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NFL: Kleinsasser calls it a career, has no regrets

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Kleinsasser was making his way to the postgame interview room looking about as comfortable as an old farm boy walking the red carpet with boots and a simple black-and-white "North Dakota football" T-shirt.

Jim Kleinsasser
Minnesota Vikings tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser (40) waves to the fans after an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears in Minneapolis, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012. Bears won 17-13. Sunday was Kleinsasser's last game of his 13-year career. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Kleinsasser was making his way to the postgame interview room looking about as comfortable as an old farm boy walking the red carpet with boots and a simple black-and-white "North Dakota football" T-shirt.

"It's the first time I've been up here in my 13 years," said the Vikings' now-retired blocking tight end, looking down from the spot normally reserved for stars with names like Peterson and legends with names like Favre.

Kleinsasser, the team's second-round draft pick in 1999, had just finished the 181st and final game of his NFL career, a record for a Vikings tight end. He spent pregame posing for about as many photos as he has career receiving yards (1,688). He went to midfield for the coin toss as the team's only captain, a nice gesture from his head coach, Leslie Frazier.

A game was played. The Vikings lost, 17-13 to the Bears. Kleinsasser didn't add to his season receptions total of one, nor was he even targeted. But he did what he does, which is block about as well as any tight end in today's NFL can block. His highlight, for those who squinted to see it, came near the end of the first half, when he went in motion from left to right and blocked Julius Peppers, one of the game's best pass rushers, well enough to allow Joe Webb to complete a 19-yard pass to set up a field goal.

After the game, Kleinsasser posed for more photos and hugged his parents, Carter and Kathe, about as many times as he has career receptions (192). Then, with his helmet raised, he disappeared into the tunnel as the last player to leave the field.

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"Just kind of overwhelming really," Kleinsasser said. "I never expected coming into this game that anybody would even care if I walked out of the game."

But people did care. Do care. A lot of them.

About 125 of them sat in the rafters of Sections 238-239 wearing gold T-shirts with Kleinsasser's No. 40 and the words "Pride" and "Carrington, N.D." on the front, and "Kleinsasser" on the back.

The Vikings donated those 125 tickets to the folks in Kleinsasser's hometown of Carrington, pop: 2,200. They also sent two coach buses to Carrington High School to gather them at 8 a.m. Saturday. They arrived in town six hours later and spent part of New Year's Eve with the town's favorite son.

"Jimmy's represented Carrington extremely well," said Marty Hochhalter, Kleinsasser's high school football coach. "When I watch Vikings games, I watch Jimmy. He's laid it on the line every Sunday for 13 years for this team. Now he can walk away proud of what he accomplished. Proud that he got to determine when it was his time to go."

Carter, Kleinsasser's father, guessed that Jim will "hunt and fish for a while and then go back and finish college."

"I'm guessing that's what he'll do," Carter continued. "But for now, we'll spend some time just enjoying all the good memories with the Vikings."

Teammates couldn't say enough about what those memories mean to them.

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"He's a pro's pro," rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "It's hard to say this because it makes him sound old. But he's like a father to me."

Kleinsasser, who turns 35 this month, said he made up his mind before the start of training camp that this would be his final season. He has no regrets and said there's absolutely no way he's pulling a Favre and coming out of retirement.

"I'm the luckiest guy," Kleinsasser said. "From Day 1, I've been a lucky guy."

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