Matt Birk entered the 1998 NFL draft after four years at Harvard and was thought to be one of the best prospects to emerge from the Ivy League in years. But when the Minnesota Vikings drafted him in the sixth round, no one figured he'd become the kind of hometown success story he turned out to be.
The St. Paul, Minnesota, native -- who attended the same high school as Arizona Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd, Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor and Twins first baseman Joe Mauer -- became a Pro Bowler by his third season in the league and wound up going to six Pro Bowls in his 10-season run with the Vikings, before signing with the Baltimore Ravens and winning a Super Bowl at age 36. His six Pro Bowls tied him with Hall of Famer Mick Tingelhoff for the most in history by a Vikings center.
Birk's candor and community involvement also made him a popular figure in Minnesota, where he won the Vikings' Community Man of the Year award six years in a row. Birk, who now works for the NFL as its director of football development, lost 75 pounds after the end of his playing career and entered a modeling contest following retirement.
Few players in Vikings history were more compelling than Birk, and his St. Paul-to-Harvard-to-the-Vikings story gives him unique status in a state that adores its native sons.
Brad Johnson, QB, Florida State: Drafted in the ninth round by the Vikings in 1992, he started 23 games in five seasons of active duty for the team before rejoining the Vikings as their starter in 2005 and 2006. Johnson reached the Pro Bowl in Washington and Tampa Bay, leading the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in 2002.
Scott Studwell, LB, Illinois: The Vikings' longtime director of scouting learned firsthand about finding players other teams might miss; he was a ninth-round pick in 1977 who went on to play 14 seasons for the Vikings and make two Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor in 2009.