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Where Are They Now? - Darrin Nelson

An All-America running back at Stanford, what was your reaction when drafted by Minnesota in 1982?

“Well, I wasn’t thrilled. [Laughs] I was a California kid most of my life and I wasn’t real excited about going back to the Midwest. I went though, and it actually turned out to be pretty good. I got an internship at Piper Jaffray & Hopwood, a mutual fund brokerage firm, in the offseason. So during the offseason, I was working. I liked Minnesota and actually ended up living there for a long time after I was done playing.”

After leading the Vikings in rushing five of your first eight seasons, in October 1989, you were part of the all-time biggest trade in the NFL – five players, six conditional draft choices and a 1992 first round draft choice – to Dallas for running back Herschel Walker. How did you learn about it?

“(Head coach) Jerry Burns called me in and told me. I had no clue until that day. I was pretty surprised to say the least. But what can I do afterwards? If you’re playing in the National Football League, you have to accept those kinds of things. So I accepted it.

“Well, I didn’t accept it. I went to Dallas to kind of check it out because they flew us down there the next morning, but I didn’t really feel that I wanted to play in Dallas. I told them that they can either trade me or I would retire. So they traded me to San Diego.”

After two years with the Chargers, you returned to Minnesota as a free agent, played two more seasons and retired following the 1992 season. What makes you most proud of your career?

“Playing 11 years. And the fact that I was pretty versatile. I could play on first downs, third downs, return kicks and return punts. That’s one of the reasons I played so long.”

After your playing days, you spent over 13 years at Stanford as a Senior Associate Athletic Director. What led you to move down the coast in 2011 and take a similar position at the University of California, Irvine?

“To be closer to my parents. I wasn’t close to them as far as being able to see people often enough since I was 17, when I went off to college. My parents were getting older and I just wanted to see them more. I spent a long time at Stanford; it felt like it was time for a change.”

How would you describe your job and what do you enjoy about it?

“I’m a sports administrator, so I work with various sports here. I help them with their budget, with player discipline, with travel. And I work in development, in community relations and with the university advancement.

“I enjoy working with the kids. I enjoy especially working with the coaches. I just like the whole college atmosphere, being on campus. It’s a lot of fun. It’s exciting. There’s always some kind of an event or game going on.”

You mentioned the college atmosphere; however, one thing missing is that UC – Irvine doesn’t have a football team. How have your Saturday afternoons changed?

“It just depends on what time of the year it is. Our women’s volleyball team is still playing. I could be watching them on a Saturday afternoon. I could be watching men’s volleyball. I could be watching one of our basketball teams. But for the most part when I’m home, I get to tune in and watch Stanford.”

You will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame later this month. What does that mean to you?

“It’s the same thing (as while playing in the NFL), I was just really a versatile person. I had 1,000-yard rush seasons and 50-pass catch seasons and the total yards that go along with that. It was a lot of fun. I got coached by Bill Walsh, his first head coaching job ever anywhere. How lucky could I be to be a freshman the same time that he’s coming in?”

On top of that, while with the Vikings, you played for another coaching legend in Bud Grant.

“Coach Grant was kind of a different dude. Everybody thinks he was all serious because that’s all they saw on television. He was actually really funny. He’s a big practical joke guy.

“He would do things like if you were standing around at practice, and we practiced kind of out in a rural area so there’d be snakes running by on occasion, if you didn’t have your helmet on, he’d put a snake in your helmet. And then you’d put your helmet on and the snake would come slithering down your uniform, which he thought was hysterical. He was a really good coach to play for. I liked playing for him.”

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