"A quarterback should run only from sheer terror," said Norman Van Brocklin a few years ago when he was a non-running quarterback. In his fifth year as a head coach and the Minnesota Vikings' fifth year as a football team, Van Brocklin conceivably could win the Western Conference championship of the National Football League with Fran (Peach) Tarkenton (see cover), a quarterback who runs from sheer delight. "I can't change him," Van Brocklin says philosophically. "Scrambling is his style. When it gets to third and 40, I let him call the play."
The Vikings, who open the season next week against the Western champion Colts in the day's big game, probably have the best third-and-40 offense in football—a doubtful but electrifying distinction for a team that rarely gets into that kind of a jam. Their third-and-40 play is almost always the same: Tarkenton takes the ball, retreats hopefully into the blocking pocket, then begins to improvise. He leaves the pocket, tripping nimbly a step or two ahead of 260-pound defenders and confusing his blockers beyond repair. As he wanders farther and farther behind the line of scrimmage, he seems to know exactly where the tacklers are and just how to avoid them. He watches as his receivers invent patterns downfield. Finally he throws, and as often as not he gets the first down and occasionally he gets a touchdown. This may be the single most exciting play in football—exciting to the fans and to Van Brocklin, who is far more active following Tarkenton from the sideline than he ever was as a quarterback on the field.
Van Brocklin was a stationary quarterback for two reasons. First, he could not run fast enough to escape from an enraged turtle and, second, he was taught early in his career that a quarterback is not supposed to run.
"I learned quarterbacking from Jim Aiken at Oregon," Van Brocklin said the other day at Jack's, the Toots Shor's of Bemidji, Minn., which is the Vikings' training town. Van Brocklin had gone to Oregon from Acalanes High School in Walnut Creek, Calif. He was a tailback in high school—which tells all you need to know about the running ability of the football players at Acalanes. "All I had to do was throw," said Van Brocklin. "I didn't need to run."
When Aiken took over the Oregon club in Van Brocklin's sophomore year he appointed him quarterback and gave him and the offensive line a brief lecture.
"You run out of the pocket and you're on your way home," he told Van Brocklin. "Anyone who lets anyone into the pocket is on his way home," he told the offensive linemen.
"I rolled out one time," Van Brocklin recalled. "I ran over toward the sideline, and somebody knocked me right into the middle of a big hedge that ran alongside the field. I was trying to fight my way out of the hedge when Aiken came right in after me.
" 'Van Brocklin,' he hollered, 'you got a million-dollar arm and a 10� head. Don't ever do that again!' "
Van Brocklin never did, not in two years on the Oregon varsity and 12 years in pro football. He was the prototype of the drop-back passer, yet he chose Tarkenton with his eyes open. Hired in 1960 to be head coach of the Vikings after he had quarterbacked the Philadelphia Eagles to a world championship, the Dutchman studied movies of 25 college senior quarterbacks before settling on Tarkenton.
"He had a quick arm, and he could take charge," Van Brocklin says. "He is a minister's son and I thought for a while he might be too nice, but he isn't. The defenses in this league are tougher than Japanese arithmetic, and the linebackers come after a quarterback like he was chocolate cake. But Tarkenton learned fast, and no one could put much pressure on him, because he got out of the way so fast. I used to protect myself with a quick release; he's got that, plus the ability to scramble. I still think the best way to beat the rush is with your play calls, but I'm not going to try to change Peach."