Decade-by-Decade: The 1960s and Tarkenton's debut

 

Each year, coaches, players, and fans eagerly await the start of the National Football League regular season. The NFL's season opener marks the end of a long off-season, training camp and preseason and the beginning of the "real" games.

One particular season opener blazed the beginning of a successful franchise and a future Hall of Fame quarterback's career in storybook fashion. The Minnesota Vikings joined the NFL in 1961. The expansion team suffered through a winless preseason prior to their first true test - the regular season opener against Chicago. The Bears, a franchise rich with tradition, were led by the legendary coach George Halas.

The Vikings struck first with a 12-yard field goal but then the offense mustered very little. After a missed field goal and an interception, Vikings' head coach Norm Van Brocklin tried to ignite his listless team. He benched veteran quarterback George Shaw and inserted the team's third- round draft pick, a rookie by the name of Fran Tarkenton. The young signal-caller took charge instantly as he wasted little time in moving the offense. He capped an impressive drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to end Bob Schnelker to give the Vikings a 10-0 lead.

A crowd of 32,236 soaked up the sun at Metropolitan Stadium while Tarkenton basked in the limelight. The former All-America at Georgia poured it on in the second half as the Vikings added to their 10-6 halftime lead. Tarkenton threw three more touchdown strikes and introduced glimpses of what would become his trademark. Known throughout his career as a scrambler, he scored on a three-yard roll out in the fourth quarter. When it was all over, the upstart Vikings had stunned the Bears with a 37-13 upset to earn the franchise's first-ever victory. Tarkenton finished the day with 17 completions on 23 attempts for 250 yards and the four touchdowns.

Tarkenton's superb inaugural performance was a foreshadowing of an illustrious career that eventually earned him election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When he retired following the 1978 season, he was the game's all-time leader in attempts (6,467), completions (3,686), passing yardage (47,003), and touchdown passes (342). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame on August 2, 1986.

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