Patrick Reusse
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The NFL owners conducted a lively meeting in Miami in which they elected Pete Rozelle as their new commissioner. They also reacted to competition from the new American Football League by adding two expansion teams.

The date was Jan. 28, 1960, and Dallas (Cowboys) would join as the 13th team in 1960 and Minnesota (Vikings) as the 14th in 1961.

This seemed to be perfect timing for a fledgling pro football team to take over the Minnesota sports scene.

Our beloved Gophers had gone 3-15 during the 1958 and 1959 seasons, with coach Murray Warmath being hung in effigy in a tree outside Territorial Hall after the last of those 1959 losses — 11-7 to Wisconsin.

I can confirm that. I was there. Even walked past the trumpeter playing "Taps'' for Murray near said tree.

The Gophers looked to be in sad shape. The Minneapolis Lakers were known to be heading for Los Angeles after the season. And there were no strong indications the effort to land a Major League Baseball team was close to success.

So, on that date — 1/28/60 — Max Winter headed back from the Miami meeting with an expansion team in his pocket and confident the NFL debut would be what had our heart pumping and corpuscles jumping.

It did not work out that way.

The American League on Oct. 26 of that year announced expansion and that the original Washington Senators would be moving to Minnesota. Ten days later, Warmath's No. 3-rated Gophers defeated No. 1 Iowa 27-10 at Memorial Stadium — and they would wind up in two straight Rose Bowls.

By the time young coach Norm Van Brocklin assembled a collection now called the Vikings, these expansion misfits, for training camp in faraway Bemidji … we weren't that worked up.

By then, we had seen Harmon Killebrew's majestic home runs, and we couldn't wait to see more of Sandy Stephens, Bobby Bell and the new tackle, Carl Eller, with the Gophers.

The Vikings, up there in the woods, slapping mosquitoes in July? Well, Cliff Morlan, the barber/sports columnist at the Bemidji Pioneer, sure was excited.

"Teams had 40-player rosters, and they protected 34 in the expansion draft,'' Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton said this week. "That means the Vikings got to pick three of the last six from each team. Those castoffs and us rookies … that basically was our team.

"We lost all five of our exhibitions — and that's when all the regulars played in those games. The Bears beat us bad [30-7] in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a couple of weeks before the opener."

Tarkenton was the rookie quarterback, in tandem with veteran George Shaw, acquired from the New York Giants for a 1962 first-round draft choice.

Tark was the Vikings' third-round draft choice for 1961, and expected to serve an apprenticeship behind Shaw.

Again, it did not work out that way.

. . .

As the Vikings' mob of fired-up customers unleash the "Skol" chant this Saturday, late in their seventh season inside the palatial $1.15 billion stadium, it will be for their 1,000th game that counts — No. 949 in the regular season to go with 51 in the playoffs.

The NFL is unchallenged as the titan of U.S. sports interest, and the current Vikings hold that status here just as clearly.

They have invaded our souls through generations now, these Vikings — with the agony as embraceable as the ecstasy.

Evidence: This season's bunch is the most-unlikely 10-3 in franchise history, and yet this has been a week of fans calling for the dismissal of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

Those emotions did not exist on Sept. 17, 1961, prior to the first of a thousand Purple kickoffs — Vikings vs. Bears, with the St. Louis Park Parkette cheerleaders trying to stir up pregame excitement from the non-sellout crowd counted (not announced) at 32,236 at Met Stadium.

When the Vikings arrived on that Sunday, they did so with no heroes and no expectations.

The Vikings opener kicked off at 1 p.m. Roughly 3 ½ hours later, George Halas, Bears owner, president and coach, was last on the team bus. By legend, he glared at his players, assessed their quality as human beings in a brief, vile sentence, and then plopped into his seat.

That's because the Vikings had pulled off a 37-13 shocker, and our new team had its hero — and one hard to top 62 years later.

"We were a brand-new team of many castoffs," Tarkenton said. "The stadium wasn't filled. These were the Bears of George Halas — a football genius, a league founder … Papa Bear!

"Many people had been getting only Bears games on Sundays for years. There were probably as many Bears fans there that Sunday as Vikings.

"And they had beat us as bad as they wanted to two weeks earlier.

"Add it up, it's more than the biggest upset in Vikings history. In my opinion, it's the biggest upset in NFL history."

Van Brocklin told Tarkenton after the last exhibition he was going to start the opener. Tark's response was: "If that's the case, I'm going to be at your house on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday after practice, looking at Bears film. You're going to show me everything you can about that defense."

That's what happened. "Van Brocklin was crazy at times, but he was a very smart football mind," Tarkenton said. "He showed me how to read every blitz, every coverage. I was never more prepared for a game."

On the Sunday morning of the game, Van Brocklin said to Tarkenton: "I can't do this to George. He's the veteran. I have to start him."

We know the punchline, but here was Tark this week: "I didn't like it, but I understood. And when we didn't move the ball with George in the first quarter, Van Brocklin put me in and everything we'd seen on film was right there.

"It was like stealing. I finished 17-of-21 for 237 yards, four TDs and I ran for another. And that was in three quarters.

"Everybody talked about me 'scrambling,' but that amazing first upset — that was about great preparation.''

Tarkenton offered a sarcastic laugh and said: "Writers called me a 'freak,' dismissed me for running around so much. Now, Patrick Mahomes does the same thing, and he's a genius.

"Which is he is, by the way. But I wasn't bad."

Pause. "I retired after 1978 with the all-time record for passing yards,'' he said. "You know how long I held that record? Seventeen years.

"You know how long Peyton Manning held it? Three."

Fran the Man. The Scrambler. Or just plain Tark.

The quarterback was our first Super Hero In Purple, starting with Game 1 on the cutout infield and grass inside a Bloomington erector set. Justin Jefferson, the receiver, is the latest, entering Game 1,000 in a grandiose shrine to the Vikings' popularity.

And there have been handfuls of those special athletes and warriors in the decades in between, which is why, as Minnesotans, the Vikings own us.