By Dr. Ken 


Perhaps invoking the pre-Rap patter of icon Muhammad Ali, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Earsell Mackbee put teammate Oscar Reed’s name before the football public after the team’s 27 – 0 dismantling of the Detroit Lions in 1969’s annual Thanksgiving Day game.  Reed and the Vikings, understated in ’69 and throughout the Bud Grant years, remain among the most unappreciated teams relative to their achievements. For fans actively engaged with professional football throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s, we often forget how difficult it was to succeed in the game. Fewer teams and smaller rosters necessitated having players with multiple skills and a lot more durability than those of the modern game. Numerous starters played on Special Teams and full time position players filled the roles of place kickers and punters although kicking specialists were more abundant by the mid to late-1960’s. The emphasis on the running game relative to the “basketball on grass” offense of the 21st Century made for a more physically demanding contest, especially when the coaching emphasis was still on teaching and executing blocking and tackling fundamentals. Many fans have also perhaps forgotten that the National and American Football Leagues did not have an expanded playoff format designed to hold the fans’ attention until the last minute of the season and squeeze every nickel out of them. It was more difficult to make it to the league championship games and to the Super Bowl. Finally, as a culture, we have forgotten to offer appropriate respect to teams who consistently demonstrated a level of excellence that allowed them to finish near or at the top for many consecutive years, yet did not win the ultimate prize. Of course the 1990 – 1993 Buffalo Bills come to mind but it was the Minnesota Vikings from 1968 through 1977, whose long term, year-to-year brilliance set a largely forgotten standard and something less than a legacy.


Former Vikings Defensive End Carl Eller, young or old, was always the “fashion plate” 

Compounding the Vikings four Super Bowl losses within their ten year period of success, was the approach and “style” of the team and its head coach. With few exceptions, the understated blue collar, attention-avoiding collection of players and coaches drew limited notice even during the seasons of their winning ways. While Carl Eller’s mink coats and Jim Marshall’s world-wide adventures garnered publicity, the rest of the squad seemed to appropriately represent the conservative work-a-day lifestyle of the upper Midwest.

Oscar Reed was typical of the Vikings’ players of the Bud Grant era and certainly younger readers can be forgiven if their response is “Oscar Who?” The Grant Vikings, in spite of Fran Tarkenton’s scrambling quarterback play, were a ball control, grind-it-out, solid defense type of team that was stripped down and rebuilt in his first season of 1967. The undisciplined Vikings of the Norm Van Brocklin era pooled talented, but mistake-prone players who could not win consistently. The steely Grant insisted on doing a few basic things as well as possible and he had a stable of running backs who strived to do that. While many insist that fullback Bill Brown was Hall Of Fame worthy, Dave Osborn and Oscar Reed were exceptionally productive and steady, if not flashy. Reed did in fact, come out of high school with the flashy nickname “Golden Shoes.” At Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee, it was standing tradition that an exceptional performance would grant the player the right to spray paint his shoes the school color of gold. Reed’s 240 yards and five touchdowns performance made him eligible and the name stuck. Understanding the necessity of hard work as the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who had moved to Memphis during Oscar’s childhood to make a better life for the family, Reed continued his academic and football journey at Colorado State University. CSU was not an obvious choice for any Tennessee high school football player but a sixteen game losing streak brought former Delaware line coach and former U.S. Marine Mike Lude to the Rams’ head coaching position. Lude’s inaugural season in ’62 added another ten consecutive losses.  In a late 2015 interview, Lude reflected on his first season with CSU, admitting that lower level Delaware had far more talent. Even other coaches noted his desperate situation, as the Skyline Conference refused them admittance to conference play and Oregon State head coach Tommy Prothro approached Lude prior to their game and noted, “Mike, I’ve been watching you guys on film. You have one sh—ty team, do you know that?”

 Running back Oscar Reed set a slew of Colorado State records between 1965 and 1967

A change in philosophy and approach, as the local newspapers later noted, forced the program to go “nationwide in its recruiting.” This explained the presence of Memphis’ Reed and Pittsburgh’s Jon Henderson to the campus in the fall of 1964. Lude built a weight room beneath the stadium and insisted on a facility upgrade. By 1966, he had elevated the program to a 7-3 count despite long odds against him and could very much thank Reed, Henderson, and Jim Oliver. The highlight of that season was the October 29, 12-10 upset of number ten Wyoming on the infamous Ron Wolfe to Larry Jackson to Tom Pack thirty-six yard touchdown “Bounce Pass” play, one that remains legendary among CSU fans.



