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Football-star-turned-justice oversees MN Senate battle

By A. James Memmott

June 3, 2009 at 10:23am

A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame could have a hand in deciding the outcome of the contested U.S. Senate race in Minnesota.

Former Minnesota Viking Alan C. Page, a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, is presiding over an appeal in the dragged-out attempt to name a winner in the race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.

He and four other members of the court are hearing an appeal of an April panel ruling that declared Franken the winner by 312 votes. Two members of the court are not taking part because they served with a board that ruled Franken the winner in January.

Lawyers for both candidates made their cases before the court Monday. Coleman’s representative claimed that the panel had incorrectly ruled out 4,400 ballots. Franken’s attorney disagreed.

Page and the other justices hearing the Coleman appeal Monday seemed to be skeptical of Coleman’s case, according to media reports.

The session ended with Page saying that a legal opinion in the case would be “forthcoming.”

A ruling in Franken’s favor would not necessarily end the dispute, as Coleman could then appeal in federal courts.

Page, 63, a Democrat, was elected in 1992, becoming the first African-American to serve on the court. He has since been re-elected to two more six-year terms.

Page was an All-American at the University of Notre Dame, leading the team to a national championship in 1966.

He joined the Minnesota Vikings after graduation in 1967, starring at defensive tackle.

Midway through the 1978 season, Page went to the Chicago Bears, playing with that team through the 1981 season, his last.

Page was a consistent All-Pro, and the Associated Press named him the league’s most valuable player in 1971. In his career, he played in 236 straight games.

In 1988, Page was inducted into football’s Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, his hometown. (As a young man, Page worked on the construction of the facility.)

Page started his studies at the University of Minnesota Law School while still playing for the Vikings. He completed his degree requirements in 1978.

He then worked for five years as an associate with the Minnesota firm of Lindquist & Vennum before joining the state attorney general’s office in 1985, where he focused on workplace issues. He stayed there until his election to the court in 1992.

In 1988, Page and his wife, Diane Sims Page, founded the Page Education Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to increasing the number of students of color who go to post-secondary education.

The foundation has awarded more than 7,500 grants to more than 3,650 students.

In 1979, Page became the first active NFL player to complete a marathon. He is now a familiar figure at a spot early in the annual Twin Cities marathon, where he stands on the sidelines playing a tuba.

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