The Minnesota Vikings took a Giant step toward Super Bowl VII last week when they reclaimed veteran quarterback Fran Tarkenton from New York. The little man, gone for five years, was missed in Minneapolis.
The Vikings paid a fair price for Tarkenton, yet not a price that weakens the team materially. They gave up Bob Grim, an All-Pro wide receiver, Norm Snead, a peripatetic quarterback who languished on the bench for most of 1971, Vince Clements, a rookie running back who sat out the season after a knee operation, and two draft choices—their No. 1 this year and No. 2 in 1973.
"We suffered from a lack of offense all last season," said Jim Finks, the general manager of the Vikings, who negotiated the deal with Giant President Wellington Mara. "Actually, that is what has killed us for the last two years." Bud Grant, the contained, unemotional coach of the Vikings, regarded the trade with satisfaction, if not with joy unconfined. "Tarkenton is not a savior," he said quietly. "However, I'm sure we will want to utilize his versatility and his mobility; neither Snead nor Gary Cuozzo was really mobile. That's why I went with Bob Lee against Dallas in the playoff game. He could move around enough to negate the Cowboys' pass rush."
Curiously enough, while the return of Tarkenton may put the Vikings into the 1973 Super Bowl, it was his departure in 1967 that helped put them in the 1970 Super Bowl. He was traded to the Giants for two first-and two second-round draft choices; the players obtained with those choices were Clinton Jones, Grim, Ron Yary and Ed White, all of whom became key starters. Grim had good years with the Vikings, but despite his All-Pro status his loss is not regarded as critical by Grant or Finks. Gene Washington, one of the game's best deep receivers, is still on the roster, and there is also John Henderson, who split time with Grim until he was hurt halfway through the season.
Tarkenton himself was overjoyed with the trade. Two days before the last game of the season, he had met with Mara and Alex Webster, the Giant head coach, and asked to be traded, giving them a list of five teams, all of them contenders, to which he would report.
"Well called me a week before the Super Bowl game and asked if we would be interested in Tark," Finks said. "Then on the Friday and Saturday before the game in New Orleans, Well submitted a list of players he was interested in. We talked on the phone every day until the trade was made, taking off some names and adding others until we arrived at a deal both of us could live with."
Finks asked Mara's permission to speak to Tarkenton before the papers were signed. He wanted to be sure that Fran would be reasonable when the salary talk started. Tarkenton's disaffection with the Giants had begun during the 1971 exhibition season, when he asked for a loan in the neighborhood of $300,000 from the management and was refused. Tarkenton needed the loan for business and tax reasons. Finks didn't want any of the same complications this year.
"We'll have no problem at all with Tarkenton about a contract," Finks said. "He called me on Thursday before the deal was announced and we have already come to a tentative agreement."
Aside from the Vikings and the Giants, the team most likely to be affected by the trade is Dallas. Tarkenton is leaving the NFC East Division, where he was often as aggravating to the Cowboys as a burr under the saddle, but the Cowboys still probably will have to beat the Vikings in the playoffs if they are to return to the Super Bowl.
"Tarkenton will make the Vikings a much stronger club," Tex Schramm, the president of the Cowboys, said ruefully. "I don't know how long it will take him to adjust to Bud's system. It's a lot different from the Giants'—a lot simpler and more basic. Grant may have to make some changes to take advantage of his talents."