Souhan: Kleinsasser in almanac status in the NFL
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Kleinsasser caught a quick pass last Sunday, steamed downfield and veered toward the hash marks, making a defensive back miss. "'Cut' would be a bold statement," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "It was more like an 'ooze.' "...
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Kleinsasser caught a quick pass last Sunday, steamed downfield and veered toward the hash marks, making a defensive back miss.
"'Cut' would be a bold statement," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "It was more like an 'ooze.' "
"Really," Kleinsasser said, "I just changed lanes."
He doesn't spin the steering wheel often. Kleinsasser's career path is more akin to train than truck, his style more snowplow than sports car.
Younger Vikings might idolize Randy Moss; Kleinsasser probably owns a poster of a glacier.
He's been moving steadily forward for 12 years now as a Vikings tight end and special teams ace, and he's the answer to a question that is much tribute as trivia: Who's the longest-tenured athlete in the Twin Cities?
Kleinsasser has lasted longer in his role than any athlete, head coach, manager or general manager in town, an impressive achievement for a man who plays a violent position in a debilitating sport and has survived two new-coach housecleanings.
Kleinsasser doesn't just predate three local stadiums (TCF Bank, Xcel Energy Center and Target Field), he predates an entire franchise (the Minnesota Wild).
"I just got lucky," he said. "I kept fooling 'em every year."
He was there when Daunte Culpepper started his first game at quarterback, when Antonio Freeman made his miracle Monday night catch to beat the Vikings in Lambeau, and when Moss mooned Packers fans.
He was there when Denny Green spoke of the mysterious "Calcutta Clipper," when Mike Tice invented the "Randy Ratio" and when Brad Childress coined the phrase "Kick-Ass Offense."
Kleinsasser was there when Moss walked off the field before a game in Washington ended, when new owner Zygi Wilf instituted the Code of Conduct, and when a teammate became known for trying to sneak something called a "Whizzinator" through airport security.
Sunday, Kleinsasser played in Lambeau Field for the 12th time.
"Quite a few moments there stand out," he said. "We've had some real tough games down there. We've had some literal brawls.
"I think it's always a good time going down there. It's that fire. The fans are actually really good fans. They're behind their team 100 percent, but they're not over-the-top arrogant.
"That's why I enjoy going down there and playing. It's a good fight."
Against the Cowboys, Kleinsasser put together what, for a player who prides himself on toughness and versatility, suffices as a highlight tape. He caught two passes for 25 yards, helped the offensive line fend off one of the most physical defensive fronts in football and flattened a Cowboy on Percy Harvin's kickoff return for a touchdown. "He had two guys to choose from, and he picked the kicker," said special teams coach Brian Murphy.
That was Murphy's way of teasing Kleinsasser. Asked if Kleinsasser, a 6-3, 272-pound, 33-year-old guy who can run, is unique in the league, Murphy said: "That he's been around 300 years, that's unique. When Moss came back here, Jimmy was the only guy he recognized in the room."
To survive 12 years and three coaches in one organization, you have to be reliable, durable, affordable and likeable.
"He's absolutely unique," said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. "If you look across all the teams in the league, I don't think you'll see that combination of all the things that he has and all the things he brings for us. He's a high-character, great person."
Kleinsasser was born in Carrington, N.D., and played football for North Dakota.
"I really do appreciate being part of a hometown team for so long," he said. "You come into the league and everybody says they want to make it eight years. Wow, that sounds good. Then you get to eight and you want to make it 10, and then you get to double digits and you think, 'I'll take what I can get at this point.'"
He's had to change his regimen and mindset as he's aged. "I don't go in there and put 500 pounds on the squat rack anymore," he said. "I have to find a way to keep stress off the joints.
"Every year, when it's time to go to training camp, I have the feeling of, 'What am I doing? Is it worth all the agony? But then the sun rises the next day and you keep plugging away."
Souhan writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.