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Bleacher Report – Vikings

The strange history of the Vikings’ No. 84, before and after Randy Moss

By Matthew Coller

There are few players in the history of the National Football League who impacted the game like Randy Moss.

If you are young enough to have missed Barry Sanders and old enough to have seen Moss, the Vikings’ first-ballot Hall of Famer is the most exciting football player you have ever seen. Putting his incredible statistics aside, there are only a handful of players who have ever captivated audiences like Moss. Older generations might say Gale Sayers or Jim Brown. The list isn’t double digits.

So it would seem like a no-brainer for the Minnesota Vikings to retire No. 84 after Moss enters the Hall of Fame in early August.

But there is a bit of a problem: If the Vikings yank No. 84 off the table, they will be down to only a handful of numbers for receivers and tight ends. Cris Carter’s No. 80 and Alan Page’s No. 88 and Fran Tarkenton’s No. 10 is also retired.

The Vikings are lucky the league started allowing numbers in the teens to receivers, but heading into training camp their backs are against the wall with uniforms. On the 90-man roster, every non-retired 80s number is taken and Laquon Treadwell (11), Tavarres King (12), Stacy Coley (13) Stefon Diggs (14), Brandon Zylstra (15), Cayleb Jones (16), Kendall Wright (17), Korey Robertson (18) and Adam Thielen (19) are using all the available numbers in the teens.

Poor Jake Wieneke has No. 9.

Once the roster gets cut down, it doesn’t make as much of a difference, but there’s a domino effect of quarterbacks and kickers taking up 1-8. That means if No. 84 was retired, there would be another odd-man out during camp and preseason. Maybe No. 21 for a quarterback as you occasionally see in college?

It’s far from a crisis, but retiring Moss’s number would create a funny predicament. It would also bring to an end the bizarre journey of the number throughout Vikings’ history, both before and after Moss donned the uni.

Before….

Dave Middleton was the first player to wear 84 for the Vikings.

Middleton, a first-round pick in 1955, was called “Doc” because he skipped training camp in his early days with the Detroit Lions to attend medical school at the University of Tennessee.

“If he had given himself a chance, Doc would be among the all-time greats,” Lions coach George Wilson told the Detroit Free Press in 1959.

Middleton was very good anyway. He caught 44 passes in his rookie year and 39 in his sophomore season. In 1957, he helped the Lions to the NFL Championship with a 28-yard touchdown catch.

In 1961, he announced his retirement to begin a career in medicine. But the Vikings acquired Middleton’s rights in a expansion draft and convinced him to take a leave from University of Michigan Hospital to play the 1961 season.

In a Star Tribune article filled with puns about Middleton’s new profession as an OBGYN, reporter Jim Klobuchar wrote:

“Is Middleton fast?” asked a Viking observer. “He was in camp for one day a couple of weeks ago and the quarterbacks were throwing behind him.”

At 28, Middleton played his one and only season for the Vikings before returning to the medical field, where he would spend the next 40 years or so. He caught 30 passes for 444 yards, most of which came from Minnesota’s fine rookie quarterback Fran Tarkenton.

Middleton passed away in 2007 following a fall on Christmas Eve.

In 1962, both Charley Ferguson and Oscar Donahue wore 84 — though Ferguson’s official number is listed as 88. Neither had memorable Vikings careers, but Ferguson caught an 89-yard touchdown pass which stood as the longest touchdown pass in team history until Gus Frerotte completed a 99-yard TD to Bernard Berrian in 2008.

From there, some pretty good players had Moss’s number.

Gene Washington racked up 172 receptions between 1967 and 1972.

– Three-time Pro Bowler with Green Bay Carroll Dale dropped by for one year in 1973.

– As a ninth-round pick, Sam McCullum started his career with No. 80 in Minnesota, then went on to catch 232 passes for the Seahawks from 1976 and rejoined the vikings with No. 84 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons. McCullum is on the Montana Football Hall of Fame.

In 1984, sixth-round pick Dwight Collins, who happened to attend high school in Joe Namath’s hometown of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, caught 11 passes for the Vikings. He did not play in the NFL again after the ’84 season.

Hassan Jones was up next, taking No. 84 for seven seasons, racking up 222 catches for the Vikings.

You might remember Jones’ most famous catch, a Hail Mary at the end of the first half in a 1987 playoff game against the New Orleans Saints…

In 1996, Jones pleaded no contest to a charge of domestic battery. He was charged with drunk driving in 2006. And pleaded no contest to aggravated assault in an incident in which he was accused of attacking his daughter in 2009.

James Brim would have been an easy one to overlook considering he only played three games with No. 84 in 1987 during the strike. But Brim had three incredible games. In a 23-16 loss to the Packers, Brim caught six passes for 144 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown on his first catch, and rushed for a 38-yard touchdown. He is one of only four Vikings to score a touchdown on his first reception.

