Prior to 1961, there was no pro football in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. There were no childhood fans either. Everyone came on the scene in 1961, fans largely due in part to parents giving in children's dreams of purple. The Vikings' birth was due to the persistence of Austrian-born businessman Max Winter.
In 1947, Winter had founded the Minneapolis (later Los Angeles) Lakers basketball team. While he was still president of the Lakers, Winter attended his first pro football game in 1955 in Chicago. He loved it. As soon as he arrived back home in Minneapolis, Winter wrote letters to the AFL and NFL, requesting permission to organize a new team in Minnesota. At first there was no answer, but Winter kept writing more and more letters. Finally in 1959, the AFL granted Winter an expansion team which would have become that league's 21st team. But in 1960, the NFL granted him their league's 14th newest franchise. With a decision to make, Winter opted to pull out of the AFL (who replaced us with the Raiders) and enter the NFL.
"Let's make this a team we can always be proud of," he said in announcing the deal. And if there's one thing the natives of Minnesota are proud of, it's their Scandinavian heritage. "They say that the Norwegian Vikings were the first to discover America. Let's make Minnesota the first state to discover Viking football. Let's call them the Minnesota Vikings," stated Winter.
The fans crowded into Metropolitan Stadium to catch their first glimpse of their Vikings. And there, in their first inaugural game, the Vikes pulled a shocking, 37-13, upset victory over the fierce Chicago Bears. "How about that?" grinned Vikings head coach, Norm Van Brocklin. "You can't ask for a better start than that." Of course, they didn't win very many more games that season. Expansion teams just don't do that. But Minnesota played a bruising brand of football just the same.
Easily the most colorful and talented player on that early Vikings roster was Fran Tarkenton, the young quarterback. The rest of the team was largely made of rookies and castoffs from other NFL clubs. One of those castoffs was Don Hultz who set the NFL record for opponents' fumbles recovered in a season.
Joe Schmidt had eight recoveries one year (1955), and Alan Page (1970) and Jack Lambert (1976) both had seven, but Hultz beat 'em all. Hultz had nine for the Vikings in 1963.
He was a rookie that season, a free agent defensive end out of Southern Mississippi. In his second game, Hultz fell on a fumble by the Bears' Willie Galimore. The loose balls kept on bouncing his way.
Soon his teammates were calling him "The Magnet." The newspapers began to notice, too. After he got number six, the Minneapolis Tribune reported: "His fumble recovery play is now an integral part of the Viking offense."
Indeed, six of Hultz's recoveries set up scores (two touchdowns, four field goals). Three got the Vikings on the board first, while another, with four and a half minutes to go against Detroit, led to the game-winning TD.
That was his eighth recovery, tying Schmidt's mark. The record became his when he pounced on a fumble by Philadelphia's Sonny Jurgensen in the season finale.
"I just happen to be there when another one of our guys is shaking somebody up," said Hultz, who considered his feat an accident. "I don't go hunting for the ball. I try to be alert, but you can say the same thing about anybody else on our defensive line.
"I don't have much of a history for this sort of thing. I played on defense and offense at Southern Mississippi, and if I do say so, I caught a couple of touchdown passes. But fumbles? Not much."
Hultz was traded to the Eagles the next season since the Vikings had drafted a young man named Carl Eller. Hultz played 11 more years, finishing with the Bears in 1974. He recovered only three more fumbles.
Young, lesser-known talent was present elsewhere. The offensive line was especially raw. When Tarkenton dropped back to pass, the enemy defense usually ran right over the Minnesota offensive line. That left Tarkenton retreating like a scared rabbit, running in circles, weaving in and out of trouble. The sportswriters called Fran's crazy antics 'scrambling,' a new term in those days. At first, rival teams claimed that Fran's scrambling was illegal, but the Vikings QB wasn't breaking the rules, only tradition.
By darting around the pocket, he confounded pass rushers and forced opponents to change their game plans. "Why should I stand there and get broken in two?" argued Fran. "If I run, there's always a chance that I will find a receiver." Coach Van Brocklin, who had been a stand-up, no frills NFL quarterback in his earlier days, did not approve of Tarkenton's scrambling. He felt it was too showy and risky. Time and again he tried to persuade Tarkenton to change his ways, but the brash young QB insisted on doing things his way. Besides, the Vikings were already becoming famous for their unpredictable, helter-skelter offense. What's more, by 1964, Minnesota was beginning to win some games.
That season, Tarkenton shared the spotlight with running backs Tommy Mason and Mel Triplett, and split-end Paul Flatley. The offensive line, led by stalwart Grady Alderman, was also taking shape. On defense, big, quick Jim Marshall was forcing opposing quarterbacks to scramble just like Fran. 1964 also produced the Vikings' first winning record of 8-5-1 and a tie for second place with none other than today's arch rivals, the Green Bay Packers led by Vince Lombardi. But trouble was brewing behind the scenes.
Van Brocklin was always quick tempered, impatient, and insisted on doing things his way or else. In 1966, he blew his top and harshly criticized his own players. Tarkenton was embarrassed, mad, and demanded to be traded. So did other players. The fans answered by demanding Van Brocklin's resignation and eventually got it. But it was too late. Tarkenton had already been traded to the NY Giants and all playoff hopes went with him, or so everyone thought. Not only did the hard-nosed in-your-face QB Joe Kapp come to town, but a new coach arrived as well.
The next coach for the Vikings would become one of the league's most noteworthy men, Harry Peter 'Bud' Grant. Grant had been Max Winter's first choice in 1961 but he declined in order to play for the NBA Lakers. But Winter's re-offer to Grant in 1967 was accepted. Unlike Van Brocklin, Grant was reserved and quiet, standing motionless on the sidelines, showing little expression and eventually became affectionately known as 'The Great Stone Face'.
Grant would begin rebuilding the team as he thought a team should be run with a ball control offense. And he started by luring the CFL's (Canadian Football League) greatest QB, Joe Kapp.
But it would be Grant's defense that would gain him his initial respect in the league. During the next three years, he drafted Alan Page, and Bobby Bryant for the defense. He also drafted Ron Yary to anchor to offensive line. Trades acquired Gary Larsen, Paul Krause, and Wally Hilgenberg. With that, the famous defense had been created and become known throughout the league as the "Purple People-Eaters." By the end of the 1969 season, the Vikings found themselves as the NFL Champions facing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV.
|Best Regular-Season Record:||1969, 12-2|
|Worst Regular-Season Record:||1962, 2-11-1|
|Best Athlete:||QB Fran Tarkenton (had to be in fantastic shape to scramble so much)|
|Fastest Player:||WR Gene Washington (lighting fast)|
|Slowest Player:||RB Bill "Boom-Boom" Brown (slow, but bruising and punishing)|
|Most Intimidating Player:||LB Lonnie Warwick (not the best, but fearlessly relentless)|
|Famous Firsts:||First regular season win (Vikes 37, Bears 13)|
|Famous Lasts:||Jim Marshall's wrong-way run for a safety|
|Fashion Trends:||Names on the backs of jerseys. Purple pants on the road.|
|Least Appreciated Player:||Mick Tingelhoff|
|Best Hit:||Joe Kapp's knee on the chin of Browns linebacker Jim Houston.|
|Best/Worst Trade:||Tarkenton is traded to the New York Giants for four draft picks (1967-1st, 2nd; 1968-1st; and 1969-2nd). With the picks, the most notable acquires by the Vikings are Ron Yary in 1968 and Ed White in 1969.|
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