There are players on each team that fans universally love, for whatever reason. It might be their underdog status, their tenacity, toughness, blue collar work ethic, or general all around awesomeness. They aren't the most talented, the most athletically gifted, and you'll probably never see these guys end up as the team's leading rusher, receiver, passer, or tackler. But they make the most of the opportunity they have, and you can look at that guy and say to yourself 'self, that's a guy that plays the game the way it should be played. I can respect that.'
Guys that the people can look to and love to cheer for, a people's champion.
Chris Walsh was that guy for the Vikings for a lot of years, and when he retired, the title of People's Champion was inherited by Jim Kleinsasser.
Why? For all of the above.
I'm getting this out of the way before we go any further: I've had a man crush on Jim Kleinsasser since he came in the NFL. I love the guy, and I draft him for my fantasy football team every year. I don't care that he only caught 17 passes last year, or that he's only got one TD reception since 2004.
I. Don't. Care.
I'm a Kleinsauce fan because he's a guy that you can count on to be there, week in and week out, year in and year out. He knows his role, Jebroni, and he knows it well. He blocks, and he laughs at those that catch the ball, because catching the ball, while kind of cool, is over rated. There's nothing better than going man on man, in the trenches, and whipping somebody's ass. And Jim Kleinsasser has been kicking ass for 13 years.
If there was a fantasy football stat that measured bad assedness, Jim Kleinsasser would be a top 10 pick.
Kleinsasser is the team's longest tenured Viking, getting drafted in 1999. He's seen approximately 3,107 quarterbacks come through Minnesota, from Jeff George to Brett Favre and now Donovan McNabb. He's seen every kind of offense imaginable, from the high flying Moss-Carter-Robert Smith offense of Denny Green, to the run left/run left/punt offense of Brad Childress, to the gunslinging of Brett Favre. And now he's learning yet another offense. Bill Musgrave's offense that favors a lot of two tight end sets and formations.
Through it all Kleinsasser's role hasn't changed. Block somebody. When that play is over, block somebody again. And on third down, block another guy. And just for grins and giggles, knock that linebacker into next Tuesday. And he does it well. Whether it's pass blocking or run blocking, it doesn't matter. Last year, he was the second best pass blocking tight end in the NFL and the 7th best run blocking tight end, per Pro Football Focus.
When asked how the new offensive style fits Kleinsasser's skill set, he answered like you would expect.
"Well, we've got Adrian Peterson back there, so we'll be running the ball. It hearkens back to the days of two tight ends in protection, and moving around in the backfield, and doing alot of different things on the line. So it feels pretty good."
And he knows where his strength lies. When asked if he thought his role might expand more as a pass catcher because of the new emphasis on tight ends, he seemed almost amused by the question.
"I know what my work orders eventually are, and that's in the run game and pass protection. But when the call comes, you have to run routes, catch some balls, and pick up the slack in that area, too."
For a guy that's seen multiple coaching changes and styles in his career as a Viking, he seems to take it all in stride, and thinks that the transition of coach Leslie Frazier from interim coach to head coach has gone pretty smoothly so far.
"We've got a great group of coaches with great personalities. They're great teachers. They've come in with a new offense and they've done a great job of presenting it to us, and giving us the best opportunity to go out there and fly around. We've got great coaches, and everybody's focused on what they've gotta do."
And what Jim Kleinsasser has to do is continue to be awesome, and fly around and maul a defensive end or two.
And at least score one touchdown this year, preferably in the week that I start him on my fantasy team.