OPINION — Sure, the Super Bowl is over — how about those Chiefs! — but it’s too cold to talk baseball. Let’s keep the huddle warm for a few more days and talk about South Dakota and the NFL.
What, you think our state has no pro football history?
Please. We have some, and it’s not just about the great Adam Vinatieri, the Yankton-born, Rapid City-raised kicker who was the greatest to ever lace up a shoe.
Pro Football HOF quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, famous for his strong arm and cranky nature, was born on March 15, 1926, near the tiny, unincorporated community of Parade, S.D., in the central part of the state. Eagle Butte is the closest town.
The Van Brocklin clan moved to California in 1931, but South Dakota still claims him as a native son. Van Brocklin, like baseball manager George “Sparky” Anderson, was born in South Dakota but raised in California. Both are in the South Dakota Hall of Fame, but only Sparky made the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame. That oversight should be corrected.
He still holds the NFL record by throwing for 554 yards in a single game. Van Brocklin threw for 23,611 yards and 173 touchdowns, along with 178 interceptions. He also was a talented punter, with 22,413 punting yards to his credit.
Van Brocklin, known as “The Dutchman,” played for a pair of NFL title teams, the 1951 Los Angeles Rams and the 1960 Philadelphia Eagles. He was named the league’s most valuable player, won a title — and retired.
Van Brocklin went out on top as a player, but he started at the bottom as a coach. He became the first head coach of the expansion Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings played their first exhibition game in Sioux Falls on Aug. 5, 1961, before a gathering of 4,954. In an omen of things to come, the Vikes fell to the Dallas Cowboys 38-13.
Rookie QB Fran Tarkenton did toss a touchdown pass. He would have a long, memorable career.
Van Brocklin, a classic pocket passer, disliked Tarkenton’s scrambling style. Both wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The old quarterback turned coach and the youngster from Georgia battled for six years until the spring of 1967, when Van Brocklin retired and Tarkenton was traded to the NY Giants, but he returned to Minnesota in 1972.
Tarkenton, famous for his quick feet and mind, played 18 seasons — 13 for the Vikings — and threw 342 touchdown passes, a record when he retired in 1978.
He led the Vikes to three of their four Super Bowls; the Purple Gang lost 23-7 to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV in 1970. They fell to the Miami Dolphins, owned by South Dakota native Joe Robbie, 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII in 1974.
In 1976, Minnesota was pounded to the turf by the Pittsburgh Steelers, losing 16-6 in a game that wasn’t that close. A winter windstorm knocked down the KSFY tower, knocking NBC off the air hours before the big game for most of eastern South Dakota.
However, KSFY struck a quick deal with KELO and the game was shown on that channel.
In 1977, the Vikings went to their fourth Super Bowl in less than a decade but once again found disappointment, with their worst loss, falling 32-14 to the Oakland Raiders.
By then, The Dutchman was out of the game, having been fired by the Falcons midway through the 1974 season.
The Dutchman coached the Vikes for six seasons and the Atlanta Falcons for seven never making the playoffs. His career mark was 66-100-7.
But he was colorful and made for good copy. Van Brocklin once reacted bitterly after losing on a last-minute FG from a soccer-style kicker.
“They ought to change the goddamned immigration laws in this country,” he said.
His health declined after he quit coaching. After surgery to remove a brain tumor, Van Brocklin took a shot at some old enemies. “It was a brain transplant,” he said. “They gave me a sportswriter’s brain, to make sure I got one that hadn‘t been used.”
Van Brocklin died in 1984. He was 57. Tarkenton, who turns 81 on Wednesday, said he was “saddened” by the loss of his old coach, whom he said had a “brilliant offensive football mind.”
The ornery old Dutchman might have smiled at that. For a second, anyway.
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