One thing Van Brocklin did change, however, was the trajectory of Tarkenton's passes. When Tarkenton came to the Vikings from Georgia he threw rainbows. After watching him for a few moments in training camp that first year Van Brocklin said, "Peach, they'll put you on waivers if you throw pop flies. Hum the ball." He made Tarkenton exercise with weights and practice throwing long passes on a line, and now Tarkenton hums it. Dutch adjusted Tarkenton's drop-back from the five yards he had become accustomed to in college to the pros' seven yards, but no amount of instruction could make him stay put.
"He stays in the pocket more than he used to," Van Brocklin says. "That still isn't very much."
Tarkenton and first draft choice Tommy Mason were Van Brocklin's only high-quality athletes in his first year with the Vikings. The team was stocked with expensive castoffs from the rest of the league, most of them overage and out of condition, plus other rookies obtained in the draft.
"We've got a couple of dogs from every club in the league," Van Brocklin said then. "But we still may win a couple of games. Once these guys get rid of their beer tumors we may have some kind of ball club."
In their maiden year the Vikings surprised a lot of people by winning three games. Among the most amazed was Line Coach Stan West; his original Minnesota linemen were the smallest and slowest he had ever seen on a pro team. In 1962 the Vikings won only two games, but they began to accelerate in 1963 (five victories), and last season they climbed into a tie for second with Green Bay, with eight victories against five defeats and a tie. The improvement has been due partly to intelligent drafting, partly to an intangible quality imparted to the team by Van Brocklin.
"They never quit hitting," another Western Division coach says. "I've never seen a Viking team down for a game."
"That's the big thing Dutch has," says one of his assistants. "He can get the club up. I don't know how he does it. I've never seen anyone else who could keep a club up for 14 games, but Dutch can."
Van Brocklin was a leader as a player, and a leader he still is. Furthermore, he has a comprehensive knowledge of football, plus an intuitive sense of strategy; he knows how to attack almost any defense. He allows Tarkenton to call his own plays, knowing that Tarkenton's tactical philosophy is essentially the same as his own. When Dutch was playing he was a gambling, unorthodox play-caller, and so is Tarkenton.
Van Brocklin is a wide, strong man, with light-blue eyes that on occasion can be as cold as the winter's ice on a Minnesota lake. Much of the time he is a cheerful, laughing man and the light-blue eyes twinkle.
He married his college biology teacher. There is a story that this was the only way he could pass biology, but he actually was a good student. He chose to finish college in three years, informing the Rams of his intentions because he wanted to play for them. That bit of knowledge enabled the Rams to get Van Brocklin for the ridiculously cheap price of a fourth-draft choice. The rest of the league laughed when the Rams' owner, Dan Reeves, chose him; they quit laughing when Van Brocklin took his degree and so became eligible for the college draft.