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Jon Bois of Secret Base on Bud Grant, Jim Marshall, and ‘The History of the Minnesota Vikings’

Creator of the newly released Dorktown docu-series titled: ‘History of the Minnesota Vikings’ sports documentarian Jon Bois shares his insights on a fascinating Vikings franchise.

Last Friday, I was fortunate enough to do a Zoom interview with the great Jon Bois. For those who are unaware, Jon Bois is the co-founder of Secret Base; which is an SB Nation community dedicated to producing videos that tell obscure, but nonetheless interesting stories about various different events in sports history. His notable works include Chart Party, Pretty Good, and 17776 — a speculative sci-fi story about what the game of football would look like in a world where humans are immortal in the year 17776.

However, Jon is most well-known for his Dorktown series, which he co-created alongside Alex Rubenstein. Dorktown is a collection of sports documentaries that use visually engaging graphs and statistics to chronicle the intriguing histories and stories of franchises like the Seattle Mariners and the Atlanta Falcons. Dorktown’s latest installment is a 7-part docu-series titled ‘The History of the Minnesota Vikings’. Each episode is set to come out every Tuesday throughout August and September, with it’s finale on September 8th.

With that out of the way, here’s the full interview with Jon Bois.

Tyler Ireland: Hey everyone. I’m Tyler Ireland, and with me today is Jon Bois. He’s doing a Dorktown documentary on the Minnesota Vikings. The whole history of it. And I’ve got him here today. Just going to ask him a few questions. So how are you doing, Jon?

Jon Bois: I’m doing great. First question is a hard-hitting question, but yeah, I’m doing really good. It’s been a long well, I wouldn’t say a long eight months, but it’s been a very, very busy eight months with Alex Rubenstein and myself making this thing. And it’s been a ton of fun and also happy to take a break at the end of it. So it’s going good.

Tyler Ireland: So how did you get your start making these sports documentaries?

Jon Bois: Well I started as just a writer/editor, and I did that for several years. But I had also, you know, since way before I joined SB Nation, I kind of made my bones doing experimental, innovative, multimedia stuff. However much I could on the internet. And, you know, the opportunity came around for me to be able to start experimenting on video. So I was like, you know, I’ve never even edited a video before, but let me see if I can make, you know like an eight to ten-minute sports documentary on something, you know, kind of inconsequential and funny and stupid. I did, and people liked it. And I just tried to pay close attention to what people liked about it and how I could get better at it. And that was about, that first video I made about eight years ago. And since then I’ve just been learning as much as I can and, you know, hopefully getting better at it.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah, man. So what kind of value do you hope to bring with this Dorktown series?

Jon Bois: Well I hope people... What we do first and foremost is we like to make sports documentaries for people who don’t really watch sports, which sounds kind of weird; but it actually kind of works so that we kind of bring whatever sport or team we’re talking about, and we cater it to somebody who might not understand the rules. Like we get a lot of people who are from other countries where obviously they don’t play football much or American football. We also have a lot of people in the audience who just, you know, feel like they never got the invite to enjoy sports because there’s kind of this barrier to entry where it can be kind of intimidating. So we do that, but at the same time, we want to do right in this case by all the hardcore Vikings fans like yourself and everybody at Daily Norseman. And hopefully, we’ll uncover some rocks that not even y’all have stumbled upon yet.

At the same time, Alex and I are totally owning it. We are not Vikings fans. We are not telling the objective end-all, be-all story of the Vikings. And we are certain that, like, for as long as this thing is, we know y’all will have tons of stories. Like, why didn’t you all talk about Karl Kassulke? Why didn’t you talk about this person? And we’re ready for that. And we’re just trying to own it. We know we’re not the end-all-be-all storytellers of this franchise.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah, there’s just so many obscure stories to tell out there. You know, I feel like I know as a writer myself, it can often feel like it’s the same three headlines that are out there. Right? And you just want to make something that you feel like no one’s ever made before, something original, something worth telling people, right? So I think there’s real value in that.

Jon Bois: Yeah. Thanks. I mean, another thing we want to try to do is dispel this idea among outsiders that the Vikings are somehow cursed or haunted or whatever. Like we just did a Falcons documentary. I know what being haunted is, the Vikings are not that. Yes, they have never won a Super Bowl, but like they have been so blessed with so many amazing stories and fascinating people, that is honestly a trade-off I would take. I would trade away a Super Bowl for a franchise as rich in history as the Vikings.

