When a “Purple People Eater” and entourage toured northwestern Minnesota Nov. 18, it was a serious mission.
On the agenda: Education, opportunity, economics, civil rights, and other important matters—plus “Alan and his Perfectly Pointy Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky.”
The kids of Pelican Pete’s hometown perch were preoccupied by the Purple Person’s pinky finger.
Alan Page, best known—perhaps—as a 21-year Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, read one of his favorite books for nearly 100 Pelican Rapids 3-4 grade students. In the process, Page delivered inspirational messages about the importance of education, and urging the kids to be the best student they can be.
Page’s second claim to fame? A menacing Minnesota Viking, who struck record-setting terror in opposing football carriers.
Even the children’s book, about the “Perpendicular Pinky” was inspirational—in a subtle way. The book was a project spearheaded by Page’s daughter, herself an elementary school teacher. The subject of the book is Page’s peculiar pinky finger—injured during his football career; all twisted, crooked and disjointed.
In his previous life, Page was one of the famed Minnesota Viking “Purple People Eaters” front defensive line.
The damage to his left little finger; in simple, nutshell terms; started when his hand went one way—and the guy he was tackling went the other way, explained Page.
“It was dislocated…again …again…and again,” too many times to count,” Page told the students. Ultimately, the ligaments in his little finger were totally tattered and torn and disfigured. Looking for the bright side, Alan’s deformed digit forms a hard-angled “left turn signal,” which is the upbeat conclusion in the kids book.
“The doctors tell me that something could be done about the finger…But the doctors also said it would really hurt,” said Page, who despite his roughhouse career, isn’t fond of pain. “Besides, then I would lose my left turn signal!”
“What was your uniform number?” asked one Pelican school youngster, during one of his three classroom readings.
It was 88.
The number was retired in honor of Page, coincidentally, in 1988. Page was elected to the National Football League Hall of Fame which, also coincidentally, is located in his hometown of Canton, Ohio. It is there, as a third and fourth grade student at Market Elementary School, where his educational foundation was forged.
Page’s interactions with the Pelican students were sincere and fatherly, patiently answering questions and encouraging kids—some of whom said they wanted to be a psychiatrist, a professional surfer and, of course, as pro football player.
“You are our future leaders,” said Page, who spoke with a simple and sincere delivery to the young students.
“Some of you might even be leaders on the world stage,” said Page. “ What you do in the classroom today will help you be successful….It can be difficult to see a connection from now to the future, but what you do will determine your course.”
Page “loved playing football,” one of the best-known Vikings of all time, and later a Chicago Bear.
But he unhesitatingly said his time on the Minnesota Supreme Court was “the best job I ever had.”
“It was the most fun and exciting thing in my entire life…to serve people in Minnesota with fairness and justice,” said Page. “I could not have found anything that I would have loved more. I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t easy, but I loved the challenge. We were dealing with very difficult and complex issues…but it was fun.”
Some students had just learned about the branches of government—executive, legislative, judicial. Page was thrilled to learn this.
“I love learning about civics, about government and how they function,” said Page to the students.
“Being a judge was an opportunity to ensure justice…No matter who you are, no matter where you are from; the color of your skin; whether you were wealthy or poor; no matter how able-bodied or disabled you may be…Fairness and opportunity for each of us.”
The combination of age and, no doubt, the physical strain of a pro football career was evident as Alan Page shuffled from classroom to classroom. His cheerful enthusiasm was evident, despite his slow, measured stride. His steps were visibly wobbly and labored.
As he shuffled out the door of teacher Heidi Isaman’s classroom, one of the young students—totally unscripted— shouted “Have a nice day!”
Which drew a broad smile and a sparked a twinkle in the eye from the old “Purple People Eater.”
Career notes on Alan Page
Alan Cedric Page, (born August 7, 1945, Canton, Ohio, U.S.), American gridiron football player, jurist, and writer who in 1971 became the first defensive player to win the Most Valuable Player award of the National Football League (NFL).
He later served as an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court (1993–2015).
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.
At the University of Notre Dame (1963–67), Page played defensive end for the 1966 national championship team, receiving All-America honors. After graduating he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. With the Vikings, he played defensive tackle and joined with Jim Marshall, Carl Eller, and Gary Larsen to form the legendary defensive line known as the “Purple People-Eaters.”
He was named Rookie of the Year in 1967.
With the Vikings, Page appeared in four Super Bowls and was named All-Pro every year from 1970 to 1977. Weighing 240 pounds (109 kg), he was relatively small for a lineman, yet he was so uncommonly quick that he was often across the line of scrimmage before his opponents could stop him. In 1971, his best season, he recorded 109 tackles, 35 assists, 10 quarterback sacks, and 3 safeties.
He was released by the Vikings in 1978. He played the final four years of his career with the Chicago Bears.
The unofficial record shows that, in his 15 years of professional football, Page never missed a game, starting in 236 contests. He held a career record for highest number of safeties and blocked kicks.