In the summer of 2004, the Minnesota Vikings were about to embark on a unique season. From Daunte Culpepper‘s MVP campaign to Randy Moss‘ moon at Lambeau Field, there were plenty of crazy moments. But there is one chapter that is often told yet never dated.
Wearing the No. 69 jersey, Brock Lesnar strolled onto the field to live out his childhood dream. He was coming off one of the most impressive two-year stints in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment, but the Webster, S.D. native was looking to play in the NFL. Despite not playing football since high school, Lesnar had plenty of offers to try out but ultimately stayed in Minnesota.
That decision greatly impacted Vikings’ folklore, even as Lesnar failed to make the team. For fans, it wasn’t about whether Lesnar became an NFL superstar but why he was on that field in the first place.
To understand, you have to know where Lesnar came from. After winning an NCAA Heavyweight Championship at the University of Minnesota, Lesnar signed with WWE and quickly made his way through Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). After capturing the promotion’s championship, he made his debut on the main roster in April 2002 and quickly cemented himself as one of the biggest names in the business.
Two months after his debut, Lesnar won the King of the Ring tournament, reserved for some of the brightest stars in wrestling. Lesnar then defeated The Rock at SummerSlam to become the youngest WWE Champion in history.
Lesnar went on to have memorable feuds with the likes of Kurt Angle and The Undertaker. He won the Royal Rumble match, which allowed him to main event WrestleMania XIX. After winning the championship at that show, Lesnar superplexed the 500-lb. Big Show, causing the ring to implode on national television.
He became a three-time WWE Champion and dropped the title to Eddie Guerrero in one of the most famous matches in WWE history. Just 23 months into his career, Lesnar was becoming a legend — and he hated it.
Although professional wrestling gets a reputation for being fake, the physical toll it takes on its performers is real. The bumps on the mat add up, as does a schedule that has wrestlers performing nearly 300 times a year. With stops all over the world, Lesnar got burned out and set his eyes on the NFL.
That meant walking away from a 7-year, $45 million contract — massive in the days before the WWE Network and quarterly stadium shows. But Lesnar was committed and left the company after WrestleMania XX.
Lesnar’s first chance to make an impression was at the NFL Scouting Combine. With a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, 35” vertical jump, and 30 reps on the bench press, Lesnar was a project that had defensive line coaches drooling. But then came the first obstacle of his career.
Shortly before the draft, Lesnar was involved in a motorcycle accident. The crash left him with a broken jaw, a broken left hand, a bruised pelvis, and a severely pulled groin. But he no-sold the injuries and was recovered in time for training camp.
Like most undrafted rookies, Lesnar’s career started as a special teams experiment. The wedge was a popular kickoff tactic where the receiving team’s blockers would link arms and form a wall for the returner. To counter, the kicking team would send the biggest player they had in the middle to try and break up the wedge.
The wedge had varying effects when using a defensive tackle from Saginaw State. When using a three-time WWE champion, it had a very different outcome.
Lesnar plowed through the line and, despite looking dizzy, had done his job. He got into several preseason games with the Vikings, but none of those had the impact he had during a scrimmage with the Kansas City Chiefs.
According to Nate Burleson, Lesnar became enraged after a Chiefs player shoved Daunte Culpepper in the back. After Culpepper informed Lesnar who did it, he went over to the offender and delivered a German Suplex that sparked a full-blown brawl.
“[It was a] different type of nasty, but he picked up a grown man, and after the play, it was Royal Rumble,” Burleson said in a segment for CBS Sports. “Minnesota and Kansas City in Mankato during training camp. That was a nasty suplex on the football field.”
Ultimately, Lesnar didn’t make the team. The Vikings offered Lesnar a chance to play in NFL Europe, but he declined, and the decision turned out well.
Lesnar went to New Japan Pro Wrestling and captured the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. After dropping the belt, he went to UFC, where he won the World Heavyweight Championship before a bout with diverticulitis threatened his life. Lesnar ultimately returned to WWE in 2012 and became a 10-time world champion. Still, it’s interesting to think what would have happened if he made the 2004 Vikings.
Lesnar was never going to be John Randle, but he could have at least played a role. Kevin Williams was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career with 11.5 sacks, but Chris Hovan was playing out a disappointing tenure as a first-round pick. With all the other activities going on, adding Lesnar to the mix would have made that team absolutely insane.
As fun as it would be to have seen Brett Favre get sent to Suplex City, it remains a pipe dream (and one hell of a story) for Vikings fans.