MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) – The Minnesota Vikings announced Thursday that Tommy Mason, their first draft choice in 1961, had died at the age of 75.
Mason was the first player ever drafted by the Vikings, taken first overall in the 1961 NFL Draft out of Tulane. He spent five seasons as a running back with the Vikings from 1961-66. He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and was the first player to be chosen All-Pro in 1963.
Mason also played with the L.A. Rams and Washington Redskins before finishing his 11-year career in 1971.
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.
"We just adored him, and he adored my sister," MacNeil said.
Mason is eighth on the Vikings' 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," Hall of Fame Quarterback Fran Tarkenton said.
"The entire Minnesota Vikings organization is saddened by the loss of Tommy Mason. As the team's first-ever draft pick, Tommy played a significant role in the history of the franchise," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said. "After spending six seasons with the team, he remained a part of the Vikings family, appearing at multiple events over the past several decades. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mason family at this time."
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.
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.
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