Running back Tommy Mason, the first draft pick in Minnesota Vikings history, has died. He was 75.
Mason’s sister-in-law, Suzanne MacNeil, told The Associated Press that Mason died peacefully Thursday at his home in Newport Beach, California, with his wife, Karen, by his side.
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”We just adored him, and he adored my sister,” MacNeil said.
No cause of death was given, but Mason sustained multiple concussions during his playing career, MacNeil said, and was part of the ”88 Plan.” That’s the program created in the honor of former NFL player John Mackey, who wore No. 88 for the Baltimore Colts and died in 2011 after a long fight with dementia. The ”88 Plan,” part of the NFL labor agreement in 2006, was devised to provide up to $88,000 annually for care for former players with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The Vikings took Mason out of Tulane with the first overall selection in 1961. The native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, played six of his 11 NFL seasons with the Vikings and became their first All-Pro player in 1963. He also was picked for three Pro Bowls.
Mason is eighth on the team’s all-time rushing list with 3,252 yards and ninth with 39 touchdowns. He also was a kickoff and punt returner.
”Tommy was an enormous talent. He was a great player, a humble man and an outstanding teammate. I will always cherish the years I spent with Tommy,” former quarterback Fran Tarkenton said in a statement distributed by the Vikings.
Mason went on to play four years with the Los Angeles Rams and his final season with the Washington Redskins. He finished his NFL career with 4,203 yards rushing and 2,324 yards receiving with 45 total touchdowns. He earned a law degree after his career was over.