The November Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month spent ten seasons in the NFL as a starting defensive back before an automobile accident prematurely ended his career and left him paralyzed for the remainder of his life.
Drafted out of Drake University in the 11th round of the 1963 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, Karl Kassulke didn’t make it with the Lions, but soon became the starting strong safety for the Minnesota Vikings.
The rookie started 12 games as the Vikings went 5-8-1 during the 1963 campaign. The following season he registered three interceptions while starting all 14 games.
An expansion franchise that didn’t start playing until 1960, the Vikings struggled without a winning season until second-year coach Bud Grant led the squad to an 8-6 record in 1968 and their first playoff appearance. It was prior to that season that Minnesota acquired veteran free safety Paul Krause from the Washington Redskins and teamed him in the lineup with Kassulke.
Combining with the “Purple People Eaters” front four, the secondary, which also included cornerbacks Ed Sharockman and Earsell Mackabee, ranked third in the NFL in passing defense in 1968.
In 1969 the Vikings had the number one defense against the pass, number two against the run and allowed the fewest points in the NFL (9.5 per game) while posting a 12-2 and winning the NFL Championship.
Kassulke had two interceptions during the Super Bowl season. The next year he earned a spot in the Pro Bowl while matching his career-high with three interceptions.
He had two picks each during the 1971 and 1972 seasons. In 1972 injuries limited him to just eight games as the Vikings limped to a 7-7 season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1967.
On his way to training camp in Mankato, Minnesota prior to the 1973 season, Kassulke suffered a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The Vikings went on to post a 12-2 record and make the first of three Super Bowl appearances over the next four seasons.
During his 10 year NFL career, Kassulke intercepted 19 passes for 187 yards. He also recovered nine fumbles.
After his accident, Kassulke worked with Wings Outreach, a Christian Ministry for the disabled and was still a popular figure in the Minnesota community. He passed away on October 26, 2008 at the age of 67.