The Vikings have had a lot of great first round draft picks, and Carl Eller and Randy Moss are just a couple. Over the team's history, guys like Adrian Peterson, Alan Page, and Chuck Foreman had or are having great careers in Minnesota, and are names that immediately come to mind when talking about all time great players of the Beloved Purple.
But when you're a first round pick, you should be good, right? I mean, you at least have a better than average chance of being good as opposed to a guy that's drafted later in the draft, right?
What about a guy drafted in the 9th round? "But Ted", you say correctly," the NFL doesn't even HAVE 9 rounds in the draft, there are only seven." You'd be correct, but that wasn't the case in 1977.
Way back then, the end of the Purple People Eaters were nigh. Eller, Page, and Jim Marshall all were within two years of being ex-Vikings, and the reign of the Vikings atop the NFC Central was coming to a close. They needed to get younger, and they took a flyer on a guy that was pretty much an afterthought.
Scott Studwell didn't think he was an afterthought. And he would spend the next 14 years proving it.
First of all, there are only three names in the history of the NFL that are really by-God football player names: Dick Butkus, Ray Nitcshke, and Scott Studwell. All three were linebackers, and all three played for teams that were members of the old NFC Central division. And Scott Studwell was as fierce as any player that ever roamed a football field.
His time as a player was a 'tweener' period for the organization--his rookie season was in 1977, the season after the Vikings last appeared in the Super Bowl, and his career ended in 1990, right before the string of success the Vikes had with The Sheriff, Denny Green. The 1980's, with the exception of a deep playoff run in 1987, was a pretty forgettable decade, both on and off the field. Bud Grant retired, Les Steckel was hired and fired, the franchise moved away from the frigid Bloomington prairie and lost their soul moving into the Metropimple, and the Vikings traded for Herschel Walker. If the 1970's were a decade of excellence highlighted with 4 Super Bowl trips, the 1980's were marked by mediocre football, some pretty bad teams, a bland stadium, a historically bad trade, and one magical run during a strike-shortened season that slipped through Darrin Nelson's hands. On the goal line. As time expired. AAAAUUUGGGHH! Sorry, better now.
During Studwell's career, the Vikings made the playoffs 7 times, three in his first four seasons as the Purple People Eaters aged and retired. All Studwell did was was retire as the Vikings all-time leader in combined tackles, defensive tackles, single season tackles, single game tackles, and soul crushing stares that would make opponents wet their pants. Seriously, you old guys and gals remember--he had that Mike Singletary stare down long before Mike Singletary was in the NFL. I mean Jeebus, he looked at me through the TV with that stare of his and it could give a kid nightmares. It was the most intense look I've ever seen on a human being's face.
I've been scared, I mean really no shit scared, four times in my life--three of them were in Afghanistan when I thought I might not be making it home after all, and the fourth was when I got to meet Scott Studwell in 2006 when I covered the Vikings for a now defunct website. When I looked into his eyes and shook his hand (his grip broke four bones, by the way) I thought he was going to kill me as he was smiling and saying 'nice to meet you, Ted.' He doesn't look at you, he looks THROUGH you, to this day. But Studwell and Mike Tomlin were the nicest guys I met in Mankato, though.
Most of today's Vikings fans know Studwell as the front office guy in charge of college scouting, and not as a fierce linebacker, and that's a shame. If you want to completely discount Studwell's numbers as inflated because he was a talented guy on a bad defense, then fine. I respectfully submit you're wrong and HIGHLY recommend you not let Mr. Studwell know how you feel lest he burn a hole into your soul when he looks at you. Even if Studwell had never played a down for the VIkings, you could look at his body of work in the front office and STILL consider Studwell an all time great draft pick. Think about this for a minute--when Studwell joined the front office, they were just starting to feel the fallout of the Walker trade and how many early first round draft picks they DIDN'T have, and he made lemonade out of lemons, helping to find guys like Jake Reed (3rd round 1991) Brad Johnson (9th round 1992), and Ed McDaniel (5th in '92). All of those players became significant contributors to the success of the 1990's teams, and Studwell's efforts have increased over time, resulting in what is arguably some of the strongest drafts in club history starting in 2006.
But like his playing days, he never really gets his due credit for his contributions. He logs thousands of miles on the road looking for potential NFL players, and his department helps to largely determine who could and who couldn't be a Minnesota Viking. The superstars are easy to find, but it's the late round guys---like Studwell was--- who could become an All-Pro where a team is built, and that's where Studwell's department make their money. They've had a lot more hits than misses since he's moved to the front office, and those hits off the field mirror the savage ones he delivered on the field.
I love the Purple People Eaters, but Studwell holds a special place in my heart as a Vikings fan, because he excelled for the Vikings during a period in team history when excellence wasn't commonplace. Mr. Studwell, thanks for giving a shit and playing to the final gun when it looked like some of your teammates in the early 1980's weren't, and thanks for helping keep the roster stocked with talent.
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