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"It's a matter of habit," Tarkenton says. "I have to remember every time I throw to follow through all the way and straighten out my arm, so I throw the ball flat even on the long passes."
The difference between the Tarkenton—and the Viking blockers—of these days and earlier is plain to see. In the opening game of the season Tarkenton was savaged by Green Bay. Two weeks ago, against the same team, he lost only 28 yards attempting to pass, most of them late in the game when the Packers could commit their linebackers to rushing him. It was plain to see, too, that the training he got in accepting adversity last season had helped him. He ducked and wheeled and peered around the large Packer linemen and managed to complete 18 of 28 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings, mostly on Tarkenton's arm and bravery, scored four of the first five touchdowns given up by Green Bay this year.
"In the opening game we waited for Tarkenton to commit himself and then we went after him," a Packer linebacker said. "If the first guy didn't get him, the next did. But this time he was much harder to reach."
Fortunately for Tarkenton, he is sturdy and not a bit injury-prone. He played every game for the Vikings last season and has played every one so far this year. "He gets up," Van Brocklin says, "no matter how hard they belt him. He doesn't complain, either. He isn't a motor mouth."
Van Brocklin has worked hard with Tarkenton, on both the technical and the emotional aspects of pro football. After some of the disasters of last year Tarkenton, naturally, was depressed. He and Van Brocklin spent hours looking at movies of those games, with the coach pointing out everything good that Tarkenton had done and how small the difference between success and failure was. Invariably Tarkenton left the sessions with renewed confidence.
But of all the lessons Van Brocklin taught Tarkenton, the most important was to stay put, even in a crumbling cup. During his playing career with the Rams and the Eagles, Van Brocklin, who was not at all fast, almost never ran. His limitation, he feels, proved his blessing.
"When a quarterback is forced to run, you have taken away his effectiveness and made him play your game," he said the other day. "He won't beat you running. He'll beat you throwing the ball. That's what he's paid to do. As I once said, and say again, he should run only from sheer terror."
Tarkenton, who knows now what Van Brocklin is talking about, agrees.