Fran Tarkenton

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Fran Tarkenton


American football player

Few professional football players have burst upon the scene as spectacularly as Fran Tarkenton. In his very first pro game, Tarkenton came off the bench to toss four touchdown passes, leading his Minnesota Vikings team to a decisive 37-13 victory over the Chicago Bears. After eighteen seasons in the National Football League (NFL), Tarkenton left professional football with league records for passing attempts (6,467), completions (3,686), yards (47,003), and touchdowns (342). Tarkenton, who former Vikings coach Bud Grant once called "the greatest quarterback to ever play the game," was perhaps best known for his elusive scrambling ability. Inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1986, Tarkenton topped the 1,000-yard passing mark in each of his eighteen seasons with the Vikings. If Tarkenton left the game

with any regrets at all, it may well have been his failure to win a Super Bowl during his career. He led the Vikings to the Super Bowl in 1974, 1975, and 1977 but lost all three championship games to their American Football Conference (AFC) opponents. Tarkenton's post-football career as a business entrepreneur, which rivaled his football years in its phenomenal success, was marred in the mid-1990s by government charges of financial fraud.

Born in Richmond, Virginia

He was born Francis Asbury Tarkenton in Richmond, Virginia, on February 3, 1940. The son of Dallas, a Methodist minister, and Frances Tarkenton, a homemaker, he attended high school in Athens, Georgia, where as a junior he led his football team to the state championships in 1955. During his senior year at Athens High, he was named all-state in not only football, but baseball and basketball as well. After graduation from high school, Tarkenton moved across town to study business administration at the University of Georgia in Athens. He also made a name for himself as starting quarterback for the Georgia Bulldogs football team. In his junior year, Tarkenton forever endeared himself to Bulldog fans by tossing a winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of the team's game against Auburn. He led the Bulldogs to a 1959 season record of 10-1 and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) title. As a senior, Tarkenton earned All-American and first team Academic All-American honors, as he captained the Bulldogs to a 6-4 season record. Wallace Butts, Tarkenton's coach at Georgia, once said of his star quarterback: "Tarkenton has no superior as a field general and ball-handler."

Despite his impressive record at Georgia, Tarkenton was not selected until the third round of the NFL draft in 1961, and then by the newly-established Minnesota Vikings franchise. In the Vikings' debut game on September 17, 1961, Tarkenton threw four touchdown passes to lead the Vikings past the Chicago Bears, 37-13. In his first professional season, Tarkenton also established an NFL record for most consecutive completed passes with thirteen in the Vikings' 42-21 win over Los Angeles. For the season as a whole, he passed for a total of 1,997 yards and eighteen touchdowns. In the 1962 season, Tarkenton compiled a pass completion rate of only 49.5 percentthe lowest of his eighteen years in the NFLwith a total of 2,595 yards and twenty-two touchdowns, four of the touchdowns coming in the Vikings' November 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Shines in Pro Bowl Play

In 1963, Tarkenton threw for 2,311 yards and fifteen touchdowns. The following season, he passed for a total of 2,506 yards and twenty-two touchdowns, winning himself a berth in the Pro Bowl as a reserve quarterback. He took MVP honors at the Pro Bowl when he completed eight of thirteen passes for 172, leading the West to a 34-14 win. After throwing for 2,609 yards and nineteen touchdowns in the regular 1965 season, Tarkenton was again tapped for the Pro Bowl. In 1966, what was to be his last season for the Vikings for six years, Tarkenton passed for a total of 2,561 yards and seventeen touchdowns.

Tarkenton had already earned the nickname of "The Scrambler" for his uncanny ability to elude tacklers and rush for yardage, but some of his improvisations on the football field left Vikings coaches unsettled and not altogether happy. Shortly after the 1966 season, he was traded to the New York Giants. In 1967, his first season with the Giants, Tarkenton passed for a total of 3,088 yards and twenty-nine touchdowns. In 1968, he threw for 2,555 yards and twenty-one touchdowns, followed by 2,918 yards and twenty-three touchdowns in 1969. He passed for a total of 2,567 yards and eleven touchdowns in 1970 and 2,651 yards and eighteen touchdowns in 1971. Shortly after the 1971 season, the Giants traded Tarkenton back to the Vikings in exchange for Norm Snead, Bob Grim, Vince Clements, a first round draft pick in 1972 and a second-round selection in the 1973 draft.


1940 Born in Richmond, Virginia, on February 3
1955 Leads Athens (GA) High School team to state football championship
1957-61 Attends University of Georgia
1961 Drafted by Minnesota Vikings of the NFL and Boston Patriots of the AFL
1966 Traded to New York Giants from the Vikings
1972 Returns to Minnesota Vikings and founds Behavioral Systems Inc.
1979 Retires from professional football
1979 Hired by ABC-TV as commentator on "Monday Night Football" and co-host of "That's Incredible"
1995 Sells Knowledge Ware at substantial loss
1999 Pays $100,000 in settlement of SEC fraud charges in connection with Knowledge Ware operation

Related Biography: Coach Wally Butts

Coach and athletic director at the University of Georgia for more than two decades, Wally Butts helped to shape the football careers of Hall of Famers Frank Sinkwich, Charley Trippi, and Fran Tarkenton. Perhaps more importantly, Butts instilled a sense of values and discipline in all the young men who passed through his football program at Georgia.

