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Korby's Connections: Purple People Eaters drew a crowd in Cloquet


January 31, 2020

Imagine Cloquet Middle School Principal Tom Brenner greeting Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, Dalvin Cook, and other Vikings players as they file off a big purple bus at the gymnasium parking lot with: “Welcome to Cloquet, you can change in the varsity locker room. We have a full house tonight.”

That is almost exactly what happened 49 years ago when star players from the Minnesota Vikings visited Cloquet to try their luck playing basketball against a group of Cloquet teachers.

It wasn’t your usual money making event.

Just think, star players from the Vikings, who had just won the National Football League’s Central Division title with a 12-2 record, were barnstorming across northern Minnesota participating in charity basketball games. The Purple People Eaters had played in the Super Bowl the year before. Coach Bud Grant must have approved, but — with the chance of injury and other factors — it seems hard to fathom today. Back then, making a few bucks in the off season was important for professional athletes.

Cloquet basketball player Pete Rimstad, a senior in 1971, announced the game from the score table at the old high school. Rimstad said it was a big thrill seeing the Vikings.

“These were our heroes, the Vikes were in the Super Bowl the year before,” he said. “I had my picture taken with All-Pro defensive back Karl Kassulke.”

Vikings players shooting hoops in the gym included Carl Eller, Charlie West, Mick Tinglehoff, Ed White, Bill Brown, Alan Page and Kassulke, and others. Local participants included teachers Bob Stevens, Dave Burgett, and Jim Zak. Teacher and former assistant basketball coach Bob Gerlach was the referee. There was a lot of laughing and cheering, and I’m not sure who won or if it mattered. All attendees seemed to have fun, as I recollect.

Sponsored by the Cloquet High School Letterman’s Club, then-club president Dave Johanson said in a recent interview that he was not sure who the benefactor was “but I remember the gym was packed and the gate receipts were excellent.”

“We had Bud Grant as the keynote speaker at our club banquet the year before,” Johanson said. “He’d only been coaching the team five years or so by then. Another thrill for us in Cloquet, as was the basketball game. The Vikings were like royalty.”

There is one final chapter to the story.

Several years ago I was flying first-class from Phoenix to Minneapolis. Sitting across the aisle from me was former Viking Carl Eller. He was wearing an NFL Hall of Fame polo shirt. I reached out my hand to him and said “Carl, I’d like to shake your hand again.”

He hesitated for a second but then said “OK, but you said again, when have we shook hands before?” I told him it was about 40 years ago in Cloquet, at a basketball fundraiser.

Carl laughed and said “Did that once or twice … and then never again.”

Steve Korby’s interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. Steve loves sports, especially golf. He welcomes human interest story ideas and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans.


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