Purple Pride

 

O

n January 28, 1960, the team owners of the National Football League convened in Miami, FL to consider various items of business including whether or not to grant a franchise to a group of businessmen from Minnesota. By the end of that day, the businessmen, Max Winter, E. William Boyer, H.P. Skoglund, Ole Haugsrud and Bernard Ridder, Jr., had received a positive nod and immediately went to work to form their NFL team.

Their first order of business was to hire former Los Angeles Rams Public Relations Director Bert Rose to serve as the new team's general manager. Rose's first order of business was to suggest that the team be known as the "Vikings". Rose pitched the name by saying that it represented both an aggressive warrior with the will to win and the Nordic tradition associated with the northern Midwest region of the United States.

With the name selected, the next thing needed was a coach and players. Norm Van Brocklin was chosen as the team's head coach and on December 27, during the first college draft, the newly formed NFL franchise from Minnesota selected Tommy Mason, a running back out of Tulane, a defensive back named Ed Sharockman and a young quarterback by the name of Fran Tarkenton.

Taking to the field for the first time as an NFL team in the 1961 season, the Minnesota Vikings, who had been assigned to the Western Conference, played the Dallas Cowboys in a pre-season game in Sioux Falls, SD on August 5. It was a rather inauspicious debut as the Vikings fell to defeat by the score of 38-13. When the team's first pre-season home game came around on September 10, the Los Angeles Rams traveled to the frigid field of Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, MN where, after four quarters, they also denied the Vikings a win.

Then came the Vikings first regular season appearance. In a stunning upset, the Vikings defeated the Chicago Bears by a score of 37-13 on September 17. Kicker Mike Mercer chalked up the distinction of having been the first Viking to put regular season points on the scoreboard by splitting the uprights with a 12-yard field goal. Bob Schnelker scored the team's first touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Tarkenton who ended up the day by connecting for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns on 17 of the 23 passes he threw.

As the franchise settled into the NFL, its young players rapidly became seasoned stars and on January 14, 1962, running back Hugh McElhenny and wide receiver Jerry Reichow became the first two Vikings to be named to the Pro Bowl. They were a part of the Western Conference All-Stars who narrowly edged by the Eastern Conference with a 31-30 victory. The following year, running back Tommy Mason, who was the Viking's first ever draft choice, was the first member of the team to earn All-Pro recognition. He was a consensus pick after rushing for 763 yards and 7 touchdowns on 166 carries.

As the 1964 season got underway, Minnesota was no longer viewed as the new guys, and when they finished up the regular season with three straight victories and an 8-5-1 record, the club had become an established part of the NFL.

Following the '64 season, with 1965 season tickets in demand, the decision was made to accommodate the growing interest in the Vikings by building a new grandstand which was constructed on the eastern side of Metropolitan Stadium. That expansion proved to be a wise decision when every one of the 47,200 seats were filled when the Vikings hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in the first pre-season game.

By the end of the 1966 season, the team had chalked up a record of 29 wins, 51 losses and 4 ties under the leadership of Coach Norm Van Brocklin who announced his retirement at the end of the season.

Van Brocklin's departure was the first wave of change for the Vikings who saw their quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, traded to the New York Giants the following month. In return for Tarkenton, the Vikings got first and second round draft picks in both 1968 and 1969. Those choice picks would eventually bring Clinton Jones, Bob Grimm, Ron Yary and Ed White into their fold.

Just three days after Tarkenton was traded to New York, Vikings fans awoke to newspaper headlines that brought news of another change – Bud Grant, who had led the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to four Grey Cup Championships, was named the team's new head coach.

Thus began the glory days of the still-young franchise from Minnesota. The team had a solid offense that could effectively move the ball down field and get it into the end zone. Their defensive line was so feared that it would earn various nicknames such as the "The Purple People Eaters" and "The Purple Gang". The Purple People Eaters, made up of Carl Eller, Alan Page, Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen, never considered a game day's work was done unless they carried out their goal to "meet at the quarterback", intercept passes, force fumbles, block punts and field goals and run back loose balls for touchdowns. The Purple People Eaters were not the massive monsters that the Ram's Fearsome Foursome were. In fact, they were all rather small compared to most defensive linemen, but they were incredibly fast.

Eller, who started with the Vikings in 1964 after playing with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, was the defensive leader of the Vikings. The legendary Green Bay Packer quarterback Bart Starr once called him the best defensive lineman in professional football. "He's all the great defensive ends rolled into one," Starr said after a game in which Eller sacked him three times, caused him to fumble and blocked a crucial field goal attempt.

Vikings
Photo courtesy of Icon Sports

Next to Eller there was "The Norse Nightmare", Gary Larsen, an ex-marine who relished the down and dirty punishment of a lineman's work. Larsen's pro career had begun in 1964 when he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. He was traded to the Vikings in 1966, and, as a member of the Eaters, was twice named to the Pro Bowl.

