MIAMI – Matt Blair, who helped Northeastern A&M win a national championship in 1969, died Thursday, Oct. 22. He was 70.
Blair was inducted into the NEO Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.
“I doubt NEO has ever had a player who succeeded in football as Matt,” said former Norse coach Chuck Bowman. “Matt will go down as one of NEO's great players, but to be honest, that greatness came later. I do believe his experience at NEO helped him understand what it takes to be a champion.”
A walk-on, he was a member of the first Golden Norse team to go unbeaten. The season was capped by a 20-6 win over Arizona Western in the NJCAA championship game in Savannah, Georgia.
“Matt Blair's story is rare. Most guys who do what he did were proven football players much earlier. It took four years after high school for Matt to make a commitment to football with the talent to match,” Bowman said.
He was inducted into the Iowa State Hall of Fame in 1999, the NJCAA Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2012.
“You throw the term legends around quite a bit and Matt Blair was a true legend of NEO,” said former Golden Norse head coach and athletic director Dale Patterson, who himself is a member of the NEO and NJCAA coaches association halls. “I remembered hearing that before I even came here, the type player he was and the type person. He was a great player, a great person and up until the last couple years when he health started failing, every time we would need some help financially, he always chipped in.
“His career here was just outstanding and he came back to Miami to have a business here for several years.”
Blair showed how talented he was, playing basketball for the late Cletus Green at NEO.
“We lost one game that season (1970) and Matt started every game. He was still not showing the player he became and to this day I feel he was thinking basketball and not football,” Bowman said.
“Matt was one of the most conscientious football players that NEO has ever had,” said longtime Northeastern A&M sports information director. “Not only did he train hard and work hard in practices and games, he really cared about all of his teammates.”
Blair went on to play at Iowa State for another legend, coach Johnny Majors.
While at ISU, the Cyclones made their first-ever bowl game appearance earning a trip to the 1971 Sun Bowl. He was named the game's outstanding defensive player despite an ISU loss.
He suffered a season-ending injury in the opening game of the 1972 campaign, but was awarded an extra year of eligibility in 1973.
Blair bounced back and earned All-America and All-Big Eight honors in 1973, registering 77 tackles, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
After his Cyclone career ended, he played in the Hula Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
He was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round (51st overall pick) of the 1974 NFL Draft.
Blair made six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1977 to 1982 and was named to the All-NFL First-Team in 1980 during a 12-year career.
He played in Super Bowl IX as a rookie against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl XI against the Oakland Raiders.
Blair started in 130 of the 160 regular-season games he played, logging 1,452 tackles, which is still the second-most in team history. He intercepted 16 passes.
Blair also is tied for third in NFL history in blocked kicks (20).
"Matt Blair was a great presence at Vikings events and a tremendous teammate long after playing. He embodied the best of what it means to be a Viking," Vikings Owner Mark Wilf said in a release. "Matt is a Ring of Honor player whose legacy will live on forever with the franchise and in the community he loved."