All fans remember their heroes in their prime. When a fan hears the name of Fran Tarkenton, they remember his passes for winning scores to Ahmad Rashad, or Sammy White, or even Chuck Foreman. Viking fans fondly recall the first-ever league-wide MVP that came from the Defense in 1971 – Alan Page. They often forget him finishing his career as a 215lb defensive end in Chicago, wearing an unfamiliar #82 number.
But, inevitably, a pro sports career comes to an end. When it does, it can come as a great shock to players, as many are ill-prepared for life away from the constant adoration and fame.
They have been the best since junior high, or high school and even college. Suddenly, they are just a retired ball player, and the crowds stop cheering suddenly.
Brent Novoselsky (former Viking TE and now financial planner) says, “I counsel a lot of former players and NFL coaches. They don’t plan well because they cannot foresee a life without them playing or being elite. When it all ends, they look and look for something to give them the same high. For some, it is not well-planned business ventures, for others, they buy material things to make them feel good, and still others turn to substances for the feeling of euphoria. In the end, it is hard to be 28 or 29 years of age, and realize that your best years are behind you and you have developed no other life skills to do something else.”
According to Fortune Magazine, an average of 16% of NFL players have filed for bankruptcy just 12 years after retirement. But, while this is a very similar percentage as others their age, it should not be seen as equal. This is because most workers see their peak earning years between 38-50, while most NFL players see their peak earning years between 25-30; long before their bankruptcy, and far after they have a chance to recover (usually because their education and work experience is not such that will allow them high-paying opportunities).
Hidden even further to the fans, is the fact that many players they recall fondly, struggle, but it stays out of the limelight because very few former players stay connected to their NFL teams. It is not because NFL teams don’t care about them, rather, in this day of Free Agency, few players can truly call one team home, and fans don’t have the same bond to them as they did prior to 1987.
For every ex-player who becomes a Supreme Court Justice in Minnesota (Alan Page), there is one who falls to a life of drugs and drops off the face of the earth (Onterrio Smith; known as OShitty on Twitter and who was last heard from in 2012). For every media and business mogul (Fran Tarkenton), there are several who lost all their money to excess and bad investments – Warren Sapp, Jamaal Lewis, Andre Rison, Dan Marino, Vince Young, or Terrell Owens.
There are even more shocking stories of financial troubles, such as running back Travis Henry (Bills, Titans and Broncos), who had 11 children by 10 different women and went to prison for two years post-NFL for drug trafficking. Henry said he turned to drug running to keep up with child support payments after being cut from the Broncos.
But, with all the notable problems of stars, it doesn’t mean your heroes are all struggling. So, as an example for Viking players today, here is what just a few of your former Viking Alumni are doing today, and all seem very happy:
· Chuck Nelson (Kicker) – He kicked during the 1980s for the Vikings, and was notable during the 1987 playoff run versus the Saints and 49ers. Chuck is now the President and CEO of the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle.
· Carl Eller (Defensive End) – The Moose has owned liquor stores during his playing days, and went back to school to get his degree in 1994. He now owns Carl Eller Studios in downtown Minneapolis, where he displays his original works of art.
· Tommy Kramer (QB) – Touchdown Tommy has been happily retired from the NFL since 1989, and saved his money wisely. These days, he predominantly plays golf, lives near San Antonio (his high school home) and coaches in QB clinics about 2 times a year.
· Fred Cox (Kicker) – Freddy was already a chiropractor when he kicked with the Vikings in the 1960s and 1970s. But , his real money came post-career, when he invented the Nerf football and made millions of dollars.
· Gus Frerotte (QB) – Gus won the Brad Johnson NCAA March Madness Challenge last year, but most days, he is active as a Vice President at Brain Performance initiatives RC21X. Studying brain conditions is a unique role for someone who gave himself a concussion when starting for the Redskins he scored a touchdown and head-butted a wall!
· Rick Danmeirer (K) – The last of the Viking straight-on, conventional style kickers. Rick never met a goal post he could not miss wide left on. Today, Rick is a sales representative at a sporting goods manufacturer.
