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Vikings Family, Teammates Remember Wade Wilson

The Vikings are extending condolences to the family of Wade Wilson, who passed away Friday at the age of 60.

The former quarterback spent 10 seasons with the Vikings (1981-91), during which he started 48 of 76 games played.

Wilson was selected by the Vikings in the eighth round (210th overall) of the 1981 NFL Draft, after which he became the backup to Tommy Kramer. In 1987 under Head Coach Jerry Burns, however, Wilson started seven of 12 regular-season games and two of Minnesota's three postseason games.  

Longtime Vikings equipment manager Dennis Ryan recalled Wilson going from a longshot to make the team to fighting for a starting position.

"I remember his big breakout game, where it was like, 'Wow,' " Ryan said. "It was 1987 against the Saints down in New Orleans, and he came in and relieved Tommy in that game. We were down 10-nothing when Wade entered the game, and we ended up winning that playoff game 44-10.

"He quieted the loudest crowd I've ever heard on a game day," Ryan added. "By halftime, you could hear a pin drop in that place."

After upsetting the 13-2 49ers in the Divisional Round, Wilson started against Washington in the NFC Championship Game, during which the Vikings fell 17-10 to the Redskins.

Kramer called himself fortunate to have Wilson behind him. He remembered first watching the young player throw passes at training camp that "fluttered instead of spiraled."

When a teammate suggested that Kramer give Wilson pointers, the older quarterback initially hesitated out of respect for a fellow Texan.

"I didn't want to belittle him," Kramer said. "You have a connection when you play with people who lived in the same state with you. But I just helped him change his grip up a little bit, and he started throwing spirals all the time. I was happy about that. It made me feel good, too."

Wilson went on to have a Pro Bowl campaign in 1988. He finished the season 204-of-332 passing for 2,746 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a passer rating of 91.5. His 61.4 completion percentage led the NFL.

In 1990 and 1991, Wilson again shared starting duties in Purple, this time with quarterback Rich Gannon.

He finished his Vikings career 929-of-1,665 passing for 12,135 yards, 66 touchdowns and 75 interceptions.

Former tackle Tim Irwin (1981-93) was in the same draft class as Wilson and echoed Ryan's thoughts about the quarterback's tenacity on the field and tender heart off of it.

"Football-wise, we made a lot of yards and scored a lot of points together. But it was more than that," said Irwin, who said the two were roommates for every season of Vikings training camp and on road trips. "I remember the night we both found out that we made the Vikings [roster] for the first time and how excited we were.

"You know, he's from Texas and I'm from Tennessee, so there was no language barrier and no accent barrier. I remember when we had the first bad taste of winter, how we both reacted to it," Irwin added with a chuckle. "He was a great guy to spend your career with."

View images of former Vikings quarterback Wade Wilson.

Wilson played an additional seven seasons after his time in Minnesota, spending time with the Falcons (1992), Saints (1993-94), Cowboys (1995-97) and Raiders (1998). He finished his NFL tenure with 17,283 passing yards and 99 touchdowns.

Irwin emphasized Wilson's toughness and longevity in the league.

"We played 17 years, and that's pretty hard to do in the National Football League," Irwin said. "He was a 'Bud Grant product.' Bud expected you to be durable. As well as being a good player, you had to be durable or you weren't going to stay around here. He was one of those guys that was."

Irwin added after a pause: "He was a great friend, great roommate and great cribbage player."

Several individuals close to Wilson mentioned the way he overcame a diabetes diagnosis early in his career and was able to navigate the illness. Ryan recalled carrying a bag of M&Ms on the sideline should Wilson ever need to raise his blood sugar during a game.

"I always had them handy, and he never needed them, ever. Until the one game that I got hungry during the first half, and I ate the M&Ms," Ryan said with a laugh. "He came off the field and asked me for them, and I said, 'Oh, crap' and took off running. He laughed about it – he wasn't the type of guy who was going to be upset – but I ran back into the locker room and got another bag for him."

After hanging up his cleats, Wilson joined the coaching ranks. He served as the Cowboys quarterbacks coach from 2000-02 and held the same role with the Bears from 2004-06, going to Super Bowl XLI with Chicago. He returned in 2007 to Dallas, where he was the quarterbacks coach through the 2017 season.

While in Dallas, Wilson overlapped with Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who served as the Cowboys defensive backs coach from 1994-99 and as their defensive coordinator from 2000-06.

"Wade was a terrific person," Zimmer said. "He got along with everybody; he had a really good nature about him, he was a very smart coach and obviously was a good player.

"He was extremely smart," added Zimmer of Wilson's coaching know-how. "He had a really, really good way about him, a way with people. I think the biggest thing was that he had seen so many things and been able to talk about so many situations. He was a guy that always beat the odds."

Prior to joining the pros, the Texas native was a three-year starter for East Texas State University (later Texas A&M University-Commerce). As a senior in 1980, Wilson received First Team All-LSC and First-Team NAIA All-American honors.