Page arrived in 1967 and was so fast that he could penetrate the line and get to the runner before the hand-off did. He was the first rookie that Bud Grant enlisted as a starter. And rounding out the Eaters was Marshall who had breakneck speed and an uncanny ability to ward off injury, making it possible for him to play in 282 consecutive games.

By the end of the 1968 season, The Purple People Eaters and their teammates needed to beat Philadelphia and see Chicago lose to Green Bay to clinch their first division title. The Vikings defeated Philly 24-17 and then dashed into their locker room to watch the Bears fall to The Pack by a score of 28-17.

On a cold, gray Baltimore afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings took to the field of Memorial Stadium, in their first ever playoff game, to face the Colts. But, despite a fourth quarter rally, the Vikings fell short and the Colts went on to a 24-14 victory.

The following season, once again, brought post-season play to Minnesota as the Vikings pulled their second division title from the jaws of the Detroit Tigers and went on to face Los Angeles in the first NFL playoff game to ever be played at The Met. The Vikings defeated the Rams by a score of 23-20 in that Western Conference Championship game, which took them to their first NFL championship game, against the Cleveland Browns on January 4, 1970.

By this time, Vikings fans were sensing that something big was about to happen. Those feeling were confirmed when they dominated the Browns, handily defeating them by a score of 27-7 and becoming the first modern NFL expansion team to win an NFL Championship game.

On January 11, 1970, the Minnesota Vikings met the Kansas City Chiefs on the field of Tulane Stadium in New Orleans for Super Bowl IV. It was the year after Broadway Joe had guaranteed the Jets win over Baltimore and the first year the "Big Game" was officially referred to as the "Super Bowl". But it was not to be a super day for Minnesota as they limped through the game looking like a bunch of high school kids and only chalked up 7 points to the Chiefs 23.

The following two seasons saw the Vikings chalk up two more division titles but were denied further trips to the Super Bowl by the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys. Although the big prize still eluded them, the Vikings 1971 season was highlighted by Alan Page becoming the first defensive player to ever be named as the NFL's Most Valuable Player by the Associated Press. He had earned the distinction by leading Minnesota's defense and holding opponents to fewer than 10 points per game.

Vikings
Photo courtesy of Icon Sports

Big news hit the Minnesota sports pages in 1972 when the Vikings reacquired Fran Tarkenton from the Giants in return for Norm Sneed, Bob Grimm, Vince Clements and a first round choice in 1972 and 1973. The great news of Tarkenton's return was tempered by the sad news that E. William Boyd passed away. One of the prime forces in the drive to bring an NFL franchise to Minnesota, he had served as the club's president for four years and had been a member of the board of directors for the team's first 12 years.

With Fran the Man at the helm, the Vikings impressively began the 1973 season with nine straight victories and clinched the NFC Central Championship before they even lost a game. They finished out the regular season with a 12-2 record, defeated Dallas in the NFC Championship game and on January 13, 1974 traveled to Rice Stadium in Houston to take on the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VIII.

Once again the Vikings, who performed with such stellar precision throughout the season, completely crumbled in the Big One, and for the second time could only garner 7 points against the Dolphins 24.

With five division titles and two Super Bowl appearances under their belts, the Vikings once again handily clinched the NFC Central crown in December of 1974. That title would be a prelude to a return trip to the Super Bowl and, although it would be on the same Tulane Stadium field in which the Chiefs had mopped them up, the Purple Pride was gleaming so brightly that Minnesotans were putting big money on the hopes that the third time, would be the charm. It was not to be. The Pittsburgh Stealers held the Vikings to only 6 points while chalking up 16 of their own. For the third time, the Vikings were sent home without the Lombardi Trophy and the talk that the team and Fran Tarkenton were incapable of winning the Big Game was becoming a part of NFL legend.

The 1975 season again saw the powerhouse Vikings clinch their third straight NFC Central title and their seventh division title They faced the Dallas Cowboys on December 28th of that year but were denied the chance to go to a third straight Super Bowl when Dallas scored a last minute 50-yard touchdown to beat the Vikings 17-14. Although the Super Bowl was not to be a part of the Vikings '75 season, Tarkenton was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player. He had led the NFC and finished second in the NFL in passing with a 91.7 rating. He had completed 273 of 425 passes for 2,994 yards, 25 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions.

The Vikings clinched their fourth-consecutive NFC Central Championship and their eighth division title in nine years in 1976. They finished the season with the best record in the NFL at 11-2-1 and defeated the Rams 24-13 to receive their fourth Super Bowl invitation.

Vikings
Photo courtesy of Icon Sports

On January 9, 1977, the Vikings headed for Pasadena's Rose Bowl where they were determined to break their Super Bowl jinx. Unfortunately, the Oakland Raiders had different plans for them and became the Super Bowl XI champs by downing the Vikings 32-14.

