MANKATO, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, General Manager Rick Spielman and players reflected this week as they reported to training camp about the retirements of Phil Loadholt and Kevin Williams.
Loadholt (2009-15) announced his retirement Monday, and Williams (2003-13) signed a one-day contract with Minnesota on Wednesday to officially retire as a Viking on Thursday.
"Man, it's kind of scary, actually, being that I've been in the league for so long," Brian Robison said Friday on the first day of practice for his 10th Vikings camp.
Robison's locker at Winter Park was in close proximity to Williams, giving him a front-row seat for an unadvertised and impromptu comedy show and a large part of Williams' "helluva career."
When asked to name his favorite memory, Robison said, "Oh man, I don't know. There's a hundred of them."
"Kevin was always a great guy. He was always soft-spoken, but had that quiet, unique funniness to him," Robison said. "He would always say something under his breath or something, and it just made the guys laugh. He was a fun guy to be around."
Robison often practiced directly across from Loadholt for several seasons, but injuries hit Loadholt hard the past two seasons.
"A guy like Phil had a heck of a career, too, but to see him go out because of injuries, it's kind of two flips of the coin there, but both of them had amazing careers," Robison said.
In addition to announcing the contract extension for Zimmer, Spielman took time during his opening-of-training-camp comments to speak about Loadholt, Williams and Jared Allen, who retired earlier this offseason after signing a one-day contract with Minnesota.
"Great Minnesota Vikings football players, but probably even better people off the field," Spielman said. "I just want to wish them the best in their retirement and with their families as they go on with their future. Those guys represented what we want as Minnesota Vikings and they were great leaders for our organization."
Loadholt started 89 regular-season games, the ninth-most by a tackle in Vikings history.
Here are reflections about Loadholt's career that began with his selection in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft:
"Phil is such a tremendous person, and he worked extremely hard. He came in my office the other day when he was ready to announce his retirement, and I thanked him for everything he's done for me while I've been here, and I told him he's a Viking for life.
"He's welcome anytime, as is Kevin. I relish those former Vikings coming here and coming to practice and be part of the organization and getting to know our players and players, more importantly, getting to know them and what they've meant to the Vikings."
"I'm just thankful that I was able to spend a few of my years having Phil up front, and he's a great guy. If you get to know him outside of football, he is the kind of guy who is loving and caring, and he's a genuine guy; and I'm definitely going to miss him around here."
"I had the opportunity to talk to Phil and it's just unfortunate that after seven years he's retiring, but he told me that he was going to pray about it and make the best decision for him. That's what he did. I'm still going to stay on him and try to get him to make a comeback. I don't know if he's going to listen, but I'll be in his ear.
"It's tough. You know I was just talking to Teddy the other day in the locker room and telling him about Kevin and Pat [Williams] and about how I wish he could've experienced having those guys in the locker room. Congratulations to Kevin, he had an incredible career, and Phil."
"He's a big part of our team, a big locker room guy, a great leader. He's my best friend on the team, and I'm going to miss him a lot. I know everyone else is too."
"I've been knowing Phil since '08. I've had a great relationship with him. He's a great guy, down to earth. I was sad to see that he made that decision, but he made the best decision for him."
Williams started 171 regular-season games, missing just five contests in 11 seasons and setting a record for a Vikings defensive tackle.
Zimmer doesn't personally know Williams. He never coached the defensive tackle, but he did think about the possibility.
"I was telling somebody, 'I wish I would have had him when he was a young guy because he was a tremendous player in the defensive front that they had," Zimmer said. "Big strong fast athletes, I always like."
Here are reflections from teammates and an opponent on Williams' career.
" 'Ticket' " [Kevin] is probably one of the best people I've been around in this game. He's certainly, as everybody knows, a very talented player and just an unbelievably great teammate. Couldn't be a better guy, he's the guy that when I think about on past teams, he's one of the guys that you certainly miss day-to-day. He had that personality to get you through some rough days in training camp or rough practices.
"I just think when we had Pat [Williams], Kevin and Jared [Allen] and we were really rolling on the defensive line, that was just a fun group to play with and play behind for me. Being the 'Will' linebacker in the Tampa-2 scheme behind Kevin at the three-technique gave me every advantage at my position. [He] helped shape my career in so many different ways. I learned a lot from him about how to be a pro. Can't say enough about the guy he is and how much I respect him. Great family man, has a great beautiful family. Just happy for him, had an unbelievable career, hopefully a Hall of Fame career."
"When I first came in the league, I played a lot of inside. I was three technique and played on pass-rushing downs, and he was throwing everything at me. He used to tell me what to do, so I love Kevin.
"Also, Kevin was a humble man. He didn't say too much. He was an excellent player, and the game is going to miss somebody like that. I was honored to be able to come into a defensive line room with Jared, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Ray Edwards, Jayme Mitchell, Brian Robison, Letroy Guion and Fred Evans. I could go down the line … they really taught be a lot, and I feel like that's why I'm here today.
"I was a knucklehead, but I listened to them and now I realize what I can do."
"He is a great guy and a great player, great teammate. He was one of the great leaders of the Vikings and did a lot of great things in Vikings history. I was glad to see him go out a Viking, and he's always going to be a Viking.
"I'm glad to see a brother go out and go out the way he wanted to."
Alex Boone (played against Williams multiple times)
"True story with Kevin Williams, my first year starting … I remember thinking, 'Who is Kevin Williams and what can he do? I'm young, he's old. I'm good looking, he's not. I've got this sewn up.' The first time ever, I thought I had it.
"I remember every play from that game and exactly what he did to me. I never slept on him since. We played them three or four more times, and I played him when he was in Seattle. I remember I watched more film on Kevin Williams than I did on Michael Bennett because I was so afraid that he was going to pull something out of his bag. I told him during the game that he was the most respected person that I respect in this game because of what he did to me and I thought he was just old. 'He ain't got it anymore. He's not going to do anything.' He just beat me all up and down that field.
"It made me a better player and it really opened my eyes to the league. It was our third game of the year and we're getting ready to do a long road trip. I got to talk to him last year and I told him how good he was and how much I respected him."