Born near Milledgeville, Georgia, on February 7, 1905, he was the only child of James Wallace Butts, who ran a dray service, and Anna Louisetta (Hutchinson) Butts. His mother died when he was only three, and he and his father moved to Atlanta, where young Butts was raised by a grandmother, aunts, and uncles. He developed into an outstanding football player and captained his football team at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. After graduating from Mercer in 1928, Butts began coaching at Madison A&M University and later coached at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville and Male High School in Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1938 Butts was hired as an assistant by University of Georgia football coach Joel Hunt. The following year, Hunt quit, and Butts took over as head coach. Over the next twenty-two years, he built the University of Georgia's Bulldogs into a national football power. Perhaps his finest moment came in 1959 when his Bulldogs, led by All-Americans Tarkenton and Pat Dye, won the Southeastern Conference championship.

Butts left the University of Georgia in 1963, not long after a scandal erupted over a story in the Saturday Evening Post charging that he had colluded with legendary University of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant to throw a game in 1962. Both Butts and Bryant sued the popular magazine, but only Butts' case made it court, where he was awarded libel damages of $3 million, a figure eventually pared down to just under $500,000. Butts launched a new career in the insurance business. He set up his own company in Athens, Georgia, and eventually became a millionaire, largely on the strength of business from Georgia alumni. In December 1973, Butts suffered a fatal heart attack while jogging on the city streets of Athens.

Founds Behavioral Systems Inc.

Around this time, Tarkenton began to lay the groundwork for a career outside football. In 1972 he founded Behavioral Systems Inc., a motivational business. Drawing perhaps on some of the evangelical fervor of his childhood as the son of a minister, Tarkenton had always believed that almost anything could be accomplished by someone with the right combination of dogged determination and sufficient inspiration. Thousands of Americans paid handsome fees to hear Tarkenton deliver his messages of inspiration. Back at the helm of the Vikings for the 1972 season, Tarkenton threw for 2,651 yards and eighteen touchdowns, winning All-NFC honors from the Sporting News and United Press International. In 1973, his second season back with the Vikings, he threw for 2,113 yards and fifteen touchdowns, leading the team from the Twin Cities to an NFC Championship and the Super Bowl, where the Vikings fell to the Miami Dolphins, 24-7.

Once again in 1974, Tarkenton led the Vikings to an NFC championship, but the team's luck was no better in Super Bowl IX, where it lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 16-6. Although Tarkenton was selected for the Pro Bowl, he did not play. In 1975, his 15th season in the NFL, he compiled a sizzling pass completion rate of 64.7 percent, the best of his career, throwing for 2,994 yards and 25 touchdowns. Tarkenton's performance powered the Vikings to another championship in the NFC's Central Division. The sports media heaped praise on Tarkenton for his brilliant year. He was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player by Associated Press, Newspaper Enterprise Association, Pro Football Weekly, and Sporting News. Additionally, Sporting News named him NFC Player of the Year; Pro Football Weekly dubbed him NFL Offensive Player of the Year; and both Associated Press and United Press International named him All-NFC.

In the 1976 season Tarkenton threw for 2,961 yards and seventeen touchdowns, winning the Vikings a return trip to the Super Bowl in January 1977. It was to be Tarkenton's final Super Bowl game, and, like the first two, it ended in defeat. In Super Bowl XI, the Oakland Raiders bested the Vikings, 32-14, although Tarkenton completed seventeen of thirty-five passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. At the end of the regular season, Tarkenton was named All-NFC by United Press International. In 1977, he suffered a broken leg in the Vikings' November 13 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, which kept him out of the final five games of the regular season as well as two playoff games. For the season as a whole, he threw for a total of 1,734 yards and nine touchdowns. In 1978, his final season, Tarkenton threw for 3,468 yards and twenty-five touchdowns, leading the Vikings to another NFC Central Division championship.

Career Statistics

Passing Rushing
MIN: Minnesota Vikings; NYG: New York Giants.
1961 MIN 14 280 157 1997 56.1 7.1 18 17 56 308 5
1962 MIN 14 329 163 2595 49.5 7.9 22 25 41 361 2
1963 MIN 14 297 170 2311 57.2 7.8 15 15 28 162 1
1964 MIN 14 306 171 2506 55.9 8.2 22 11 50 330 2
1965 MIN 14 329 171 2609 52.0 7.9 19 11 56 356 1
1966 MIN 14 358 192 2561 53.6 7.2 17 16 62 376 4
1967 NYG 14 377 204 3088 54.1 8.2 29 19 44 306 2
1968 NYG 14 337 182 2555 54.0 7.6 21 12 57 301 3
1969 NYG 14 409 220 2918 53.8 7.1 23 8 37 172 0
1970 NYG 14 389 219 2777 56.3 7.1 19 12 43 236 2
1971 NYG 13 386 226 2567 58.5 6.7 11 21 30 111 3
1972 MIN 14 378 215 2651 56.9 7.0 18 13 27 180 0
1973 MIN 14 274 169 2113 61.7 7.7 15 7 41 202 1
1974 MIN 13 351 199 2598 56.7 7.4 17 12 21 120 2
1975 MIN 14 425 273 2994 64.2 7.0 25 13 16 108 2
1976 MIN 13 412 255 2961 61.9 7.2 17 8 27 45 1
1977 MIN 9 258 155 1734 60.1 6.7 9 14 15 6 0
1978 MIN 16 572 345 3468 60.3 6.1 25 32 24 -6 1
TOTAL 246 6467 3686 47003 57.0 7.3 342 266 675 3674 32

