When the Atlanta Falcons reached the Super Bowl this year, many media members and fans noticed the similarities between the Falcons’ 2015 season to the Vikings’ 2016 season. Both teams started 5-0, only to finish the season 8-8 and miss the playoffs. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl one year later, so it’s easy to see why the Vikings have similar hopes for 2017.

But maybe a better comparison for the Vikings is from their own history. In 1972, the Vikings made a trade with the New York Giants to bring back 32-year-old quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who started his NFL career with the Vikings from 1961 to ’66 before being traded and spending five seasons with the Giants.

The Vikings were coming off an 11-3 season in 1971, and many people thought that bringing back Tarkenton would turn the Vikings into Super Bowl contenders. It’s similar to the way national and local media felt about the Vikings this season when they traded for Sam Bradford, started the season 5-0 and became early favorites to win the NFC.

Both the 1972 and the 2016 seasons didn’t work out that way.

In 1972, the Vikings had a hot streak in the middle of the season where they won five of six games for a 6-4 record, but they stumbled after that, going 1-3 to finish 7-7 and in third place of the NFC Central.

Tarkenton had a fairly good year, throwing for 2,651 yards, 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He completed 56.9 percent of his passes and finished with a 80.2 quarterback rating.

This season for the Vikings, Bradford was an extremely accurate passer if not entirely dominant. He finished with the highest completion rating in NFL history (71.6 percent) while throwing for 3,877 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 99.3 quarterback rating.

But while Bradford’s season was a success, the Vikings’ year was not. Much like those ’72 Vikings, they also finished with a .500 record.

But if you look at the ’73 season and how Tarkenton performed in his second year back with the Vikings, you can see how quickly a turnaround can happen when you have a quality quarterback.

The ’73 Vikings drafted running back Chuck Foreman in the first round but didn’t make any drastic changes to a team that already had a dominant defense.

Tarkenton was better in ’73, throwing for 2,113 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 93.2 passer rating and completing 61.7 percent of his passes. The Vikings jumped out to a 9-0 record, finished 12-2 overall and held opponents to 12 points per game. They reached the Super Bowl by beating Washington 27-20 at home and Dallas 27-10 at Texas Stadium.

They lost 24-7 in the Super Bowl to the Dolphins, Miami’s second consecutive championship and third Super Bowl appearance in a row.

If the Vikings are looking for a team to model themselves after for 2017, it doesn’t have to be the 2016 Falcons. The 1973 Vikings, who had an established, veteran quarterback in his second season with the team and one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history, is a clear and easy comparison.

They already have the most vital members of a strong defense assembled, and if Bradford can have similar success to what we saw from him this season, it’s easy to believe the Vikings could be Super Bowl contenders next season.

Gophers’ progress

Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle recently made an interesting point. For all the turmoil that has seemed to surround Gophers athletics, the university had actually won more Big Ten titles across all sports heading into the last fall semester than any other school in the conference with 17.

Meanwhile, the university is less than a year away from opening their $166 million Athletes Village, scheduled for January 2018. The Land O’Lakes Center for Excellence, which will be the center for academics and nutrition, is almost fully enclosed at this point and the frame of the indoor football practice facility has gone up.

The Minnesota Daily recently published a note that the university has finalized plans to tear down the grain elevators on the edge of campus and move the Recreation Sports Bubble and softball field to the corner of 25th Avenue SE and 6th Street SE. Opponents of the demolition have taken the issue to court and the case will be decided by April, but until then the university can go ahead with demolition. The cost to raze the elevators is just over $3 million. Moving the bubble will cost $6 million, and the new track and field, which will go in the bubble’s former location, will cost roughly $13 million.

Next generation

Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant has had several outstanding football players transfer to his school, but he probably is more excited about Benny Sapp III than any previous transfer. Sapp III, the son of former Vikings defensive back Benny Sapp who was living in Florida, recently committed to the Gophers.

Sapp III was a four-star recruit his sophomore season, then missed last year because of an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament. Sapp III had scholarship offers from schools such as Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Miami, so he’s a great get for new Gophers coach P.J. Fleck.

“I was in coach P.J. Fleck’s office for probably an hour with my dad before I ended up committing,” Sapp III told the website GopherIllustrated. “We were in there talking about my dad, and [my father] asked for a private moment alone with Coach Fleck, just the two of them. And afterwards, he came out and told me that it was my decision and that he’ll love me and support me no matter what. I told him that I wanted to commit, so we went back in and I committed.

“It was really emotional for everyone. My dad was crying and it was a great moment. Coach Fleck was extremely happy and he called all the coaches in and told them that they got their first commitment for 2018 in Benny Sapp.”

One of Sapp III’s teammates in the Gophers defensive backfield will be Antoine Winfield Jr. The fathers of those players, Antoine Winfield and Benny Sapp II, played defensive back together as Vikings teammates in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard Mondays and Fridays on 830-AM at 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com