Tyler Ireland: So why did you choose the Vikings? You know, there’s a lot of, you know, struggling, tortured teams out there. What made you and Alex sort of decide: “Okay, we really got to do a documentary on the Vikings here.”

Jon Bois: Well a lot of it was just based on just our experiences as outsider fans. Me as a Chiefs fan, and Alex as a Niners fan, we have both encountered the Vikings like over the course of our lives as fans from a distance. I remember exactly where I was during the ‘98 NFC Championship game. I knew where I was for the Randy Moss Thanksgiving game. I knew where I was for the Favre game in ‘09. Like, they have left such a special impression on us. While we were making the Falcons series and talking about that ‘98 game, we were like: “We have got to like put a bookmark here and come back to this as soon as we can.” And it took us two years, but we did it.

Tyler Ireland: Hey man, you finally did it, man. A lot of hard work paid off there. So I was able to read a previous interview you did with GQ Sports not too long ago, and you mentioned that Vikings fans have this tradition of building and curating lore in a way that other fanbases don’t. Could you elaborate on that? What makes the Vikings unique in that regard?

Jon Bois: Well I can offer this anecdote. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, which is far, far away. That’s probably a nine-hour drive from Minneapolis. And I distinctly remember there being multiple Vikings bars in Louisville. When I was in high school, I went to a friend of a friend’s house, and in their basement was this Vikings shrine. It was like everything was purple and yellow, all this memorabilia, all these jerseys, a pool table, like a specialty Vikings pool table that was there. And it’s just like, no, this team is different.

Like, I know that obviously, Steelers fans travel all over the country. There are a lot of teams that have a big footprint. But the Vikings in particular have a special relationship with their fans that feels almost familial, almost in the way the Saints are with their fans. They can tell you everything that ever happened to that franchise. I’m wearing a Mariners shirt right now. There’s, you know, Mariners fans who are very, very into their team’s lore; But the Vikings, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever encountered in any other sports fan base.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah man, it’s certainly unique and, you know, speaking of which, Bud Grant, right? I mean, that’s a unique fellow. I just have to ask, what was your favorite Bud Grant anecdote when you were researching for this project? What really stood out to you? Because I feel like he’s just such a unique personality.

Jon Bois: Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of stuff that we did not manage to fit into the documentary. Contrary to the NFL Films’ perception of the guy who’s like this very stoic, authoritarian, disciplinarian. He almost never suspended any of his players. I think the only player he ever suspended, I think, is Ted Brown. And even that, he lowered the suspension later. He never yelled, never, you know, meted out fines or anything like that, really. And he was a funny guy. Like he was a practical joker. One of his favorite things to do was he would get like a little lizard, like a newt or a little, you know, an old lizard or something like that. Bring it into the office, put it in an envelope, seal the envelope, put it on the floor, and walk away. So then what people saw was this envelope that was walking around in the office. And people were like, What the hell is that thing? And like, Bud Grant would just be off in the corner just laughing by himself. He loved practical jokes like that. And they were just all these little things that he said, all these little quirks about the guy who, you know, never really made it into all the glowing obituaries of him. Very, very interesting guy. Not a perfect guy either. I want to make sure not to lionize him. He said a couple of things that I personally would take issue with, but overall, an incredibly admirable guy.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah, it seemed like Bud had his way of doing things, right? There was this quote he used a lot where he’d say: “I thought that was the thing to do.” Bud just did things Bud’s way. I recall he made Pete Carroll, who was an assistant defensive backs coach for the Vikings, look up the Khyber Pass (not a named football play, but a famed mountain pass in Pakistan) for no reason. Just for him to do a presentation on it, you know, there was no rhyme or reason. Bud just thought that was the thing to do, so he had Pete do it.

Jon Bois: That’s awesome. I never heard that story. That’s great.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah man. And I’m someone who believes, like, legacy can be in the eye of the beholder, right? And, you know, a lot of people remember Bud for his stoic personality. He coached one of the best defenses of all time but never won the big game. From your perspective, what should his legacy be?

Jon Bois: Well, it’s interesting to stack him up against, you know, obviously the greats like Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi. Fun fact is, he actually could not stand either Vince Lombardi or Bill Walsh. He was just kind of disgusted by both of them in various ways. One of the things I admire the very most about Bud is how he moved on from those Super Bowls. There’s a very, very interesting sort of contrast between how he moved on and how Tarkenton moved on. Tarkenton says even now, it haunts him every single day that he never won a Super Bowl. He said that even in 2018, he’s like, “It eats at me every single day.”