Retires from Pro Football

Shortly after the end of the 1978 season, Tarkenton announced his decision to retire from professional football. By this time, his business career was already well established. Between the early 1970s and the beginning of the new millennium, Tarkenton launched a dozen different businesses, and he's always had a passion for small business. It was when he ventured into business on a grander scale that Tarkenton eventually ran into trouble. His involvement with Knowledge Ware, an Atlanta-based software company selling customized applications to business mainframe operators around the world, started off on a positive note. But over time technology changed the face of business computer operations, replacing the mainframe with networked personal computers. Unfortunately Knowledge Ware didn't keep pace with these technological changes, and by mid-1994 the company was in deep trouble financially. By the end of 1994, Tarkenton, chairman and chief executive officer of Knowledge Ware, was forced to sell the company at a significant loss. The debacle not only cost Tarkenton money but some longtime business associates and friends. To make matters worse, the government eventually charged Tarkenton with carrying out a financial fraud scheme as CEO of Knowledge Ware. The former quarterback and six other former Knowledge Ware executives agreed in September 1999 to an agreement settling the case. They paid a fine of $100,000 and repaid more than $50,000 in incentive compensation. Under the terms of the settlement, they neither admitted or denied the charges.

Today Tarkenton is CEO of, an organization designed to help entrepreneurs run and grow their businesses. But he will forever be remembered as the Scrambler, one of professional football's most brilliant quarterbacks in history. Through eighteen seasons in the NFL, Tarkenton compiled a winning record, throwing for a total of 47,003 yards and 342 touchdowns, with a career pass completion rate of 57 percent.


Address: Fran Tarkenton, c/o, 3340 Peachtree Rd. N.E., Ste. 2570, Atlanta, GA 30326. Email: [email protected] Online:


No Time for Losing, Revell, 1967.

(With Jack Olsen) Better Scramble Than Lose, Four Winds Press, 1969.

(With Brock Yates) Broken Patterns: The Education of a Quarterback, Simon & Schuster, 1971.

(With Jim Klobuchak) Tarkenton, Harper, 1976.

Playing to Win: Fran Tarkenton's Strategies for Business Success, Harper & Row, 1984.

(With Ted Tuleja) How to Motivate People: The Team Strategy for Success, Harper & Row, 1986.

(With Joseph H. Boyett) The Competitive Edge: Essential Business Skills for Entrepreneurs, Plume, 1991.

Awards and Accomplishments

1955 Led Athens High School football team to Georgia state championship
1959 Led University of Georgia Bulldogs to 10-1 record and SEC championship
1960 Earned AP All-American honors
1961 Threw for four touchdowns in first professional game for Vikings
1964 First of 9 Pro Bowl selections
1974 Led Vikings to Super Bowl VIII, where they lost to Miami Dolphins
1975 Led Vikings to Super Bowl IX, where they lost to Pittsburgh Steelers
1977 Led Vikings to Super Bowl XI, where they lost to Oakland Raiders
1978 All-NFC selection
1986 Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 2

(With Wes Smith) What Losing Taught Me about Winning: The Ultimate Guide for Success in Small and Home-based Businesses, Simon & Schuster, 1997.



"Fran (cis Asbury) Tarkenton." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002.

"James Wallace Butts." Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 9: 1971-1975. New York: Scribner, 1994.

Klobuchar, Jim. Tarkenton. New York: Harper Collins, 1976.


Klobuchar, Tim. "1961: Opening with a Bang." Minneapolis Star Tribune (September 3, 1998): 12C.

McEnrose, Paul. "The Scrambler: He Still Can Elude Adversity." Minneapolis Star Tribune (November 23, 1995): 1A.

Morris, Valeria. "Family Values." CNNfn (September 8, 1997).

Schlabach, Mark. "A Legend at Every Stop: Athens High, UGA, NFL." Atlanta Constitution (September 29, 1999): C3.

Walker, Tom. "Tarkenton to Pay $100,000 Settlement." Atlanta Constitution (September 29, 1999): C1.


"About Us." (October 20, 2002).

"Fran Tarkenton 1961-66; 72-78/Georgia." Minnesota Vikings. (October 20, 2002).

"Fran Tarkenton: Biography." (October 19, 2002).

"Fran Tarkenton: Biography." Pro Football Hall of Fame. (October 19, 2002).

Sketch by Don Amerman