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But as of now, Grant is planning no major changes in his offense. "Tarkenton may have to change his style here," Grant said. "He has been used to playing catch-up football, which means he had to throw the ball a lot and it meant, too, that while he completed a lot of passes for a lot of touchdowns, he didn't win a lot of games."
The Vikings seldom have to play catch-up. They depend on one of football's soundest defenses to control the opposition and force it into errors, then they capitalize on the errors. With Tarkenton pulling the trigger, they should capitalize more often and control the ball even better.
In spite of the fact that he has never played with a truly formidable team, Tarkenton has compiled some extraordinary statistics in his 11 seasons as a pro. Probably the most unusual is the fact that he has never missed so much as a quarter of any game because of injury. When he came to the Vikings as a rookie with a reputation as a scrambler, most of the veterans in the league predicted that he would be lucky to survive the season. Although at six feet and 190 pounds he is small by modern quarterback standards, he is nimble and durable.
And, believe it or not, he ranks among the top five quarterbacks of all time in effectiveness. Only Sonny Jurgensen, John Unitas, Bart Starr and Len Dawson rate ahead of him and all of them have played from four to five years longer than Tarkenton. Three of them—Starr, Unitas and Dawson—have spent much of their playing time with superior teams.
Fran has passed for 216 touchdowns, completing 2,075 of 3,797 passes for 28,484 yards with only 167 interceptions. Obviously, he stops long enough during his scrambles to throw, and throw accurately. At 32, with no past injuries to plague him—unlike the four quarterbacks who have superior statistics—he can probably count on at least seven or eight more productive seasons.
Strangely, not all of the Vikings were enchanted with the return of the scrambler. "I really don't think much of the trade," said Alan Page, the defensive tackle rated the most valuable player in the NFC in 1971. "Tarkenton is a good quarterback, but I don't think anybody's that good."
"We've asked a lot of Alan this year," said Finks, wryly. "But not for help in making trades."