Alumni spanning all eras of Minnesota football - from Jim Marshall (1961-79) to Mike Harris (2012-15) â gathered for a Vikings Legends Luncheon in lead-up to Super Bowl LII, which will kick off Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
MINNEAPOLIS –For many who spent time in Vikings Purple, Wednesday afternoon felt like a family reunion.
Alumni spanning all eras of Minnesota football – from Jim Marshall (1961-79) to Mike Harris (2012-15) – gathered for a Vikings Legends Luncheon in lead-up to Super Bowl LII, which will kick off Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"It's always great when you can get the alumni back together," said Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel. "There's some guys that played before me that I can say 'Thank you' to for what they did to pave that way … And then there's a few younger guys that I was retired when they started playing, and it's fun to hear their stories. Events like this, the Wilfs are doing such a great job at bringing all of us back here."
Added McDaniel: "It's like getting the family back together."
The roomful of former players and their guests were warmly welcomed by Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf, General Manager Rick Spielman and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren.
"I want to thank you all for coming here today," Spielman said. "The foundation, legacy, the greatness that's in this room – it [reverberates] through our building every day.
"Unfortunately we did not play our best game in that NFC Championship game, but what Vikings do, what our team does, what [Head Coach Mike] Zimmer does, is if you get punched in the nose, you get back up and you go again. And we're very excited about the future – we've got a great foundation in place," Spielman continued. "The Wilf family and the ownership group has given us every resource possible to bring a Super Bowl trophy here. And I can tell you from myself and from Coach Zimmer, every day we go into that office, we're going to give you our all so that you are proud of us and we can bring home the [Lombardi] trophy."
Wilf told the former players that the Vikings "are nothing" without the history and foundation that was laid by the Legends.
"We are always trying to honor and celebrate our alumni. The Minnesota Vikings is one of the most storied franchises in sports, and what we are today is really built on the shoulders of these great men and their families, and all the sweat and tears that they put into this franchise," Wilf told Vikings.com. "The Minnesota Vikings is a professional football team, it's a business, but we look at it as an extended family. As the team goes up and down, I know how much our alumni want to attain the same goal as all of us do, to win championships here and bring our fans a Lombardi trophy."
Warren said that one thing that stands out about the Vikings franchise is the relationship it has prioritized with its alumni, especially under the Wilfs' ownership.
"One thing among many things that makes this franchise special is the history and tradition," Warren said. "To be able to hear individuals today talk and reminisce about what it means to be a Viking, and to still be able to see them in the building and at practice and at games, it really is unique.
"The other thing that many of the other owners in the NFL have never recognized is that when you buy a team, you buy an asset, most of them focus on the bricks and mortar, the stadium and the practice facility, and the current team – but very few focus on the history," Warren said. "And when you buy the team, you get the history no one talks about."
The Legends enjoyed a plated meal and a presentation by Erin Swartz, Vikings Director of Brand and Creative, to preview the Vikings museum that is set to open summer of 2018 at the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan. They then had an opportunity to mingle and reconnect with former teammates and players who had come before and after them.
Joey Browner, a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All Pro during his time with the Vikings (1983-91) said it has been some time since he got together with other alumni and was enjoying the chance to reminisce. Taking a seat beside Marshall, the two swapped stories of their time in Minnesota.
"Right now is a situation where a lot of us haven't seen each other in decades, so it's a great opportunity to [relive memories] of things," Browner said. "I'm just glad to be here."
Added Marshall: "It's really a pleasure. You look at the guys you used to play with, you look at the guys who came after you, and it's like one homogenous group."
Former Vikings who attended Wednesday's luncheon also included Bill Brown, Matt Blair, Greg Coleman, John Henderson, Gene Washington, Dave Osborn, John Swain, Stu Voight, Robert Tate, Rickey Young and Mitch Berger, among others.
Berger, who played for the Vikings from 1996-99 and was a two-time Pro Bowler during his career (once in Minnesota), was grateful that he made the trip back to the Twin Cities.
"It's been a while since I've been back … I know what a great job the ownership group has been doing, and they've been involving more and more of us in these sorts of events," Berger said. "It just shows that they really respect the history of the Vikings and what little guys like us maybe did to help them get where they are today. It's just really great to see everybody and feel the family kind of environment here."
Berger played for 10 different teams over 16 seasons in the NFL and said that Minnesota will always top the list.
"This was my favorite place I played. It was my favorite [fan base]; they're the best people here in the Twin Cities," Berger said. "People are seeing that 'Minnesota nice'; they're seeing that this week, and more and more people are going to really cherish what Minnesota is an NFL city."
Marshall and McDaniel also spoke about U.S. Bank Stadium hosting Super Bowl LII and the chance for the Vikings new home to be showcased for the rest of the world.
Marshall acknowledged the tremendous opportunity but then quipped: "I hope not too many of them want to stay. We've got a pretty quality group of people here, and the quality of life is just over the top. So we don't want anything to mess it up."
McDaniel gestured outside to the blue skies and sun splashing off the snow-covered trees.
"The world's going to see it," McDaniel said. "Everybody can see what Minnesota really looks like. This is a great time for Minnesota.
"Hopefully next time we're sitting here talking, it will be us in the Super Bowl," McDaniel added with a smile.