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Fran Tarkenton Biography

Fran Tarkenton Biography

By Loot, NFL Handicapper,

Fran Tarkenton is a Hall of Fame NFL quarterback. That only tells a small part of the story. Tarkenton redefined what a quarterback could do, as he was equally adept at using his arm and legs. At the time of Tarkenton’s heyday, quarterbacks were not generally very mobile. Tarkenton, known as the “The Mad Scrambler” did things his own way, sometimes to the consternation of his coaches.

Fran grew up in Athens, Georgia and was a fine athlete--good enough to be recruited by the Georgia Bulldogs, where Tarkenton attended prior to his long NFL career. In 1959, Tarkenton helped the Bulldogs win the SEC Championship.

Tarkenton was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the third round of the 1961 Draft--the third quarterback selected in the draft. He would spend 6 years there, before going to the New York Giants for 5 seasons, and then returning to Minnesota for the final 7 years of his career. For some of us 40-somethings, the first time we saw Tarkenton was when he was hosting the wildly-popular TV-show That’s Incredible.

Combine his TV stardom, his extreme success in the world of business, and the passage of time--some of Tarkenton’s greatness might be blurred for younger fans of the game. Keep in mind, though, that at the time of Tarkenton’s retirement, he held just about every important quarterbacking record on the books. He led the Vikings to three Super bowls in the 1970’s, but came up snake-eyes in all of them. That could be looked at as a knock against Tarkenton, but then again, the Vikings have not gotten back to the big game since Tarkenton was in the huddle calling plays.


Tarkenton was a fantastic runner, blessed with great speed and shiftiness. In addition to his 342 touchdowns in the air, Tarkenton ran for 32 touchdowns and kept defenses on their toes with his multi-dimensional attack. You can’t say Tarkenton was not a winner. At the time of his retirement, no quarterback had won more regular season games than Tarkenton. And he was also blessed with longevity, as evidenced by his MVP season of 1975 at age 35.

Tarkenton was a pioneer with his use of passing and running. Future quarterbacks like Randall Cunningham and Steve Young owe Tarkenton a debt of gratitude. Prior to Tarkenton, quarterbacks were not usually looked upon as running threats. It was Tarkenton’s versatility that made him one of the more unique talents to ever grace a gridiron.

Tarkenton invariably improved the teams he played on during his career. It was during Tarkenton’s heyday where the Vikings were at their best--consistent Super Bowl contenders. When he went to the New York Giants, he took over a franchise mired in a long string of losing. Tarkenton was also able to get them on the right track.

From 1962 all the way to 1976, Tarkenton was never below 2000 yards passing, back when that counted for something. His career-high in yardage came in 1978, when in his final season at age 38, he led the NFL with 3468 passing yards. Not many quarterbacks went out on a high-note like Tarkenton. In fact, Tarkenton is one of the few quarterbacks from the 60’s and 70’s whose stats would hold up well in today’s era. One can only imagine what his numbers would look like in the more pass-happy age of recent times.

Tarkenton’s long career had its share of difficult moments. In the 1975 playoffs, the powerful Vikings were considered to have their best team yet. The stout defense--the infamous Purple People Eaters--were in top form and they looked like they would get to another Super Bowl after a 12-2 record and an MVP season from Tarkenton. But Dallas won the game on a miracle pass by QB Roger Staubach to WR Drew Pearson, forever known as simply the “Hail Mary Pass.” Tarkenton’s father passed away during the game--making it an agonizing experience for Tarkenton, both professionally and personally.

Sure, he never won the big one. But Tarkenton’s story is one of success, both on and off the field. He is a Hall of Fame quarterback and 9-time Pro Bowler, an author, a TV and radio host, an ultra-successful businessman, and a giant in the self-motivation business. But it will always be his NFL career which he will be most remembered by the fans who had the pleasure of watching the gutsy Tarkenton play for 18 wonderful seasons.

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