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'Rushmen 4 Life' Unites Generations of Havoc-Creating Vikings

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This is the digital version of a story featured in the Playbook game program from Sunday's Lions-at-Vikings game. It has been modified to include Sunday's results.

Together they power through thick, thin and opposing offensive linemen.

For they have a namesake — and heritage — to uphold.

They are "Rushmen 4 Life."

Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson didn't invent the "Rushmen" term during his first stint with Minnesota (1998-99). Instead, he refined it, adding "4 life," which strengthened the brotherhood between teammates and connected the concept to multiple generations of Vikings.

"I think it goes back to the Henry Thomas, Keith Millard era, and then I threw in the '4 life' part," Patterson explained. "We had T-shirts back then, Rushmen 4 Life, and then I left, and probably when [John Randle] left is when it faded away."

Patterson returned to the Vikings in 2014, but he didn't immediately reintroduce the concept to the position group.

"I waited until year two because I didn't think they deserved it yet," Patterson explained on waiting to present hooded sweatshirts to players. "When I thought they rushed with the vigor and tenacity and the nastiness of the great Vikings d-linemen of the past, I told them the story of what Rushmen meant. They earn the right to call themselves Rushmen, and it's a prideful thing for them. It means a lot. They wear those Rushmen hoodies and T-shirts with pride."

The Rushmen put said vigor and tenacity on display Sunday when they set a team record with 10 sacks in one game. That total eclipsed the mark of 9.0 recorded three times by the Purple People Eaters and once by the 1993 squad that featured Randle and fellow Hall of Famer Chris Doleman.

Danielle Hunter recorded a career-best 3.5, giving him a league-leading 11.5 on the season. Tom Johnson set a new personal best with 2.5, and Everson Griffen had 1.5 in the 15th multi-sack game of his career. Stephen Weatherly and Mackensie Alexander, a corner by trade who has shown an ability to blitz, each recorded sacks, and Sheldon Richardson split one takedown of Matthew Stafford with Johnson.

Hunter joined the likes of Pro Bowlers Linval Joseph and Griffen in 2015. He was only 20 years old when the season began but knew he was becoming part of a special group.

"It's just kind of like, we're a brotherhood," Hunter said. "We hang out on and off the field. We don't just affect the quarterback, you know? When we're off the field, we hang out and go to lakes together and all of that stuff, so it's just one big family with the defensive line."

Joseph added: "You just build this bond and get to the point where everybody together, you have eight, 10, 12 guys in the room, and you know when you're going to battle, these are the only guys you have with you, and if you slip, they've got your back and vice-versa. It's a small community."

Griffen, who returned to the lineup against New Orleans in Week 8 after missing five games as he worked through a personal matter, described the Rushmen approach during an offseason interview.

 "In order to be a Rushman, you've got to own it, you've got to go in with the attitude that, 'I'm going to go outside and work hard on my individual work and also help others,' " Griffen said. "When we get on the field and become Rushmen, we go hunting. Like Coach P said, it ain't easy being great, but the Rushmen mentality is doing it day-in and day-out, no matter what circumstances. It's about honing your craft and being great."

This summer, when Millard and Thomas dropped in for Verizon Vikings Training Camp, Patterson made sure the entire position group knew that they were being joined by Rushmen.

Millard and Thomas were major factors in the 1989 team finishing with an astounding 71 sacks, which ranks second in NFL history. Millard had 18 that season, Thomas tallied 9.0, Doleman had 21 and Al Noga recorded 11.5, giving the front four 59.5 on the season.

Patterson also makes it a point to inform newcomers of the defensive line legacy that dates back to the dominance of the Purple People Eaters.

Hall of Famers Carl Eller and Alan Page, Ring of Honor Member Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen helped Minnesota record 9.0 sacks in games against Detroit (Oct. 6, 1968) and Chicago (Nov. 2, 1969) and at Atlanta (Dec. 20, 1970).

Three decades after that first nine spot, Vikings Duane Clemons, Jason Fisk and Ben Williams listened to Patterson's history lessons as members of Minnesota's historic 1998 squad (Clemons and Fisk recorded sacks against Detroit that season). The defensive line trio was among members who returned for the 20th anniversary celebration during Week 1.

They noted that Weatherly was wearing a Rushmen 4 Life hoodie during the team's Saturday morning walkthrough. It brought back fond memories, and they reconnected with Patterson on a variety of topics, including the pride in seeing a tradition continued.

"There's always been this great legacy of defensive linemen," Clemons said. "That was kind of like our battle cry. I remember Derrick Alexander, every single day before we went out to practice, 'Rushmen, mount up!'

"We'd all lead that chant, and it would just get us started, and we would set the tone," Clemons added. "There was nothing like going out there on a Sunday, looking at each other, 'You know what we're about to do.' He'd hit that button, 'Rushmen!' We'd all say, 'Mount up!' and it was like releasing a bunch of lions onto a gazelle. As soon as that ball snapped, we were off and running and trying to tear everybody apart that got in our way."

Fisk added: "We'd all get ready and get pumped for the game that way."

He explained that the explosiveness of Minnesota's offense helped create preferred situations for how the Vikings defensive line was built.

"The blend that we had, if we had to go win a game dirty, trying to run the ball and grind it out, if teams could run the ball 30 plays against us a game, it probably wasn't going to happen," Fisk said, "but because our offense was so capable of putting up points and our defense was geared toward getting after it, teams had to go to the air.

"You have John Randle in the backfield every play, things are going to go bad for you offensively," he added. "We put the pressure on them with our offense, and then, blended with our defense, we could get after quarterbacks and play pass coverage with our defense."

Patterson said he takes pride when former players can see that the current players are familiar with the team's accomplishments.

"It's important that [the current players] understand what they represent when they go out there on that field," Patterson said. "You want to make those guys turn on the TV proud of what you're doing, and that's what I teach to them all of the time."

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