Patrick Reusse: Veteran quarterback, eager rookie a nice formula

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2011 - 12:28 AM

Christian Ponder deserves a chance to play sooner rather than later.

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Vikings quarterbacks Donovan McNabb, left, and Christian Ponder joked around during the first day of training camp in Mankato earlier this month.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The Vikings will make the official start to a second half-century of existence on Sept. 11, when they play the Chargers in San Diego. The site will be Qualcomm Stadium, a place that was around so long ago as a football/baseball facility that it formerly was named in honor of a sportswriter (Jack Murphy) rather than a corporation.

The first half-century of full-fledged competition started for the Vikings on Sept. 17, 1961. The Chicago Bears came to Metropolitan Stadium on that Sunday, returning the NFL to Minnesota for the first time since the Minneapolis Red Jackets were absorbed by Philadelphia's Frankford Yellow Jackets late in the 1930 season.

Next month in San Diego, Leslie Frazier, a former NFL cornerback, will be starting his first full season as a head coach for the Vikings.

The team's top priority in this offseason was to straighten out the quarterback situation. To do so, the Vikings reached to take Florida State's Christian Ponder at No. 12 in the first round.

The party line early on from the Vikings was that Ponder would enter training camp as the No. 1 quarterback, with second-year player Joe Webb as the other option.

What you heard from insiders was that Rick Spielman and his personnel brain trust were locked in on Ponder as the starting quarterback. And that Frazier saw it differently: a decision to go with a rookie that had been locked out of his first offseason would be an admission the Vikings were in rebuilding mode.

That wasn't the way Frazier wanted to start as a head coach -- or the message he wanted to deliver to his veteran players.

He wanted a veteran. And one such quarterback readily available was Donovan McNabb, on the outs in Washington after only one season with the egomaniacal coach, Mike Shanahan. The Vikings acquired him before training camp for one sixth-round choice, and possibly two.

Frazier's view on the desirability of a veteran quarterback was shared a half-century ago by Norm Van Brocklin, the Vikings' first coach. The Dutchman had led the Philadelphia Eagles to the 1960 NFL championship and was the league MVP.

The Eagles' 17-13 victory over Green Bay came on Dec. 26. The 20-round NFL draft was held over the next two days. Joe Thomas was the Vikings' chief scout and went for Southern players -- running back Tommy Mason (Tulane) with the first overall pick, linebacker Rip Hawkins (North Carolina) in the second round, and quarterback Fran Tarkenton (Georgia) in the third.

Van Brocklin, 34, retired as a player and was hired by the Vikings on Jan. 18, 1961. One incentive for him was the Vikings had completed a trade for a veteran quarterback. It was a different time, when much less value was placed in draft choices, and the Vikings had sent their 1962 first-rounder to the New York Giants for George Shaw.

That turned out to be the No. 2 overall selection. The Los Angeles Rams wound up with the pick and took Roman Gabriel, who would play 16 seasons as a valued NFL quarterback.

Van Brocklin and Shaw had both played at Oregon. The Dutchman figured on Shaw preventing a non-competitive first season for his expansion team.

Shaw started the first-ever game on that Sunday vs. the Bears. It was 3-0 for the Vikings late in the first period, but Shaw had failed to make the most of a couple drives deep into Bears territory.

Van Brocklin hooked Shaw, went to Tarkenton, and the rookie immediately brought a new term -- scrambling -- to the NFL.

Tarkenton completed 17 of 23 passes for 250 yards, threw four touchdown passes and the Vikings humiliated the Bears, 37-13. On Monday, Van Brocklin named Tarkenton as his starter for Week 2.

The Vikings went 2-11 after the opening upset, with Tarkenton starting 10 of those games and Shaw three. Shaw threw 91 passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions as a Viking.

McNabb will not face such a quick hook next month in San Diego. He will start for a few games, minimum.

That doesn't mean Ponder, the mobile rookie from a Southern football power, won't get his chance to impress in this first autumn of the Vikings' second half-century.

There's a precedent from when it all started for the Vikings, and it's a very good one.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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