(Sept. 20, 1950 - October 22, 2020)
One of the great all-around athletes in Iowa State athletics history, Matt Blair was an All-American linebacker for the Cyclones before becoming one of the all-time greatest linebackers in the history of the National Football League.
Albert Matthew Blair was born September 20, 1950. His father, Kermit, was an Air Force veteran. Born in Hawaii, he also lived in Spain and 10 other states before graduating from high school. Blair was a star in football, basketball, track and baseball at Colonel White High School in Dayton, Ohio. He is renowned for intercepting three passes in a high school game and grabbing 33 rebounds in a prep basketball contest.
For two years, Blair played football and basketball at Northeast Oklahoma Junior College in Miami, OK. Originally, he actually was one of 170 men trying out for just 30 spots on the football team. He earned his way on the squad in football and basketball. Each sport provided Blair with one half of a full scholarship. In 1968 and 1969 he helped lead his team in a NJCAA National Championship. It was at Northeast that Blair grew 2 ½ inches and put on 40 pounds. His frame was 6’5” and 240 pounds when he chose to attend Iowa State and play for head coach Johnny Majors (1935-2020) after being recruited by both Florida and Florida State.
Blair based his decision to attend Iowa State on Majors’ honesty in the recruiting process. Majors promised Blair nothing but an opportunity to make the team. Play would be earned based on achievement in practice.
At Iowa State, Blair would make himself one of the great college linebackers of his era.
In just over two seasons, Blair made 312 tackles, 202 of them solo stops. He snared five interceptions, recovered nine fumbles and forced three. During his senior season, 1973, he earned All-America and All-Big Eight honors at rover. Blair played in three post season all-star games, Hula Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
In 1971, his first collegiate season, Blair was a prime reason Iowa State finished with an 8-4 record that included the school’s first-ever post season bowl game. He made 121 tackles (52 solos), recovered six fumbles, intercepted five passes and deflected four others.
Blair played in Iowa State’s 4-4 defense as a “monster” man, a roving linebacker. On the field he was not just a monster in name. The position posited the Cyclone on the line or in the defensive backfield if the situation demanded it.
Blair was even more impressive in the 1971 Sun Bowl game vs. LSU. Despite, Iowa State losing the game, 33-15, Blair was named the outstanding defensive player of the contest. His 16 tackles, pass interception and leadership on a memorable goal-line stand helped earn him that honor.
It came as no surprise that Blair was named a defensive captain of the 1972 team. But adversity intervened. The week before the 1972 season opener, Blair suffered a major knee injury in practice. Blair was granted an additional year of eligibility and returned for the 1973 season. His senior season was worthy of the highest honors as he made 116 tackles, including 77 solo stops. He forced and recovered three fumbles.
The knee injury dropped Blair from the top of the first-round NFL draft choice to second round, in which he was picked by the Minnesota Vikings.
Blair survived a furious battle to make the 1974 Minnesota squad. It did not take long for the rookie to make a auspicious impression as he made the NFL all-rookie team.
His first campaign was the start of something big. Not just a standout defender, he became the signature player in the league on special teams, blocking punts, field goals and extra point attempts. He once blocked three punts in an NFL game. In Super Bowl IX against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Blair blocked a punt that was recovered for a touchdown.
Blair earned Pro Bowl honors in six consecutive seasons (1977-1982). The 1980 Pro Bowl selection was all-NFC in 1978 and second team all-NFC in 1977, 1979 and 1981. He played in the 1974 and 1976 Super Bowls. During the 1976 season, he recovered five fumbles and picked off two passes. In the 1976 NFL Championship game, Blair recovered two fumbles. The former Cyclone played in 13 NFL post season matches.
In total, Blair played in 160 NFL games with 130 career starts. He ranks second in Vikings history with 1,452 tackles. As of 2013, Blair ranked second in career sacks (23) and interceptions (16) by a linebacker in franchise history. Blair’s 20 career blocked kicks, ranked him third in NFL history in 2013. In 2012 his greatness was confirmed when he became the 20th member of the prestigious Viking Ring of Honor.
Blair was inducted into the Iowa State Letterwinners Hall of Fame in 1999.
In a 2015 interview, Blair revealed that he had been showing early signs of dementia. He said that he was told by his neurologist that the symptoms were likely the result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to concussions but which could not be diagnosed officially until after death.
Blair died on October 22, 2020 at the age of 70. His cause of death was not immediately announced, but Blair had been dealing with complications from dementia in recent years.
Q & A with Cyclone Legend Matt Blair, Oct. 2013. https://cyclones.com/news/2013/10/1/209273689.aspx
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