I know it must sound ridiculous for grown men to brag about how vicious they are, but that's exactly what is at the heart of our team's success. As a group, the Minnesota Vikings are a very enthusiastic bunch of guys; they like to play the game, and they like to hit. We have good, clean-cut violent types, guys like Lonnie Warwick and Dale Hackbart, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Wally Hilgenberg, 34 others. They're all fine gentlemen, but they're also hitters. And they're happy in their work.
You should see our scrimmages. I'm always picking up newspapers and magazines and reading about our "Purple People Eaters," our front four, but nobody has to tell me anything about them. I work out against them more than anybody in the NFL, and I have the scars to prove it. What a group! They call themselves "three dots and a dash"—that's because Eller and Marshall and Alan Page are black and Gary Larsen is white. Larsen is the only genuine Viking on the team—he's of Scandinavian origin, and I call him "Odin." Remember in the movie The Vikings when Ernest Borgnine jumped into a pit full of wolves and pulled out his sword and hollered "Odin!" Odin was the god of war or something, and nothing made Borgnine happier than to die with a sword in his hand screaming "Odin!" Gary's not quite the same; he'd settle for a hunk of Roman Gabriel's anatomy. So would Carl Eller and Jim Marshall. At first we thought Alan Page might be a little more on the gentle, studious side, coming out of Notre Dame and all. But it turned out he had a howl like a coyote, and every now and then he lets out this "Owwwwwwww!" and tries to crush my ribs. Paul Dickson, our fifth lineman, is a philosopher and poet off the field, but when the scrimmage begins he starts growling, and he drives the offensive linemen crazy because he plays dummy practice scrimmages just like a game, growling all the while. And Jerry Burns, our offensive coach, is a screamer; when we do something wrong, he'll stand there and holler "Clowns! Clowns! CLOWNS!" Can you imagine our scrimmages? I come up to the line and there's the howler howling and the growler growling and Jerry Burns hollering "Clowns! Clowns! CLOWNS!" Sometimes I welcome the league games just for the peace and quiet.
In my early days with the Vikings there were times when I looked around at all this talent and wondered what I was doing there. And right from the beginning I tried to impress one thing on the club: this Kapp may not be any good, he may be lacking in certain abilities, but he wants to win more than anybody else. Maybe every quarterback thinks the same way; I don't know every quarterback. But I figure I'm playing with the finest football players in the world, and there's one department where I can beat them all: in desire. I can want to win more than anybody else on earth—and I do. Not for the press, not for the fans and not only for the money, but mostly for myself, for my personal pride. I know a lot of successful men, even a few millionaires, but there's one thing I've got that they don't have and never will have: I can play quarterback on a pro team, and they can't. I'm proud of that. That's what it's all about: playing—and winning—and doing something to the best of your abilities. That's where the fun comes in. So I try to impress this on the other Vikings, and maybe it helps a little. Our general manager, Jim Finks, paid me the greatest compliment: he said that the club plays 10% better for me than it would for any other quarterback, and if he's right it's only because I've convinced those other characters that I'm there to play football and to win.
I'm not interested in publicity or all the other stuff. I'm not playing football for the sole purpose of gaining prestige in my off-season job. I'm not interested in all those side issues: Brodie and his golf, Namath and his nightclubs, Kramer and his books, all those guys with their big private enterprises. You don't hear about me in the off season. I'm a pro football player, and that's enough. Oh, I enjoy antique cars like my '39 La Salle, and I dig music and cowboy boots and good old American food like tacos and enchiladas and frijoles, but those are just to keep me going till the game starts. That's when I begin to live. I've played in one big game or another on every weekend for about 25 of my 32 years and I've developed some kind of rhythm about it. All week long my system is readying itself for the weekend—for Friday night, when we used to play our high school games, or for Saturday afternoon, when Cal played, or for Sunday afternoon, when the pros play. It's become so much a part of me that I almost become buggy on weekend nights in the off season. Marcia and I have to go out and do something. If she brought me a pipe and slippers on weekends, I'd go right through the roof.
In a way, I'm lucky that my high school coach, A. I. Lewis, slipped me into the quarterbacking position, or I probably wouldn't be playing ball at all. Where would they play me? It's a fundamental fact about quarterbacks, almost every one of them, that they're not good enough to play any other position. Quarterback is the natural refuge for a guy with a big mouth and few natural abilities. So you find that pro quarterbacks are the guys who wanted to play more than the others, the guys who wanted to get out and win, the misfits. Look at them stumbling around out there. Where would Sonny Jurgensen play if he wasn't a quarterback (and the finest passer in football)? Where would Bart Starr play? Even the physical types like Greg Cook and Greg Landry and Roman Gabriel would have a tough time breaking in at another position. Can they run fast enough and hard enough to fit into a backfield? I doubt it. They're like all the rest of us: not big enough to be linemen, not fast enough to be ends, not quick enough to be running backs. So they stand out there and throw a football at a tree for weeks on end until they have mastered this very unnatural act called passing, and then they hang out a sign that says "quarterback."
But that's not the most mysterious fact about quarterbacking, not by a long shot. The most mysterious thing is the way these quarterbacks, these undesirables, get all the attention. There's not a pro football player alive who doesn't know that the game is won or lost in the line, but who writes about the line? It's always the quarterback. "Starr lead; Packers to Super Bowl." "Len Dawson Engineers Upset." "Tarkenton Scrambles to Victory." Bull! It's a joke! When our British Columbia Lions won everything in the Canadian League in 1964, I made a speech that the line had won it. When we lost everything in 1965, I made a speech that the line had lost it. People thought I was kidding. I wasn't.
Look at the quarterbacks who overnight went from bad to good, or good to bad. Did they change? No, their lines did. Y. A. Tittle didn't win for San Francisco, but he was sensational for New York. Bill Nelsen never did much at Pittsburgh, but when he went to Cleveland and started performing behind a strong line he won the Eastern championship. Earl Morrall had always been a second-stringer, but when he went to Baltimore he became the most valuable player in the league. Was he really the most valuable player, or was he just the same old competent quarterback that he had always been? Or take Don Meredith. When he was playing at Dallas, the cliché was that Meredith couldn't win the big ones. So he retires and Craig Morton takes over and they still don't win the big ones. Now the idea is beginning to reach the Dallas fans that there are 39 other players on the team. But that concept is slow to take hold. Even sportswriters who should know better place far too much emphasis on quarterbacking. This attitude reached some kind of new height of absurdity at this year's Super Bowl game. While we were working out at New Orleans, getting ready for the game, reporters learned that my son, J.J., age 6, was staying with his grandparents in Sacramento. They went out and interviewed him. "Who's your favorite player, J.J.?"
"Because he took me fishing."