While a Super Bowl victory again eluded them, the Vikings came right back in 1977 to take the NFC Central crown for their fifth straight NFC title and their ninth division title in ten years. Their season ultimately came to an end on New Years Day of 1978, when at Texas Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys romped them by a score of 23-6.

As the 1970s came to an end, the Vikings had become to Minnesota what the Red Sox were to Boston, and, in the future, what the Bills would be to Buffalo – strong, solid teams who could clearly win games – just not the big game. They wrapped up the 1978 season by once again capturing the NFC Central title and their eleventh division championship, and in December of 1979 broke ground for their new home – the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

The 1980s began with the Vikings taking their seventh NFC Central title by defeating the Browns on December 14. That, however, would be the extent of their season as the Philadelphia Eagles sent them packing in the divisional playoffs.

In December of 1981, the Vikings said goodbye to Metropolitan Stadium. The send off to their old home was inauspicious as they lost to their old Super Bowl nemeses the Chiefs.

The Vikings played their first game at the Metrodome in a preseason match up against the Seattle Seahawks on August 21, 1982. They may have lost in their last game at their old stadium, but they christened their new one with a squeaker win and the first touchdown ever scored in the new facility came when Joe Spencer snagged an 11-yard pass from Tommy Kramer.

The 1982 season, which was shortened to only nine games by a strike, saw the Vikings again earn a post-season berth. They brought the first playoff match to their new stadium where they got passed the Atlanta Falcons by the score of 30-24 only to lose to the Washington Redskins in the NFC semi-finals.

In January of 1984, the Vikings legendary Head Coach, Bud Grant retired and was replaced with the team's offensive assistant, Les Strekel. Eleven months later, Bud Grant was hired to replace Strekel and stayed on in the top slot until the end of the 1985 campaign. When he finally hung it up for good, he did so as the sixth most successful coach in NFL history with 168 career wins. In his 18 seasons with the Vikings, he had chalked up a regular season record of 158 wins, 96 losses and 5 ties.

After Grant, the Vikings front office gave the nod to their longtime assistant coach, Jerry Burns, just a few months before Fran Tarkenton became the first player who had spent the majority of his career with the Vikings to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tarkenton had retired following the 1978 season with NFL records for passing yards (47,003), completions (3,686) and touchdown passes (342). He had led the Vikings to six NFC Central titles, four NFC Championships and three Super Bowls. The only thing he missed out on was a Super Bowl championship ring.

Post-season appearances continued for the Vikings in the 1987 and 1988 seasons and, in the summer of '88, Alan Page became the second Viking to be inducted into the hallowed halls of Canton. Drafted by Minnesota in the first round back in 1967, Page made appearances in nine Pro Bowls, was named the NFLs Most Valuable Player and played in all four of the Vikings unsuccessful Super Bowls.

The Vikings advanced to post-season play in both of the last two years of the 1980s, giving them twelve division titles in fifteen post-season appearances and, in 1989, they acquired Herschel Walker from the Cowboys.

Vikings
Photo courtesy of Icon Sports

The 1990s saw the Vikings continue in what had become the team's signature play – winning seasons, playoff appearances and division titles. They acquired Warren Moon from Houston in 1994 and ultimately made it to their sixth NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons where they battled to a 27-27 tie during regulation time and were then denied a fifth Super Bowl invite by a Falcon field goal in overtime. The '90s also saw Bud Grant and Paul Krause enshrined into the Hall of Fame and a wide receiver named Randy Moss acquired in 1998.

The turn of the Century saw Cris Carter honored as the first recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for civic involvement and Robert Smith surpass Chuck Forman's 20-year old career rushing record.

The year 2000 was also the Vikings 40th anniversary and they overcame every critics expectations by posting an 11-5 regular season record, winning the franchise's 15th NFC Central title and making it to their 23rd playoff game before (of course) losing to the Giants in the NFC Championship game.

For card collectors who are interested in owning star players, the Minnesota Vikings have added their share to the hobby, and with the purposeful exclusion of Moon and Walker (who are really more associated with Houston and Dallas than Minnesota) THE must-have cards are those of Fran Tarkenton, Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Paul Krause, Carl Eller and Alan Page.

The 1962 Topps #90 is the only recognized Fran Tarkenton rookie card. It is a condition sensitive card due to its pesky black borders. Centering is also an issue with this card. According to SMR editor Joe Orlando, this card is a true challenge for the high-end football card collector. "The Tarkenton rookie is a key card in the set and the set is tremendous, both beautiful and challenging," said Orlando.

As far as THE other Vikings cards – For Paul Krause the must-have is the 1965 Philadelphia #189. For Cris Carter it's the 1989 Score #72 (there is also a Topps #21 issue from the same year but significantly lower in desirability and value). And, for Randy Moss it would be the 1998 SP Authentic #18.

As for compiling the must-haves, for Carl Eller it's the 1965 Philadelphia #105 and Alan Page's most desirable card is the 1970 Topps #59.

Secure those six cards and you will have a collection that you can display with pride – purple pride that is.