The Giants were desperate. Do you think things have been bad in recent years? In 1966 they bottomed out, going 1-12-1 two seasons after going 2-10-2. They were surrendering the city, piece by piece, to the Jets — whose star quarterback Joe Namath was already a star off the field even as he worked to become one on it.
So the Giants pulled the trigger on a monumental deal on March 7, 1967. They sent the Minnesota Vikings two first-round picks, a second-rounder and a player to be named for Francis Asbury Tarkenton, a 27-year-old quarterback. who could run and pass with the same skill, who had made two Pro Bowls with the expansion Vikings but had fallen out of favor with their hardline coach, Norm Van Brocklin.
“You give up a lot to get a lot,” Giants manager Ali Sherman said in a news conference that day. “We happen to think Fran can step in here and make this team make a run.”
The Giants and Vikings, who meet Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis in a wild-card playoff game, will forever be associated with that trade. The Vikings thought he would make them better in a hurry, and they were right—within two years they won the NFC under a quarterback who didn’t look like Tarkenton named Joe Kapp.
Well, the truth was, they immediately became watchable again. Tarkenton was a fearless player and in many ways was the forerunner, for nearly 60 years, of the kind of play we now commonly see – from Josh Allen to Lamar Jackson to Daniel Jones to Jalen Hurts. Van Brocklin mockingly called him a “scrambler,” but Sherman was quick to say that his new prize was more than that.
“That’s a word that gets used in error,” Sherman said. “Mood is a better word. In Fran’s case, the mood is qualitative. He knows when to get out of that pocket, and he doesn’t get out for no reason. It’s instinct. It can turn a failed project into a productive one.”
And the thing is, Tarkenton did exactly what the Giants hoped. From the ashes of ’66, they went 14-14 over the next two years and Tarkenton made two Pro Bowls. In 1970, the Giants went 9-5 and were not eliminated from the playoffs until the final day of the season, their one full year in a 17-year wilderness of playoff darkness.
Of course, as great as Tarkenton was, he didn’t help the Giants in their pursuit against the Jets. In 1967, while Tarkenton had a breakout year (29 TD passes), Namath threw for a record 4,007 yards. In 1968 Tarkenton was terrible again, but the Jets went 11-3 and won the Super Bowl. Tarkenton, despite his colorful personality and elite skills, was the other general in town.
It reveals what was actually an amazing Giants career for Tarkenton – who from 1967-71 threw for 13,905 yards, ran for 1,126, had 103 touchdown passes (and 10 TD runs) and 72 interceptions. (Namath’s numbers those years: 11,684 yards passing, 56 yards rushing, 70 TD passes, four rushes and 80 interceptions.)
But Tarkenton was 33-36 for the Giants, with zero playoff appearances. Namath 32-17-1 for the Jets, with a win in Super Bowl III.
That, more than anything, soured Tarkenton on his experience with the Giants. After a downbeat 1971 season, Tarkenton declared that he would retire unless he was traded elsewhere – “elsewhere” turned out to be his old home, Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis. The Giants took a three-player haul, including quarterback Norm Snead. The Vikings finished Tarkenton in three Super Bowl appearances in four years from 1973-76.
Tarkendon is remembered, rightly, as forever a Viking.
But for a brief shining moment he also breathed life into Big Blue, managing to claim his own share of the quarterback market in this city at a time when it seemed like Joe Namath was everywhere and selling everything.
“I loved New York,” Tarkenton said a few years ago, “but in those days it was pretty clear that New York was a Jets town. More specifically, it was a Joe Willie town.”
You never know how these things will go, but come spring we might look back on Wednesday night at the Garden — the Rangers tie the Stars with less than a second to go and then win in OT — as a tourniquet for some better things.
“Your Honor” (below) returns to Showtime tonight, a great gap now that “1923” is on hiatus for a few weeks.
Heart 9/11, an organization made up of police officers and firefighters who served at Ground Zero, will send 12 of its members later this month to Mobile, Ala., to help Cleon Jones renovate homes in his hometown of Africatown. The 9/11 team became aware of Jones’ good work because of an article written in The Post by gifted youngster Howie Kussoy.
I think the Eagles can all wear the purple jerseys of Carl Eller and Alan Page on Sunday in the comfort of their homes, don’t you?
Whack Back at Vac
Steve Harris: For the Knicks, 40-45 wins seems about right and certainly better and more fun than 25 years ago with this coaching staff. However, without a true superstar, they are no match for the elite teams.
Vac: If the NBA was like a golf club tournament, the Knicks might be fine with the first flight.
Albert Carbone: Your column about the NFL season being too long was spot on. If I remember correctly, Pete Rozelle always said that his biggest concern was overexposure. He’s in NFL Heaven right now yelling “Stop!”
Vac: I’m pretty sure in NFL Heaven, seasons are still 16 games.
@therealSully66: After the 1997 Giants-Vikings playoff upset, it took me nearly 1.5 hours to drag my brother out of the 126 section.
@MikeVacc: Despite their glory, in the last four decades the Giants have three playoff losses — this one, the Flipper Anderson game and the blown lead at Candlestick in 2003 — that still give the faithful some lingering migraines.
Marty Gavin: What a shame the Jets finale wasn’t at the Meadowlands as it was a perfect airplane football afternoon — SELL… THE… TEAM…
Vac: We’re getting closer and closer to that, aren’t we?