Former Fan Favorite Viking Hangs Up His Cleats

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Hercules Mata'afa (51) celebrates recovering a fumble by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) in the third quarter during their football game Sunday, September 15, 2019, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Apc Packvsvikings 0915191494djp

Every year, players go undrafted in the NFL Draft.

More often than not, those players never claim much of a role on NFL rosters, but occasionally, players capture the hearts and minds of fans across the league. For Minnesota, one of the more recent example of these fan favorite Vikings is Hercules Mata’afa.

Mata’afa went undrafted in 2018 before signing with the Vikings later that spring, and now, he is officially calling it quits on his football career.

Former Fan Favorite Viking Retires

Fan Favorite Viking
Aug 29, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyree Jackson (6) runs between Minnesota Vikings linebacker Devante Downs (57) and defensive end Hercules Mata’afa (51) in the third quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Mata’afa used Instagram this week to announce his retirement. “Dear Football, Thank you for everything you have given me. I’m writing to you to tell you I can no longer give you everything I once was willing to give. My mind and body no longer have the strength to handle the preparation it takes to give you my everything. With that being said, I am officially retiring from football,” Mata’afa wrote.

The pass rusher spent three NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings from 2018-2020. Unfortunately, Mata’afa lost his rookie season because of an injury, but he got on the field for six games during 2019. He played an even 100 snaps with the defense and put together a singular tackle for loss, which came in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers.

In 2020, Mata’afa saw an increased role because of the injury to Danielle Hunter, which cost him his entire season. Mata’afa played in 13 games during that season and made one start, recording 24 tackles, three tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. The Vikings won each of the four games in which he recorded at least half a sack.

Dec 6, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa (51) sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mike Glennon (2) during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, that 2020 season would prove to be the final time that Mata’afa suited up in an NFL uniform. He spent time on the practice squads of both the Washington Commanders and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021, but he was not activated for any of their games.

Mata’afa then went on to play at the USFL level during the 2022 season, joining the New Jersey Generals. After serving largely in a reserve role that year, he played 10 games (starting six of them) in 2023. He put together 24 tackles and six sacks.

When the USFL merged with the XFL this year, Mata’afa was selected by the Birmingham Stallions in the UFL dispersal draft, but he was released by the team in March.

Nov 16, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears running back Artavis Pierce (46) rushes the ball against Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa (51) during the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

That appears to be the final chapter of Mata’afa’s football career, and at the age of 28, he is officially hanging up his cleats.

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Pro Football Reference.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.