The Hall of Fame Series: Ron Yary
Class of 2001
LA Rams 1982
Over the course of the Hall of Fame series, I’ve tried giving requisite attention to each and every player and coach. This isn’t easy with offensive linemen, especially back before Pro Football Focus gave these players grades and stats. At first, I believed it may be difficult to find enough material for former Minnesota Vikings tackle Ron Yary, but the Hall of Famer pleasantly surprised me.
Before joining the Vikings in 1968, Yary played his college ball at USC from 1965 through 1967. As a sophomore in 1965, Yary played defensive tackle and was so good that he was named the Pac-8 Defensive Lineman of the Year. In a surprising change of events, the 6’5”, 255-pounder then got switched over to the offensive side of the ball prior to his junior season. The curious move worked wonders as Yary was a natural, being named consensus All-America in 1966 and 1967. The accolades didn’t stop there as Yary also took home both the Outland Trophy and the Knute Rockne Trophy which is presented to the top lineman in college football. USC won the National Championship in Yary’s final game, and the pros awaited.
As a result of the Fran Tarkenton trade, the Minnesota Vikings held the number one overall pick of the 1968 draft, the second (and so far, final) time the team has held the top pick. They made the no-brainer move by selecting Yary and paired him with fellow Hall of Famer Mick Tingelhoff, the Vikings’ ascending seventh-year center at the time. With the selection of guard Ed White a season later, the Vikings formed a stout offensive line as the team began its dominance in 1969.
Yary didn’t start at all in his rookie season for the Vikings, and he missed three games to begin the 1969 season because of military service. But he found his way into the starting lineup by season’s end, getting six regular-season starts and all three playoff starts. He only missed two games due to injury the rest of his career when he suffered a broken ankle in 1980.
The dominance from the strong, athletic right tackle didn’t go unnoticed. He was a first-team All-Pro every year from 1971-76. Unsurprisingly, his Pro Bowls overlapped each of these years, including one final nod in 1977. Like damn near every other player on this list, he was selected to the 1970s All-Decade Team.
In a weird but fortunate turn of events, Fran Tarkenton returned to Minnesota in 1972 when his relationship with the New York Giants grew sour. For the first time in his career, Tarkenton was going to play for a contending team. Much of this had to do with the players that were traded from the Giants to the Vikings in exchange for Tarkenton in 1967. Yary, of course, was the best compensation that the Vikings received in the trade. He helped protect the aging quarterback who had lost much of the scrambling ability that made him famous earlier in his career.
Like many other players on this list, Yary ended his career wearing another uniform. He demanded a trade before the 1982 season and he was shipped to the L.A. Rams in exchange for a 10th-round pick. Yary only played eight games that season, failing to appear in the starting lineup. He would retire after the season and still says that he regrets leaving Minnesota.
There was a weird theme in the 80s and 90s where Vikings players were passed over in the Hall of Fame process. Like many before him, Yary was passed over for years. Although Yary considered himself a “borderline candidate”, the Hall of Fame committee finally made the right call and selected him as part of the 2001 class. He also was inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor in the 2000 season.
Ron Yary remains one of the best offensive linemen to ever play the game, and his inclusion into the Hall of Fame was overdue. His dominance in both college and the NFL helped pave the way for other more athletic linemen to play as opposed to traditional “bruisers” before him. Although the Vikings’ defensive line stole the headlines, Yary helped solidify an offensive line that paved the way to four Super Bowl appearances beginning the year he became a starter.