was a highly touted defensive lineman out of the University of Minnesota where he earned All-America honors with the Gophers. He was widely regarded by pro scouts as one of the two best linemen in the country with the other being fellow Class of 2004 inductee, tackle Bob Brown.
The Buffalo Bills selected Eller with the fifth pick overall in the American Football League draft in 1964. Meanwhile, the , of the rival National Football League, used their first round pick - sixth overall - on the 6'6", 247-pound Eller. Although he gave serious consideration to the Bills' contract offer, he opted to stay in familiar surroundings and picked the Vikings.
"I chose the ," Eller explained at the time, "because they will give me the best chance I know to develop as a professional football player and to live in a place I like."
For the next 15 years, Eller was at home with the Vikings and indeed matured into one of pro football's finest defensive ends as he helped anchor Minnesota's "Purple People Eaters" defensive front line. Eller, who was nicknamed "Moose" by his teammates, paired with tackle Gary Larsen on the left side of the famed defensive front line, while Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page and defensive end Jim Marshall took care of things on the right side.
Eller earned a starting role as a rookie and seemed to hit full stride by midway through the 1964 season. It was after his sixth game that Vikings' coaches and players took notice of Eller's potential starting to blossom.
"He's going to be a great one," predicted Marshall.
In one of the more memorable moments in NFL history, the Vikings jarred the ball loose from 49ers' halfback Billy Kilmer during the fourth quarter of Minnesota's 27-22 win in San Francisco on October 25, 1964.
Teammate Jim Marshall promptly snagged the ball and sprinted 66 yards to the end zone. Unfortunately for Marshall, he had gone the wrong way and scored a safety for San Francisco.
Most football fans, however, don't remember that Eller and Marshall hooked up on a fumble play on the previous series. Just 44 seconds earlier, it was Marshall who knocked the ball from quarterback George Mira's grasp. Eller scooped up the football and returned it 45 yards for the first and only touchdown of his career.
"Eller came a long way in the Pittsburgh game," commented Marion Campbell, the Vikings defensive line coach following Minnesota's 30-10 win over the Steelers in the sixth week of the Eller's rookie season. "He was aggressive on every play."
That playing style aptly defined Eller's NFL career from then on. Throughout his 16-season, 225-game tenure, that included one final year with the Seattle Seahawks in 1979, Eller ignored the bumps and bruises of doing battle in pro football's trenches. He persevered with his tenacious approach to the game.
"One way you achieve greatness in this game is through super-ability. Carl has that and he also has super-durability," once stated his Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant. "He plays with pain, with hurts, and he plays just as well. Some players play with pain, but they cannot play as well when they are hurting."
Eller helped the Vikings build one of the most consistent streaks of success in NFL history. Beginning in his fifth season in 1968 and with Coach Grant at the helm, the Vikings won 10 Central Division crowns in an 11-year span. They captured the NFL title in 1969 and won the NFC championship three times during the 1970s.
"Carl was a great athlete and football player," said teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Krause. "He was a very determined player that was never satisfied with just playing the game. You had to respect him because he wasn't out there to play. He was out there to win."
As Eller and his teammates continued to win, personal honors started to come his way. He earned All-Pro recognition five times and was named to the Pro Bowl six times during his storied career. The one accolade that seemed to elude him in his post-career days was inclusion in pro football's most exclusive fraternity - the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Last January, Eller learned that he was picked as a finalist for the Class of 2004. It marked the 13th time that the Hall's Board of Selectors included him in the list of finalists.
Then, on January 31, Eller received a call from the Hall of Fame that he had been dreaming about for many years.
Finally, in his 20th year of eligibility, Eller had been voted into the Hall of Fame along with Brown, quarterback John Elway and running back Barry Sanders.
"This was a moment that I wanted and prayed for, for a very, very long time," he exulted upon learning of his election to the Hall.
Eller's greatness on the football field is now forever etched into history as his bronzed bust joins the select group of pro football greats.
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