Fifty years later, Foreman still sees versions of himself in the NFL

Chuck Foreman didn't expect to play much for Bud Grant as a rookie. Or fall in love with Minnesota. Or spend the next half century shivering among us as one of the state's most beloved sons and accessible legends of Vikings Nation.

"I don't even hunt," he said with a laugh.

But the former running back does remember a certain armed expedition with Grant — the noted outdoorsman/NFL icon — and teammates Wally Hilgenberg, Roy Winston and Hall of Famer Mick Tingelhoff as a 23-year-old first-round draft pick straight out of South Beach and the University of Miami.

"Got me up at 6 in the morning," Foreman said. "They had dogs and guns, and we're looking for birds. They had a gun for me, too, but I was like, 'I'm not shooting no birds.' They were too pretty to shoot. So Bud and them shot all the birds, and then we went to practice."

Foreman laughs. He is 73 and can't believe it was 50 years ago this month that he won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and went to the first of three Super Bowls in a four-year span. The Vikings, of course, lost all three, fell to 0-4 in the big game and just finished their 47th consecutive unsuccessful attempt to get back to a fifth one.

"Time flies, man," Foreman said. "And I never left."

Remembering 'The Spin Doctor'

Walter Eugene "Chuck" Foreman was born Oct. 26, 1950, in Frederick, Md. He became a 6-2, 210-pounder who could do pretty much anything he wanted to on the gridiron. And the hardcourt.

In fact, Foreman's signature move — planting a foot this way and spinning that way, or vice versa — came not from idolizing football Hall of Famers Bobby Mitchell and Lenny Moore, but Baltimore Bullets basketball Hall of Famer Earl "The Pearl" Monroe.

"The first time I tried Earl's move in the NFL was early on against the Houston Oilers," Foreman said. "I saw some space I wanted to get to, so I spun away from this big dude and was like, 'Wow, that kind of works.' They started calling me 'The Spin Doctor.' It stuck."

No dummy as a salesman, the affable Foreman marketed the moniker with a line of clothing products. Fans gobbled them up to honor a cutting-edge runner/receiver who played in a new-age offense designed around him by Jerry Burns and Grant, who died last year.

Foreman's versatility never fit the mold. In four years at Miami, he played receiver, running back, tight end, cornerback and even defensive tackle. It wasn't until the college all-star games that he settled at running back and really caught Grant's eye.

"When I got to the all-star games, I won the cars, I won the money, everything," Foreman said. "Between the all-star games and NFL rookie of the year, I got three Dodge Chargers and one Corolla. Back then, they'd give you an $8,000 car, you thought you were on top of the world."

Foreman's signing bonus as the 12th overall pick: $50,000. His first-year salary: $26,000.

Rookie wins over Grant

Grant trusted few rookies not named Alan Page (1967) with starting roles. So the 1973 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year didn't start the season opener against Oakland. He ran nine times for 26 yards. But, in a harbinger of what was to come in Burns' offense, Foreman caught six passes for 53 yards in a 24-16 victory. He became a starter the following week.

"People don't remember I actually was the fullback," Foreman said. "When Jerry and Bud told me, I was really upset at first. 'Why are you making me a blocker?' Bud sat me down and told me, 'Chuck, in this offense, you're going to be the best in the league, but you're not going to get credit for it because people are not going to look at your talent and impact as a receiver.'"

Foreman rushed for 801 yards, four touchdowns and a 4.4 average, caught 37 passes for 362 yards and two touchdowns, and helped the Vikings go from 7-7 in 1972 to 12-2 en route to Super Bowl VIII.

"We've got the offense to go with the defense now," Page said then. "This is the best Viking team I've been on. Chuck Foreman is the reason."

Foreman went to the first of five consecutive Pro Bowls that year. A year later, he led the league in touchdowns (15) and made his first of three straight All-Pro teams. His best year followed in 1975 with a league-high 73 receptions and NFC bests in rushing yards (1,070) and touchdowns (22). Another league-high 14 touchdowns came in 1976.

As a starter from 1973 to '78, Foreman posted a league-high 73 touchdowns in 81 games on a team that went 62-22-2. Pittsburgh's Franco Harris was next with 53.

"There might have been guys who were as good as me," Foreman said. "But none was better. And what separates me is no one did it the way I did it. Impacting and changing the game."

No call from the Hall

Foreman retired in 1980 after spending that last season in New England. He has never been a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist in 25 years as a modern-era player and the past 13 as a seniors candidate. Longtime senior committee selector Rick Gosselin is among those who believe Foreman's case should be heard.

"I don't think there was anybody like Chuck," he said. "In the '60s, you had to cover the receivers and occasionally the tight end. That changed in the '70s, and Chuck was the tip of the spear of receiving backs. And he was a threat. I think he has a case for the Hall of Fame for that reason."

Foreman's proponents have felt particularly shortchanged since 2010, when former Broncos running back Floyd Little was enshrined as a senior nominee. Little played 117 games over nine years, Foreman 109 over eight years. Little had 8,741 yards from scrimmage, a 3.9 rushing average and 52 touchdowns. Foreman had 9,106 yards from scrimmage, a 3.8 rushing average and 76 touchdowns. They had the same number of Pro Bowls (five). Foreman had two more All-Pro teams. And Little never reached the playoffs, playing for a team that went 47-73-6 with its best season being 7-5-2.

"I want to be honest and not sound self-promoting, but I should have been in the Hall of Fame long ago," Foreman said. "I really don't know how this whole Hall of Fame thing works. But some of us get the short end of the stick."

Unfortunately for Foreman, his numbers continue to fade against the backdrop of a more wide-open league that has longer seasons, more rules to restrict defenses and, ironically, an ongoing evolution of pass-catching backs he helped create.

"As one of the first all-purpose backs, I don't get the respect," Foreman said. "Today, if you can't do it all, you'll be out of a job."

Hates 'West Coast' title

Christian McCaffrey is, to no one's surprise, Foreman's favorite NFL player. The 49ers' all-purpose back led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,023), touchdowns (21) and rushing yards (1,459) while also catching 67 balls for the NFC's No. 1 seed.

"He's one of the best all-purpose backs I've ever seen," Foreman said.

McCaffrey is but another extension of what Burns, Grant and Foreman helped jump-start across the NFL with their forward-thinking offense 50 years ago.

"Not many people know we called our offense the 'Purple Offense,'" Foreman said. "It was the same exact offense the 49ers used a decade later and everyone called it the 'West Coast' offense. Roger Craig had the same exact role I had. So I'll say forever that the 'West Coast' offense is really the 'Purple Offense.'"

The football world might have agreed had the Vikings not gone 0-4 in Super Bowls a decade before the 49ers went 4-0.

"Had the Vikings won a Super Bowl, they'd probably have four or five more guys in the Hall of Fame," Gosselin said.

Yes, Foreman would like to be one of them. But he seems genuinely happy. He makes a lot of appearances, does some speaking, some radio and TV, some work as a substitute teacher in the Bloomington school district, and makes time to rub elbows with any Vikings fan he comes across.

"I'm having the time of my life, and it's related to my finest time, which was playing for the Vikings," Foreman said. "So I'm in a good spot in life. Fifty years later, I'm blessed again."

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