Another day, another entry into our 30 Day Challenge for the month of June, and I'm going to go with one that I think a lot of folks. . .if I know the readers of this site the way I think I do. . .are going to be in agreement with me on.
The tight end position has undergone a lot of change over the course of the last decade or so. Today, the biggest names at the tight end position are largely known for their pass catching ability rather than their ability to run block. Over the course of their history, the Minnesota Vikings have had a lot of solid players at the tight end position.
So, out of all of them, who is your all-time favorite Minnesota Vikings' tight end?
There are a lot of reasons that I'm going with the player that I am, and that player is long-time Viking Jim Kleinsasser.
Back in 1995 as a high school senior in North Dakota, I watched Kleinsasser lead Carrington High School to the State Class B basketball championship. He also still holds the North Dakota track and field records in the shot put and the discus. But, obviously, his calling was on the football field, as he was widely recognized as the best football player in the state. . .almost unheard of for a player at the Class B level, and certainly the first Class B athlete to do so since defensive end Phil Hansen was lighting it up at Oakes High School.
(For those that might not be all that familiar with North Dakota high school sports, your Class "A" schools are the schools from your bigger cities. . .Fargo, Bismark, Minot, Grand Forks, etc. Class "B" schools are the ones from smaller towns.)
Kleinsasser went on to the University of North Dakota, and was a star there as well. The Vikings thought highly enough of him to trade up fifteen spots in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft to select him. Kleinsasser was originally slotted at fullback for the Vikings, wearing the #40. He flexed back and forth between the fullback and tight end positions for a few seasons, but by 2003 he had largely settled into the tight end spot in the Minnesota offense.
At the NFL level, Kleinsasser didn't have huge numbers as a runner or a receiver. . .he averaged about one catch per game and found the end zone only seven times in his career. But where Kleinsasser really made his mark was as a blocker. In that regard, throughout his NFL career, he was without peer at the tight end position.
Through it all, even if he might have deserved more opportunities to get his hands on the football, you never once heard Kleinsasser complain. He just went out there, destroyed opposing linebackers and safeties (and the occasional defensive end) and opened holes for everyone from Robert Smith to Adrian Peterson in the Minnesota backfield. He became a cult favorite among Vikings fans, and particularly among us here at The Daily Norseman. He may not have been a superstar in the popular sense, but NFL teams are made up of more Jim Kleinsassers than "superstars."
Kleinsasser finished his Vikings' career with the second-highest number of starts for a tight end in Vikings' history, and fourth all-time in receptions for a tight end. He spent his entire career in purple and gold, and retired following the 2011 season.
There are plenty of worthy names on the list of Vikings' tight ends. . .names like Steve Jordan, Stu Voigt, Visanthe Shiancoe, and many others. But for me, the choice for my all-time favorite Vikings tight end was a pretty easy one.
Who is your favorite all-time Minnesota Vikings' tight end, folks?