They say that big things come in small packages.
This would be apt when describing former Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle John Randle.
For 14 seasons, the slight-in-stature Randle proved to be an oversized player with the personality to boot.
His intensity and motor put fear into the hearts of opponents.
This is his story.
John Randle. Salute. #DLinePride 📝 pic.twitter.com/n2AzdHAQWU
— Ramal Faunteroy (@Coach_Faunteroy) March 24, 2021
Early Years and College
John Anthony Randle was born on December 12, 1967 in Mumford, Texas.
He learned perseverance at a young age due to his family’s circumstances.
Randle was the youngest of three boys who were raised by their mother, Martha.
Martha worked as a maid and the family lived in a very modest two-room building with no indoor plumbing.
“We didn’t have the luxuries we’re so accustomed to today,” Randle said in 2011. “We had no indoor water, no indoor toilet. . . . We didn’t have a washing machine. My mother washed clothes by hand, and hung them on a clothesline, all the way until I reached college. We made the best of what we had.”
Randle and his brother, Ervin, made a pact at an early age that football would be their way out of Mumford (population 150).
However, that dream almost didn’t happen.
The high school that the Randle’s attended, Hearne High, was a ten mile bus ride.
After football practices in the fall, the brothers would often have to hitchhike back 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 heeded his mother’s words and continued to play ball.
While working odd jobs when he could to help his mother, Randle became a dominant player for Hearne High.
Unfortunately, none of the big colleges came calling and Randle began his college football career at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas.
“When we got him into school, John was just kind of this big pup,” said Keith Walters, who coached Randle at Trinity and Texas A&I. “He hadn’t even scratched the surface of his potential. A little later, it was like a light switch went on, and he started discovering what his capabilities were. He started lifting weights, and became a leader on the defense. He just took off.”
After a brief stop at Trinity, Randle continued playing at Texas A&I (now Texas A&M-Kingsville).
In two years with the Javelinas, he established himself as one of the best small school defensive linemen in the country.
During Randle’s junior year of 1988, he had 20 sacks.
As a senior, he posted 14 sacks.
Randle’s average tackles per game in two seasons was 5.3.
Former Texas A&I Javelinas Darrell Green (Redskins), John Randle (Vikings), and the late Gene Upshaw (Raiders) have been selected to the NFL 100 All-Time Team! Congratulations! #tamuk @JavelinaFB @JavelinaNation #NFL100 @NFL pic.twitter.com/M230jz4JDO
— Jim Danner (@JimDannerWX) December 22, 2019
In 1989, the Javelinas boasted one of the best Division II defenses in the country.
The program led the Lone Star conference in total defense, rushing defense, passing defense, and scoring defense titles, allowing 211.8 yards a game and 60.7 rushing yards a game.
Additionally, the Javelinas allowed the opponents just 1.9 yards per carry on the ground.
Texas A&I made the Division II playoffs both years Randle played, making the semifinals in ‘88.
Those two seasons also saw the program garner a 20-4-0 combined record.
Randle was a two-time First-team All-American as well as a two-time Lone Star Conference defensive player of the year.
The standout from Hearne was later selected to the LSC team of the decade for the 1980s.
Randle Gets Creative to Make the Vikings Roster
Although he put together two standout seasons at Kingsville, Randle was overlooked by every team in the 1990 NFL Draft.
By then, Ervin had been in the league since 1985, playing linebacker for the Buccaneers.
Ervin’s younger brother tried out for Tampa Bay, but the team thought he was too small for an NFL defensive tackle.
“The scouts all thought I was too undersized,” Randle said. “But I knew I had to see if I could compete. I thought, ‘If I don’t do this, I’ll regret it the rest of my life.’ ”
Based on the recommendation of head scout Don Deisch, the Minnesota Vikings next gave Randle a shot.
However, they, too, were not excited by Randle’s stature.
At the time, he was 6’1” and 244 pounds.
The Minnesota coaching staff told Randle he would only be signed if he got his weight above 250.
According to Vikings lore, Randle hid a chain under his sweats and carefully moved to the scales to be weighed.
He tipped the scales at just above 250 pounds and made the team.
Slow Start Leads to Starting Role
During Randle’s rookie year of 1990, he played sparingly, netting 21 combined tackles, one forced fumble, and one sack.
Despite not receiving a lot of playing time, Randle never stopped working.
He quickly earned a reputation as one of the hardest workers on the Vikings squad.
“I always used to ask him, ‘Why do you have to be the first to the stadium and the last to leave?'” Randle’s wife, Rosie, said in a 1994 interview.. “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.”