Bud Grant moved on and he was like: I’m good. We got to go to the Super Bowl, we went there four times. His perspective was: I was able to provide for my family because he grew up in the Great Depression where, you know, a lot of times he had to hunt to put food on the table as a kid. So from his perspective, he’s like: Man, I was able to pay off my house, send my kids to college, not worry about where my next meal is coming from, live in my own state, and enjoy retirement for almost 40 years. I got it made. And I completely believe him when he said it didn’t bother him in the slightest. He’s really interesting for that.

Tyler Ireland: And on the topic of perception as well, I think a lot of Hall of Fame voters, they perceive Jim Marshall as this player who benefited from being on the Purple People Eaters but as you know, he was consistent but he never reached a certain high where it was like, okay, he’s the best in his era. And of course, he’s the guy who ran the wrong way for a safety. But to me, he was an integral part of the Purple People Eaters’ defense. I just think his consistency speaks for itself, along with his longevity. In your opinion, do you think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame or are there legitimate criticisms to where it’s like, not so fast?

Jon Bois: I think he should 1,000% be in the Hall of Fame. I’m shocked that he’s not. Actually, when I first started researching the series I forgot that he wasn’t in the Hall of Fame. I just assumed that he had been inducted at some point. And I like did a double-take when I realized he wasn’t. Especially because it’s tougher to make the case for something like the Baseball Hall of Fame where they’re famously rigorous. You know, the bar is set to the ceiling in terms of getting in there. But the Pro Football Hall of Fame offers a lot more wiggle room, a lot more leeway. So you can say, okay maybe he did not have the same peak that for example, Eller or Page did. But he obviously, I believe, holds the NFL record for most consecutive games from a defensive player. And he was just steady. I kind of feel like the Purple People Eaters, you kind of need to induct as a unit because they all made each other better. They were a package deal. He should definitely be in there.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah man, He was like the leader of that defense, too, right? As far as the veteran presence, he was always on the field.

Tyler Ireland: One guy who’s probably not going to be making the Hall of Fame is Vikings head coach, Les Steckel. And for those who don’t know, he was the head coach in 1984 after Bud Grant had left. And you said in the GQ interview that he was the worst Vikings head coach of all time. Now a 3-13 record is pretty bad. But personally, I would argue that one 3-13 season is nowhere near as bad as what Norm Van Brocklin did with Fran Tarkenton. Forcing him out of town due to his own ego. To me, it just feels like such a huge missed opportunity. I feel like in that 1970 Super Bowl against the Chiefs, if we had Fran we could have won. And the impact of that, especially being 13-point favorites without Fran, far outweighs one bad year. So I’m just curious, what makes Les Steckel so much worse, in your opinion, than someone like Norm Van Brocklin?

Jon Bois: I think there’s a lot of reasonable room to disagree on that. Like when you say Van Brocklin is worse, I think you have a very, very good case. In either case, they’re pretty neck and neck. I find Les Steckel to be as a person more admirable because at least when he left, people were like: Well, all his ideas were bad, but like, he’s a good guy and he, like, cared about his players, and stuff, whereas like, Norm was just kind of a bully and an asshole. So I have more personal respect for Steckel. I feel like, yeah, it’s hard to come up with any pluses for Van Brocklin because like, like you said, I mean, it’s definitely something we dwell on a little bit in the documentary. It’s kind of a double-edged sword because if they kept Tarkenton, then that would imply that they also might have kept Van Brocklin. Because the owner, Max Winter, wanted to roll with Van Brocklin for as long as he wanted to be there. So that would have not paved the way for Bud Grant. So maybe that had to happen in order for Grant to come back to town and get to those Super Bowls. So in any case, it’s an interesting debate. I think you’ve got something there.

Tyler Ireland: You mentioned in that GQ interview, too, that the 2000s, that video is going to be the longest and that you’re barely going to even mention The Love Boat, which was a huge, huge controversy. So what is it about the 2000s where it is just so jam-packed to the point where there are just so many interesting things to talk about? Like what stands out?

