town and close to the team,” Carter told Vikings.com. “They have all this access to the team and of course, Zamberletti, he was a huge part of my success and being able to get my life turned around, but just seeing all of those intricate parts and the great history we have.
“Now, the history is being celebrated with the new stadium,” Carter continued. “We’re starting a new chapter in our history, but looking back on our old history, you realize we had some great players, great coaches and great people. That’s the only way great things like this happen.”
Spielman and Vikings Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development Lester Bagley spoke during the ceremony.
Spielman said when he was reviewing candidates for the Vikings head coaching position in 2014, he set out to find someone who would embody the definition of a Viking. He said Mike Zimmer has done so, and they’ve worked to line up accountable, tough-minded, resilient and physical players who stay within the rules of the game. Spielman said the current Vikings want to live up to the standards set by great Vikings and make alumni proud.
Tingelhoff, who ranks second all-time in franchise history with 240 starts (behind Marshall’s 270), is one example of that accountability. Berger enjoyed the opportunity to present Tingelhoff, a 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee, his jacket.
“It’s awesome; he’s a legacy around here,” Berger said. “What he was able to do, and his durability, the length he was able to play the game, it’s amazing.”
Berger said he’s amazed by the obvious camaraderie between the retired players that has continued beyond their playing days.
“Sometimes, nowadays, you kind of miss that with free agency and moving around,” Berger said. “That’s kind of how my career started, but it’s been nice to land here and be in a place for six years. You definitely kind of get that family feeling.”
Grant, who was in high demand for picture requests by former players and Vikings who played after his career as Minnesota’s most successful coach, explained the bond in a colorful way.
“Every one of these guys has a big purple stripe right down their backs, and Harrison, Stefon and Joe have acquired that also,” Grant said, before adding a robust, “Skol Vikings!”
Smith, who wears the same No. 22 jersey that Krause wore, said the cross-generational bond “starts with a love for the game.”
Smith mentioned how much he’s enjoyed getting to know Krause, who has the franchise record of 53 interceptions, and Blair, who recorded 16 from his post as a linebacker. The 2012 first-round pick said he has “a tremendous amount of respect” for the accomplishments of past players.
“They had it much harder than we do, as far as two-a-days and practices and wearing pads all of the time,” Smith said. “We wonder how they did it year in and year out, just the grind of it. They probably think we’re a little soft now, just because we’ve got it a little easier, so it’s kind of fun to go back and forth and hear what they went through and about their game experiences and playing against other greats.”
Smith has 12 interceptions, including a franchise-record four returned for touchdowns, in his first five seasons. He was well aware that Krause totaled the all-time record of 81 during his career.
“That’s a crazy number, so just being able to meet those guys is a position I never thought I’d be in,” Smith said. “It’s cool to be around them, hear their stories, get their perspectives. It’s kind of like a kid in the candy store.”
The Ring of Honor ceremony will be featured in this week's episode of "Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron." The show airs Friday on My 29 WFTC, Sunday on KMSP and re-airs on Fox Sports North.