Page, Alan Cedric

views updated

PAGE, Alan Cedric

(b. 7 August 1945 in Canton, Ohio), football player who changed the nature of defense in the National Football League (NFL) and subsequently won a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Page's father was a bartender whose education did not extend beyond high school, and Page's mother raised four children. Page attended Central Catholic High School in Canton, Ohio, but did not play football until the ninth grade, when his older brother Howard Page encouraged him to join the team. Alan Page excelled in high school football and in academics, and he earned a scholarship to Notre Dame. There he studied political science and played defensive end for the football team from 1964 to 1966. A member of the 1966 national championship team, Page was an All-American.

In 1967 Page graduated with a B.A. in political science, and the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League (NFL) acquired him as the fifteenth pick in the first round of the draft. During his second year in the NFL, Page attended three weeks of night school at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. He said it was "over my head" and took another three weeks to figure out how to drop out. Page remembered, "It was a sink or swim situation, and I decided to get out of the pool." In 1973 he married Diane Sims, with whom he had four children. In the 1970s he played defensive tackle on the original Vikings "purple people eaters," the front four consisting of Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, and Gary Larsen. The name derived from a popular song by Sheb Wooley and from the fact that the Vikings' uniform colors were purple and white. Page wore number 88. The Viking defense was so dominant that the team usually chose to kick off when it won the coin toss prior to the beginning of a game rather than take the ball on offense first.

The Vikings won the Central Division title of the National Football Conference (NFC), which along with the American Conference comprises the NFL, in all but two of the twelve years Page played with the team. Page led the Vikings in quarterback sacks and in forced fumbles for six of those twelve years and scored two safeties in 1971. He was the team leader in blocked kicks for seven seasons and started 160 straight games.

During the 1970s the team played but lost four Super Bowls (IV, VIII, IX, XI) in eight years under coach Harry "Bud" Grant, a stern, unemotional figure once described as looking like "the town marshal." After Super Bowl XI, which Oakland won 32–14 in January 1977, somebody said that instead of going to the dressing rooms at halftime the teams should have gone to Appomattox.

The intimidating Page was named the NFL Most Valuable Player in 1971, his fifth year with the Vikings. He was the first defensive player in NFL history to win this award, although it did not lead to lucrative product endorsements. Page was the National Football League Players' Association representative between 1970 and 1974 and again between 1976 and 1977. Most of that time he argued that NFL contracts exploited players by denying them free agency. He felt Commissioner Pete Rozelle was not neutral in player-management disputes but favored the owners. Page served on the association's executive committee between 1972 and 1975.

Page ordinarily lost twenty to forty pounds jogging during the off-season, and Grant felt he could not continue as an all-pro at 230 pounds. In October 1978, when Page played poorly against the Bears, Grant removed him from the game, then told him to return after another player was hurt. Page initially refused. When he was released the next day, Chicago picked him up on waivers for $100, and Page played with the Bears until 1981. He led Chicago in sacks in 1978 and 1979.

Page was known for his speed getting into opponents' backfields and for his one-handed tackles. The Viking quarterback Fran Tarkenton said Page was the fastest defensive lineman off the ball he had ever seen. Page, who always played as if he had something to prove, moved both forward and backward with great agility and could keep up with ball carriers moving laterally. He played in nine Pro Bowls and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year four times. Page's career totals included 1,398 tackles, 148.5 quarterback sacks, and 30 forced fumbles. A six-time NFL All-Pro selection, Page was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame on 30 July 1988, in his second year of eligibility. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

During the off-seasons Page worked with a vending-machine company, sold cars for a year, and was a college recruiter for Control Data. By the mid-1970s he decided to give law school another try. He spent thirteen weeks in a summer preparatory program in Texas and entered the University of Minnesota Law School in 1975. He read law books in the Viking locker room and on the team bus. He loved law because he was stimulated by the subject. He no longer had to play football if he chose not to, and the money gave him power and freedom.

After graduating in June 1978, Page practiced law for seven years (1979–1984) with the firm of Lindquist and Vennum before joining the state attorney general's office. He was a special assistant to the Minnesota attorney general in the employment law division between 1985 and 1987 and was an assistant attorney general between 1987 and 1993. He ran for a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court and won easily in November 1992, becoming the first African-American supreme court justice in Minnesota.

Page was a member of the Board of Directors of the Minneapolis Urban League between 1987 and 1990 and a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota between 1989 and 1992. He joined the advisory board of the Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis in 1984. In 1988 he established the Page Education Foundation to help minority students attend colleges in Minnesota. Each scholarship winner agrees to return to his or her community to work with children in kindergarten to eighth grade.

Among other accolades, Page was named one of America's Ten Outstanding Young Men in 1981, he won the Aetna Voice of Conscience Arthur Ashe, Jr., Achiever Award in 1994, and in 2001 he received the Dick Enberg Award. Page holds honorary doctorates from the University of Notre Dame (1993); St. John's University (1994); Westfield State College (1994); Luther College (1995); the University of New Haven (1999); and Winston-Salem State University (2000).

Page gave a speech, "Violence in Sports," about student athletes and education rather than violence in sports at Westminster Town Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 25 Feb. 1982; the tape is available at the Minneapolis Public Library. He is discussed in Jim Klobuchar with Jeff Siemon, Will the Vikings Ever Win the Superbowl? (1977); Klobuchar and Fran Tarkenton, Tarkenton (1977); Klobuchar, Purple Hearts and Golden Memories: 35 Years with the Minnesota Vikings (1995); and Sid Hartman with Patrick Reusse, Sid! The Sports Legend, the Inside Scoops, and the Close Personal Friends (1997). See also Steve Rusdhin, "Thanks, Your Honor," Sports Illustrated (31 July 2000).

John L. Schererm