Fran Tarkenton and Fred Zamberletti were NFL rookies when they arrived in Bemidji for the first Vikings training camp back on July 8, 1961.
Fran was the quarterback. Fred was head athletic trainer and, according to Fran, "a confidante, a counselor, a leader, a friend to everyone," and "someone who was a whole lot more than a guy who taped your ankles and treated your injuries and all that stuff."
"We all stayed in those dormitories in Bemidji, and nobody had any money, and we were stuck there for seven weeks," Tarkenton said. "I met Freddie and we hit it off. He and I used to go in the gym and play badminton. He ended up becoming as good a friend as I had my entire football career."
One of the most beloved figures in Vikings history, Zamberletti, who died in 2018, will soon have his own little nook inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Identified as one of 20 individuals to receive "Awards of Excellence" under a program launched by the Hall to recognize significant contributors to the game, Zamberletti will have his name displayed within a hallway walking distance of the bronze busts belonging to Tarkenton, Tingelhoff, Page, Eller and all the other Vikings legends and Zamberletti friends being housed forever in Canton.
A reception will be held at the Hall on Wednesday night. The awards ceremony and unveiling of the display will be the next day.
Five athletic trainers, five assistant coaches, five equipment managers and five public relations staff members make up the inaugural class of honorees. The four groups created their own selection committees and are separate from the Hall and the committee that selects the Hall of Famers.
Joining Zamberletti among the athletic trainers being honored are George Anderson (Raiders), Otho Davis (Eagles), John Omohundro (Cardinals) and Jerry Rhea (Falcons).
Assistant coaches being honored are Alex Gibbs, Jimmy Raye, Terry Robiskie, Fritz Shurmur and Ernie Zampese. The equipment managers are Sid Brooks, Ed Carroll, Tony Parisi, Dan "Chief" Simmons and Whitney Zimmerman. And the public relations staff members are Joe Browne, Charlie Dayton, Joe Gordon, Jim Saccomano and Gary Wright.
Zamberletti was chief physical therapist at Hibbing General Hospital in 1959 and head athletic trainer at the University of Toledo in 1960 before joining the expansion Vikings. From 1961 to '98, he was head athletic trainer. He was coordinator of medical services from 1999 to 2001 and senior consultant and team historian from 2002 until his death in 2018.
"Fred became legendary as a trainer," Vikings Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant said. "They don't mention how valuable a trainer is to a coach. Fred had a quality of conveying individual traits when it came to injuries and how long it would take different players with the same injury to return and play at the same level before they were injured."
The Vikings of the 1960s and '70s were among the most durable in the history of sports. Three of the top seven players on the list of consecutive starts in NFL history — Jim Marshall (270), Mick Tingelhoff (240) and Alan Page (215) — were on Vikings teams that went to four of the first 11 Super Bowls.
Zamberletti is a member of the Minnesota Athletic Trainers Hall of Fame and the Vikings Ring of Honor. He received the Professional Athletic Trainer of the Year award in 1986. His staff was voted the NFL's best in 1996. And, in 1999, Zamberletti earned the Fain Cain Memorial Award and was an honorary fellow of the Minneapolis Sports Medicine Center.
"Freddie became as important a part of the Vikings organization as anybody," Tarkenton said. "He was one of a kind and always there. He was a great Viking."