Jon Bois: It begins with the arrival of Daunte Culpepper, who later in ‘04 produces this singularly great season that has a statistical footprint that’s unlike basically any other season we’ve seen. He’s just amazing. Then you’ve got the 2000 NFC championship game, which is like by some measures the worst playoff loss in NFL history behind only the 73-0 loss in 1940. Then you’ve got the messy exit made by Dennis Green, there was a lot of political stuff going on with that. There was the tragedy of Korey Stringer losing his life in training camp that had a lot of huge ramifications, and he was a really beloved guy. You know, that’s only the first few years.

You’ve also got everything Randy Moss did. The weird Randy Moss traffic stop incident, which is amazing. There’s the disgusting act, quote-unquote, the mooning. Then you’ve got Culpepper’s career fizzling out, Adrian Peterson breaking the single-game rushing yards record in like his eighth career game. Then there’s Visanthe Shiancoe being naked on camera on national TV. You’ve got Tarvaris Jackson, seeing if he can finally make good on his potential, and trying to prove that he can be the guy in Minnesota. After three years, it looks like it finally might happen.

And then they bring their arch-rival to town. It’s very Shakespearean. During the ‘09 regular season, Farve was an incredibly efficient quarterback. He takes care of the ball. I think he only throws seven picks, which I mean, for Brett Favre, he usually led the league in, picks a lot of years. So like at age 40, he completely remade himself. And then, of course, the old wheeler and dealer, gunslinger Favre re-emerges at the worst possible moment. He throws across his body for an interception while in somewhat makeable field goal range. And that’s not including any of the stuff Mike Tice did. I mean, we do talk about it in the documentary, but I didn’t mention it just now. It’s so loaded with stuff. Yeah, I almost wanted to tell the Vikings to like, cool it a little bit.

Tyler Ireland: Two of your favorite Vikings quarterbacks, are Joe Kapp and Teddy Bridgewater. Those are two very random names. Why are those two in particular your favorites?

Jon Bois: It’s a good question, and it’s it wasn’t an easy call because there’s also a lot I personally find very interesting about Fran Tarkenton. I think he’s a really interesting guy, and I would say the same about Randall Cunningham. I love that guy. Culpepper too. Bridgewater, you know, I’m from Louisville and so I’ve watched him in college. He could run for mayor in Louisville and get elected if he wanted to. It’s just people love him. And, you know, I love him too, for that. Joe Kapp was cool for a whole lot of reasons. One being that, he played very, very fearlessly, and that was how he compensated for not really being good at throwing the ball. He just put it all out there. And he also had the courage to basically torpedo his own career. He was offered one of the biggest contracts in the NFL with the Patriots. Not long after, he walked away from it partially in protest of the Rozelle Rule. He was an early pioneer in players’ rights in a way that really came to bear later after the NFL strikes and labor actions of the 70s and 80s.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah man. So going to the present day here from an outsider’s perspective what about the 2023 Minnesota Vikings intrigues you the most?

Jon Bois: Good question. I think I would have to say, I just want to see what Justin Jefferson does next. I am a huge fan of that guy, as pretty much all NFL fans are at this point. He’s just such an exciting, electrifying player, probably the most exciting playmaker in the league, among non-quarterbacks. And I just love him, he’s guaranteed to give you an eight-minute highlight reel every single year. As an outsider, as somebody who roots for another team, that is what I’m most excited about for the Vikings this year.

Tyler Ireland: Finally, last but not least. What do you want your audiences to take away from this documentary series?

Jon Bois: Good question. So, this is our third big history of a team project. The first was the Mariners, the second was the Falcons. And we managed to sort of eke out a basic identity or role that all these teams kind of play. We identified the Mariners as sort of the protagonists of baseball, the team you can kind of relate to the most. We sort of likened the Falcons to the clowns of football, the court jesters, the guys who always slip on banana peels and fall down for our amusement. We call the Vikings the great American storytellers because they live through and tell more stories than any other team. And you could stack them against the Packers, Steelers, Niners, Cowboys, whoever. They are far and away the most fascinating team. I’m a huge Chiefs fan and they are way more interesting than the Chiefs are. So yeah, I would call the Vikings ‘the great storytellers’.

Tyler Ireland: Alright, That concludes our interview. Thank you, Jon, so much for hopping on. Be sure to watch Jon’s 7-part Dorktown series on The History of the Minnesota Vikings.

New episodes come out every Tuesday throughout August and September, with the finale set for Fri, September 8th. Subscribe to Secret Base to never miss a premiere!

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