Gold Jacket Spotlight: Ron Yary Possessed Two-Way Skills

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 2/27/2022
Perhaps if circumstances had aligned in a slightly different way for the Minnesota Vikings in the 1970s, fans today would identify Ron Yary as a member of the famous “Purple People Eaters” defensive line.

Ron certainly possessed the requisite skills to line up alongside future Hall of Famers Alan Page and Carl Eller.

But those formidable Vikings teams needed Ron’s prodigious overall talent more on the offensive line of scrimmage. Over his 207-game career, he would lead the way for 1,000-yard rushers and protected quarterbacks, including Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, as the Vikings reached three Super Bowls in a four-year span in the mid-1970s and four overall while he played.

Ron, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2001, this week steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

Tarkenton figured into Ron landing in Minnesota in the first place. The Vikings had acquired the first overall selection in the 1968 NFL Draft from the Giants as part of the mega-trade in early 1967 that sent Tarkenton to New York.

Minnesota used that pick to select Ron, who had helped the 1967 USC team to a 10-1 record, a victory in the Rose Bowl and the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll. A two-time All-American at offensive tackle and winner of the 1967 Outland Trophy, Ron was the first interior lineman drafted first overall since 1949, when the Philadelphia Eagles chose center/linebacker Chuck Bednarik, another future Hall of Famer.

Ron started as a sophomore at USC. But on a team with several seniors anchoring the offensive line, coach John McKay inserted him on the defensive front. Ron responded by earning first-team all-league honors. Two years later, McKay briefly considered using Ron as a two-way lineman.

At the end of his USC career, Ron played offensive tackle in the Rose Bowl and defensive tackle in the Hula Bowl.

Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant, then entering his second season with the Vikings, told the media following the draft that Ron was considered the top-rated player in the country offensively and in the top 10 defensively. 

“If he arrived tomorrow, he’d be an offensive tackle,” Grant told reporters. “But he could play any one of four positions – defensive tackle, and any position in the offensive line: center, guard or tackle.” 

In another media report from that time, USC assistant coach Dan Levy concurred with Grant’s assessment.

“Lots of kids in college football are big but not athletic,” he said. “A lot of young men can’t handle their growth. Yary is an athlete, a great one. I don’t think he has a weakness.”

Ron won the starting right tackle job on the Vikings’ offensive line in his second pro season and remained a fixture there through 1981. He missed only two games (in 1980) due to injury over 15 pro seasons. 

He was named a first-team All-Pro by the AP six seasons in a row (1971-76) and selected to play in the Pro Bowl seven times. He later was chosen to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s (second team).

During Ron’s career in Minnesota, the Vikings won 11 division titles, the 1969 NFL championship and NFC Championship Games in 1973, 1974 and 1976.

“When you get a great player, the few mistakes he makes become magnified because you get conditioned to his excellence,” Grant once said in an interview lauding Ron’s talent. “But when you add up the big plays he makes, you realize his worth. We think he’s the best tackle in football.”