EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Generations of Vikings came together over the weekend for a family reunion.
Players who hadn't recently seen each other – and for some, it had been years – greeted each other with hugs, handshakes and hearty stories of the gridiron.
"It's absolutely fantastic to be here," said former defensive tackle Ken Clarke (1989-91). "It's like a big fraternity, so it's really good to see people from different eras and to see the Vikings organization. It's like family – it's fantastic."
Clarke joined more than 100 Vikings alumni for the homecoming weekend, including former teammates Chris Doleman, Cris Carter and John Randle. Festivities included a tour of U.S. Bank Stadium and Ring of Honor jacket ceremony at U.S. Bank Stadium Friday night; attending practice and learning about the progress of the TCO Performance Center on Saturday; and attending Sunday's game against the Texans in the alumni suite.
Following Saturday's practice, Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren welcomed the group to Winter Park on behalf of the Wilf Family Ownership Group and the organization. Warren emphasized that if it wasn't for the alumni, the current team wouldn't be where it is today.
"The current players really do strive every day to bring the first Lombardi trophy home to Minnesota," Warren said. "And not only for themselves and for our coaches, but really for everyone who has come before us."
Warren told the guests that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer makes it a priority to articulate the importance of the franchise's history to the current team.
As part of Alumni Weekend, former Vikings players paid a visit to Winter Park on Saturday.
"I just want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything you all have done and continue to do," Warren said.
Former wide receiver Gene Washington (1967-72) has lived in Plymouth, Minnesota, for the past 40-plus years and remains involved in the Twin Cities community. Over the decades that he's been an alum of the team, Washington said he finds this particular era to be a special one.
"The Wilf family has just done a terrific job, and Mike Zimmer as well," Washington said Saturday. "It's just great to see that there's a really serious commitment to players who have played before. It's really nice that we have this.
Added Washington: "I'm very happy to see that we're still a family and that people still remember us."
While several only had to drive a few miles for the reunion, some players traveled in from out of state. Former defensive tackle Keith Millard (1985-91) spent 11 years coaching after retiring from the NFL, most recently as an assistant coach for the Titans in 2012.
Millard, a two-time Pro Bowler and member of the "50 Greatest Vikings," said he was grateful to now be available for the alumni weekend that takes place during the season.
"It's awesome to be able to catch up and make up for lost time," Millard said. "It's good seeing old teammates and friends – it's just fun."
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.
Millard took in practice from the fieldhouse sideline and exchanged throwback stories with fellow defensive linemen Mark Mullaney (1975-87) and Henry Thomas (1987-94), who also received two Pro Bowl nods during his career.
"It's just fun seeing these guys, reuniting and talking old times," Mullaney said.
Thomas, who lives in Houston, said he was looking forward to watching the Vikings – whom he deemed his "number one team" – take on the Texans, his "number two team" to watch. He said he was thrilled that everything lined up for him to see that particular game in Minnesota.
"I'm absolutely cheering for the Vikings," Thomas assured with a laugh. "I'll be on their sideline in purple – they already know."
Thomas and the Vikings Legends joined Ring of Honor members for a re-induction ceremony on the field during halftime of Minnesota's 31-13 victory.