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Does Adrian Peterson deserve to be on Minnesota's NFL Mount Rushmore, or is someone else more worthy?

Skol, Vikings! The NFL’s wise men have spoken, chiseling four legendary faces onto the Vikings‘ Mount Rushmore.

The date is 17 September 1961. The Vikings were about to embark on the first regular season game of their history. Their opponents? George Halas’s Chicago Bears, the same team that humbled the purple and gold pantheon 30-7 in an exhibition game just 15 days ago, following a brief spat between the coaches. Apparently, the Bears’ owner was denied the three pre-season game films that the Vikings had lost against the Cowboys, Colts, and 49ers, which naturally, coach Norm Van Brocklin wasn’t too keen about showing.

At the kickoff game, a curious crowd of over 32,000 at the Metropolitan Stadium was in for a pleasant shock as the Vikings ran out winners, 37-13. The result was Papa Bear throwing his hat and clipboard down, snapping at his players. Vikings’ 21-year-old rookie quarterback from Georgia, Fran Tarkenton, didn’t start but came on with his team leading 3-0 in the first quarter.

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He finished the game with 17-of-23 passing for 250 yards, four touchdowns, a rushing touchdown, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 148.6. The Vikings had arrived in the NFL and in Tarkenton, a star was born. He had become the first quarterback to throw four touchdowns in his NFL debut.

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A third-round draft pick, Tarkenton incorporated rushing while playing as a QB, something unheard of during that era. “It was almost sacrilegious for a quarterback to run,” he once recalled in an interview in 2021. He became known as “The Scrambler” and would go to great lengths to make a play and get the ball down the field.

His 13-year association with the Vikings spanned over two stints. During his first run from 1961-1966, he was a standout in what was an average Vikings side. The team only won a total of 10 games combined in their first three seasons, with Tarkenton playing a part in eight of them. Come 1967, he headed to the New York Giants and had them within one game of ending a long playoff drought in 1970. But as the team regressed, the Vikings, who had built one of the league’s best defenses traded Tarkenton back in January 1972.

It was during this run that Tarkenton cemented his legacy in the Vikings’ history and was subsequently picked by the NFL to lead the franchise’s Mount Rushmore in its YouTube video on June 20 this year.

During his second run with the Vikings, he would take them to three Super Bowls (VIII, IX, and XI), while earning a further three Pro Bowl selections, in addition to his earlier two during his first stint with the franchise. Described by the NFL as the “Scrambler of all scramblers,” in the video, Tarkenton was named the 1975 NFL MVP as he led the league with 25 touchdown passes and recorded 2,994 passing yards.

By the time the curtains were drawn on his 13-year Vikings career in 1978, Tarkenton had recorded 33,098 passing yards and 239 touchdown passes for the team over the course of his two spells. He remains the Vikings’ all-time passing leader and earned a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

But there was another player instrumental in driving the Vikings to success in the 1970s. Featuring next on the Vikings’ Mount Rushmore is their 1967 first-round draft pick Alan Page. Page led the “Purple People Eaters” defense who devoured quarterbacks for breakfast. Page famously played 218 consecutive games for the franchise and played in all four of their Super Bowl appearances.

The NFL video described him as “one of the best D-Line men to do it ever,” and when you consider that he has 148.5 career sacks,  the fourth most in the Vikings history it is little surprise why is considered highly among the Minnesota faithful. The fact that he remains the only defensive tackle since the NFL/AFL merger to be named as MVP of the season, should alone merit his place among Vikings greats. That achievement in 1971, also meant he was the first defensive player to win the MVP award.

9 Pro Bowl selections and five-time First-Team All-Pro selection showcase how influential Page was during his 12 years in Minnesota.

Next up for the Vikings on the list is Cris Carter. With hands that seemed magnetically attracted to the pigskin, stands tall on this mountain of legends. “Incredible ball skills and a pair of the most reliable hands in NFL history,” is how the video describes Carter. With 110 TD receptions for the Vikings, it’s hard to argue. His eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons speak to his consistency.

He signed for the team in 1990 and in his debut season led the team with 72 receptions, 962 yards, and 5 touchdown catches. Carter only went from strength to strength in the subsequent seasons and by the time he went to Miami Dolphins in 2002, he had left his mark in Minnesota.

