Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Ross Cooper “Rip” Hawkins was the second player ever to be drafted into the Minnesota Vikings organization. In 1961, he was their second round pick (15th overall) out of Sewanee Military Academy and North Carolina as a middle linebacker.

According to The Tennessean, Hawkins has passed away at the age of 76.

Coach Norm Van Brocklin named Hawkins the captain of the defense and quarterback Fran Tarkenton (the third draft pick that year) the captain on offense. Hawkins played five NFL seasons and was sent to the Pro Bowl after one of those seasons.

He is credited with twelve career interceptions, returning three of those for scores, and four fumble recoveries.

Hawkins retired after Lonnie Warwick took his place on the depth chart.

Prior to his death, Hawkins had been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, the second most common type of progressive dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the first. Hawkins’ wife has stated he was very active and biked 30 miles nearly every day, even as recently as a month ago.

“Our belief is it’s a disease, not a disgrace,” Mrs. Hawkins told Vikings.com. “It’s so important that this come out of the closet as a disease. It’s something we need to find a cure for. Rip is donating his brain to the Sports Legacy Institute and Boston University in order to look at diagnostics and hope that some of that information may contribute one day to a cure.”

That same article at Vikings.com features some great quotes from the team’s historian, Fred Zamberletti, and I highly recommend giving it a read.

“He was a strong leader, good character, but he had a mean streak in him,” Zamberletti said. “He was a middle linebacker and if you came across the middle, you better have your head on a swivel. If you didn’t, he would clothesline you. He loved those receivers coming across the middle.”

A celebration of life was held for Hawkins on Saturday in Wyoming.