Friday, January 22, 2010

Matt Blair

Matt Blair
6'5" 232
Minnesota Vikings
1974 - 1985
12 Seasons
160 Games Played
16 Interceptions
20 Fumble Recoveries
20.5 Blocked Kicks
6 Pro Bowls

Blair was drafted in the second round of the 1974 draft by the Minnesota Vikings, and was the 51st player chosen overall. He had went to college at Iowa State University, where he is a legend. He was the most outstanding defensive player of the Cyclones loss in the 1971 Sun Bowl, and was named All-American in his 1973 season. He was also a two time Kodak All-American team member. He is a member of the schools athletic Hall of Fame.

The Vikings started him in six games during his rookie year, and he was named to the NFL's All-Rookie Team after getting an interception and fumble recovery. Minnesota would go on to appear in Super Bowl IX that year, where Blair would block a punt leading to the Vikings only points in their 16-6 defeat.

He played as a reserve next season, but earned the starting left outside linebacker job in 1976. He had a career high five fumble recoveries and had two interceptions that year, as the Vikings made it to Super Bowl XI before losing. In the NFC Championship Game two weeks earlier, he had helped block a field goal attempt that Vikings cornerback Pro Bowl Bobby Bryant took 90 yards for a touchdown that accounted for the first points of the game.

The 1977 season saw Blair make the first of six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. His penchant for the big play was widely known throughout the league, as was his solid, steady play backed by great fundamentals. The entire defensive personnel around him changed at every position except his. He was named the captain of the defense in 1979 and held that position until he retired.

Gone were Hall Of Famers like defensive tackle Alan Page, defensive end Carl Eller, and free safety Paul Krause, along with Vikings legends like defensive end Jim Marshall, defensive tackle Doug Sutherland, linebackers Jeff Sieman and Wally Hilgenberg, and defensive backs Bobby Bryant and Nate Wright. Blair continued to be a top echelon linebacker in the league despite these massive changes.

Many other changes occurred on the Vikings offense after 1977 as well. Minnesota went to four Super Bowls between 1969 and 1976, but none after that. After making it to the NFC Championship Game in 1977, the Vikings made the playoffs in 1978 and 1980 and lost in the first round each time. Blair would not appear in a postseason game again.

It was in that 1977 season that he scored his first touchdown, which came off a blocked kick. He scored again for the final time the next season off of a lateral that went 49 yards. It set the stage for maybe the finest year of his career, which happened during the 1980 season.

He was named to his only First Team All-Pro team that year, and was named the Most Valuable Linebacker of the NFC. Blair was also being recognized for all of the work he did away from the gridiron. Working in several charities that included the Children's Miracle Network, Multiple Sclerosis Society, March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Lupus Foundation of Minnesota, Special Olympics, and the United Way, he was named the 1981 NFL Man of the Year. He also was the Top 10 Outstanding Young Men of America by the Jaycees in 1983. His work with the homeless and hungry has raised millions of dollars as well.

He missed the first games of his career in 1983 after becoming injured enough to miss five games. The Vikings drafted Chris Doleman in the first round before the 1985 season, and Hall Of Fame head coach Bud Grant had Blair teach him how to play linebacker and rush the quarterback from the edge. After appearing in a career low six games because of injury that year, Blair decided to retire.

The Vikings have never had a linebacker better than Matt Blair. His 1,452 career tackles still ranks second in team history. No other Vikings linebacker has intercepted more passes than him either.

Though sacks were not a recorded statistic until the 1982 season, he was known for his ability to come hard off the edge and create havoc on opposing teams. But he was more than just an excellent player who supported the run and rushed the passer. Minnesota liked to keep him on the field as much as possible, because he was so excellent defending the pass and creating turnovers on special teams as well.

His athleticism was on display in the 1975 season. The Vikings could not find a consistent punt returner that year, and used six different players that year. One of them was Blair, who took two punt returns that year. He may be the last linebacker ever in NFL history to be asked to field a punt.

His ability to block kicks was amazing. It didn't matter if it was a field goal, extra point, or punt, because he was a force each time the ball was snapped. His 20.5 blocked kicks in the regular season is a Vikings record, and this stat becomes even more spectacular when you factor in the fact Page blocked 16 more as well. In all, counting post season, he blocked 23.5 kicks. It is the second most in NFL history.

His 20 career fumble recoveries is tied as the 11th most by any defender in NFL history. What makes this statistic more impressive is the fact his teammates(Marshall, Page, and Eller) all had more in their careers. It is a testament to the Vikings defense being able to create multiple turnovers, and Blair's abilities around so many teammates who shared his proclivity to jump on loose footballs.

How the voters of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame can induct a one dimensional linebacker like Andre Tippett, while ignoring better players like Blair, shows a process full of politics where the actual play on the field is disregarded. Tippett just rushed the passer and went to the Pro Bowl a measly four times, while Blair did everything and more a linebacker could be asked to do and had more accolades.

Some may point to his six Pro Bowls and question if it is enough, especially when nine time Pro Bowl linebackers like Chris Hanburger and Maxie Baughn still await their call to the hall. What puts Blair over the top for induction over many other outside linebacker legends is his ability to play all over the field in every aspect of the game on defense and special teams.

He is a member of both the Vikings Silver and the 40th year anniversary teams, and soon will be inducted into the teams Ring of Honor. If one looks at the fact he continued his greatness long after all of the other "Purple People Eaters" had left the team, it should become quite apparent that Matt Blair deserves to be inducted into Canton.

Notable Players Drafted In 1974 ( * Denotes Hall Of Fame Inductee )

1. Ed "Too Tall" Jones, DE, Dallas
5. John Dutton, DT, Baltimore Colts
14. Randy Gradishar, MLB, Denver
19. Henry Lawrence, OT, Oakland
21. Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh *
24. Roger Carr, WR, Baltimore
34. Steve Nelson, MLB, New England
35. Keith Fahnhorst, OT, San Francisco
45. Dave Casper, TE, Oakland *
46. Jack Lambert, MLB, Pittsburgh *
49. Devlin Williams, RB, San Francisco
53. Danny White, QB, Dallas
65. Dexter Bussey, RB, Detroit
67. Robert Pratt, G, Baltimore
68. Claudie Minor, OT, Denver
75. Mark van Eeghen, FB, Oakland
78. Nat Moore, WR, Miami
82. John Stallworth, WR, Pittsburgh *
89. Frank LeMaster, OLB, Philadelphia
105. John Teerlinck, DT, San Diego (Notable Coach)
116. Steve Odom, WR, Green Bay
125. Mike Webster, C, Pittsburgh *
134. Don Woods, RB, Green Bay
144. Jon Keyworth, RB, Washington
161. Noah Jackson, G, Baltimore
169. Efren Herrera, K, Detroit
174. Freddie Scott, WR, Baltimore
199. Eddie Brown, DB, Cleveland
232. Sam McCullum, WR, Minnesota
236. Ray Rhodes, DB, New York Giants (Notable Coach)
249. Don Calhoun, RB, Buffalo
250. Tom Condon, G, Kansas City (Notable Superagent)
365. Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, WR, Houston Oilers
374. Sam Hunt, LB, New England
376. Dave Wannstedt, OT, Green Bay (Notable Coach)
388. Bob Thomas, K, Los Angeles Rams