“In my life,” Randle said in 1998, “I’ve chopped cotton, picked watermelons, built fences, worked on an assembly line, worked in an oil field, built scaffolding. You know what? Those jobs are harder than football. So I’ll never take it easy in football. I remember how I grew up.”
The following year, Randle cracked the starting lineup for eight games and collected 58 combined tackles, two forced fumbles, and 9.5 sacks.
In 1992, Minnesota, under new head coach Dennis Green, made the playoffs following an 11-5 finish.
Randle had 56 combined tackles, one fumble recovery, and 11.5 sacks.
The Vikings season ended after a 24-7 Wild Card loss to Washington.
Sack Machine and Motor Mouth
1993 began a period of dominance for Randle and Minnesota.
Under Green’s guidance, the organization began to win consistently.
The coach lit a fire under his charges and they responded.
During the ‘93 season, Randle exploded with 59 combined tackles, three forced fumbles, and 12.5 sacks.
He was voted to his first Pro Bowl and was named a First-team All-Pro.
The Vikings ended the year 9-7 and lost to the Giants 17-10 in the Wild Card Round.
That's the same look John Randle used to give before stepping on the field with Brett Favre. pic.twitter.com/1wWdjupNzx
— James Frye (@JamesFrye) April 5, 2019
In 1994, Randle improved his sack total for the fifth straight year when he collected 13.5.
He also added 42 total tackles, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
Minnesota went 10-6 and had their season end again in the Wild Card Round, this time to the Bears.
At that point, Randle was known as one of the best defensive tackles in the league.
“I survive in this league by being in the best shape possible and by getting off the line quickly,” said Randle.
“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.”
In 1995, the Vikings missed the postseason after an 8-8 record.
However, before the season began, Minnesota let fellow defensive tackle Henry Thomas go to Detroit as a free agent.
The organization then signed Randle to a two-year extension worth $6.3 million.
The deal made Randle the highest-paid tackle in the NFL.
“When I think about it, it kind of makes me laugh a little bit,″ Randle said, recalling his first days as a Viking. “To come in as a free agent, it was scary. You think you don’t have a shot at it, and once you do achieve it you say to yourself, `Some things in life you can achieve.′ ″
Randle’s new contract was justified. During the 1993 and 1994 seasons, Randle had a combined 26 sacks.
During that same span, only Pittsburgh’s Kevin Greene and Kansas City’s Neil Smith had more sacks than Randle (each had 26.5).
For the ‘95 season itself, Randle posted 44 combined tackles, 10.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.
The team got back on track in 1996, improving their win total to 9-7 and losing (again) in the Wild Card Round to the Cowboys 40-15.
Randle had 46 combined tackles, four forced fumbles, and 11.5 sacks.
In addition to Randle’s sack prowess, he was also becoming well known for his mouth.
By the end of ‘96, he was one of the best trash talkers in the NFL.
Randle also donned black eye paint (which he called “war paint”) to intimidate his opponents.
One of Randle’s best-known quotes, said before the beginning of a defensive series, was, “Regulators, mount up!”
John Randle: "Regulators!! Mount up! We comin!" pic.twitter.com/1jnf1ViR06
— Burke (@professorjoke) July 25, 2019
To further get into the heads of his opponents, Randle did his homework before games.
He especially loved torturing the Green Bay Packers and their quarterback, Brett Favre.
“Green Bay’s got great p.r. guys,” Randle said during an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1998., “and I’ve learned a lot from their stuff. I know their guards as well as their fans do. Adam Timmerman’s from Cherokee, Iowa. He works the farm with his family. Aaron Taylor loves cars. I read where he had a 1969 Impala and just got a new Blazer. And I read how emotional he was coming back from a knee injury.”
After learning these tidbits, Randle decided to hone in specifically on Taylor, who was assigned to block Randle that day.
As they were about to square off before a particular play, Randle engaged Taylor.
“A.T., how you doing?”
Taylor did not respond.
“C’mon, man, I’m just trying to be friendly. Talk to me, A.T.!”
Again, there was no response as the two lined up across from each other.
“Hey, nice job coming back from that knee injury. You were real emotional, weren’t you?”
Taylor was about to respond when the ball was snapped.
Randle flew into the backfield and hammered Favre just as he got rid of the ball.
Favre then yelled at Taylor not to let Randle into his head.
Hearing that, Randle made one last dig at Taylor.
“A.T.! There’s no crying in football!”
That day, Randle had 3.5 sacks and the Vikings came away with a 30-21 victory.
Just ordered a Cameo from John Randle for my Dad to go with the Jersey we got him. Hopefully gets here before Christmas. #skol pic.twitter.com/D951zv4VAA
— JJ Jingleheimerschmidt (@_RobYo) December 19, 2020
NFL Sack Leader, Moss joins the Vikings, a Dream Season Ends Abruptly
The 1997 season was a breakthrough for Minnesota.
