Paul Dickson was one of the original Minnesota Vikings, but he was also a Texan, and proud of both.
His Lone Star-bred intensity on the defensive line — “We don’t play football any other way in Texas,” he said shortly after joining the Vikings — could grate on teammates who had to face him in practice.
That intensity earned the Baylor and Waco High standout a 13-year NFL career, including 10 seasons with the Vikings from 1961-1970 and one with the Dallas Cowboys.
After his retirement, Dickson remained in Minneapolis, where he died Tuesday of a blood infection. He was 74.
“He was ornery on the field, even in practice,” said longtime Star Tribune writer Jim Klobuchar, who covered Dickson and the Vikings in the 1960s. “It kind of offended the halfbacks, who didn’t think he should be knocking them on their can in practice.”
“Usually, when it’s first team against first team, you’re not as aggressive. But that wasn’t Paul,” linebacker Roy Winston said. “He upset the offensive line like crazy because he went so hard all the time.”
“He was a great person and an excellent player,” said Jim Marshall, who started alongside Dickson for six seasons in the Vikings’ early years, Marshall at right end and Dickson inside at right tackle.
The pair became close friends, sharing their love of guns, hunting and football.
“He would play like he was angry, but he really wasn’t. It scared the rookies,” Marshall said. “But he was a great guy, a practical joker. A good teammate.”
He knew how to make a point, however. Disturbed by teammates’ loud partying in a Vikings dorm during training camp, Dickson once leaned out his window and shot a gun in the air to silence the ruckus.
“It got quiet,” Marshall said with a laugh.
Originally an offensive lineman for Baylor, he was the ninth player drafted in 1959, going to the Rams. He was traded three times in two seasons, and was acquired with Marshall as part of a six-players-for-two-draft-picks deal with Cleveland just before the Vikings’ inaugural season.
The Vikings moved Dickson to defensive tackle, where he flourished as a starter for six seasons, earning the nickname “The Growler.”
But when the Vikings drafted Hall of Fame tackle Alan Page, Dickson eventually ceded his starting job to the young newcomer — and devoted himself to being an effective backup to the unit that became the legendary Purple People Eaters.
“He accepted that role, and made sure he was a really valuable member of that team. I don’t know if we could have found a better player behind those guys,” Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant said. “He practiced so hard every day, and got some important minutes in. Good under pressure.”
Nowhere did he exhibit that strength more than on a disastrous snowmobile excursion over Montana’s Bear Tooth Pass in January 1971. A party of 16 became fragmented, and then stranded in a sudden blizzard and had to spend a frigid night in the snow with few provisions.
Dickson, Marshall and three others huddled together in a grove of trees, and lit all the cash they had on them — “Hundreds, twenties, ones, they were all the same denomination: burnable,” Marshall said — in order to start a small fire to keep from freezing.
The party was rescued late the next day, but Minneapolis Federal Reserve president Hugh Galusha died of hypothermia.
Dickson, who played in the Vikings’ loss to Kansas City in Super Bowl IV, was waived by the Vikings in 1971 and played only five games for the Cardinals before retiring.
He worked in sales, marketing and customer relations for computer companies. He also was president of the Vikings’ branch of NFL Alumni, helping to raise money for children’s charities.
Born Feb. 26, 1937, in Waco, Dickson is survived by his wife, Maureen, of Bloomington; a brother Leslie of Montague, Texas; two sons, Scott of Temple, and Slade of Austin; and four grandchildren.