All Rise: The Remarkable Journey of Alan Page
EXERPT: Pages 73-75
“This excerpt from All Rise: The Remarkable Journey of Alan Page is re-printed with the permission of Triumph Books. Please go to www.triumphbooks.com for more information.”
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It has been a very long time since Alan Page and I spent summers in Mankato, and I am sure that much has changed. For instance, I doubt that the Century Club is still there, down by the river, a lively spot where Gummy Carr, the defensive backfield coach, performed outrageous improv dances. It was also at the Century Club where the late Norm Van Brocklin, the Vikings’ first head coach, gallantly asked an outspoken feminist who was giving him a definite earful if she would mind removing her ample bosoms from his change, which was on the bar, so that he might go back up the hill to camp and his dorm room. I doubt Alan ever saw the inside of the Century Club.
Alan Page arrived in Mankato in early August of 1967, tired, rumpled, and looking out of sorts. He remembers that he was hungry, too. He went through the noon chow line silently, turning heads as he did, then was joined at a table by Bob Hollway, the defensive line coach. Bob was a Michigan man, tall and handsome, as you would expect a Michigan man to be he even had perfect Stewart Granger flashes of white in his dark sideburns. He went over some basic defensive sets and charges with Alan after lunch, and then told him he would be starting in that night’s intrasquad scrimmage. Hollway didn’t tell Alan he would be playing the entire scrimmage since several veteran defensive linemen were feeling puny, as veteran defensive linemen will do in training camp.
Playing a football game can leave a defensive lineman feeling, the next day, like he’s been thrown off the back of a speeding truck—and that’s without getting up early, skipping breakfast for a flight, and a car ride to some place he’d never heard of. Then, to learn that he would play a game-length scrimmage that same night with and against professionals he didn’t know in a system he was unfamiliar with…well, it could make a man look peevish.
Alan Page was a member of a turn-around draft for the Vikings. He was that draft’s linchpin, in fact. Between their first season in 1961 and 1966, the Vikings had caromed up and down the NFL development scale—amazing one Sunday, abysmal the next. But the ’67 draft, orchestrated by Jim Finks, would begin to change things. Finks was the team’s canny general manager, but he spent that course-changing draft in a suburban Minneapolis hospital, making a grouchy recovery from gall bladder surgery. (Finks pulled off another huge draft score in 1975—featuring Walter Payton—while running the Chicago Bears. He toughed out two draft days that year, swabbing his sore teeth with a numbing solution. Once the draft was over, Jim underwent four rootcanal procedures. Pain seemed to bring out the best in him.)
The Vikings had three first-round draft choices in 1967. First came Clint Jones, the aforementioned Astro-Frog project engineer and a running back from Michigan State. Finks got Jones by honoring quarterback Fran Tarkenton’s request for a trade, sending the Scrambler to the New York Giants. Over time, the Tarkenton trade would provide four starters—Jones, receiver Bob Grim, Hall of Fame tackle Ron Yary, and All-Pro guard Ed White. Finks then selected Gene Washington, an antelope-gaited receiver, also from Michigan State, on the Vikings’ firstround pick. With just a minute or two remaining before the draft’s 15th selection, Finks obtained the choice by trading veterans Tommy Mason and Hal Bedsole to the Los Angeles Rams. He drafted Alan Page.
Scout Frank Gilliam had described Page as “intelligent, consistent, gets the most out of his initial drive…great at slipping blocks…if he goes down, he is up again in the blink of an eye.”
The ’67 draft also included defensive back Bobby Bryant, who would become a lifelong friend of Alan Page’s. Tight end John Beasley was drafted, too. Beasley played well enough for a couple of years, but then got the sobering call to go see Coach Grant in his office. “I walked in, and he was sitting at his desk, holding a shotgun,” Beasley said. “I didn’t know if he was going to cut me or shoot me.” Grant just cut him; he was cleaning the gun to go duck hunting.
There was a final rookie in the class of ’67: Grant himself. The new coach would do much of that turning around.
They played the intrasquad game the night of Page’s arrival in Mankato, and a stadium full of southern Minnesotans applauded politely when the announcer introduced rookie Alan Page. “I played the whole game,” Alan said. “I don’t remember a lot about it. I was kind of in a trance.” It was a trance Page would perfect over the years when it came to training camp. “I mean nothing against Mankato and the people there,” he said. “I’ve been back there a number of times since I played, and I’ve enjoyed the people and my time there. I just hated training camp.” Advised of Page’s comment many years later, Grant laughed and said, “I hated it, too, but it was part of the package.”
“It’s one thing when you’re first there,” Alan said. “You’re 22 or 23 years old, and everything is new. It’s another when you’re 30 and you have a family. It was especially hard in our time—no cell phones, no computers. We didn’t have phones in our dorm rooms; we had to use the pay phones in the lobby. If you wanted to call home, you got in line in the lobby. We were told when to go to bed and when to get up, what to eat and when to eat it, when to meet, when to practice, when we had time off.”
The camp regimen was difficult enough for the stoic rookie from Ohio, but then tradition got in the way. Tradition dictated that the rookies go out with the vets to a selected field one night and drink beer until they got sick. It isn’t real sophisticated; there’s keg beer, pitchers to drink from, and garbage cans to throw up in. Jim Marshall, the leader of the Vikings’ players, noticed that the rookie Page wasn’t drinking and that the other vets were beginning to take notice. Marshall took Page aside.
“Drink some beer,” Captain Jim told him.
“I don’t drink,” Page said.
“Just drink one pitcher.”
“Just drink a little, that’s all you have to do. One drink and it’s over.”
“I don’t drink.”
“You won’t drink any beer? All the other rooks are doing it.”
“No, I won’t.”
Marshall walked away, shaking his head. But he wasn’t gone long; he returned with a pitcher of Coke.
Page tasted it, and then shook his head.
“You don’t drink Coke, either?” Marshall demanded.
“I don’t drink warm pop,” Page said.
“At that point,” Marshall recalled some 40 years later, “I told him he’d better get the hell out of there.”