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Original Viking Rip Hawkins dies after battle with dementia

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The second person drafted in Minnesota Vikings history has died.

The Vikings announced Thursday afternoon that Ross Cooper "Rip" Hawkins passed away at the age of 76.

Hawkins became the second player the Vikings had ever selected when they drafted him with the 15th overall pick in 1961. He spent five seasons with the the Vikings. Hawkins was selected 14 picks after Tommy Mason, the first player the team drafted, who also passed away earlier this year.

The Vikings say Hawkins made an early impact and immediately was tabbed as the captain of the defense, becoming the starting middle linebacker during his rookie season.

Hawkins was a native of Tennessee and played collegiately at North Carolina. He was known as being tough on opposing receivers and quarterbacks, intercepting five passes as a rookie. Hawkins was also named to the Pro Bowl in 1963.

"He was a strong leader, good character, but he had a mean streak in him," Vikings team historian Fred Zamberletti said in a statement issued by the team. "He was a middle linebacker and if you came across the middle, you better have your head on a swivel. If you didn't, he would clothesline you. He loved those receivers coming across the middle."

Following his playing days, Hawkins was an assistant district attorney in Atlanta, owned metallurgic business in Minneapolis, and moved to Denver where he worked for an oil company and met his wife Mary Hawkins.

The team says the couple was married for almost 30 years. Mary said her husband "was the world's biggest Teddy bear off the field, but a rhino on it."

The couple moved to Devil's Tower, Wyoming, where they ran a 700-acre ranch. But the once imposing linebacker was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia – the second most common type of progressive dementia.

Mary Hawkins said her husband has agreed to donate his brain to the Sports Legacy Institute and Boston University to help look for a cure to the disease.

A celebration of his life is planned for Saturday at Wyoming's Curt Gowdy State Park.

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