TVA Exclusive: Interview with former Vikings tackle Todd Steussie – Part I

Sep 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; General view of the Minnesota Vikings logo at midfield during a NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; General view of the Minnesota Vikings logo at midfield during a NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Todd Steussie recently took some time to sit and talk with us at The Viking Age about his experiences with the team.

Back in 1994, the Minnesota Vikings used their first-round pick in that year’s draft on California offensive tackle Todd Steussie. He went on to play for the Vikings from 1994 to 2000 and he was a key part of their success during that time period.

Currently, Steussie is the executive vice president for PontentiaMetrics, an analytics firm with a primary focus on healthcare. He has been working on a new product initiative to help NFL teams utilize the predictive qualities of player tracking data.

The Viking Age was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with the former Minnesota lineman and in the first part of this two part interview, Steussie talks about everything from watching the 1998 NFC Championship, the legacy of former Vikings head coach Dennis Green, and former Minnesota running back Robert Smith retiring early.

The Viking Age: Were the 1998 Vikings the best team that you were a part of during your career?

Todd Steussie: Yeah, that’s no question. We were (known as) ‘a juggernaut’ . On paper, I’ve been a part of a bunch of good teams. But as you know, you’ve still got to play the games and unfortunately we ended up a little short on that side against Atlanta.

It’s still the most bitter pill for me to swallow in my career. (With) the Falcons, we would probably beat them nine out of ten times, but that’s why the NFL (playoffs) isn’t a series. It’s one game and you’ve got to be better than the other team in that one game and the Falcons were.

But they were also 14-2. By no means, a slouch team.They had players that could bring it. But it was a difficult game and it continues to be a difficult game to reconcile.

TVA: Have you ever gone back and watched the 1998 NFC Championship game?

TS: I watched it right afterwards. It was the next morning, I came in early. I could never sleep after a game very well until I got the game out of my head by watching it and being able to process what happened. Reconcile what I thought happened versus what did happen. It helps kind of settle things for me at least.

But maybe like two years ago I watched that show “Missing Rings”. Then I came across one of those NFL classic games on NFL Network and it was the last half of that game.

It’s kind of interesting this far removed now. It’s not that I’ve forgot about certain events, obviously I remembered how it ended. But the ebbs and flows of the game, you forget some of that detail.

Anyways I watched that as my wife walked in said, “what the heck? Why are you watching that?” (But) how can you not? I wasn’t necessarily planning on watching it. But probably if I saw it was on tomorrow I would watch it again.

TVA: What made the Vikings such a good team during that 1998 season?

TS: I think it was a bunch of things. It was almost building for a few years. It was a rare environment (compared to) today’s football because that team was essentially the same 35 guys for about five years.

There was always the ebb and flow of the 15 guys at the top of the roster, but for the most part things were pretty consistent. Guys that you don’t necessarily think about on a given day, the Orlando Thomases, Eddie McDaniel, the Chris Walshes. We had a tremendous chemistry as a team.

It was the same offensive system with Brian Billick over and over again refined, honed, improved. From an offensive line standpoint, we got past the previous couple of years where we had a decent amount of churn.

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings /

Minnesota Vikings

Going back to 95, we were rotating Dave Dixon and John Gerak. It was the only time I’ve ever seen, maybe the only time I’ll ever see, where John Gerak was the third down guard. He would run in and pass protect for one play and then he would run back off the field and Dave Dixon would come back in. (It was) bizarre.

TVA: You were a part of two Vikings teams that made it all the way to the NFC Championship, 1998 and 2000. Unfortunately you guys lost both of those games, but was either one of those losses an easier pill to swallow than the other?

TS: Oh yeah. The New York Giants game was over before it began. It’s frustrating, but it wasn’t discouraging in the same way. It wasn’t demoralizing, it wasn’t as emotional.

We were down 21-0 (in 2000) before we even knew what happened, it was so quick. At that point as an offensive lineman, you kind of bat down the hatches a little bit. You know all we’re going to be doing is throwing the ball.

Thank goodness I had an easy matchup (against Cedric Jones). But I felt so bad for (Vikings right tackle) Korey Stringer on the other side of the line because he had Mike Strahan. Mike knows it’s a pass, every single play. We’re not running the ball, this isn’t a draw. It was just a bloodbath.

TVA: Your head coach during your entire time with the Vikings was Dennis Green and sadly he passed away last year. Is there one thing that sticks out to you the most whenever you think about coach Green?

TS: It’s hard to really narrow it down to one thing in particular. The thing that really stands out compared to other coaches that I’ve played for was how much he treated and respected you as a man and an individual. He wasn’t so imposing in terms of rules and restrictions and everything had to be done his way. He gave everybody some latitude to do things the way they thought they needed to be done.

He had a saying, “I’ve never fined one guy, I’ve cut a bunch of them, but I’ve never fined a guy.” It kind of speaks to that. It’s like, “you know what, I’m not going to wind up telling you everything you have to do. But in the end, if it’s a problem, you just won’t be here.”

A lot of coaches don’t empower players to make their best decisions and stuff. (But) it didn’t always work out. Guys weren’t angels on the team and that’s no different than any other (team). But in general, the vast majority of guys are good guys. They’re guys that are going home to their families every night.

Denny thought, “you know what, if you guys show that you can handle it, I’m willing to give you guys a little bit of flexibility and the ability to make your own decisions.”

TVA: Coming off a 2000 season in which he led the NFC in rushing, Vikings running back Robert Smith made the surprising decision to retire from the NFL after just eight seasons in the league. Do you remember what your reaction was back when you found about him retiring?

TS: I knew that he was thinking of that for awhile. He used to see guys like (former Vikings running back) Bill Brown be all beat up and I just think he never wanted to (be like) that. He always had bigger plans.

He always kind of had one eye on what would be his next life and I think that he wanted to be able to not be basically crippled. I respect him for that decision. It’s pretty hard (after leading) the NFC in rushing that year to say, “I’m done.”

Next: Will Adrian Peterson outrush the Vikings in 2017?

I thought it would even get more attention than I really felt that it did at that time. It was probably a big deal in Minnesota, but it didn’t seem to have the national spotlight the way you think it would.