Carl Eller is enshrined in the Hall of Fame

Carl Eller is enshrined in the Hall of Fame

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By Bob Temple,

For years, Carl Eller has been hearing from fans what his time with the Minnesota Vikings meant to them. Sunday, he heard what it meant to the NFL.

Eller, who played 16 seasons in the NFL, was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a wait of 25 years from the date of his first eligibility in 1984.

A member of the Vikings’ vaunted "Purple People Eaters" defensive line during the Vikings’ four trips to the Super Bowl in the 1970s, Eller played 225 games in the NFL. What might have been his most impressive statistic – the number of sacks he accumulated – will never be known, since sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982.

But Eller’s value wasn’t lost on Vikings fans, who showered him with praise at every opportunity. Eller operates an autograph shop at the Mall of America in the Minneapolis area during the holiday season, and often hears people tell very personal stories of what his career meant to them.

"It takes a lot of preparation and dedication to play in the NFL, and you are really proud of what you do," Eller said. "But you are never quite sure if people appreciate what you put into it. … To hear that just really chills me."

After his career ended with one season in Seattle in 1979, Eller felt confident his credentials would earn him a place in the Hall of Fame. He was a first- or second-team All-Pro five times, an All-NFC player five times, and was chosen to play in six Pro Bowls.

"We won more battles than we lost, and that makes it special," Eller said.

While none of the Vikings’ four Super Bowl trips ended in victory, Eller’s place as a key member of one of the most dominant defenses of the 1970s was secure. He was named to the 1970s All-Decade Team.

"You go through a variety of emotions. I started off every year thinking it was going to happen," he said, adding that when it didn’t, "it was heartbreaking. It was sort of like a dagger in my heart."

Eller then went through what he called his "iceberg period," in which he didn’t want to talk about the possibility of being chosen. But in more recent years, he became more philosophical.

"I realized, this is what I did in my career," he said. "As the years went by, I just wondered if (people) knew how I felt about my career."

Eller’s son, Regis, presented him for enshrinement as the consummate parent – patient, a good citizen, a passionate father. Eller used the platform of his enshrinement to deliver a heartfelt message.

"What can I do with this honor?" he said. "I want to use this platform to help young African-American males to participate fully in this society" and to set a new direction in their lives.

"I want that direction be toward the great colleges and universities of our society, not to the prisons and the jail cells. … I’m calling on you to do the right things."

Eller said that much of the progress that has been made in American society is at risk.

"It breaks my heart, and it breaks all of our hearts," Eller said. "This is not the future we fought for in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s."

Eller grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., in a "decent, honest, hard-working family." Eller’s father died when Carl was young, and Carl was without a lot of direction in his own life.

"I didn’t really start out with many dreams or many goals," he said.

Eller’s behavior deteriorated after his father’s death, until his high school football coaches encouraged him to use his anger on the football field.

"Football did give me hopes and dreams," Eller said. "I did begin to have goals."

After an All-American career at the University of Minnesota, Eller was drafted in the first round by both the Vikings and the Buffalo Bills of the AFL in 1964. The 6-foot-6, 247-pound defensive end became a starter during his first season with the Vikings.

In 1968, the Vikings grew to prominence, winning the first of 10 division titles in an 11-year span. The following year, the Vikings won the NFL championship, earning the first of their four Super Bowl trips. 

"Those were the glory days," Eller said. "We lived and died together."

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