American Football Database

Purple People Eaters (sometimes Purple Gang) is a term for the defensive line of the Minnesota Vikings from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. The term is a reference to a popular song from 1958, the superb efficiency of the defense, and the color of their uniforms. The motto of the Purple People Eaters was "Meet at the quarterback."[1]

One of the original members of the defensive line, Gary Larsen, was replaced in the mid-1970s by Doug Sutherland.[6]

The Purple People Eaters were a major factor in the post-season success of the Vikings from the late 1960s through the 1970s.[7] The Purple People Eaters were one of the most identifiable Front Fours in National Football League history, with the "Fearsome Foursome" of the Los Angeles Rams during the 1960s and early 1970s, the "Steel Curtain" of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s, and the "New York Sack Exchange" of the New York Jets during the 1980s. Despite not winning a Super Bowl in any of their 4 trips (Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX and XI), the Vikings' defense is considered arguably among the greatest defense of all time.

Carl Eller and Alan Page were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Many fans, sports writers, players, and coaches argue that Jim Marshall should be in the Hall of Fame as well.[8]

The building of the Purple People Eaters

When the Minnesota Vikings first came into the NFL in 1961, they picked up Jim Marshall From the Cleveland Browns in the expansion draft. In 1964, Carl Eller was drafted in the first round. In the next season they acquired Gary Larsen from the Los Angeles Rams. Then in 1967, the Vikings drafted Alan Page in the first round. This foursome went down as one of the most intimidating Front Fours in NFL history.

Pro Bowls and MVPs

In 1968, the defense led the Vikings to their first divisional title. Meanwhile, Marshall, Eller and Page all made the Pro Bowl.

In 1969, all four members of the Vikings front line made the Pro Bowl as the defense gave up the fewest points, fewest yards, and sacked the opposing quarterback 50 times. Their offense was just as impressive by scoring the most points. This app combination led the team to their first NFL Championship and to Super Bowl IV, where they lost in a 23-7 upset to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The next year, the Vikings defense once again gave up the fewest points, fewest yards, and recorded 49 sacks. Meanwhile, Page, Eller and Larsen all made the Pro Bowl.

In 1971 the Vikings for the third year in a row gave up the fewest points and gave up the 2nd fewest yards. That year, Carl Eller was voted NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive tackle Alan Page became the first and only defensive lineman to be voted NFL MVP.

Three Super Bowls in four years

With the Vikings intimidating line leading their defense and their future Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton leading the offense, the Vikings went on to participate in Super Bowl's VIII, IX, and XI. In 1973, Alan Page was named NEA Defensive player of the year as the Vikings would return to their second Super Bowl in five years.

In 1974, Doug Sutherland would start in place of Gary Larsen and continue for the next seven years. Sutherland would go on to start in Super Bowl IX as the Vikings were once again NFC Champions. However they lost in a 16-6 defensive struggle to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Super Bowl IX would be Larsen's last game.

In 1975 the Vikings' defense gave up the fewest total yards for the third time in 7 years. Meanwhile, Tarkenton was named NFL MVP. The season would come to a disappointing end as the Cowboys would pull off a Hail Mary pass to beat the Vikings in the Divisional round 17-14. The win was not without controversy fans continued to argue that Cowboy's receiver Drew Pearson pushed Vikings cornerback Nate Wright.[9]

In 1976, The Vikings would win yet another divisional title and would make it to their third Super Bowl in four years and fourth overall. But for the fourth time in four Super Bowls, they lost. That year, Alan Page accounted for 18 of the Vikings 46 sacks.


Hi After six games during the 1978 season, Alan Page was traded to the Chicago Bears, where he collected 40 sacks before he retired in 1981.

After the 1978 season, Carl Eller was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, where he collected three more sacks in his final season.

