It will give little joy to those who groove over touchdowns and even less to their NFL rivals, but the Minnesota Vikings have regained their status as Super Bowl contenders.
That much was evident last Sunday at Bloomington, Minn. where the Vikes, unleashing a concussion-style defense, parlayed a chiropractor's foot with a one-legged rookie and the dance patterns of Fran Tarkenton (see cover) into an 11-3 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
While the Black and Blue Division considers the touchdown on the endangered species list, the hirelings of Bud Grant and Dan Devine seemed bent on extirpation. All the scoring was accounted for by field goals and a safety.
Minnesota's third straight win might have been tougher if Devine had been able to use a quarterback. As it was, the Packer coach held off naming his starting signal caller until half an hour before kickoff, when he refuted Grant's prediction of Scott Hunter by picking Jim Del Gaizo, whom the Pack acquired in a trade with Miami a month ago.
Whether Devine was indulging in gamesmanship or not, it was the wrong decision. Del Gaizo proceeded to throw the ball like a sore-armed Bella Abzug, completing but four of 14 passes before Hunter relieved him in the fourth quarter—and ruined a 44-yard march by tossing an end-zone interception. By that time Fred Cox, who moonlights two days a week as a chiropractor, had kicked his third field goal to extend the Vikes' oddball leads of 5-3 at the half and 8-3 at three quarters, and Minnesota was one of the four unbeaten teams left in the NFL.
Del Gaizo notwithstanding, the Vikings were clearly superior to the Pack, thanks to Chuck Foreman, a 6'2", 216-pound rookie running back from the University of Miami, who may be the best draft choice of 1973. Foreman took a helmet shot on his left thigh on his first carry, and while he shrugged it off, he said later, "I just wasn't myself today. When I got in the open, I couldn't maneuver. I was playing on one leg."
For a back with a bum wheel, Foreman rolled spectacularly, leading all ballcarriers with 89 yards on 16 carries and all pass receivers with 62 yards on five receptions. Foreman has 4.5 speed for the 40 and he jukes would-be tacklers with nifty moves, all of which, to the consternation of Grant, has caused writers and other low types to wax poetic about a new dimension in the Viking offense.
"He hasn't played a lot," Grant said earlier in the week. "You're talking on the come. Let the guy do something first. One game doesn't make a whole season."
Tarkenton disagrees with his boss about Foreman. "I think we're a better team this year for three reasons," he says. "One is we're healthier. Two, we've got Chuck Foreman and three, we've been able to play the second half, and especially the fourth quarter, the way you have to. Foreman is a back with 1,000-yard capability. I've only played with one of them. That was Ron Johnson at New York, and I know what he did for our offense there even when the defense knew what he was going to try."
Indeed, against the Packers Foreman veered off right tackle in the fourth quarter, burst through a hole that might have accommodated Mickey Rooney and fled 37 yards before he was caught. "If my leg hadn't bothered me, we might have opened it up there," he said later. Even so, the play was the biggest one in the drive that positioned Cox for his final 14-yard field goal.