Up at Minnesota we
would use any weapon to move the football. We even made wholesale use of the
lateral, and there was one year when almost every offensive lineman on our club
had at least one carry. We'd start to be tackled and we'd just flip that ball
back to the nearest man in a white shirt, and we scored a lot of touchdowns
that way. People would say, "My, my, how bush!" And we would go right
on lateraling, maybe 10 times a season on the average, and in my six years at
Minnesota we rarely lost the ball on a lateral.
Once at Los
Angeles we won on a double lateral. I was trapped, flipped the ball to Mick
Tingelhoff, our center, and he unloaded to Bill Brown, who ran for a touchdown.
After that game David Jones, the Los Angeles defensive end, said, "That
play won't work against anybody but us, but you can expect anything from
Tarkenton. He might lateral the ball to a fan!" In another game it was
fourth and 10, and we needed to score a touchdown. A field goal would do us no
good. When the pass receivers showed up covered, I ran the ball down to the
five-yard line and that was the end of the road—I was surrounded by unfriendly
faces. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Fullback Bill McWatters about half
a mile away and behind me, so I turned and passed him a lateral, and he went in
untouched. Dangerous? Sure. But what if he missed it, or what if he fumbled?
We'd have lost anyway. So it was sandlot. Who cares? It was our only chance. It
didn't bother us if we looked bad winning. That beats looking good losing!
The craziest play
we ever ran at Minnesota was against Green Bay, of all teams. The time was
1964, and I hadn't yet learned that the way to beat Green Bay is to play it at
its own conservative, careful game. As a result, we were down by a score of
23-21 and there was just a little more than a minute left, and we've got the
ball, first and 10, in our own territory. On the first play the Green Bay pass
rush gets to me and I take an eight-yard loss. On the next play we get hit with
a five-yard penalty and lose the down. On third down, Tom Michel gains one yard
on a running play. Now it's fourth down and 22 yards to go; there are 54
seconds left, and Green Bay goes into the fiercest-looking "prevent"
defense you ever saw, with about six dozen defenders stationed all over the
field to stop the home run. I called time and announced my plans.
"Fellows," I said, "there's nothing on our ready list that'll help
us now. We've got to do something drastic, and here's what it is: I want you
ends to go down the field 25 yards, turn and hook up. You backs go straight
out. That'll make five guys out there. I'm gonna scramble around till I can
find one of you open."
They all looked at
me as if I was nuts, and maybe I was. It was the only scramble I've ever
I knew I'd never
have time to find a receiver on a normal drop, so I took the ball and spun out
to the right and, as usual, Willie Davis was right on my tail. It wouldn't have
surprised me to see Willie and me voted "cutest couple" after some of
those Green Bay-Minnesota games; he was always clawing at me. Anyway, I had to
retreat all the way to my own 10-yard line to get away from Willie. I set up to
throw, and I felt his hand on my heel, so I pulled away from him again, and
then way down the field I spotted Tom Hall in the clear on the right sideline.
I got the pass away, right on a line toward Tom, and then out of the corner of
my eye I saw a white shirt streaking toward Hall and into the flight of the
ball. It was our tight end, Gordie Smith; he saw that ball in the air and he
was going to catch it! I said, "No, Gordie! No! No!" but he kept right
on going and he plucked that ball right out of Tom Hall's hands and went down
to the Green Bay 27-yard line. We used up a little time, and then Fred Cox came
in and kicked the field goal that gave us our first win over the Packers.
Of course, if the
scramble always worked that well even Green Bay would be using it, and I have
to admit that sometimes the results of a scramble are less than spectacular. In
a game against Detroit I kept moving backward, with Alex Karras and Darris
McCord all over me, and finally I wound up on my 10-yard line, 45 yards from
the line of scrimmage. So I broke upfield and got back 32 yards, and the whole
place was in an uproar, and I got a standing ovation when I was finally tackled
for a 13-yard loss! One of our linemen threw three blocks on the play. People
kept shouting, "Look out! Here he comes again!"
I probably hold
the record for the longest fumble in pro football, and this was off a scramble,
too. We were playing the Rams three or four years ago, and I didn't have very
good judgment in those days. The Rams put on a blitz, and this is the worst
possible time to scramble; but I rolled out anyway, into all that traffic. I
wheeled to my right and nobody was open, and Rosey Grier and Cliff Livingston
were all over me, so I wheeled to my left and nobody was open, and all the time
I'm dropping farther and farther behind the line of scrimmage, and finally one
of those big L.A. linemen hit my arm and the ball squirted out. Somebody kicked
it even farther toward our goal line trying to pick it up, and then Los Angeles
fell on the ball. The total loss was 45 yards! That's how I learned that the
scramble is not the answer to a blitz.
Down through the
years I've had a lot of fun with those giants that go after me when I scramble.
They huff and they puff and they get all red in the face; they're hauling 275
pounds around, and I'm only hauling 190. Sometimes they get downright sore
about it. Once Big Daddy Lipscomb spent the whole afternoon trying to nail me,
and finally he does, and I'm flattened out under his 300 pounds like a dead cat
on a superhighway, and he's making no effort to get off me, he's sitting there
gasping for breath, and finally he says, "Little man, why fo' you run so
much?" The great Los Angeles pass rusher, David Jones, says that he has to
chase me all over the field so much that when he does catch me he's too tired
to enjoy it. And Alex Karras once said, "He wears you out. I'd like to get
my hands on the son of a gun just once, but I can't catch him." How I wish
that were true!
I think my shining
hour in the personal-war department came against Chicago, where Doug Atkins
always made me a special project when I scrambled. I spent many an anxious
moment under Doug, wondering how many of my ribs were left, but on this
particular occasion I got away from his grip about three times and finally made
a 37-yard gain with Doug chasing me all the way. When the play was over, Doug
didn't have the breath to say a word. He just walked off the field and motioned
George Halas to put somebody in till he got his wind.
that stick in people's minds, and a lot of times it's been said that my
scrambles are leading the way toward a new kind of offensive pro football, but
that's a little exaggerated. George Svendsen, a scout for the San Francisco
49ers, was quoted as saying, "That jumping jack, Mr. Tarkenton, will mark
the newest trend in the evolution of the game. From now on you'll see more and
more scrambling by quarterbacks. They'll roll out more, be more mobile. They've
got to do something to get away from that pass rush." I wish I could accept
that kind statement as gospel truth but, in my opinion, I am following the
trend; the trend is not following me. Quarterbacks with the ability to move
around have been with us for many years. Look at your championship
quarterbacks. With few exceptions, they have mobility. Don Meredith majors in a
roll-out offense. Maybe he doesn't scramble all the way back to the five-yard
line, the way I've done on occasion, but he throws from outside the pocket
routinely, and he can scramble when he has to. So can Charley Johnson, the St.
Louis quarterback, and his ball club was everybody's choice to win the Eastern
Division championship before he was hurt. Look at Jack Kemp in the American
Football League. He's as mobile as they come, and so is Len Dawson, the AFL's
championship quarterback. Dawson not only scrambles himself, but he operates
from a moving pocket. You might even say Dawson's pocket scrambles! Frank Ryan
moved around plenty when he brought two consecutive Eastern Division
championships to Cleveland, and John Brodie was throwing from all over the
place when he led his team to the No. 1 spot in total offense two years ago at