Page, Alan 1945–
Alan Page 1945–
State supreme court justice, former pro athlete
Even at the height of a professional football career that would someday merit his inclusion in the Hall of Fame, Alan Page knew he had to plan for the rest of his life. The former defensive lineman— a member of the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears— earned a law degree while still an active player so that, after retiring from the game, he could move directly into a full-time career as an attorney.
In 1993 Page became an associate justice on the Minnesota State Supreme Court, making him the first African American elected to office in that state. Page is also the first person of color to sit on the high court in Minnesota. In a special notation in Sports Illustrated, a reporter called the enterprising Page “a symbol of the best the world of sports can produce—a leader whose efforts and example have worthy impact beyond the athletic arena.”
As a Minnesota Viking, Page was a member of the dreaded “Purple People Eaters,” one of the most admired defensive foursomes in the history of football. He saw action in four Super Bowls and nine Pro Bowls, and his playing career spanned 15 years. At his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988, however, he underplayed his exploits on the football field and called for young people to concentrate on earning a solid education and preparing realistically for the future. Page’s remarks, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune, included a strongly-worded opinion that high achievers outside the field of sports should win equal recognition with the nation’s pro athletes. Page concluded: “Football was very good to me. We shouldn’t put down athletics, because that teaches children the value of teamwork and disciplined effort. But we are doing no favor to the young men of Los Angeles and Miami and Chicago if we let them believe a game will set them free.”
Few people have less to say about themselves than Alan Page. He prefers to dwell upon issues of the moment rather than reminisce about his football career or his childhood. His wife, Diane, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Page deals with his past by ignoring it. Trophies, plaques, and citations dating all the way back to his high school days have been stuffed in what Diane Page called a “denial box” kept in a closet.
Alan Page was born and raised in Canton, Ohio. With his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame—located in
Born Alan Cedric Page, August 7, 1945, in Canton, OH; son of Howard Felix and Georgianna (Umbles) Page; married second wife, Diane Sims, June 5, 1973; children: (first marriage) Nina, Georgi; (second marriage) Justin, Kamie. Education : University of Notre Dame. B.A., 1966; University of Minnesota, J.D., 1978.
Professional football player. l967-82; member of Minnesota Vikings football team, 1967-78; member of Chicago Bears football team, 1978-82. Lindquist & Vennum (law firm), Minnesota, attorney, early 1980s; Office of the Attorney General of Minnesota, attorney, 1985-92; State Supreme Court of Minnesota, associate justice, 1993—. Founder of Page Education Foundation, a nonprofit scholarship program for minority students.
Member: American, National, and Minnesota State Bar Associations; Minnesota Minority Lawyers Association.
Selected awards : Elected to Pro Bowl, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977; named to the Sporting News NFC All-Star Team, 1970-76, named NFL’s Most Valuable Player, 1971; elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1988; Friend of Education Award, National Education Association, 1991; elected to College Football Hall of Fame, 1993.
Addresses: Office —State Supreme Court of Minnesota, 427 Minnesota Judicial Center, 25 Constitution Ave., St. Paul, MN 55155.
Canton—he became the first hometown member of that prestigious museum. In fact, at his induction, Page recalled that he had “pushed a broom” on the Hall of Fame construction site as a teenager, never dreaming that a few decades later he, too, would be represented within its walls. Page grew up in a middle-class family and was educated in Catholic schools. It seemed only natural after his 1962 graduation from Central Catholic High in Canton that he would attend the University of Notre Dame at South Bend, Indiana.
As a child Page had dreamed of becoming a lawyer, and at Notre Dame he began to lay the groundwork for that goal. He was an All-American athlete as a defender on the Fighting Irish football team, but he paid strict attention to his academic regime as well. In 1966 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a reputation as a hard-hitting tackle.
Page was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the 1967 AFL-NFL draft. He became a Vikings starter immediately, appearing in 14 games and recovering three fumbles in his rookie year. Just three seasons later Page had become a stalwart member of the Vikings’ front four on the defensive line. As the team’s fortunes soared, Page and his defensive cohorts—among them Carl Eller, Gary Larsen, and Jim Marshall—became known as the “Purple People Eaters.” The nickname paid homage to the line’s ability to stifle opponents’ offense on the pass and especially on the run. In one of Page’s best years, 1970, he recovered seven fumbles (one for a touchdown) and intercepted a pass for a 27-yard gain. By that time the Vikings were a team of note in the National Football Conference.
Minnesota appeared in four Super Bowls between 1970 and 1977. Page played in every one. The Vikings’ distinction was dubious, however. Despite being heavily favored in at least two of the four Super Bowl outings, they were unable to win any of them. In Super Bowl IV, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Vikings 23-7. In Super Bowl VIII, played in January of 1974, Minnesota lost to the Miami Dolphins, 24-7. The following year the Vikings lost again, 16-6, to a neophyte team from Pittsburgh led by Terry Bradshaw. Perhaps most disappointing was the Vikings’ showing in 1977, when they lost Super Bowl XI, 32-14, to the Oakland Raiders. But the Super Bowl losses did little to dim the luster of the “Purple People Eaters,” who were widely regarded as one of the best defensive lines ever assembled and certainly among the very best of the 1970s.