He caught 12 more passes over the next two weeks and never saw an NFL field again.

Eric Guliford is a gem, too. He wore No. 84 in 1993 and 1994 and made just one catch as a Viking — but it was a darn memorable one.

On September 26, 1993, the Vikings trailed the Packers 13-12 with 14 seconds remaining when quarterback Jim McMahon found Guliford wide open down the sideline for a 45-yard catch, setting up the game-winning field goal.

Guliford was targeted three times the following week and never again with the Vikings. He caught 29 passes for the expansion Carolina Panthers the following season.

Tony Bland never caught a pass for the Vikings, but he owned No. 84 in 1996 and 1997. Vikings fans who attended training camp in 1998 will remember images of of Moss wearing No. 18 and Bland in No. 84. If you play Madden 99, you’ll find Moss wearing No. 18.

Following Moss’s first stint with the Vikings, the team did not hand out No. 84 until 2007.

After…

Naturally the first player to get the iconic pair of digits was…Aundrae Allison.

He had only a handful of catches, one kick return for touchdown in a 42-10 blowout over the Lions and one great quote about wearing Randy’s number:

“They’ve been giving me hell about it,” Allison said. “It’s all right, though.”

Allison’s career lasted just two years. He went on to co-own an apparel company with former Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Next up was Michael Jenkins, who was a part of two of Christian Ponder’s only exciting moments.

First he nabbed a fourth-quarterback touchdown pass in Ponder’s first game, a 33-27 loss to the Packers. In 2012, Jenkins caught a TD that might have given a flicker of hope to Vikings fans that Ponder would be the quarterback of the future.

On December 30, Ponder hit Jenkins for a three-yard score to put the Vikings up by seven over the Packers. Ponder threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns in the win, which put the Vikings win the playoffs.

After the game, Ponder evoked Michael Jordan’s name, referring to his own clutch-ness that day.

“For me, one thing that kind of stuck in my mind this whole season is something Michael Jordan always said,” Ponder said. “When it came down to the last minutes of the game, when the pressure was on, someone asked him what he did differently. He always said, ‘I stay the same, it’s everyone else that changes.’ Those high pressure situations, I try to stay calm. … I’m out there having fun.”

Following the 2012 moment of glory, Jenkins was released, saving the team $3 million. Over the next two years, Ponder went went 2-7-1 with seven touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 72.9 rating.

Until the Vikings allowed Cordarrelle Patterson to take No. 84, Moss hadn’t said anything about the team allowing Allison or Jenkins to wear it. But when Patterson was given 84, which he’d worn at Tennessee, Moss was not thrilled.

“First of all, that’s disrespectful, to give a rookie my number,” Moss said during a FOX Sports interview. “I don’t really believe in numbers, but I think that from a professional standpoint, I did make that number. And for them to give him that number, he hasn’t proven anything yet. But, hey, what can I say, I’m just Randy Moss sitting here in the studio.”

For a moment, Patterson made 84 his own. As a rookie, he was one of the only entertaining things about the 2013 season, catching 45 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns, rushing 12 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns and leading the NFL in kick return average and touchdowns.

There were more flashes in 2014, but offseason stories of Patterson improving his route running never came to fruition. He ended up behind Jarius Wright and Charles Johnson by 2015 — though he led the league again in kick returning. With Pat Shurmur in the mix, Patterson saw a resurgence with 52 catches, which landed him a solid contract with the Raiders.

The former first-round pick was picked up by the Patriots this offseason. Head coach Bill Belichick told Patterson, “we’ll make you into the player you should be.”

Considering Patterson has wanted to play running back, maybe that’s where he ends up.

Technically speaking, the No. 84 hasn’t been worn since. But it still had a great moment last year. Vikings sixth-round draft pick Bucky Hodges took the bait on Moss questions and went all-in.

“Legendary. That’s what I thought,” Hodges said. “When I put this on, 84 is legendary. I want to build on it, man. These are some big shoes to fill, but I feel the 7 at Virginia Tech, I held that down a little bit. Now it’s time for me to hold 84 down.”

He continued…

“I’ll bring a little Moss to it. I’ll bring my own style to it.”

This line came from the Star Tribune:

Hodges hopes to add his chapter to No. 84?s history in Minnesota.

“This is the Bucky Hodges story,” he said. “I’m writing my own story.”

Hodges was released the day after the team cut down to 53 to make room for Blake Bell.

Now as we head into training camp, Chad Beebe, son of former NFL receiver Don Beebe, gets his shot at earning No. 84. It will be an uphill climb for him with a crowded room of receivers. If he makes the team, it would add another layer to the number’s long and winding history.

That’s probably the best argument to keep it around.

The post The strange history of the Vikings’ No. 84, before and after Randy Moss appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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