After posting a 9-7 record for the second year in a row, the team finally got past the first round of the playoffs.
Sneaking past the Giants 23-22 in the Wild Card Round, the Vikings reached the Divisional Round where they were dispatched by San Francisco 38-22.
Randle rode the team’s success that year to reach his own heights.
During the ‘97 season, he took down opposing quarterbacks 15.5 times.
That number led the NFL.
He also added 58 total tackles, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
Randle was voted to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl after the season.
Before the 1998 season began, the Vikings had a gift fall into their laps during the first round of the NFL Draft.
As they sat at their number 21 position, the organization watched as Marshall receiver Randy Moss was passed over by team after team.
Minnesota’s brass tried to contain their enthusiasm as it looked like Moss would be available at their spot.
Sure enough, with the 21st pick of the 1998 NFL Draft, Moss was selected by the Vikings.
Moss was added to an explosive offense that already boasted Randall Cunningham at quarterback, receiver Cris Carter, and running back Robert Smith.
Everything clicked in ‘98 as the team put together an all-time franchise best 15-1 regular-season record.
For his part, Randle had 10.5 sacks, 41 total tackles, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
Those numbers were good enough to notch Randle a sixth straight Pro Bowl selection.
The 1998 Monday Night matchup featured six future Pro Football Hall of Famers – Randall McDaniel, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, John Randle, Brett Favre and Reggie White.#NorseNotes pic.twitter.com/X4iTf8VeAE
— Vikings Communications (@VikingsPR) September 15, 2019
In the 1998 playoffs, the Vikings easily dispatched the Cardinals 41-21.
They then hosted the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC title game.
Leading 27-20 with only a few minutes left to play, Minnesota kicker Gary Anderson lined up for a 39-yard field goal attempt.
At that point, Anderson had not missed a kick in two years.
He then proceeded to miss the attempt, which would have put Minnesota up by ten.
Atlanta tied the game at the end of regulation and won the game in overtime, shocking the Vikings and the football universe as they missed out on a Super Bowl appearance.
“That’ll stick with you for sure,” Randle said in 2011. “You could have gone to the Super Bowl, and you could have won it. We were so dominant that year. We just didn’t finish. That always sticks with you, because you don’t get many chances to play in the Super Bowl.”
1999 and 2000
Despite an increase in the loss column in 1999, Minnesota still took a 10-6 record into the postseason.
After taking care of Dallas 27-10, the upstart Rams ended the Vikings season with a 49-37 win in the Divisional Round.
Randle had his eighth consecutive double-digit sack year with 10. Additionally, he contributed 35 total tackles, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two passes defended, and an interception.
The new century dawned with the Vikings putting together 11 wins against five losses.
They defeated the Saints 34-16 in the Divisional Round and then were humiliated in the NFC title game by the Giants 41-0.
Randle started every game for the eighth straight year, collected eight sacks, 26 combined tackles, two forced fumbles, and two passes defended.
Randle is Released and Signs with Seattle
In early 2001, the Vikings and Randle were mired in ongoing contract negotiations.
According to Randle’s agent, Gary Uberstine, the Vikings essentially wanted to extend their star by one year.
Randle wanted a longer-term deal.
“John had re-evaluated his stance based on the attractiveness of retiring with the Vikings,” Uberstine said. “With their latest offer, it became clear it was a one-year commitment. He wasn’t trying to buy one year. If it’s a one-year commitment, he’d rather start over with another team. It’s that simple. There are no hard feelings,” Uberstine said. “He understands the business aspect of it.”
With that, Randle was gone after 11 seasons in Minnesota.
During that time, he had 486 total tackles and 114 sacks.
Only a few days later, Randle signed a five-year, $25 million contract with Seattle.
“They told me if I came up here I could get a motorcycle ride from Mike Holmgren,” Randle said jokingly, referring to Holmgren’s hobby of riding motorcycles for relaxation. “I’ve competed against Mike Holmgren, and he’s had some great teams,” Randle said. “He’s been a Super Bowl champion, and that’s a goal I’m looking forward to getting. I know if I want a chance to get that, this is the place.”
“The course of me playing with the Vikings finally came to an end,” Randle added. “We were in the NFC championship game for two of the past three seasons. As for me and the defense, we tried everything we could do. I think it was time for me to get out.”
In 2001, Randle joined an organization that had not won more than nine games since 1986.
That season, under third-year coach Mike Holmgren, the Seahawks reached nine wins again on their way to an overall 9-7 record.
Randle added 38 total tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown (a career first).
He was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl after the year.
