Flashback Friday: Jim Kleinsasser

Dec 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; The line of scrimmage between the Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Rams is seen during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Kleinsasser, or “The Sauce,” is one of those former players that define what it means to be a Viking. He was one of the most physical tight ends to play the game and helped redefine the position. He was a versatile TE and is remembered for his gritty toughness. He came across as an everyman, the hometown boy made good that could always be depended upon to show up with his thick beard and coveralls. 

Early Years

Kleinsasser grew up in North Dakota dreaming of playing for his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings. He was a standout athlete in high school playing football, baseball, and track and field. While playing football he was a two-time All-Region honoree and All-State honoree and was twice the Gatorade Circle of Champions North Dakota Player of the Year. 

College Ball

Kleinsasser went on to play football at the University of North Dakota. He was a four-time first-team all NCC pick and in 1998 he was the only Division II (UND was a D2 school then) player selected as a Gannett News All American. That same year he had 45 receptions for 710 yards and 86 rushing yards. 

Vikings Times

Jim Kleinsasser was drafted in the second round by the Vikings in 1999 as a tight end. During his 13 year career with the Vikings, he had 192 receptions for 1688 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was known for his reliability and played in all 16 games most seasons. He did have a significant knee injury that affected him in 2004 and cost him 15 games. By the time his final season rolled around he was the longest-tenured Viking on the team. In 2008, he had the highest run-blocking score not just for the Vikings but for all TEs in the NFL. PFF noted that Kleinsasser was in pass protection on 113 snaps in 2010 and only allowed 2 QB pressures all season. Even during his statistically worse season, 2010, he was still the best pass blocker on the team. Surprisingly enough that consistency did not earn him the nationwide attention he deserved. 

Paving the Way

Kleinsasser was a man ahead of his time. He helped to pave the way for the evolution of the tight end position from what it was to what it is now. He was something of a conundrum for coaches and his stats do not even remotely express how valuable he was to the team. If you ask most people what they remember about his playing days it is the incredible blocks he threw. Without him, Adrian Peterson would not have set the rushing records he did. At that time, Kleinsasser helped pave the way for 6 of the 7 Vikings single-season rushing performances. In 2007 and 2008 he was given USA Today All American Joe Team award which honors hard workers who are under-recognized.

He was always lined up against some of the toughest defenders in the league. Whenever the Vikings played Chicago, “Sauce” would be lined up across from LB Brian Urlacher. No matter where they moved him – TE, slot, motion man – he would find Urlacher and crush him. If you got the ball in his hands he was almost always good for 8 yards, running north-south and barreling through anyone who got in his way. 

Heart of A Viking

Jim Kleinsasser never made a Pro Bowl but every week he showed up and did the dirty work and did not complain. In the movie “50 First Dates” Sean Astin’s character has to queue up a tape of a Vikings game every day and it always plays at the part where Kleinsasser is running the ball in for a touchdown. That reference is the perfect way to honor his legacy.

He was the player who showed up every day and could always be depended upon.