This Blazer is a trail blazer when it comes to NFL contracts

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January 31, 2017

By Mike Killeen

The first time Anne Doepner played fantasy football, she was the only woman in her league of 12 men.

“Now, there’s lots of women playing fantasy football. But back then, it was newer, more of a novelty,” Doepner said of drafting players and building a team.

Now, she’s doing that for real. Doepner, a 2001 graduate of the College of Saint Benedict, is the director of football administration for the Minnesota Vikings.

She works with Executive Vice President for Football Operations Rob Brzezinski, General Manager Rick Spielman, Assistant General Manager George Paton and others to make sure contracts fit under the NFL salary cap and are compliant with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

Doepner joined the Vikings in 2006 as an administrative assistant for football operations.

“I got (that) position, and then they sort of groomed me to replace the guy who had the title that I have now – director of football operations,” Doepner said. “He retired two years after I started. Basically, I learned everything on the job.

“I didn’t know anything about the salary cap when I started, not a thing. That’s something you’re not going to learn in a college classroom, not going to learn in a degree program. It’s something that’s very specific to this industry, and there’s so many nuances to it, I’m still learning it. I’m always checking rules, checking different provisions and procedures all the time,” she said.

The current CBA is as complex as tax laws — it’s a 301-page document with 70 articles and 15 appendixes.

“I’m really relied upon now to know all the rules of the cap, to make sure that everything is in order administratively and to know player work rules,” Doepner said. “I’ve grown a lot in being able to be an authority on these rules, and be a good resource for our coaching staff and our scouting staff.

“But I always say that there are things I can be better at, because there’s so many rules and things. I’m always educating myself every day,” she added. “I look at the CBA every day, and I’m looking at different sections reminding myself how this works, how that works.”

In essence, she’s continuing to educate herself — much like she did while a student at CSB.

She came to St. Joseph from St. Paul Central High School, and working for the Vikings probably seemed about as unlikely as playing for them. She wasn’t athletic, but enjoyed watching sports with her family.

“It developed my foundation of knowing who all the teams are,” Doepner said. “It’s just something I’ve had a really big interest in. I love the passion that comes along with sports.”

Then, she took an even further step away from sports — she majored in French at CSB.

“I really developed a special relationship with one of my French professors, Vera Theisen, who is not (teaching) anymore. I thought, I liked learning French, I liked learning from Vera, and I’m going to major in it. I didn’t ever really think I wanted to teach French, which would be the natural thing to do with that major,” Doepner said.

“But I just thought, I’ll learn a language and I’ll be fluent in it and that will be a great skill to come out with,” she said.

Right out of CSB, she did use her major, working for a travel company that coordinated high-school trips to France. After a couple of years doing that, she worked for a company that catered PGA Tour events.

“I was able to take the travel aspect from the French job into the PGA job, because I coordinated the travel for our staff,” Doepner said. “It was heavy travel. I was on the road about six months of the year.”

That turned out to be her segue into sports. Wanting to get off the road, she applied to be the administrative assistant to the general manager of the Vikings, which she didn’t get.

But the team called her back. A position opened to be the administrative assistant for football operations. One hurdle remained — a 20-question exam to test her knowledge of the game.

“There were some no-brainers — who was the current coach, or how many points was a field goal? Then, there were some really obscure questions. They wanted to know who does Eddie Kennison play for? He’s a former wide receiver who at the time was with the Kansas City Chiefs. That was one question I got wrong. I played fantasy football, and I had a shot at that.

“I was so mad I missed that,” Doepner said.

She’s glad she did not miss on going to school at CSB.

“What really helped me was the small school environment. I think it helps you grow your confidence a lot easier at a young age, because you have more opportunities available to you to be involved in things,” Doepner said.

Anne Doepner“I was the editor of The Record when I was here. That leadership opportunity at the age of 21 was really fundamental in my growth. I learned how to manage people at that young age. I learned about confidence. I learned about hard work, meeting a deadline, needing to be right,” she said. “When you put a player’s contract together, you have to have it right. So, that really was a big, big part of my growth, and not necessarily an experience you could easily get at a large university.”

Now, she wants to pass on her experiences for other women working in the Vikings administrative offices — and other NFL teams.

“Coming in, I did not have a female mentor. I still don’t, really,” Doepner said. “I have mentors. The men I work with are amazing. But there’s just something different and I think unique about seeing someone like you doing what you want to do. I am really passionate about that.

“We have a young woman in our scouting department who is being trained to be a scout, so they’re teaching her how to break down film and evaluate players. I try to do everything I can for her, to advocate for her, to help her grow, to help her be confident, because I see a lot of myself in her, and I think it’s really important.

“The NFL really is getting on-board with that now, and realizing that diversity of having women in these roles is only going to be helpful,” Doepner said.