When I first started this series, I said that anyone in the history of the Minnesota Vikings that had either had their number retired or had gone into the Pro Football Hall of Fame would get themselves on this list without a debate. I immediately went and broke that for the #93. . .and watched Kevin Williams get absolutely curbstomped by John Randle.
I won’t be making the same mistake this time, given that the gap between the best #81 in team history and everyone else that’s worn it is much larger than the gap between John Randle and Kevin Williams.
As a member of the Purple People Eaters, defensive end Carl Eller is on the short list of the greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time. In fact, according to Pro Football Reference, Eller has the highest Approximate Value of any player in the history of the franchise. He is currently listed as the team’s all-time leader in sacks with 130.5, even though sacks weren’t officially kept as a statistic during the time he was active. A first-round pick (#6 overall) in the 1964 NFL Draft, Eller played fifteen seasons for the Vikings and started 201 of his 209 games as a member of the purple.
Eller was a six-time Pro Bowler for the Vikings, and was named First-Team All-NFL five times (and had two additional second-team nods). He was also the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1971 and a member of the NFL’s All-1970s team. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. So, yes, he is quite easily the best player in team history to wear the #81.
For most teams, this nod could probably go to someone like wide receiver Anthony Carter, who has pretty well established himself as the third-best receiver in Vikings’ history (though only the second-best named Carter). Carter started his professional career in the USFL, and actually signed with the Miami Dolphins when the USFL folded, but was traded to the Vikings before playing a game for Miami. He led the Vikings in receptions in five of his first six seasons with the Vikings, and averaged at least 17 yards/catch in each of his first four years, including a 1987 season that saw him average a ridiculous 24.3 yards/reception. Carter also had a huge part in the Vikings’ run to the 1987 NFC Championship game, and may have had the best individual performance for a receiver in team history with his ten-catch, 227-yard performance against San Francisco. He gained 642 all-purpose yards in those 1987 playoffs, which still stands as an NFL post-season record.
For his career, Carter trails only Randy Moss and Cris Carter in both receiving yardage (7,363) and receiving touchdowns (52) in Minnesota Vikings’ history.
There are a few honorable mentions to be had for the #81 as well.
- Tight end Joe Senser, who might be known more for his restaurants than his football by the younger set, is the only tight end in Vikings’ history to have over 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and had 15 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the team.
- We have to include Chris Walsh in here because. . .hey. . .everyone loves Chris Walsh. He was a really outstanding special teamer for the Vikings when he was part of the team. Can’t deny that.
- Wide receiver Nate Burleson was a solid player for the Vikings in his time with the team, including being the team’s leader in receiving yards in 2004.
- Visanthe Shiancoe had an impressive 2009, hauling in 11 touchdown passes from Zombie Brett Favre. Then there was that one locker room incident. . .feel free to Google that one on your own.
Vikings that have worn the number 81:
- Leon Clarke (1963)
- Carl Eller (1964 - 1978)
- Joe Senser (1980 - 1984)
- Anthony Carter (1985 - 1993)
- Rickey Parks (1987)
- Chris Walsh (1994 - 2002)
- Nate Burleson (2003 - 2005)
- Bethel Johnson (2006)
- Visanthe Shiancoe (2007 - 2011)
- Jerome Simpson (2012 - 2013)
- Moritz Böhringer (2016 - present)
And that’s the number 81 in Minnesota Vikings’ history, folks. We’ll finish out the 80s tomorrow with the #80, and I’m sure that we have no idea who that’s going to be, right?