He remains the Vikings’ all-time leader in catches (1,004), receiving yards (12,383), and both touchdown catches and total TDs (110).  In addition to this, 8-Pro Bowl appearances and two First-team All-Pro selections more than justify is spot on the table. Carter would end up being a part of the Minnesota sides that reached the NFC Championship Game in both 1998 and 2000. His ability to mentor younger players, including Randy Moss, extended his impact beyond his playing days.

Rounding out this quartet of “Fearsome Norsemen” is Adrian Peterson, the modern-day berserker who ran with a combination of power and speed rarely seen in NFL history. Drafted in 2007, his 2012 MVP season, where he rushed for 2,097 yards just months after major knee surgery, is the stuff of legend. Peterson’s 11,747 rushing yards for Minnesota set a franchise record that may stand for decades.

A seven-time Pro Bowler and 4-time First-Team All Pro selections mean that Peterson goes down as one of the great Vikings RBs of all time. He holds the record for the most career rushing touchdowns in Vikings history with 97.

USA Today via Reuters

This Mount Rushmore isn’t just about individual accolades; it’s about players who defined eras. Page anchored the feared Purple People Eaters’ defense of the ’70s, a unit so dominant they made opposing offenses quake in their cleats. Tarkenton’s innovative play in the ’60s and ’70s led the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances, establishing them as an NFC powerhouse.

Carter’s sure hands provided stability through the ’90s, turning third downs into his personal playground. Peterson’s bruising running style carried the team through the 2000s and early 2010s, making “All Day” a fitting nickname for his relentless approach.

As Commissioner Roger Goodell cuts a hefty $404 million check for each NFL team, including the Vikings, it’s impossible not to see the connection between these gridiron gods and the league’s financial prosperity. Their on-field exploits filled stadiums sold jerseys, and kept fans glued to their screens, contributing to the NFL’s meteoric rise.

The Vikings’ value has skyrocketed from the original $600,000 expansion fee in 1961 to Forbes’ current valuation of $3.35 billion. Yet, as we bask in the glow of this Mount Rushmore, we can’t help but think of the other warriors who’ve donned the purple and gold. The halls of Valhalla echo with names like John Randle, Randy Moss, and Paul Krause – legends who narrowly missed the cut but whose impact on the franchise is undeniable.

The unsung heroes of the North

The halls of Valhalla echo with the names of other Viking legends who narrowly missed the cut. John Randle, the undrafted defensive tackle turned Hall of Famer, terrorized quarterbacks with his fierce play and even fiercer war paint. With 137.5 career sacks, he certainly left his mark.

Randall McDaniel, the Iron Man guard, started an astounding 202 consecutive games, earning a record 12 straight Pro Bowl selections. His teammate, center Mick Tingelhoff, anchored the offensive line for 17 seasons without missing a single game – a testament to Viking toughness.

USA Today via Reuters

The receiving corps boasts its own Norse god in Randy Moss, whose “You got Mossed!” moments are etched in NFL lore. Moss’s 23 touchdown receptions in 2007 still stand as a single-season NFL record. As he famously quipped, “When you’ve got the attitude when you’ve got the swagger, you’ve got to back it up.”

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On the defensive side, Carl Eller‘s fearsome presence as part of the Purple People Eaters can’t be overlooked. His 133.5 sacks (unofficial, as sacks weren’t an official stat until 1982) speak to his dominance.

Safety Paul Krause, the NFL’s all-time interception leader with 81, patrolled the Vikings’ secondary like Heimdall guarding the Bifrost Bridge. “I had a knack for being around the ball,” Krause modestly stated, but his record suggests he had a magnetic pull to pigskins. Ron Yary, the first overall pick in 1968, lived up to his billing, making seven Pro Bowls and paving the way for the Vikings’ punishing ground game.

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The list of honorable mentions is as long as a Minnesota winter, including defensive tackle Kevin Williams, linebacker/defensive end Chris Doleman, and guard Steve Hutchinson. Each of these warriors contributed to the Vikings’ legacy in their own unique way.

As we look at this impressive roster of near-misses, it’s clear that the Vikings’ history is richer than the gold on their helmets. These players may not be on NFL’s Mount Rushmore, but their exploits are forever etched in the annals of Viking lore, reminding us that in the frozen north, legends are forged in purple and gold.