The Hall of Fame Series: Paul Krause

Class of 1998
Washington 1964-67
Minnesota 1968-79

Out of the 13 Minnesota Vikings players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, only safety Paul Krause is a member of the back seven on defense. It’s hard to argue his inclusion, though. Krause intercepted an NFL-record 81 passes over his 16-year career, a record that has stood for 41 years.

It didn’t take long for Krause to get comfortable at the pro level. Selected in the second round by Washington, the rookie out of Iowa earned All-Pro honors when he intercepted a league-leading 12 passes, returning one for a touchdown. He continued where he left off in 1965, picking off six passes and recovering five fumbles, running one back for a touchdown, again getting first-team All-Pro recognition. If these numbers haven’t boggled your mind yet, remember that this occurred during the 14-game era as well.

Krause intercepted ten more passes over the next two seasons before being traded to Minnesota following the 1967 season. The transition was seamless. In 1968, the famed “Purple People Eaters” featuring Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, and Alan Page, were beginning to find their stride on the defensive line. Krause benefited as much as anyone from the feared line. He intercepted seven passes in 1968, and from there the Vikings had one of the most complete defenses in football.

From 1969 to 1975, Krause was selected to six Pro Bowls. In 1975, at age 33, he had perhaps his best season since he broke out as a rookie. Krause intercepted 10 passes, returning them for a league-leading 201 yards. For his efforts, the wily veteran was recognized as first-team All-Pro for the third and final time of his career.

As his career began coming to an end, Krause found himself within reach of Hall of Fame safety Emlen Tunnell’s career interception record of 79. By the end of the 1977 season, Krause was sitting at 78 interceptions. Although his pace had slowed down over the ‘76 and ‘77 seasons, Krause had never gone through a season where he didn’t intercept fewer than two passes.

In typical Vikings fashion, the inevitable became elusive. Krause didn’t intercept a single pass in 1978 for the first time in his career. He decided to come back for one more chance at the record. Fortunately, he made up for it and picked off three passes in 1979, calling it a career after the season.

Krause’s record of 81 interceptions is one that isn’t talked about enough. He may own the only record that appears more unbreakable than Emmitt Smith’s 18,355 rushing yards. In fact, the closest anyone has come to it was Rod Woodson, who intercepted 71 passes from 1987 to 2003. Ed Reed called it a career in 2013 after picking off 64 passes in 12 seasons. After those two, things get very interesting (or boring, if you want to look at it that way).

The active leader in career interceptions belongs to Richard Sherman. He is currently a free agent, and with both age and legal issues working against him, it appears the end of his career is coming to an end sooner than later. The number of interceptions Sherman has? 36. Not even halfway there.

Perhaps the best Vikings safety since Paul Krause is Harrison Smith. The Hitman has been perhaps the most consistent safety in the league since being drafted in 2012. The man who shares Krause’s No. 22 jersey has been known for always being around the ball. But Smith still only has 28 career picks. That’s the same number that Krause had in four seasons with Washington.

It’s difficult to see a time where a defender can come close to breaking the record again. The league, of course, favors offenses more than ever. The chances of a safety playing and starting for 16 years is a tall task. To ask them to be productive during the second half of that career is an even taller task as front offices are always looking for younger, cheaper options.

Paul Krause was inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998. His numbers speak for themselves (he even added 19 fumble recoveries), and they have a chance to stand the test of time.