Flashback Friday: Jim Kleinsasser

December 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States; The line of scrimmage between the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams is seen during the third quarter at US Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Kleinsasser, or “The Sauce”, is one of those ex-players who define what it means to be a Viking. He was one of the most physical tight ends in the game and helped redefine the position. He was a versatile TE and is remembered for his great toughness. He presented himself as a common man, the hometown boy who could always be expected to show up with his bushy beard and overalls.

early years

Kleinsasser grew up in North Dakota dreaming of playing for his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings. He was a standout athlete in high school playing football, baseball, and track. While playing football, he was a two-time All-Region and All-State honoree and was a two-time Gatorade Circle of Champions North Dakota Player of the Year.

college ball

Kleinsasser went on to play football at the University of North Dakota. He was a four-time first-team NCC selection and in 1998 was the only Division II player (UND was a D2 school at the time) selected as a Gannett News All American. That same year he had 45 receptions for 710 yards and 86 rushing yards.

viking times

Jim Kleinsasser was drafted in the second round by the Vikings in 1999 as a tight end. During his 13-year career with the Vikings, he had 192 receptions for 1,688 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was known for his reliability and played in all 16 games most seasons. He did have a major knee injury that affected him in 2004 and cost him 15 games. By the time his final season came around, he was the oldest Viking on the team. In 2008, he had the highest run blocking score not only for the Vikings but for all TEs in the NFL. FFP he noted that Kleinsasser was in pass protection on 113 snaps in 2010 and only allowed 2 QB pressures all season. Even during his statistically worst season, 2010, he remained the best pass blocker on the team. Surprisingly, that consistency didn’t earn him the national attention he deserved.

paving the way

Kleinsasser was a man ahead of his time. He helped pave the way for the evolution of the tight end position from what it was to what it is now. He was something of an enigma to coaches and his stats don’t even remotely convey how valuable he was to the team. If you ask most people what they remember from their playing days, it’s the incredible blocks he threw. Without him, Adrian Peterson would not have set the racing records that he did. At the time, Kleinsasser helped pave the way for 6 of the Vikings’ 7 single-season rushing performances. In 2007 and 2008 he received the USA Today All American Joe Team Award, which honors workers who go unrecognized.

He was always lined up against some of the toughest defenders in the league. Every time the Vikings played Chicago, “Willow” lined up across from LB Brian Urlacher. No matter where he was moved to (TE, slot, motion man), he would find Urlacher and crush him. If you had the ball in his hands, he was almost always good for 8 yards, running north and south and ripping through anyone who got in his way.

heart of a viking

Jim Kleinsasser never made it to a Pro Bowl, but every week he showed up and did the dirty work and didn’t complain. In the movie “50 First Dates,” Sean Astin’s character has to queue to watch a tape of a Vikings game every day and it always plays to the part where Kleinsasser is running the ball for a touchdown. That reference is the perfect way to honor his legacy.

He was the player who showed up every day and could always be trusted.

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