In the era of free agency, where professional athletes change teams more often than Chris Kluwe tweets, it’s not often you see a player drafted by, play with and retire from the same team. There are instances every now and then, but for the most part it’s a feat that has gone by the wayside. Coaching changes are another factor that prevent this from happening, as new coaches bring new philosophies that require substantial personnel changes.
But somehow, through 13 NFL seasons and 4 different head coaches, Jim Kleinsasser has remained with the Vikings and has been an integral part of the franchise since he was selected with a 2nd-round pick in 1999.
Today, Kleinsasser’s remarkable run comes to an end.
Given Kleinsasser’s background, it should come as no surprise that the burly-but-affable character has been able to maintain his spot on an NFL roster in three separate decades. A Carrington, North Dakota native who grew up on a crop and beef farm that his family owns to this day, Kleinsasser revels and excels while working in the trenches.
And it’s when Kleinsasser has worked in the trenches that the Vikings have exceled. The 6-3, 272-pound tight end with a Paul Bunyan-type frame and hard-nosed nature has helped pave the way for 7 of the top 8 single-season rushing marks in Vikings history, including Adrian Peterson’s team record and NFL-leading 1,760 yards in 2008. He’s also helped 10 different players rush for 100 yards in a game 62 times.
“Jimmy’s one of those players that, as an organization, you take for granted,” former LB and current Vikings Director of College Scouting Scott Studwell said. “The reliability factor in being a good pro gets overlooked at times by the skill sets and the flash of certain players and positions. He’s a guy who has been one of the best, if not the best, blockers in the entire league for his entire career. Even in his thirteenth year, he’s still one of the best blockers in the league.”
Studwell has a great perspective to offer on the matter because he, too, was known as a gritty player and because he was largely responsible for the scouting and drafting of Kleinsasser. The longest-tenured pro athlete in the Twin Cities who was retained in 2003 by the Vikings via the Franchise Tag, Kleinsasser was selected in the 2nd round (44th overall) of the 1999 NFL draft after the Vikings traded picks 59, 73 and 163 to the Steelers in order to acquire him. At the University of North Dakota, Kleinsasser was a consensus All-American and unanimous All-NCC First-Team selection.
“Back when we drafted Jimmy, I think people had kind of lost sight of the fact that Jim could run,” Studwell explained. “He wasn’t the most flexible athlete in the world and never will be, but Jim could run in the 4.7s and had tremendous ball skills. But for a guy of his size, he was a better athlete than people gave him credit for. We certainly got our money’s worth with him.
“The thing that really kind of solidified his value for the league was the way he played in the Senior Bowl. He went down to the Senior Bowl and certainly did not look out of place. He held his own, he did what he did at North Dakota and did it against the best players in the country. He’s been a valuable asset to this organization and to this team since he got here.”
Since Kleinsasser arrived in Minnesota, he’s done nothing but work hard and produce results. He’s played on 5 different playoff teams, ranks 2nd in team history for starts by a TE with 128, has played in 181 games for his career and hasn’t missed a game since 2005. Whether you talk to Head Coach Leslie Frazier, Studwell or Vice President of Player Personnel Rick Spielman, one description showered upon Kleinsasser is that of consistency.
“He’s the consummate pro who shows up to work every day,” Spielman said. “He sets a great example for all the young kids as they come in. You know what you’re getting week-in and week-out when you line up on Sundays. He’s as consistent a performer as we’ve had since I walked in until now. He’s a unique player because of all those attributes.”
The versatile TE’s path to the Vikings is one not often traveled, but it suits him perfectly. One of just 3 players (Dave Osborn, Ron Green) drafted by the Vikings from the University of North Dakota, Kleinsasser is an avid outdoorsman and thoroughly enjoys the ambience of the Gopher State. From the facial hair, to grit and toughness, to Upper Midwest culture and way of life, Kleinsasser personifies the Vikings mascot that adorns his helmet and he feels right at home living in Minnesota.
“I love the Minnesota area and the people here are great,” he says. “I really enjoy the outdoors and this is just a great place to live. My wife is from here, so it’s just perfect because it’s close to my family and hers.”
Kleinsasser’s love for the area extends beyond than the outdoors and into the local community. He has worked extensively with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, serving with his wife to host the annual fundraising ball in the Twin Cities. He participates annually in the Epilepsy Foundation Clothing Drive, has participated at the North Dakota Special Olympics Games, took part in the 2008 Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener and has also worked with D.A.R.E., the United Way and Vikings Victory Hospital Visits.
Today Kleinsasser will complete his 13th season in the NFL. Entering today’s game, Kleinsasser has 192 receptions for 1,684 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also has 43 rushing attempts for 147 yards and 1 touchdown. But the true measure of Kleinsasser’s impact on the Vikings over the last 13 years is not necessarily found in a box score or stats packet. It’s found within the trenches where he’s battled defensive linemen and linebackers, inside the locker room where he’s been a friend and leader to countless teammates and staff members, and around the Upper Midwest community where he’s made a positive impact on many lives.
Kleinsasser is Minnesota’s definition of what it means to be a Viking, and he’s truly a great Norseman from the Northland.
Here’s a picture of Jim and his family prior to today’s game:
Tags: Jim Kleinsasser, Rick Spielman, Scott Studwell
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 29 Comments »