While the lack of adequate facilities continued to hamper recruiting and eventually led to Lude’s firing after 1968’s 2-8, and ‘69’s 4-6 seasons, he built a fine legacy as an athletic director in later years. Oscar Reed’s legacy at CSU also was stellar. He ripped off a seventy-eight yard touchdown jaunt against Hawaii on his very first varsity carry and set a new school rushing record of 725 yards as a 205 pound sophomore. As a junior in 1966 his highlight day of 194 yards on the ground against a very tough West Texas State team helped him to bump the record to 946 yards with twelve rushing touchdowns, both CSU records and marks that left him as the nation’s number eleven rusher while ranked tenth in scoring. As a fully mature 5’11”, 215 pound senior, he was featured on the cover of the NCAA Football Guide but played sporadically in ‘67’s first three games due to what was described as a “leg ailment.” Despite the slow start, he rushed for 910 yards and completed his college career with twelve school records that included 2581 rushing yards at 4.7 yards per carry and twenty-six touchdowns.


Reed had the collegiate statistics but remained unheralded as a seventh round draft choice of the Vikings, rated far behind better known backs Larry Csonka, MacArthur Lane, Lee White, Cyril Pinder, and Garrett Ford. He was then faced with competing with established backs Bill Brown and Dave Osborn for playing time. This was the same task placed in front of 1967’s highly touted rookie Clint Jones. One of the key factors for the Vikings successful run of division and NFL championships was the ability to suppress egos and remain consistent against teams with greater talent. Thus, Reed and Jones remained part of a “four-headed” rushing attack that was consistent and dominant. “Golden Shoes” of the Memphis high school ranks earned the nickname “Seed” with the Vikings, compared to the slippery nature of a pumpkin seed when breaking tackles and sliding through the narrowest of holes in the offensive line. Over a seven-year Vikings career, Reed was always able to step up when called upon and he was described by one writer as typical of the Grant type of player. “…Reed embodied (QB Joe) Kapp’s 40-for-60 motto. The effort of each man was vital, and it was effort that enabled Reed to accomplish more than anyone might have thought he was capable of doing. He was one of those Grant-type players who might not rank among the biggest or fastest, but they expended every bit of their ability, every week, or they wouldn’t be Vikings for long.”

 In typical Grant era Vikings style, Joe Kapp hands off to halfback Dave Osborn as fullback Oscar Reed provides the blocking


As part of the Vikings “running back by committee” approach, one that worked exceptionally well, Reed also contributed on special teams. Bill Brown deservedly received a great deal of publicity after being “demoted” from his starting fullback spot when age caught up to him, and re-emerged as one of the most effective special teams players in the league for a few more seasons. It demonstrated his toughness and dedication to winning, placing the team’s needs far ahead of his own. Reed and many others on the 1968 through the end of the seventies Vikings, many who would have been starters elsewhere, also contributed on special teams and did so effectively. As was accurately stated, “(Bob) Grim, (Ed) Sharockman, and Reed represented the lunch-pail element of the Vikings, men who might not have been chosen for a pickup game but excelled within the team framework.” After seven years in Minnesota and a minimal appearance with the Falcons in ’75, Reed retired. His Vikings rushing total finished at 1,968 yards although he was the team’s leading rusher in 1972. That season’s 639 yard accumulation was typical for the Vikings, spreading out the workload with few offensive superstars coming to memory. Reed added another 677 reception yards to his NFL career totals and was always a willing and effective blocker for Brown, Osborn, and later Viking halfback Chuck Foreman. He also had the thrill of playing in three Super Bowls, although he later said that the three losses “haunt me today, that we were there three times and didn’t win. We were starting to think we were cursed.”


Always an advocate for young people, he remained in the Twin Cities area after his retirement from football, went into business with Jim Marshall and the two of them started a non-profit youth and family service organization. He was appointed Youth Programs Director/Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis and held the position for fifteen years. As Director of the Community Empowerment and Prevention Program, he has worked with youth at risk primarily in Minneapolis’ inner city. Reed’s commitment to “help save our children, one child at a time” spurs on his work in teaching leadership and team-building skills for different community organizations and he continues to be active in Restorative Justice training and developing youth development programs.