I’m fond of saying that it’s hard to call what I do work. Not only do I have the distinct privilege of representing some of Minnesota’s finest breweries and distilleries, but over the past several years I have established in niche in representing a handful of retired Minnesota Vikings legends.
In honor of last weekend’s playoff game – the first outdoor home playoff game since the 1976 NFC Championship, and probably the last – here are a few of what I call “Valhalla Moments” which I have experienced as part of this unique practice niche (Valhalla, of course, refers to “Viking heaven” in Norse mythology).
1.“The Call”: Terms such as “The Drive”, “The Catch” and “The Play” have permeated football lore for decades. For me personally, I have “The Call” that launched my sports and law practice back in 2011.
Growing up in the Eighties, my hero was Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer. My earliest Vikings memory, in fact, was watching TK throw his famous Hail Mary to Ahmad Rashad in 1980 against the Cleveland Browns. Shortly after that I had my first #9 Tommy Kramer jersey.
Fast forward to 2011. Having joined a Facebook group called the Tommy Kramer Fan Club and meeting some close friends and relatives of the man himself, I was invited to contact him about assisting him on some business matters. I emailed Tommy and a few nights later, while I was filling my car with gas, I received a message from Texas. It was Tommy Kramer himself. We talked for about an hour or so – some about business, mostly about football, and the rest, they say, is history.
2. The Entrepreneurial Mr. Eller: Shortly after The Call, I was introduced to Hall of Famer and “Purple People Eater” Carl Eller. That brought me in to a number of different projects for Carl and his Retired Players Association. What I love about Carl is that he is, at heart, an entrepreneur. He always has a new thing going and it is exciting helping him execute his objectives. The funny thing is that when Carl and I are together, we rarely talk football; we talk about our next business moves.
3. Joe Kapp’s Homecoming, 2015: Joe Kapp – the quarterback in the Vikings’ 1st Super Bowl in 1969 and creator of the phrase “40 for 60” – meaning forty men playing for sixty minutes – became my third Viking client in the Spring of 2012. I don’t know if there’s a bigger character in Vikings history than Joe Kapp – the stories are endless. Just recently, Joe returned to Minnesota for the first time since 2012 and we rolled out the red carpet for him – taking him to the Timberwolves game (along with Mr. Eller) and the Vikings named him their honorary captain for the December 20 game against the Bears. Being on the field with Joe and seeing him recognized for his role in Vikings history was a very fulfilling moment for me personally.
4. My “Occasional Golf Partner”, Stu Voigt: Stu Voigt was a Tight End for the Vikings from 1970-1980. One of the “50 Greatest Vikings”, Stu was a client of my firm before I joined, and given that we’ve come to travel in the same circles, we’ve become good friends. I don’t know that there is a more active Viking alumnus than Stu, as he seemingly finds time to attend almost all of the major events each year. I’ve taken to referring to Stu as my “occasional golf partner” as we’re now three years in a row and counting on playing at least one round of golf together.
5. Golfing With the Greats: I did not play football growing up (at least not organized football; playing in the backyard doesn’t count). I did, however, take up golf and have been playing ever since. Every summer there are several charity golf events around town and given our firm’s sports and law niche, we end up playing in a lot of them.
2015 was a banner year for me when it comes to golfing with some Vikings legends. Aside from Mr. Voigt, I had the honor of playing rounds with Matt Blair, Chuck Foreman and Leo Lewis. Matt Blair is about as classy as they come. He comes out to the tournaments armed with signed photos for his entire foursome, and he always has a handful of his own photos (his second career after football was as a professional photographer) for the silent auction at each tournament (after being outbid on his photos at two prior events last year I finally came home with three beautiful prints at the end of the summer).
Chuck Foreman and I spent the entire round at Tommy Kramer’s tournament last year boring the rest of the foursome with insider talk about St. Thomas football (Chuck’s son, Anthony King-Foreman, is a defense end for the Tommies). Chuck also gave us one of the more unique autographed items you’ll find – a signed copy of a letter he received from former Vice President (and then U.S. Senator) Hubert Humphrey.
At 5 feet 7 inches tall, you would not expect Leo Lewis to cut such an imposing figure on the golf course…or at least so I thought. I watched the former Wide Receiver eagle a Par 3 hole on his own – including a 228 yard shot with his 3 iron. Leo was also gracious enough to serve a focus group of sorts with some craft beer from a pre-launch brewery. It was a fun time.
6. Networking, Vikings Style: I built my law practice with a ton of networking and I still have a reputation as being a decent networker. It’s a good skill to have when one of your quarterback clients (Joe Kapp) calls you on the day that his center, Mick Tingelhoff, is selected as a Hall of Fame finalist, and asks for his number so he can call and congratulate him. Fortunately I know Stu Voigt who is one of Mick’s neighbors, and so I did what I call “uber networking” and tracked the number down for Joe. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for the conversation; I’m told that it was a good one.
7. TK in Concert: Most people don’t know this about Tommy Kramer, but he loves to sing. A few years back Tommy was in town – and when I say in town, I mean he was in Albertville to be a guest instructor at a football camp. We wound up at Neighbors, and word got to the heavy metal band on stage that Tommy was there and wanted to sing with them. You have not lived until you watch a heavy metal band learn country music on the fly just to have Tommy Kramer sing with them.
8. Last Game at the Metrodome: a few days before the last game at the Metrodome I received the following text from Mr. Eller: “want to go to the game Sun?” And so it came to pass that I watched the last Vikings game at the Dome in a Suite alongside Carl, Chuck Foreman, Matt Blair, Jim Kleinsasser, John Swain, Oscar Reed and David Dixon. The only downside was that since I was being introduced as Carl’s attorney, running around the suite like a 10 year old kid asking for autographs would have been a bit unprofessional. Instead, I just took it all in and tried to remember the moment for posterity.
One funny sidenote from that game: Bud Grant was tapped to blow the Gjallarhorn before the game. Carl – who’s had that honor himself – informs me that “there’s a button on the side that you push to make it sound.” Talk about finding out there is no Santa Claus!
9. Hanging with the Purple People Eaters: To me, the greatest Viking of all time is actually four individuals; namely the “Purple People Eaters” – Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen. I am blessed to count one of them as a client. I have, however, had the chance to get to know a few of the others.
When a client of mine had Gary Larsen and Jim Marshall in for an autograph signing, I stopped in to meet them, and we all went out for drinks afterwards. At some point – even after you’ve been representing some of these guys – it just hits you that you’re sitting there with one-half of the PURPLE PEOPLE EATERS. It’s enough to turn anyone into a 10-year-old kid again.
10. Life in a “House Divided”: The funniest aspect of my representing Vikings legends is that I live in a “House Divided” – my lovely wife, Jennifer, hails from Wisconsin and actually spent a portion of her early childhood living in and around Green Bay, an experience which provides her with stories of her own. Despite this, she has been extremely good-natured about me representing “the Enemy,” even going to far as to make a Vikings scarf for Joe Kapp when he showed up from California in the dead of winter without one (sidenote: Joe wore the handmade scarf onto the field for the coin toss at the Bears game). Tommy Kramer told me upon meeting Jennifer that I “had outkicked my coverage,” and to have a Vikings quarterback say that about a Packers fan – especially since Tommy holds the record for touchdown passes in a single game against the Pack with six in 1986 – means something.
The Vikings have always been a big deal to me, and with this turn in my life and career, they have become even more so. The future looks bright! Skol!
Jeffrey C. O’Brien is an Albertville resident and attorney at the Minneapolis-based law firm of Lommen Abdo.