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Page goes from first round to courtroom

Matthew DeFranks | Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Alan Page was a fourth grader when he figured out the power of the law.

“The Canton Repository” ran a story about the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregated schools unconstitutional. Page was simply a newspaper-reader that day, but the court’s decision piqued his interest in the law.

“As an African-American male, clearly that had an impact on my life directly,” Page said in a phone interview with The Observer. “Seeing the power that the law had was something that I found interesting.”

But that was not all that led Page to the courtroom.

“That, coupled with the fact that I had watched too much ‘Perry Mason’ as a kid,” he said.

Page, 68, is now a Minnesota Supreme Court justice. He was first elected in 1992 and is currently serving his final term on the bench.

Before he was a Supreme Court justice, though, Page was a consensus All-American defensive lineman, a national champion and a first-round draft pick at Notre Dame in the mid-60s. He also owns two honorary degrees from the University and was the commencement speaker in 2004.

As a member of the Minnesota Vikings, Page became the first defensive lineman to win the MVP award. He was named defensive player of the year twice and earned nine Pro Bowl appearances. He played in four Super Bowls and was inducted in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

He also went to law school at the University of Minnesota during his football career, which saw him play in 238 consecutive games. Page said going to school provided him with a unique test.

“It was challenging in terms of scheduling classes I needed at the times I could take them,” he said. “Otherwise, I don’t think it was that much different than anybody else who works and goes to law school or grad school or medical school or whatever else it might be.

“Law school by itself is hard enough and whatever comes along with it doesn’t make it any worse.”

During his career, which spanned 15 years, Page was also involved in National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA) as a players’ representative. Page said his time with the NFLPA helped him experience first-hand what a lawyer’s life was like.

“That was certainly a way for me to see a practical side of what lawyers did,” he said. “When I was a players’ representative, the association was involved in a number of lawsuits and so I got the opportunity to see lawyers in action and hear how they think, see what they did. I got, in some respects, a practical view of what the law is all about.”

While some of the lawsuits involving the NFLPA during Page’s time focused on antitrust laws, today’s NFL is focused on dealing with a suit from former players about head injuries.

Page said he could not comment on the current concussion suit against the NFL, but said it was “hard to say” if today’s game is safer than it was before.

“It is a dangerous and violent game, if you will,” Page said. “People get hurt. People have gotten hurt from the inception of the game. Whether it’s more or less now, I can’t really tell.”

Despite being enshrined in two football Hall of Fames and playing the game for nearly 20 consecutive years, Page said he does not pay much attention to the sport now.

“Watching it is not playing,” he said. “My interest was in playing it and not watching it. That hasn’t changed from the beginning.

“I follow scores and that sort of thing. I don’t watch a lot of football.”

When he was with the Vikings and their “Purple People Eaters” defense, Page became the first active NFL player to complete a marathon. But in the process of training for the race, Page’s weight dropped from 250 down to 225 pounds and Minnesota released the Notre Dame graduate. Chicago picked up Page and he spent the final three-plus seasons with the Bears before retiring in 1981.

Page said he still exercises every day and estimates he has run between eight and 10 marathons in his life.

But could Page and his smaller size survive in today’s NFL with bigger players?

“When I was playing, I played against players who were 290, 310 pounds and managed to hold my own,” he said. “Whether that’s possible today with everyone being as big as they are, I don’t know. Fortunately, I don’t have to find out.”

Page lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Diane.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu