As for touchdown passes, which might be the equivalent of home-run hitting, Tarkenton now needs only 11 to surpass Unitas after he got his 12th, 13th and 14th of the season Sunday. If you consider that Tarkenton is going to play on a while longer, the world can surely look forward to his becoming the first man to throw 300 lifetime touchdown passes.
So why won't anybody name a candy bar after him?
"People don't like to admit that football teams get better every year," Fran said. "I promise you that athletes today are far superior to what they used to be. There were great players in every era, of course, but the linemen weren't what they are now. Guys today work out the year around. They go to health clubs instead of beer taverns. They're bigger and faster. They're smarter. You don't see linemen with fat bellies anymore."
But what about quarterbacks?
"I think Unitas was the best," Fran said. "But he didn't see the zones and subtle defenses we see. He got a lot of one-on-one coverage. He didn't see the pass rush we see."
Tarkenton said he would take Oakland's Ken Stabler for his ability to move a team, simple as that. Also for the variety of balls he can throw. He likes the unselfishness of Bob Griese at Miami. "We may never know how great Griese is because he plays behind the greatest offensive line ever, and he only has to throw 10 passes a game."
He said if you wanted the most tenacious, competitive guy around, you might come up with Billy Kilmer at Washington. "He'll wobble one in there somehow," Fran said. For courage, what about Joe Namath? "Courage," he said, "and the ability to lay the 25-yard ball in there."
And how would history remember Fran Tarkenton, inasmuch as it is going to downplay the records?
"I'd like to be thought of as a good one," he said. "I hate to think I won't be unless I win a Super Bowl. You know, this team could win a Super Bowl, but I don't know that I would have made a bigger contribution to football by being a part of it than I did a couple of seasons in New York when we went 9-5 and 7-7 with no football players."
Happiness for a quarterback, naturally, is having yourself surrounded by receivers like Gilliam and Voigt and backs like Foreman and Marinaro who can also catch the ball. Against the Packers, Tarkenton's ability to find these people when he needed them was the principal thing that kept the Vikings undefeated.