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Jim Prestel: Original Viking

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Original Viking Jim Prestel remembers the franchise's formative years.

prestel1.jpg
Jim Prestel, circa 1962

Hundreds of men have worn purple and gold since the Vikings began play 46 seasons ago.  Nevertheless, only a select few have the perspective of defensive tackle Jim Prestel, who was one of the 45 players that composed the first edition of the Minnesota Vikings.

 

“It was tough, we hit twice a day…they were very hard training camps, we trained up in Bemidji, MN in those days,” Prestel reminisced about coach Norm Van Brocklin’s grueling camp schedule.  “We would probably have about a three hour practice in the morning and a three hour practice in the afternoon.  I always remember Hugh McHeleny, who was our running back, said if he had to hit this much in practice (his entire career), he wouldn’t have lasted as long as he had.”

 

A 6th round draft choice by Cleveland in 1959, Prestel played in just six games as a Brown, but has vivid memories of the legendary figures he encountered there.  “(Paul Brown) is probably the most organized coach I’ve ever played for,” Prestel said of the Hall of Famer. “You stood in the same place everyday at practice to do your calisthenics…if the itinerary said we we’re going to be done in an hour and twenty minutes and we punted the ball and the ball was in midair when (Brown) blew the whistle, we would run off the practice field and nobody would catch the ball. It was quite a first year for me to being playing for a guy like Paul Brown.”

 

Another Brown, Jim, also left a lasting impression, “I didn’t really get to know (Jim Brown) that well, I was a rookie and rookie’s sometimes have to work their way up to be a veteran and get accepted,” the Indiana native explained.  “He was very sure of himself, just like you see him on the football field.  He seemed to know what he wanted to do and where he was going.”

 

Prestel also met and played along side a future Viking legend during his short stint in Cleveland, “Jim Marshall and I came (to Minnesota) in the same trade,” he commented. “We played together as rookies with Cleveland… Jim had a good attitude and he was so strong…he wasn’t big for a defensive end, he only weighed about 220 to 225 (pounds), but he was quick. He was destined to be good, (but) I didn’t think he’d play as long as he did, but he proved to be durable too.”

 

Despite playing for a successful, star-studded team, Prestel welcomed his trade to the expansion Vikings, “I was anxious because I thought it would give me a chance to start, I hadn’t been starting in Cleveland,” the Idaho alumnus pointed out. “So, I made the team and started along with Paul Dixon and Jim Marshall. I played until 1966 when I got replaced by Gary Larsen and was traded to the Giants. I played for five years as a starter.”

 

In those five seasons, Prestel helped the Vikings evolve from a rag-tag expansion outfit to a winner.  A major reason for that was future Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, “George Shaw actually was going to be our quarterback, he came from Baltimore, he was Johnny Unitas’s backup, but he got hurt right before the first game, so Fran Tarkenton came in and we beat the Bears in our first game 37-13,” the former lineman remembered. “So, Fran became a leader.”

 

(Tarkenton) was just a rookie from the University of Georgia,” Prestel continued. “Nobody knew one of his greatest skills was scrambling, but we found out that later.  He could also throw the ball pretty darn good.  It was fun to have him there and, of course, he just became better every year.”

 

The high point of Prestel’s tenure in Purple came in 1964 when the Vikings posted their first winning season, with an 8-5-1 mark. “We thought maybe next year, we could be in the hunt, but it just never happened (they finished 7-7-1),” he lamented. “We got better every year, but we just never got over the hump, the hump was beating Green Bay.  Green Bay was awfully good in those years.”

 

According to Prestel, the Packers cast a large shadow on those early Vikings teams, “(People in the Twin Cities area weren’t) really great Vikings fans, they had been so tuned in with Green Bay all of those years,” he claimed. “Most of our fan base was in South Dakota, North Dakota and Iowa. After we started winning a little more, we got some of the Minnesota fans (rooting) for us.  They weren’t wearing green and gold, they were wearing purple finally.”

 

Now 69 and living in suburban Denver, Prestel still follows the NFL, but rarely visits Minnesota and has yet to attend a Vikings game in the Metrodome.  The purple and gold however, still hold a special place in his heart, “I follow the Denver Broncos now, of course, but my allegiance is still with the Vikings,” he stated. “I spent most of my career with the Minnesota Vikings.  I played 9 years, five of them here.”

 

Minnesota was the best part of my career,” Prestel added. “It was a good franchise, they treated us well and the fans here were fantastic.  Of course, that was the prime of my career when I was starting and playing and of course, you always enjoy it more when you are starting.  We got to meet a lot of people that we are still in contact with and that’s nice too.”

 

To prove his loyalty, Prestel followed his former team through all four of their Super Bowl losses and still believes a championship is in the franchises’ future. “Every (time they made the Super Bowl), I thought it was their year, but it just (didn’t happen),” the original Viking explained. “It’s funny, I move to Denver and Denver went through four before they won their fifth.  Of course, Minnesota hasn’t won theirs yet, but one of these days, they’ll get there I’m sure.”

 

-David Zingler

 December 9, 2006

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