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Purple People Eaters

Updated: 2017-05-14T01:34Z

Purple People Eaters (sometimes Purple Gang) were the defensive line of the Minnesota Vikings from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. The term is a reference to a popular song from 1958, the efficiency of the defense, and the color of their uniforms. The motto of the Purple People Eaters was "Meet at the quarterback."[1]

One of the original members of the defensive line, Gary Larsen, was replaced in the mid-1970s by Doug Sutherland.[6]

The Purple People Eaters were a major factor in the post-season success of the Vikings from the late 1960s through the 1970s.[7] The Purple People Eaters were one of the most identifiable front fours in National Football League history, with the "Fearsome Foursome" of the Los Angeles Rams during the 1960s and early 1970s, the "Steel Curtain" of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s, and the "New York Sack Exchange" of the New York Jets during the 1980s.

Carl Eller and Alan Page were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Many fans, sports writers, players, and coaches argue that Jim Marshall should be in the Hall of Fame as well.[8]

The building of the Purple People Eaters

When the Minnesota Vikings first came into the NFL in 1961, they picked up Jim Marshall From the Cleveland Browns in the expansion draft. In 1964, Carl Eller was drafted in the first round. In the next season they acquired Gary Larsen from the Los Angeles Rams. Then in 1967, the Vikings drafted Alan Page in the first round.

Pro Bowls and MVPs

In 1968, Marshall, Eller and Page all made the Pro Bowl as the Defense collected 40 sacks, ranked 6th in the league in points allowed and played a big role in the Vikings winning their first division title.

In 1969, Marshall, Eller, Page and Larsen all made the Pro Bowl as the defense ranked number 1 in fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed, and sacked the opposing quarterback 50 times. Meanwhile, their offense scored the most points. This combination led the team to their first NFL Championship where they defeated the Cleveland Browns 27-7. However, they would lose Super Bowl IV, in a 23-7 upset to the Kansas City Chiefs.

In 1970, the Vikings defense recorded 49 sacks and once again gave up the fewest points and fewest yards. Meanwhile, Page, Eller and Larsen all made the Pro Bowl.

In 1971, The Vikings defense ranked 2nd in fewest yards allowed and for the third year in a row, gave up the fewest points in the league . That year, Carl Eller was voted NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year and to his 4th straight pro bowl. Meanwhile, Defensive tackle Alan Page became the first and only defensive lineman to be voted NFL MVP.

Three Super Bowls in four years

With the Vikings intimidating line leading their defense and their future Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton leading the offense, the Vikings went on to participate in Super Bowls VIII, IX, and XI. In 1973, Alan Page was named NEA Defensive player of the year as the Vikings would return to their second Super Bowl in five years.

In 1974, Doug Sutherland would start in place of Gary Larsen and continue for the next seven years. Sutherland would go on to start in Super Bowl IX as the Vikings were once again NFC Champions. Super Bowl IX would be Larsen's last game.

In 1975 the Vikings' defense recorded 46 sacks and was dominant in giving up the fewest total yards for the third time in 7 years. Meanwhile, Tarkenton was named NFL MVP. The season would come to a disappointing end as the Cowboys would pull off a Hail Mary pass to beat the Vikings in the Divisional round 17-14. The win was not without controversy as fans continue to argue that Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson pushed Vikings cornerback Nate Wright in order to make the catch.[9]

In 1976, The Vikings won another divisional title and made it to their third Super Bowl in four years and fourth overall. But for the fourth time, they lost. That year, Alan Page accounted for 18 of the Vikings 46 sacks.


After six games during the 1978 season, Alan Page was waived by the Vikings and then signed by the Chicago Bears, where he collected 40 sacks before he retired in 1981.

After the 1978 season, Carl Eller was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, where he collected three more sacks in his final season.

After the 1979 season, Jim Marshall retired. In 20 seasons (19 with the Vikings and 1 with the Cleveland Browns) Marshall never missed a game and set what was then a National Football League record with 282 consecutive starts. After his last home game, Marshall was carried off the field by his teammates in celebration.[10]

Page was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and Eller was inducted in 2004. Marshall is currently ranked number 2 on the list of top ten players that are not in the Hall of Fame.[8]

Memorable moments

Wrong Way Run

In week 7 of the 1964 season, Jim Marshall recovered a fumble and returned it 66 yards in the wrong direction. Thinking he scored a touchdown for the Vikings, he threw the ball out of the end zone in celebration, resulting in a safety for the San Francisco 49ers. However, Marshall atoned for his famous blunder by sacking the quarterback, and forcing a fumble which Carl Eller recovered and ran 45 yards for a touchdown as the Vikings held on to win the game 27-22.

Remarkable Play on Thanksgiving

In a 1969 Thanksgiving game against the Detroit Lions, Jim Marshall and Alan Page combined for one of the most remarkable plays in NFL history. Page tipped a pass which fell into the hands of Marshall, who then started running towards the endzone. Then, as Marshall was being tackled, he lateraled the ball to Page who then had an easy path to the end zone. The Vikings won the game 27-0.

Playoff game against the Rams

In a 1969 Western Conference championship game, the Vikings hosted the Los Angeles Rams. Early in the game, Carl Eller intercepted Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel and ran 40 yards into the end zone, but the touchdown was called back on an offside penalty on Alan Page. Late in the fourth quarter, the Vikings defense needed to protect a one-point lead. Eller extended the lead by sacking Gabriel in the end zone for a safety. The Rams got the ball back with still some time left to win, but Page made up for his earlier penalty by intercepting Gabriel which put the game out of reach as the Vikings won 23-20.

Super Bowl IV rematch

In Week 1 of the 1970 season, The Vikings were in a Super Bowl IV rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Vikings defense dominated the Chiefs by limiting them to 63 yards rushing and forcing four turnovers. Jim Marshall recovered a fumble and then lateraled the ball to Roy Winston as he was being tackled. Winston went on to score a touchdown and the Vikings won 27-10.

Alan Page vs the Lions

In Week 13 of 1971, the Vikings hosted the Detroit Lions. In the second quarter, after being called for a personal foul and for roughing the passer on consecutive plays, Page sacked QB Greg Landry on first down. On second down, Page tackled Altie Taylor for a 4-yard loss. On third down, Page tackled Landry after a gain of two yards, ending the drive. In the fourth quarter, Page blocked a Lion punt out of the end zone for a safety. That year, Page became the only defensive lineman to be named NFL MVP.


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