Almost forgot about John Randle's stint with the #Seahawks
God I hate the Seahawks… pic.twitter.com/g2JI9uzGVX
— Adam Patrick (@Str8_Cash_Homey) May 10, 2015
Randle started 12 games in 2002 and came away with only 15 total tackles, seven sacks, and two passes defended.
Seattle finished third in the NFC West with a 7-9 record.
Then, in 2003, the Seahawks finally hit the ten win mark after 17 years.
The team posted a 10-6 record, then faced Holmgren’s former team, Green Bay, in the Wild Card Round.
The game was hard fought and eventually went into overtime.
At the coin toss before the overtime period began, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck won the toss and then tried to show a little gusto.
“We want the ball and we’re gonna score!” said the quarterback.
Unfortunately, Hasselbeck was picked off a few plays later and Packers corner Al Harris took the ball back 48 yards to complete the 33-27 victory.
That year would prove to be Randle’s swan song as he put together 17 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one fumble recovery.
On March 1, 2004, Randle retired from the game of football.
Holmgren reminisced on how much joy Randle brought to the organization.
“He has more fun than any 10 players I’ve ever seen,” Holmgren said. “There’s the John Randle football player and there’s the John Randle that might come up to my office and we’ll talk about something. There really are two distinctly different guys, and sometimes in this business you get to see that. For a coach, he just makes things worth it.”
“I was like Forrest Gump after he’d been running so long,” Randle said in 2011. “I said, ‘I think I’ll go home now.’ And I turned and walked away.”
In 14 years, Randle posted 556 total tackles, 137.5 sacks, eight 10 plus sack seasons, and was selected for seven Pro Bowls, six First-team All-Pro selections, NFL sack leader in 1997, 100 sacks club, NFL’s 1990 All-Decade team, and the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-time Team.
John Randle is one of the 7 DTs selected to the #NFL100 All-Time Team!
⭐ 7x Pro Bowler
⭐️ 137.5 Career Sacks
⭐️ 1997 NFL Sacks Leader (15.5) pic.twitter.com/zNtmbvUQ2b
— NFL (@NFL) November 30, 2019
Legacy and Life in Retirement
Randle has continued to stay active in retirement.
His playing legacy has also followed him when he was elected to both the College Football Hall of Fame and inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2008.
In his second year of eligibility, Randle was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
His Hall bio includes the following quote:
“This is like being a kid, having fun and being animated. If I didn’t do any of this, I would be too mechanical, too uptight. I want to be loose, I am at my best when I am rolling and throwing. I am different, but I am consistent.”
That same year, Randle was voted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and had his number retired by his former high school team.
Randle was added into the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.
Since 2019, Randle has given back to the NFL through his work with the NFL Legends Community.
Specifically, Randle helps NFL players transition to their post-football life.
“That may be getting into college coaching, or maybe you want to go back to get your college degree. Or you’re thinking about getting into radio or television. That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Randle.
Randle loves his position with NFL Legends and is passionate about helping his brethren enter the next stage of their lives.
“Being around these guys, I see it as 22,000 former players in a huddle, allowing me to be in the huddle and to assist those guys – finding ways to make their transition or their second career better,” Randle continued. “It’s a great role, it’s a fun role, and it allows you be a part of the NFL but just in a different capacity.”
“If there’s somebody who’s played in the National Football League who I can reach out to and try to make things better, then I’m going to reach out,” he continued. “Like I said, the NFL isn’t just a game. It’s a family. And if there’s somebody hurting, man, I’m going to try to do something for them. … Charity starts at home, and for me, the NFL is home. So I want to try to do as much as I can.”
John Randle AKA “Sacred Cow” was one of the best IDL that I ever saw play. He is one of my all time favorite players. I’m not a Vikes fan, but a NFL fan. He was one of those players that I remember from 20 years ago, dur to his unique style and his dominace on the field. He averaged 10 sacks a year over span of his career, and should’ve started going to the Pro-Bowl 3 years before his 7 year run began. (Would’ve been 10 straight!) Of course those few seasons the Vikings weren’t all that good, so he couldn’t win the popularity contest. He really was the first of the “new” prototypical 3-Technique defensive tackles that are lighter, shorter, faster, and get that pass rush generated up the middle. Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, etc. really have this guy to thank for revolutionizing the 3-Tech position. Great article on an amazing player.
Ben Donahue says
I appreciate the comments on Randle. He was one of my favorite Vikings. I loved how he was a lunatic on the field and made the players around him better. He was so quick and deadly at the point of attack. Those were definitely some of my favorite years as a Minnesota fan.
Mike Acosta says
I always liked Randle, after reading this, I like him even more. This was definitely a good read. Thanks
Ben Donahue says