The phone never rang
was an extremely versatile athlete who earned all-district and all-state honors as an offensive and defensive lineman at Hearne (Texas) High School where he also ran track. Randle started his college days at Trinity Valley Community College before he transferred to Texas A&I. As such, he only played two varsity seasons for the Javelinas but managed to earn Little All-America acclaim.
However, unlike his older brother
Ervin five years earlier, the phone never rang for on draft day. Ervin, a linebacker, was picked in the fifth round of the 1985 NFL Draft
by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Being selected in the NFL draft never happened for John as all 28 teams bypassed him in the ’90 draft
Disappointed but not undetermined, Randle did not give up hope of his dream to play professional football.
“If I didn’t give it a try to come into the NFL I would regret it for the rest of my life,” he recently shared.
Three or four NFL clubs showed interest in Randle in the weeks following the draft including the Bucs who wanted to convert him to a linebacker. That was not something that interested John at the time. Rather he pursued one team in particular, the , because he thought they would the perfect match for his talents.
The criticism of Randle was his size. At 6’2”, 247, most pro scouts doubted that he could play on the defensive line in the NFL. So, Randle put his sights on the Vikings who had a good number of defensive linemen who were considered “undersized” by NFL standards.
Randle’s plan worked masterfully as he earned the chance to compete for a backup position on the Vikings defensive line. Attributes that helped him earn a bronze bust in Canton were the same ones that opened his coaches’ eyes during the 1990 training camp. His relentless work ethic, vibrant enthusiasm, and incredible speed and quickness paved the way for a roster spot that season.
"I don't know if I've ever seen a kid work that hard to make a team. And he's so fast off the line," commented Vikings head coach Jerry Burns during the summer of 1990.
In addition, the timing for Randle was perfect. With a number of veteran linemen all vying for just two or three backup spots, he was the perfect match as a situational pass rusher that defensive coordinator Floyd Peters was seeking for the team at the time.
That’s exactly how the Vikings used Randle at first. Although he didn’t earn a start he did play in all 16 games during his rookie campaign. He finished the season with 12 tackles and nine assists. He also recorded the first sack of many in his career during an appearance on Monday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles. Randle broke through the Eagles offensive line and dropped quarterback Randall Cunningham for a 9-yard loss. He also stripped the ball from Cunningham although it was recovered by Philly. Nevertheless, it was plays like this one that assured the Vikings staff that they indeed had made the right decision in keeping the undrafted rookie on the roster.
The tenacious Randle entered his second NFL season with the same sense of urgency in that he knew his roster spot was not guaranteed. He flourished that season and worked his way into a permanent role as a starter on the Vikings defensive line. By year three, he was a preeminent pass rusher and reached the double-digit mark (11.5) in sacks for the first of eight straight seasons.
Perhaps the sting that was felt after not being drafted makes the pride in knowing he has taken the long road to Canton so much sweeter fro Randle. He is one of only 14 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who was not drafted. Furthermore, he is just the third undrafted free agent since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
Fierle is the Manager-Digital Media/Communications at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He joined the Hall of Fame's staff in 1988.
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