After the 1979 season, Jim Marshall retired. In 20 seasons (19 with the Vikings and 1 with the Cleveland Browns) Marshall never missed a game and set what was then a National Football League record with 282 consecutive starts. After his last home game, Marshall was carried off the field by his teammates in celebration.[10]

This starting Front Four ended up consisting of two (arguably 3) Hall of Famers. Page was inducted in 1988 and Eller was inducted in 2004. Marshall is not in the Hall of Fame but NFL Films has Marshall ranked number 4 on the list of top ten players that are not in the Hall of Fame.[8]

Memorable moments

Wrong Way Run

In the fourth quarter of a 1964 game against the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Marshall recovered a fumble and returned in 66 yards in the wrong direction. Thinking he scored a touchdown for the Vikings, he threw the ball out of bounds in celebration which then resulted in a safety for the 49ers. The Niners would get the ball back but on that drive, Marshall made up for his famous blunder by sacking the quarterback, and forcing a fumble which teammate Carl Eller recovered and ran 45 yards to score the winning touchdown as the Vikings would win the game 27-22.

Remarkable Play on Thanksgiving

In a 1969 Thanksgiving game against the Detroit Lions, Jim Marshall and Alan Page combined for one of the most remarkable plays in NFL history. Page tipped a pass which fell into the hands of Marshall who took off with it. As he was being tackled, Marshall lateraled the ball to Page who then had an easy path to the end zone.

Divisional playoffs

In a 1969 playoff game, the Vikings hosted the Los Angeles Rams. Early in the game, Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel was intercepted by Carl Eller who ran 40 yards into the end zone, but the play was called back on a controversial offside penalty on Alan Page. Late in the fourth quarter, the Vikings defense needed to protect a one-point lead. Carl Eller extended the lead by sacking the quarterback in the end zone for a safety. The Rams would get the ball back, but Page made up for his earlier penalty by intercepting a pass, putting the game out of reach.

Super Bowl IV rematch

In Week 1 of the 1970 season, The Vikings were in a Super Bowl IV rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Vikings defense dominated the game by limiting the Chiefs to 63 yards rushing, and forcing four turnovers. On one turnover, Jim Marshall recovered a fumble and, as he was being tackled, lateraled the ball to Roy Winston who raced into the end zone as the Vikings went on to win 27-10.

Alan Page vs The Lions

In Week 13 of 1971, the Vikings hosted the Detroit Lions. In the second quarter after being called for a Personal Foul and a Roughing the Passer Penalty on consecutive plays Page sacked QB Greg Landry on First down. On Second down Carl Eller received an offsides penalty, then the Lions were penalized for Holding, when the second down play finally occurred Page tackled Taylor for a 4 yard Rushing Loss. Finally Page tackled Landry for a gain of just two yards on 3rd and 44, ending the drive. In the Fourth quarter, Page Blocked a Lion Punt out the back of the End-zone for a Safety. That year Alan became the first and only defensive lineman to be named NFL MVP.

Three Men Combine for One Sack

Late in the 1974 NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams, Page, Marshall, and Bob Lurtsema all got to the Rams quarterback and were all credited with 1/3 of a sack. The Vikings went on to win that game 14-10.


  1. "Football: The Four Norsemen". TIME Magazine. 1969-10-17.,9171,840243,00.html. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
  2. "Pro-Football-Reference: Alan Page". Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  3. "Pro-Football-Reference: Carl Eller". Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  4. "Pro-Football-Reference: Jim Marshall". Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  5. "Pro-Football-Reference: Gary Larsen". Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  6. "The List: Best sports unit nickname of all time". Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  7. "Pro-Football-Reference: Minnesota Vikings". Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Top Ten Not in HOF: Jim Marshall". Retrieved 2011-05-28.
  9. "1975 Rewind: Drew Pearson Insists He Didn’t Push Off". New York Times. 2010-01-16. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
  10. Cotton, Anthony (1979-12-24). "A Man For 20 Seasons: Old Indestructible, Jim Marshall of the Vikings, retires after 302 straight games". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2011-05-28.

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