Taking Down Tarkenton

Jeff RobbinsContributor IMay 31, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 07:  Brett Favre #4 of the New York Jets  leaves the field after his game against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL game on December 7, 2008 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

A week ago, if I had found myself playing the macabre party game “Dead or Alive,” and Fran Tarkenton’s name had come up, I would have been stumped.

I certainly wouldn’t have thought that the former Minnesota Vikings quarterback and co-host of That’s Incredible was definitely dead, but Frantic Fran hasn’t exactly been making many headlines lately.

Well, Scramblin’ Fran, 69, is alive. And angry. At Brett Favre.

Sir Frances told a radio station last week that he would like to see No. 4 play for his former team this upcoming season. But not so the former Packer could lead the Purple to its first-ever Super Bowl title.

“I kind of hope it happens, so he can fail,” Tarkenton said.

Tarkenton went on to call Favre “despicable” for how he has conducted himself since his initial retirement in March 2008, and he summed up Favre’s last season by stating “He goes to New York and bombs” (which is only true if you ignore Favre’s first 11 games, during which he led the Jets to an 8-3 record).

Now, I have tons of respect for Sir Francis. Not only for his stellar playing career, but for something a bit more arcane: in 1977, Tarkenton was the very first athlete to host Saturday Night Live (Minnesota natives Al Franken and Tom Davis lobbied hard for him) and for my money, Fran the Man was more natural on-camera and funnier than any of the countless athletes that have hosted since then. 

(For anyone who believes that SNL is edgier now than it was 30 years ago, I urge you to rent or download Tarkenton’s fine episode. Sketches such as the “Anabolic Steroids Cereal” commercial parody and the “Black Perspective” debate on African-American quarterbacks would never get on the air today.)

But Francis’ decision to give a rare public interview on Brett Favre sounds to me like nothing but sour grapes.

Why would Tarkenton be bitter toward Favre? Well, when Tarkenton retired in 1978, he held the following NFL records: pass attempts, completions, yardage, touchdowns, rushing yards by a quarterback, and wins by a starting quarterback. Now, with the exception of rushing yards (that record is owned by Randall Cunningham, who oddly enough also played with Minnesota), all of those records are held by Favre.

And despite Tarkenton’s Hall of Fame career, he (like poor Jim Kelly) is unjustly remembered as someone who, despite numerous opportunities, could not win a Super Bowl. Tarkenton played lousy in all three of his bids for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, notching an unenviable 0-3 Super Bowl record. .

So although it seems like a long shot, I think Francis is a little perturbed at the mere thought that the guy who now holds nearly all of the records he once held could possibly lead the team that he once led for 13 seasons to something that he could not—a Super Bowl victory.

Do I agree with Tarkenton that by his actions over the past 16 months Favre has sullied his career with the Packers? No question. But as the Vikings’ greatest living ex-player, Tarkenton has hardly outclassed Favre by going on record as saying he hopes his former team makes a move that will cause it to “fail.”

Bud Grant would never say such a thing. Ever if he were alive. 

Wait a minute . . .



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