Page told the Detroit Free Press that his fame as a football player notwithstanding, he “got bored” with football’s routine. He also recognized that when he eventually retired from the game, he would still be a relatively young man. Page had begun law school in 1967 but dropped out when he joined the Vikings. In 1975 he enrolled at the University of Minnesota Law School and began again. He took courses in the off-season and during football season, often leaving school just in time for team practice. The schedule was hectic but rewarding. By 1978 he had completed his degree requirements.
Page failed his first attempt to pass the Minnesota bar examination. This proved a greater disappointment than any of his Super Bowl losses had been. As he recalled it in the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “I recognized that if I didn’t pass the [bar] exam, I didn’t practice law. Plus, it would be more of the dumb jock syndrome.” Taking a more proven path to success, Page joined a study group and passed the bar examination on his second try in 1979. He was still on the active roster of the NFL at the time, having been released by the Vikings in 1978 and signed by the Chicago Bears. In fact, one of Page’s best years as a football player came in 1980 for Chicago, when he appeared in 16 games, recovered two fumbles—one for a touchdown— and earned a safety.
At the end of the 1981-82 football season, Page announced his retirement. He finished his career with 173 sacks, 23 fumble recoveries, and three touchdowns— statistics that merited a speedy 1988 Hall of Fame induction. Other retired football players open restaurants or car dealerships; Page joined a St. Paul law firm, Lindquist & Vennum. Founding partner Leonard Lindquist told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that during his years with the firm, Page was a “diligent worker” who prepared his cases with care. “I respected his judgment,” Lindquist said. “He was willing to reason things out. He was calm under fire. And he was intelligent, honest and highly principled.”
In 1985 Page moved from private practice into the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. There he specialized in employment discrimination, workers’ compensation statutes, and regulations governing drug testing in the workplace. Some of the cases he supervised were eventually heard by the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the state supreme court. In ten appearances before these higher benches, Page won all ten suits. “I have to tell you, I think I’m a damn good lawyer,”Page told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I don’t talk about myself very well. But the bottom line really is that I’m a pretty good lawyer.”
As early as 1982 Page had lobbied for an appointment for a judgeship. A seat on a district court seemed likely, but the governor of Minnesota was dissuaded from selecting Page by some of the state’s black citizens, who felt the former football great had not shown enough activism on race issues. One detractor, Minneapolis activist Ron Edwards, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “[Page] has never done anything to offend the racial and ethnic majority…. Has Alan walked on these streets? Has he sat down with a group of gang members and said, ’How have we failed You?”
In his own defense, Page pointed out that he had founded the Page Education Foundation, a national organization that provides leadership programs, scholarship aid, and academic motivation for minority children. Recipients of Page Foundation aid are expected to spend time in their home neighborhoods counseling other students. Page has said that he hopes the program will have a pyramid effect: each participant will counsel ten other children, who will in time each counsel ten more. “Young people face a difficult future because adults have not had the will to address the problems that kids face,”Page told the Sporting News. “Kids have to understand that if they’re going to be successful—and they can be successful—that they have to prepare, work and learn. Kids who learn how to learn will be successful.”
Page himself was not successful in drawing a judicial appointment in Minnesota. By 1990 he had decided to pursue a place on the bench by public vote. While Minnesota law mandated that its supreme court justices should be elected by general ballot, in practice a number of the seats were filled by appointments—and the few that required an election were invariably won by incumbents. In 1990 Page filed to run for the seat of Glenn Kelley, who was retiring. That chance was lost when Minnesota governor Rudy Perpich appointed a replacement for Kelley. Then Page planned to run for the seat of Justice Lawrence Yetka, who would be forced by state law to retire during his term. Yetka obtained an extension of his term from Governor Ame H. Carlson. At that point Page sued, claiming that the governor’s interference on Yetka’s behalf was unconstitutional. Page won the court case, Yetka announced plans to step down, and a regular election for the seat was held in 1992.
The election was heated, with Page’s opponent suggesting that the former athlete was trying to trade on his local popularity. Nevertheless, Page won the seat on the high court by a substantial margin, becoming the first African American ever elected to office in Minnesota. “It was a championship effort for the former Vikings great, and the people of Minnesota will share the benefits of his victory,” wrote an editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “If minority youths wonder whether hard work, community spirit and the nerve to try can actually pay off in this society, Mr. Page has delivered the answer.”
Page, a twice-married father of four, has said that his future plans include teaching, perhaps in a law school. In the meantime, he is aware of his position as a pioneer in Minnesota politics and as an example to others—even top-drawer athletes—who aspire to high achievement. During his induction onto the Minnesota Supreme Court, Page told the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “The people of Minnesota have chosen to elect a person of color. That sends a strong message to young people, particularly young people of color, that if you work hard, prepare well, and you are willing to accept life’s challenges, you can be successful.”
Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1988, p. 5-D.
Detroit Free Press, October 3, 1990, p. 2-C.
Emerge, March 1993, p. 54.
Parade magazine, May 15, 1994, p. 12.
St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 16, 1992, p. 2-B; August 8, 1992, p. 1-A; September 16, 1992, p. 6-A; October 10, 1992, p. 1-A; October 25, 1992, p. 1-B; November 4, 1992, p. 12-A; November 6, 1992, p. 14-A; January 5, 1993, p. 1-A.
Sporting News, December 7, 1992, p. 7.
Sports Illustrated, May 18, 1992, p. 58; September 28, 1992, p. 69.
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