Viking defensive tackle John Randle didn't fit the scouts' description of a prototypical defensive lineman. At 6'1", 240 pounds, he was considered too short to tangle with behemoth offensive linemen, and as an unheralded free agent out of Trinity Community College and Texas A&I, he was supposedly too green technically to play in the NFL.
So, what do scouts know, anyway?
Now, four years after he went undrafted, Randle ranks third in the NFL in sacks, with 9½ through the Vikings' first 11 games. "I survive in this league by being in the best shape possible and by getting off the line quickly," says Randle, who has bulked up to 275 pounds.
Last season he was a Pro Bowl starter, and he became only the second interior lineman since the league started keeping sack statistics in 1982 to put together back-to-back seasons with 11½ or more sacks. Obsessed with being the best pass rusher in the league, Randle works out incessantly, even practicing moves on his wife, Rosie, while they walk through the Mall of America.
"Everything is a competition to him," says Rosie, who plays miniature golf with her husband every Tuesday at the mall. "He gets so fired up before games, he is actually doing moves in his sleep. I've considered getting twin beds."
The 26-year-old Randle, now in his fifth NFL season, has spent a lifetime overcoming odds. The youngest of three boys, he was raised by his mother, Martha, in rural Mumford, Texas (pop. 150). Martha worked as a maid, and the family lived in a two-room structure with no indoor plumbing. When Randle and his brother Ervin, who later played linebacker for the Buccaneers and the Chiefs, were growing up, they made a pact to use football to make the family's life better. But that was easier said than done. Hearne High, where they both played, was a 10-mile bus trip each way, and after football practice the Randle brothers had to hitch rides home.
"Sometimes I had to wait until nine or 10 o'clock before I could find anyone going toward Mumford to give me a ride," Randle says. "I quit football my sophomore year because I got tired of hitching. My mom said, 'If you quit, there's nothing else around here for you to do.' If I hadn't played football, I don't know what I would've become."
Randle persevered, and he eventually got a football scholarship to Texas A&I. During his senior year there, he married Rosie Salinas, a single parent with two sons, and together they had a daughter, Brittany, now five.
Randle was not picked in the 1990 draft. After failing in a try-out with the Falcons, he signed with the Vikings for $55,000. Each night Rosie would quiz her husband on the Viking playbook, and she snapped footballs so he could work on the timing of his rush. By his second season he was a starter, and since 1991 the Vikings have reworked his contract four times. This season he'll make more than $1 million.
"I always used to ask him, 'Why do you have to be the first to the stadium and the last to leave?' " Rosie says. "When I saw where he grew up, I realized why. He knows how quickly all of this could be taken away from him. I've told him never to forget where he came from, and I remind him to talk about it, because kids in those situations need to see that they can make it too."
The Viking defensive tackle putts around with Rosie on Tuesdays, but on Sundays he's a driving force.