Tommy Mason, the first player ever selected by the Minnesota Vikings, has died at the age of 75.
The Vikings released the following statement: “The entire Minnesota Vikings organization is saddened by the loss of Tommy Mason. As the team’s first-ever draft pick, Tommy played a significant role in the history of the franchise. After spending six seasons with the team, he remained a part of the Vikings family, appearing at multiple events over the past several decades. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mason family at this time.”
Mason was a Louisiana native who attended Tulane, where he had racked up 1020 rushing yards and 527 receiving yards in his three years there and led the SEC in rushing yardage and rush yards per attempt his senior year, and was 6th in the NCAA (first in the SEC) in yards from scrimmage. The Vikings weren’t the only ones to draft Mason, who was also drafted second overall in the AFL draft by the Boston Patriots and by the Ottawa Rough Riders. Mason would go on to attend three Pro Bowls for the Vikings and represent them on the All Pro team once, averaging 4.4 yards per attempt and 55 yards a game in those three years. He was a big asset in the passing game, with 30 yards over the air a game in the same time span.
In those years, the draft would be haphazard. Many teams didn’t have scouting departments, instead relying on the data in forms filled out by the prospects themselves. They installed many prospects in hotel rooms and the ones they didn’t they called to make sure they didn’t sign with the CFL or AFL. Mason’s first contract with the Vikings awarded him $12,000 a year, large at the time because he was drafted by two other leagues. The Vikings still tried to game the draft, however, and leaked that they were willing to trade Mason and some picks for a quarterback. The Vikings didn’t, and selected Fran Tarkenton in the third round.