MINNEAPOLIS — On the same day the Vikings celebrated the ribbon cutting for the grand opening of U.S. Bank Stadium, they honored the memory of a groundbreaker, former Head Coach Dennis Green, who passed away at age 67, with a moment of silence.
Many former players, including Randy Moss, Hall of Fame Head Coach Bud Grant and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer shared their respects for Green.
Green became the third African-American head coach in NFL history and the second in the modern era when he was hired by the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 10, 1992. A decade earlier, Green became the second African-American head coach in NCAA Division I-A at Northwestern in 1981.
When Vikings.com interviewed Green for the "Celebrate Perseverance" Black History Month content series that launched in February 2015, he spoke about the appreciation he had for being "born at the right time." He said he witnessed a period of substantial change that allowed him greater opportunities than generations before him were able to enjoy. He wanted to do well so that others would be extended opportunities.
"My generation laid a certain foundation," Green said, "It's up to the next generation to be able to recognize that really, it's all about equal access and equal opportunity and all of us operating on the same and playing on the same earth."
Vikings Pro Scout Jeff Robinson played for Green at Northwestern and was an intern in the public relations department in Green's first season. Robison, who shifted to the scouting department in 1996, and said he learned valuable lessons from the way Green approached the position.
"You kind of looked to him as a role model to the things he did to make things better for others, but it was an interesting path because he worked with and was around so many talented individuals that he didn't make it necessarily about him," Robinson said. "He made it about the bigger picture and how others could go along with him and to learn from him to make it better for everybody."
"He always treated everybody fairly. He always looked for the good in everyone, and through that process, he wanted everyone to have a fair chance," Robinson added. "It wasn't about this guy is better than that guy. It was about a collective teamwork and effort."
With the Vikings, Green coached 171 total games in 10 seasons. He was 97-62 (.610 winning percentage) in the regular season, guiding the Vikings to eight playoff appearances, four division titles, two NFC Championship game appearances and a jaw-dropping 556 points (34.8) during the 1998 season. The season tally broke a record established by Washington in 1983 that was later topped.
Green is one of seven coaches to lead a team to 15 or more wins in one season, joining Bill Walsh (1984), Mike Ditka (1985), Bill Cowher (2004), Bill Belichick (2007), Mike McCarthy (2011) and Ron Rivera (2015).
The hiring of Green in Minnesota was a full-circle moment of sorts. One of his first football memories when he was a child in Pennsylvania was watching elite University of Minnesota (quarterbacked by Sandy Stephens) and University of Iowa (quarterbacked by Wilburn Hollis) face off in 1960.
Green went on to play running back at Iowa and later coached the position for the Hawkeyes (1974-76), before three stints at Stanford (1978-79, and a pair with the 49ers.
Green said his previous experiences in the Midwest established the belief that the opportunity was in a "community you could go in and be accepted as the man, and the idea would not be anything to do with race. If you can help them win, you'd be accepted, and you'd work out. If you didn't win, your butt would be fired like anybody else."
As much as Green enjoyed the game, he knew it was an opportunity to mold men at the college and professional levels, stressing education on campus and continued development.
"The reality is football is not something you can do forever," he said. "Football can open a door and create some opportunities, but the education at that university you go to is really where it's at."
He founded the Vikings Community Tuesday initiative through which players use their day off during the regular season to make positive differences around the community. It's a lasting legacy.
"I think the biggest thing to learn from him overall is you learn how to grow as a person," Robinson said. "You know the structure that you're within because it's a sports environment, but you learn how to deal with a lot of different individuals from a lot of different environments," Robinson said. "You also learn how to make things better for everybody by coming together as one and not just this group or that group, but he always taught you to look out for the bigger picture and think about the bigger picture."
Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren spoke during the ribbon-cutting ceremony and mentioned taking a call from Green in 2004 in which Green informed Warren that the Vikings might be for sale.
Ultimately, that information led to Warren helping negotiate the sale of the team to Vikings Owners Zygi, Mark and Lenny Wilf, Alan Landis and David Mandelbaum that was unanimously approved by other NFL Owners in May 2005.
"Without that phone call from him that day, I don't know if the Wilf family would own the team," Warren said.
Warren was then hired by the Vikings, and in 2015, became the first African-American Chief Operating Officer in the NFL.
"When you think of Coach Green, he was one of the forerunners and standard bearers," Warren said. "He was there early and won a lot of football games. But the other thing that he did was not only get a position as a head coach, he then hired people to give people opportunities."
Warren said Green would be proud of the Vikings new home and even happier that it's in Minnesota.
"I know he would absolutely be astonished to see this building here today. He loved the Vikings and bled purple."
View images of former Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green, who passed away on Friday at the age of 67.