Matt Blair, former Minnesota Vikings linebacker who is a member of the team's Ring of Honor, died on Thursday, the team announced. He was 70 years old. Blair spent his entire career with the Vikings and reached the Pro Bowl six times.
"Matt Blair was a great presence at Vikings events and a tremendous teammate long after playing. He embodied the best of what it means to be a Viking," Vikings owner Mark Wilf said in a statement. "Matt is a Ring of Honor player whose legacy will live on forever with the franchise and in the community he loved."
The Vikings drafted Blair in the second round of the 1974 draft. He spent 12 seasons in the NFL started 130 of the 160 regular-season games he played. Blair tallied 1,452 career tackles, the second-most in team history. Blair became a starter in 1976 and went on to reach the Pro Bowl each season from 1977-1982. He also earned a First-Team All-Pro selection from the Associated Press in 1980. The Iowa State alum holds the team record for most blocked kicks (20) and has more sacks (23) and interceptions (16) than another linebacker in Vikings history.
"Aside from being a tremendous athlete and player, Matt was a better man," former Vikings linebacker Studwell said. "He was smart, worked at his craft and gave everything for the team. He was a great teammate and fun to be around. He took his work very seriously but had a great life away from football. I'm sad to see him go."
Blair played under head coach Bud Grant who led the team to four Super Bowl appearances. Blair played in two Super Bowls, and Grant talked about his former player to the Des Moines Register. If he wouldn’t have been hurt in college, no question, he would have been one of the top three players selected in the draft," Grant said, who was the coach until the end of the 1985 season. "But Matt hurt his knee in college and I don’t think he ever fully recovered. He had it surgically repaired, but it never had the same flexibility."
The cause of Blair's death hasn't been revealed, but Blair has been battling dementia for the last few years. "He'd been suffering for a while, so I guess maybe it's a blessing in disguise," Studwell said to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune as reported by ESPN. "But it's still too young. It's a sad day."