The Hall of Fame Series: John Randle
Much like former center Mick Tingelhoff, who we covered earlier in the Hall of Fame series, Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle John Randle made the unlikely journey from undrafted free agent to Hall of Fame inductee. Undersized at 6-1, 290 pounds, Randle combined strength with an unprecedented blend of agility, speed, and trash-talking that got into opponents’ heads.
Of course, Randle was undersized his entire life. At Texas A&I, he only weighed 240 pounds, but this didn’t dissuade him from becoming a dominant collegiate athlete. In fact, as a junior in 1988, Randle racked up 20 sacks in only ten regular-season games. In 1989, Randle again dominated the lesser competition, still getting 14 sacks in ten games.
Still, Randle was passed over in the 1990 NFL draft. Because his brother Ervin was an established linebacker with Tampa Bay (he ended up playing eight NFL seasons), Randle got a tryout with the Bucs. He didn’t make the team, but he still caught the eye of the Vikings. Randle was so determined to make the team that he wore chains underneath his clothes during a weigh-in to make sure he made weight. When it was confirmed that Randle had indeed broken the weight threshold required, Minnesota signed him, and an unlikely journey to the Hall of Fame laid ahead.
Randle didn’t make much of an impact as a rookie, although he played in all 16 games. He registered only one sack, which is still respectable for any undrafted rookie free agent who plays a rotational role and primarily special teams. But in 1991, he started eight of the 16 games he played in. On the season, he racked up 9.5 sacks, and it was becoming obvious that there was something to build on.
It was 1992 when Randle became a game-wrecker. He accumulated 11.5 sacks and became a full-time starter. In 1993, he began an insane run of six consecutive first-team All-Pro selections. And from 1992-99, Randle registered at double-digit sacks every season, most of this coming from the defensive interior. This included a career year in 1997 when he led the league with 15.5 sacks. At the time, the league still had the likes of fellow Hall of Fame edge rushers like Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas, and Chris Doleman.
His favorite quarterback to sack was Brett Favre. In 18 games, Randle accumulated 12.5 sacks on the legendary Packers quarterback. It didn’t get any better than in Week 5 of 1996 where Randle had perhaps the best game of his career. Helping catapult the Vikings to a 4-0 start, he sacked Favre 3.5 times. He also added two forced fumbles during the game. The rivalry ran so deep that the Vikings’ tackling dummy wore a Packers No. 4 jersey all season. “We could be playing Tampa Bay, we could be playing Detroit, and No. 4 stays on [the dummy] the whole season,” Randle told Favre, via Vikings.com.
The energy that John Randle brought to the game permeated outside of his play. Randle would study media guides, finding every minute detail that he could to get underneath his opponent’s skin. And it wasn’t just the guy across from him; Randle would know details about every offensive player’s personal life, down to where these players’ kids attended school. This was never more evident than when he got into Tampa Bay quarterback Trent Dilfer’s head so much that Dilfer tried punching Randle in the face following a hit. Shockingly, Dilfer was ejected from the game. As if his trash talk wasn’t enough, Randle took face paint to the extreme, covering almost his entire face with it before the practice was outlawed.
Randle’s impact was never felt (or not felt) as much in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. Randle kept his non-stop motor going until the final whistle against the Arizona Cardinals a week earlier. On the final play of a 41-21 blowout victory, Randle injured his knee. The injury affected his playing status during the title game. As the Falcons drove for the game-winning field goal in overtime, Randle was stuck on the sideline, helplessly watching as Atlanta upset the Vikings to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Following two more disappointing playoff exits, Minnesota released Randle following the 2000 season due to a tight salary cap situation. He would play three seasons in Seattle, making the Pro Bowl in 2001 for the final time. Over the next two seasons, he racked up 12.5 sacks before retiring after the 2003 season.
Over his Hall of Fame career, John Randle accumulated an astonishing 137.5 sacks, mostly from the defensive tackle spot. This number is officially tied for tenth all-time with Bears defensive end Richard Dent. According to Pro Football Reference’s new unofficial sack list, it still ranks second all-time among interior defensive linemen to only fellow Vikings legend Alan Page.
Fittingly, Randle was named to the 1990s All-Decade Team. In 2010, Randle, known for his non-stop trash talk on the field, actually gave a straightforward Hall of Fame induction speech. With the 2019 release of the NFL’s 100-Year Anniversary Team, he was one of seven defensive tackles included on the team (along with Page).
John Randle remains one of the most respected and popular Minnesota Vikings of all time. His presence is still felt within the organization. He announced the Dalvin Cook selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, and he also led the Skol Chant and blew the Gjallarhorn prior to the Minneapolis Miracle. He, along with fellow Hall of Famer Cris Carter (who said he respected no teammate more than Randle during the ‘98 Vikings Missing Rings NFL Network special), helped usher in a new era of Vikings fans in the early ‘90s.