Eric Peterson, Published January 27 2013
Former Cobbers football player Gary Larsen was part of two memorable defensive teams during NFL career
Gary Larsen remembers the ticket demand for Super Bowl IV, the first of three he played in as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
“There were people outside the motel with tickets in their hands trying to give them away,” said Larsen, who played for the Vikings from 1965-74. “They weren’t even trying to sell them. The weather was crappy, the field was crappy. It’s kind of different than now.”
Larsen, 72, is now retired and lives in an Olympia, Wash., suburb.
Larsen – who grew up on a farm near Moorhead – was a two-sport standout at Concordia in the 1960s, playing football for head coach Jake Christiansen and basketball under head coach Sonny Gulsvig.
“Sonny Gulsvig was very instrumental in my chance at pro football,” Larsen said. “He called the scout that was in that area. He said that I got a guy you should look at.”
These days, the Super Bowl experience for Larsen usually involves going to a community viewing party with Wende, his wife of more than 50 years.
“I get a kick out of the commercials for the Super Bowl,” he added. “You can’t help but watch it. That was a big part of my life.”
Larsen went to high school on the campus of Moorhead State Teachers College. He played
8-man football, playing every position but center. Larsen, who had 26 kids in his high school graduating class, remembers playing teams like Felton, Ulen and Hitterdal.
“It was more of a speed game than 11-man,” added Larsen, whose favorite sport in high school was basketball.
Larsen graduated high school in 1957 and went to Concordia for a year before he joined the Marines, where he continued to play football and basketball.
After that he returned to Concordia where he played varsity football in 1962 and 1963. Larsen also played 2½ seasons on the Cobbers basketball team.
His pro football career started in Los Angeles with the Rams. Larsen, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive tackle, was picked in the 10th round of the 1964 draft. He played one season with the Rams, backing up the likes of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy – better known as the “Fearsome Foursome.”
Larsen was traded to the Minnesota Vikings prior to the 1965 season and would end up becoming a member of the “Purple People Eaters” along with Jim Marshall, Alan Page and Carl Eller.
“I was able to play with two of what I think were the best defensive teams in the league at the time,” Larsen said.
Larsen also was able to compete in the sport’s ultimate game multiple times, playing in Super Bowls IV, VIII and IX.
Larsen said the event has a much different feel now than it did when he played.
“It’s become kind of like a Broadway production,” Larsen said. “It’s a show. It’s a show for the two best teams for that particular year. … I’ve always felt that the AFC and NFC championship games are the best games to watch. The Super Bowl is kind of anticlimactic really.”
Larsen remembers being awestruck in the buildup to his first Super Bowl, which was on Jan. 11, 1970, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Media day for the event attracted reporters from around the country and the world. Larsen was interviewed by a reporter from Norway due to his Scandinavian heritage.
“Everything about it, the first time, was just like a farm boy from Minnesota going to New York and looking up at the tall buildings,” Larsen said. “It was kind of unbelievable. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to go there now.”
Larsen recalls boarding the team bus on game day and having his mother there to wish him well.
“My mother came up and grabbed my arm and she said, ‘Gary. You be careful. Don’t get hurt.’ ” Larsen said.
Vikings head coach Bud Grant was standing by the door of the bus and did a double take, Larsen said.
“I get on the bus and then all my buddies on the bus are saying ‘Now Gary, don’t get hurt,’ ” Larsen said with a laugh.
“You’re going to be your mother’s boy forever.”
While Larsen was on the losing team in all three Super Bowls in which he played, he was grateful he got a chance to play in the big game multiple times.
“We tried our damndest to win the three that we played in, but I consider myself pretty fortunate,” Larsen said. “The thing that you think about is at least you got there.”
Not bad for the farm boy from Moorhead who had to go to his grandpa’s farm, which was near Sabin, Minn., on Sundays to watch pro football.
“We really didn’t have a television,” said Larsen, who remembers watching Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers games.
The Vikings didn’t field a team until 1961 when Larsen was in the Marines and stationed in California.
“When Minnesota got a team, I used to kid my teammates in the Marine Corps,” Larsen said. “I said ‘I’m going to go back to college and someday play for the Vikings.’ I had no idea. They would laugh and say ‘Sure you are.’ ”
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