So Tarkenton, who thought he had completed his day's work, went back into action when the Vikings regained the ball at their 23-yard line with 1:55 on the clock. He completed a five-yarder to Foreman, then threw to Rashad for an apparent first down. Trouble was, Rashad began to play volleyball with the pass instead of catching it, and McCoy intercepted it. McCoy became so excited that he then fumbled, but teammate Dave Roller recovered at the Packers' 43.
Now it was Quarterback David Whitehurst's turn to maneuver Green Bay into position for a shot at a winning field goal. With 21 seconds to play, Marcol, whose 48-yard field goal beat Tampa Bay 9-7 four weeks ago—the last time the Packers tasted victory—lined up for a 40-yard attempt. He hooked it to the left. Minnesota took over, and Tarkenton decided that enough was enough and sat out the clock.
The question around Minnesota these days is whether Fran will retire at the conclusion of this season or show up for his 19th campaign next summer. If Tarkenton needed any encouragement to call it quits, he probably got it last month from Detroit Defensive Tackle Dave Pureifoy, who drew a 15-yard penalty for hitting Tarkenton in the face with his helmet. "I've never had another hit like that," said Tarkenton. "Never." The blow knocked the caps off three of Tarkenton's teeth and opened a gash in his lip that a plastic surgeon stitched 60 times before it was closed. What hurt Tarkenton much worse, however, was the booing he got from Viking fans during the loss to Tampa Bay. "I resented the hell out of that," Tarkenton said.
Last season or not, this will probably be Tarkenton's best—statistically, at least. Tarkenton holds most of the game's career passing records, including touchdowns (334) and yards gained (46,167). This year he should add some seasonal marks; his 274 completions in 444 attempts are within easy reach of Sonny Jurgensen's records of 288 and 508.
Tarkenton is blunt when he talks about the reason for his impressive passing statistics. "The pure, hard, cold fact," he says, "is that we're not running the ball well. I'd like to throw it less." Coach Bud Grant prefers to be more optimistic about the situation. "We should throw," he says. "We have the greatest quarterback who ever played, and our five receivers are as fine as anybody's." Which makes it all the more mystifying that the Vikings spent so much time trying to find a ground game against Green Bay.
Tarkenton's targets are indeed inviting. Foreman led the NFL in receiving in 1975 with 73 catches. Young, whom the Vikings acquired from San Diego in exchange for White, should lead the league in catches this year; he already has 74, including the six he caught for 63 yards against the Packers. Tight End Bob Tucker led the NFC in receiving in 1971, when he and Tarkenton both played for the Giants. Rashad topped the NFC in catches last season with 51. That leaves the other wide receiver, Sammy White; he was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year in 1976, and has caught 26 touchdown passes in less than three seasons as a pro.
But Tarkenton's one remaining football goal is not statistical. In a lengthy discussion with The Minneapolis Star columnist Jim Klobuchar recently, Tarkenton said, "When you're young and established in pro football, you're going to play forever. Your friends are the young guys, and they all want to win, but there's always next year. The difference then was that you could always win tomorrow. Tomorrow is now for me and maybe half a dozen other guys on our team. Winning is more urgent.... The Super Bowl is more important to me now than I ever cared to admit to myself before. You don't dedicate a season to it. But you also know this may be the last time around."
When you're 38 and contemplating retirement, you'll do a lot to get to the Super Bowl. Even sit on a tie.