· Steve Jordan (TE) – One of the most underrated Tight Ends in NFL History, this Ivy-League graduate became a civil engineer in his playing days, and is now Director of Real Estate Development in Phoenix for the Ryan Companies.
· Koren Robinson (WR/KR) – Not all Viking alumni stories end well. A short stint with the Vikings, but an exciting one at times on the field, and off. He was cut a high-speed police chase at the 2006 Mankato training camp. He played briefly for the Seahawks in 2008, and then for brief periods in 2009 and 2010 with Florida and New York of the UFL. He was cut by New York for missing meetings. The last he was heard of, he was listed as the 3rd worst tax delinquent in the State of North Carolina, owing over $500k in back taxes. Signing NFL contracts worth over $22M, Robinson found himself nearly broke.
· Keith Millard (DT) – His career cut short by chronic knee injuries, Millard was a position coach in Division I college football and the NFL, before settling in Seattle to be nearer his kids as they grew up. Today, he is a personal football coach for up and coming high school and college hopefuls.
· Henry Thomas (NT) – He left the Vikings to get a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots and then finished his career with the Lions. After he interviewed with VikeFans.com in 2015, he decided he liked talking sports, and now can be found each weekday evening on ESPN radio in Houston.
· Amp Lee (RB) – With a 49er pedigree from the Bill Walsh West Coast offense, Amp was a shifty 3rd down back who was electrifying in Minnesota. He went on to coach in private school football in Arizona, and was Head Coach of the Arizona UFL franchise.
· Jake Reed (WR) – The third of the three Viking Wide Receivers in 1998 to gain over 1,000 yards. ““I loved being in Minnesota and enjoyed all of the lakes. Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and me would go out fishing all the time, I really enjoyed that. I would have stayed in Minnesota but it was just too cold,” said Reed, who grew up in Covington, Georgia.”After football, Jake settled in Dallas, and opened a series of fast food restaurants. His son JR is a DB, who first went to SMU, and then to Tulsa, before transferring to the University of Georgia in 2016. He is expected to start for the Bulldogs in 2017.
· Brad Johnson (QB) – He retired after 18 NFL seasons, and became an unpaid coach at a private middle school in Georgia where his son’s played. His oldest son Jake is already 6’3” at age 15, and is actively being scouted by colleges already at the quarterback position.
· Daunte Culpepper (QB) – After a devastating knee injury when playing with the Vikings in 2015, Daunte would rehab on his own, but refuse to return to the Vikings. He would play 5 more seasons in the NFL, with 3 different teams, but never repeated his success he had with Randy Moss and Cris Carter in Minnesota. He retired after one year playing in the UFL for former Viking coach Denny Green. Daunte opened a restaurant bearing his name (Culpeppers) near his Central Florida college, but it went out of business just 6 months after it opened.
· Randall Cunningham (QB) – After leaving the Vikings, he played a few years in Dallas and Baltimore, serving primarily as a backup. After football, he founded a church in Las Vegas (Remnant Ministries) in 2004. In December 2014, Cunningham was named Head Coach at Silverado High School in Las Vegas. He turned a previous losing program into a 2-time playoff participant, but his contract was not renewed for the 2017 season, as the school wanted a coach who was a full time teacher. As always, Randall parted as a class act, and said he understood and thanked the school for letting him help young kids.
· Steve Hutchison (OG) – He settled in Minnesota on one of the 10,000 lakes, where he is an avid hunter and fisherman. He became close friends with DT John Randle in Seattle, and they remain close today.
· Bryant McKinnie (OT) – After bouncing around the NFL once leaving Minnesota, Bryant found himself in money troubles. To relieve the stress of bill collectors, McKinnie played 3 more seasons in Baltimore and Miami. Once retired, he became CEO and Founder of BMajor Music Group. It lists its annual revenues as $51k, nor $51M. Bryant is dating 6-Time R&B Winner Kelly Price.
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