With all of the records behind him, Tarkenton had no infatuation with the statistics in 1976. By his standards they were ordinary. The Viking offense was uneven, although this was not necessarily a reflection of the quarterback's performance. The emergence of Sammy White and Ahmad Rashad as one of the ranking wide receiver combinations in football, along with Chuck Foreman's unequaled versatility in the backfield, gave Tarkenton all the instruments he needed for the kind of passing offensive he handled best, with plenty of options and spontaneity. Foreman was going to get his thousand yards on the ground again, but the Vikings' running game suffered from a certain lack of charisma. This didn't hurt it quite as much as the absence of a mauling fullback and the flareups of mediocrity up front.

Tarkenton usually managed to find a way, though, if by doing nothing more than nurturing the lead and avoiding blunders on days when the defense dominated or Matt Blair or Alan Page or Nate Allen was blocking somebody's kick. In the sixteenth year of his stewardship in the NFL huddles, he could now win some football games on the raw force of his leadership -- which his old detractors had claimed he would never be able to do.

His old detractors should have been required to witness the Minnesota Vikings play the Detroit Lions on November 7th at Metropolitan Stadium. And not only the game, perhaps, but the days preceding it, because this was a week and a game that rang with all the Tarkenton rythyms of football as he perceived it: a struggle of mind and nerve, a forum for both the impulsive act and hard-jowled professionalism and a happy hours shootout where nobody gets killed and 50 million people get entertained.

And Sir Francis, the aging Galahad, wins.

Jim Klobuchar, with excerpts from Jeff Seimon's journal