Fran Tarkenton revived Giants when Jets were kings of New York

Fran Tarkenton revived Giants when Jets were kings of New York

The giants were desperate. Think things were bad in recent years? In 1966 they bottomed out, going 1-12-1 two seasons after going 2-10-2. They were turning the city over, 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 equal skill, who had made two Pro Bowls with the expansion Vikings but had grown disenchanted with their hard-line coach, Norm Van Brocklin.

“You give up a lot to get a lot,” Giants coach Allie Sherman said in a news conference that day. “We think Fran can come in here and make this team make a run for it.”

Fran Tarkenton helped lead the Giants out of the wilderness when he was acquired in 1967, ending a 17-year playoff drought. Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images

The Giants and Vikings, who meet Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis in a wild-card playoff game, will be forever linked by the trade. The Vikings believed he would improve them in a hurry, and they were right—within two years they won the NFC under a quarterback most unlike Tarkenton, named Joe Kapp.

The giants?

Well, the truth was that they immediately became observable again. Tarkenton was a fearless player and in many ways was the forerunner, for nearly 60 years, of the kind of quarterback play we routinely see now — from Josh Allen to Lamar Jackson, Daniel Jones to Jalen Hurts. Van Brocklin mockingly called him a “mix,” but Sherman was quick to say his new prize was more than that.

“That’s a misused word,” Sherman said. “Diffusion is a better word. In Fran’s case, presentation is a quality. He knows when to come out of that pocket and he doesn’t come out without reason. It’s an instinct. He can turn a down game into a productive game.”

And the thing is, Tarkenton did exactly what the Giants hoped he would do. From the ashes of ’66, they went 14-14 the next two years, and Tarkenton made two Pro Bowls. In 1970, the Giants went 9-5 and weren’t eliminated from the playoffs until the last day of the season, one full year into a 17-year wilderness of playoff obscurity.

Photos by Fran TarkentonTony Tomsic/NFL

Of course, as big as Tarkenton was, he didn’t help the Giants make their targeted attacks 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 formidable again, but the Jets went 11-3 and won the Super Bowl. Tarkenton, despite his colorful personality and elite skills, was the other obvious quarterback in town.

It overshadows what was actually a terrific 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 in those years: 11,684 passing yards, 56 rushing yards, 70 passing TDs, four rushing 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.

This, as much as anything else, soured Tarkenton on his experience with the Giants. After a subpar 1971 season, Tarkenton declared he would retire unless he was traded elsewhere—the “elsewhere” turned out to be his old home, Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis. The Giants received a three-man haul, including quarterback Norm Snead. The Vikings ended up riding Tarkenton to three Super Bowl appearances in four years from 1973-76.

Tarkenton is rightly remembered as a lifelong Viking.

But for one brief shining moment, he also breathed life into Big Blue, managing to stake a claim for his share of the quarterback market in this city at a time when it seemed like Joe Namath was everywhere, selling everything.

“I loved New York,” Tarkenton said a few years ago, “but in those days it was very clear that New York was a Jets town. More specifically, it was a Joe Willie town.”

Vac Hacks

You never know how these things will work out, but come spring, we can look back on Wednesday night at the Garden – Rangers tie the Stars with less than a second to go, then win in OT – as a turnaround for some better things.

“Your Honor” (below) is back tonight on Showtime, a wonderful gap now that “1923” is on vacation for a few weeks.

Bryan Cranston as Michael Desiato in Your Honor Skip Bolen/SHOWTIME

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 group became aware of Jones’ good work because of an article written in The Post by the talented young Howie Kussoy.

I believe the Eagles can all be wearing purple Carl Eller and Alan Page jerseys on Sunday in the comfort of their own homes, right?

I wait again in Vac

Steve Harris: For the Knicks, 40-45 wins seems fair and certainly better and more fun than the 25 years before this coaching staff. However, without a true superstar, they are no match for the elite teams.

Vac: If the NBA were like a golf tournament, the Knicks could do well in the top flight.

From left to right: Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and Mitchell RobinsonGetty Images

Albert Carbone: Your column about the NFL season being too long was spot on. If I remember correctly, Pete Rozelle always said 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 long.

@therealSully66: After the 1997 Giants-Vikings playoff scrimmage, it took me 1.5 hours to drag my brother out of section 126.

@MikeVacc: For all their glory, in the last four decades, the Giants have three playoff losses — this, the Flipper Anderson game and the 2003 Candlestick lead — that still cause some lingering migraines among the faithful.

Marty Gavin: Too bad the Jets finale wasn’t at the Meadowlands as it was a perfect football afternoon for a flyover — SELL … THE TEAM …

Vac: We’re getting closer and closer to that, aren’t we?

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