The Minnesota Vikings had one of the most terrifying pass rushes in the NFL during the late 1980’s. Defensive end Keith Millard, was the driving force behind a pass rush which recorded an incredible 71 sacks in 1989. The product from Foothill High School in Pleasanton, California was as dominant as any defensive player in the NFL to end the decade. This is his story.
Keith Millard was born on March 18, 1962 in Pleasanton, California. After starring as a linebacker and tight end at Foothill High School, Millard accepted a scholarship to Washington State University. After making an attempt at tight end, Millard switched to defensive tackle for his sophomore year. He proved to be a quick study and was named first-team All Pac-10 and was awarded the Morris Trophy for the Pac-10’s top defensive tackle as a senior.
After getting drafted in the first round in 1984 by the Minnesota Vikings, Millard elected to give the USFL a try and played for the Jacksonville Bulls in 1985. When the league folded, he returned to Minnesota. He was stellar his first two years in the NFL, recording 11 and 10.5 sacks respectively. However, despite his impressive numbers he was overlooked for a Pro Bowl invitation.
The 1987 season was a down year for Millard. Though he only recorded 3.5 sacks, the Vikings pass rush became more dangerous. It was a rough year for Minnesota, just barely getting into the playoffs, but their pass rush showed up against the heavily favored 49ers in the first round and they lost by a touchdown to the eventual Super Bowl champions Washington.
He was invited to his first Pro Bowl and was named First-team All-Pro the following year after recording eight sacks. The Vikings had fewer sacks that year but a tremendous year was right around the corner.
Millard went on a tear in 1989, recording 18 sacks, which was a record for a defensive tackle until it was broken by the Ram’s Aaron Donald in 2018 when he recorded 20.5 sacks. The Vikings recorded 71 sacks that year, one shy of the NFL record which was set by the Chicago Bears in 1984. Millard was invited to his second straight Pro Bowl, named First-team All-Pro and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Vikings won the NFC Central that year and earned a first round bye in the playoffs. Their dominant pass rush was no match for the 49ers who demolished Minnesota 41-13.
The Twilight of a Career
Keith Millard’s body began to fail him considerably in 1990 and he would suffer from a number of ailments the rest of his career. He would only play in eight games between 1990 to 1992. After signing with the Eagles in 1993, he played in 14 games and recorded four sacks. He called it a career after the season.