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Fran Tarkenton
July 17, 1967
In Part I of the story of his pro football career, the game's most, unorthodox quarterback examines his sideline-to-sideline style and explains that he is really a pocket passer but believes it is BETTER TO SCRAMBLE THAN LOSE
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July 17, 1967

Better To Scramble Than Lose

In Part I of the story of his pro football career, the game's most, unorthodox quarterback examines his sideline-to-sideline style and explains that he is really a pocket passer but believes it is BETTER TO SCRAMBLE THAN LOSE

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If you follow pro football, you know that I've been traded to the New York Giants (see cover). There's a certain irony in that trade, because it was in New York that I got my nickname, "The Scrambler." I don't know whether I like the nickname or not, but I do know that it's a little misleading. Sure, I scramble. When everything else breaks down, I don't hesitate to roam out of the pocket and do the boogaloo. I don't automatically fall down and go boom when I'm trapped just because that's what quarterbacks traditionally do. These wild sideline-to-sideline scrambles have become my trademark, and people have forgotten the simple truth of the matter, which is that I'm basically a pocket passer.

Through the years lots of quarterbacks have been called scramblers—the name was hung on Frank Ryan when he played at Los Angeles seven or eight years ago, but it didn't stick—and a few writers applied it to me in my first couple of years with the Minnesota Vikings. But after we beat the Giants in New York in 1964 there was a lot of stuff in the papers about my scrambling. It seems to me that the name stuck after that. I don't think there was a reporter covering the game who didn't tell about the time I popped out of the pocket, roamed 40 yards behind the line of scrimmage and finally completed a pass downfield for a 10-yard gain. And how many times do you think I scrambled in that ball game?


That's right. There were other times during the game when I ran the ball—doesn't every quarterback?—but you couldn't have called those plays scrambles in the remotest sense of the word.

It makes a fellow wonder just what is a scrambler, and sometimes I'm tempted to offer the following definition: "A scrambler is somebody the press calls a scrambler." But that wouldn't be quite fair, either. I do scramble. I do get on some pretty hairy journeys out there. But how often? Two years ago I did a study on my style over a period of six or seven games, and here's what came of it: on the average I would call 28 pass plays a game. On 25 of them I would stay in the planned pattern; on three of them I would scramble. If that doesn't make me a pocket passer, then figures are meaningless. As for scrambling efficiency, I completed a pass on half of my scrambles, one-fourth of the time I made yardage running and one-fourth of the time I got dumped.

After the tag The Scrambler had become mine, all mine, the public misconceptions about me seemed to multiply. I'd play a game away from home and I'd scramble maybe two or three times, which is my average, and after the game all the reporters would come in and say, "Why didn't you play your usual style?" And, "How come you threw so much from the pocket?" And I would try to say, "I threw from the pocket because that is my style."

"No, it isn't," they would say. "You're a scrambler."

"O.K.," I would say. "I'm a scrambler." Anything to get to the shower.

The public attitude about scrambling is a conglomeration of a lot of wrong ideas, and I'm not trying to put a rap on the public, because there are plenty of men intimately involved in pro football who are just as confused about what a scrambler is. You'd be surprised how much the pro football people believe what they read. Things get printed over and over again, many of them wrong, and once a fundamental mistake has been printed you can never catch up with it and straighten it out. For example: somebody once printed that I only scramble from fear and that this was the basic motivation for my scrambling. And since then I've read that theory at least a hundred times. But it was said as a joke! Exactly the same thing happened years ago when Norm Van Brocklin said, "I only run from stark fear." This is part of the modesty of any quarterback when he's being interviewed. You turn questions aside with jokes, because otherwise you're going to have to say things like, "Sure, I scramble because I'm good at it, because I can twist and dodge those big pass rushers better than most guys and we get a lot of touchdowns that way." If that comes out in the papers, everybody says, "Boy, that Tarkenton has a big head, doesn't he?" So you shrug your shoulders and you tell the reporters with a fetching smile, "Aw, I only run from fear," and everybody laughs, and then the same line pops up in the newspapers, and the readers take it seriously. Why, the idea that any pro football player would run from fear is ridiculous on the face of it. A quarterback has to maintain his cool while a 300-pound pass rusher is firing at him like a Sidewinder missile, and at the last second, before his feet get knocked out from under him, he has to stick that ball right on some receiver's left ear. To perform in that sort of pattern over and over again, you've got to be entirely lacking in fear or sense, one, and if you lacked sense you wouldn't be a pro quarterback anyway.

I don't know anything in pro football that has been as overemphasized and as misconstrued as my occasional scrambling. Even the NFL helps spread the misconceptions. Every year the league gets up a film of NFL highlights, and every year I'll run maybe two really wild scrambles during the whole season, and guess what you'll see me doing in the NFL films? It's been that way for six years. I don't blame the guys who make the films; scrambles are exciting and unusual and sometimes even funny. This year, as usual, I'm in the film for two plays, and they're both scrambles. One of them is against Dallas. It's third and four on our 45-yard line and I fake a handoff to the halfback going to the right, and now I'm supposed to throw to my right end, who has faked a block and snuck to the opposite side of the field. The only trouble is, some Dallas defenders have snuck right with him, and the pass rush is boring in on me, so I take off. I run to the right and nothing develops downfield, so I wheel off to the left, about 10 yards behind the line, and there's still nobody home, so I wheel back to the right again, and then back to the left again, and all this takes about 35 seconds, and pass receivers and the defensive secondary are whirling around downfield like bugs on a millpond. Finally somebody breaks into the clear, and I hit him for 10 yards and a first down.

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