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Recent posts by Mike Beacom
Third in a series of profiles of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's seven-member Class of 2010.
"Hi, Mike? This is John Randle. You wanted to talk to me about Brett Favre?"
The voice had that gravelly tone I expected and the call came from a Minnesota area code. It sure sounded like the John Randle I knew from NFL Films clips. But this man was so well-mannered … so attentive … so articulate.
Speaking to me just a week after Favre's first official retirement in spring 2008, Randle gave me more of his time than I had asked for, and spoke of Favre with the respect Minnesota and Green Bay players just aren't supposed to have for one another.
Could this really be John Randle? I expected a frantic blitz of high-pitched screams mixed with booming incoherent blabber. I expected crazy.
During his 14-year career, John Randle was never well-mannered in front of the television cameras. He was always crazy, and it was always believable, with his trademark warrior mask and non-stop gibberish. I liked to imagine that the Vikings swung by the insane asylum each Sunday morning to borrow Randle for the day — a lunatic out on loan.
And as crazy as his mouth got, he never appeared to run out of things to say, nor did he run out of gas on the field. He was relentless — always swinging his arms, always chopping his feet, always chasing after the play. And then, when the whistle blew, his body stopped and his mouth started up again.
Recalls former Packers center Frank Winters, "He once told me, 'You can't block me, Winters' and I said, 'I know I can't. That's why we're double-teaming you.'" The key to slowing down Randle, Winters says, was using slide protection to produce a three-on-two matchup — all three Packer interior linemen on Minnesota's two defensive tackles — leaving the offensive tackles singled up on the ends. Even then, Green Bay didn't always get the job done. Few teams did. During his 11 seasons with the Vikings — from 1990 to 2000 — Randle averaged just more than 10 sacks a year.
Randle got to Favre more than any other quarterback he faced (10½ sacks), including 3½ sacks in a game during the Packers' title-winning season of 1996. Whenever he had the chance, Minnesota's mad man gave No. 4 an earful. Typical Favre, the gunslinger almost always gave it right back.
Laughs Winters, "I'd tell Favre, 'Hey, you don't have to block that guy. You can keep your mouth quiet.'"
Randle, who enters the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility, will always be identified by fans for his outlandish behavior. But to be fair, he was also one of the quickest and hardest working interior defensive linemen the game has ever known. His spin move made the league's best blockers look silly, and his solid base provided him with enough power to break through double teams on occasion.
When Randle retired in March of 2004, he owned a body of work that stood up well against the game's all-time greatest defensive linemen:
- He had eight career games with three or more sacks.
- Was selected to seven Pro Bowls and earned a spot on six straight All Pro teams, from 1993 to 1998.
- Collected 137½ career sacks — tied for sixth all time, and the most among defensive tackles.
But unlike most of the men ahead of him on the all-time sack list — Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Kevin Greene, Chris Doleman and Michael Strahan — Randle was not a can't-miss prospect when he entered pro football. In fact, he wasn't even drafted, as few teams were excited about the Texas A&I prospect's size or credentials.
Fortunately, the Vikings gave him a chance. He did well early on, even leading the team in sacks in his second season. But it wasn't until defensive line coach John Teerlinck arrived that Randle really went nuts. Teerlinck saw something special in the young prospect and began to nurture it, giving Randle drills to work on in practice and away from the field.
"I remember John Teerlinck once told me that Randle would walk down the street pretending he was pass rushing the parking meters," laughs Don Pierson, a longtime Bears beat writer for the Chicago Tribune.
Thanks in large part to Teerlinck's tutelage from 1992-94, Randle developed rapidly. This is why, of all the people Randle could have chosen, he picked Teerlinck to be his presenter for this Saturday's Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The 1992 NFL campaign began a run of eight straight seasons of 10 or more sacks for Randle, including a career best 15½ in 1997. The better he played, the louder he crowed and the more intimated opposing linemen seemed to get.
"You had to tell the young guys not to pay attention to it," says Winters, who recently shared a few memories with Randle at a Jim Kelly celebrity golf outing. "His idea was to get you into his game. Once he got you arguing with him he knew he had you for the rest of the game."
And just like his crazy behavior could infiltrate the offense, it helped to motivate the rest of the Vikings defense.
He barked like a dog, sometimes crawled on all fours, and even uttered nonsense.
"I don't think it was an act," says Pierson. "I think he really enjoyed every game he played."
Pierson calls it passion. I still like to think Randle was certifiably cuckoo. We agree with one another that — crazy or passionate — John Randle was genuine. He was one of the game's few original personalities — a player opponents both respected and feared, and someone coaches would rather have with them than against them.
Upon Randle's retirement, Seattle's Mike Holmgren said, "He has more fun than any 10 players I've ever seen."
Randle made it fun for the fans, too. And no matter if you live in Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit or any other NFL city, you would have to be crazy not to appreciate Randle's impact on the game of football in the 1990s.
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