The present mood among the Vikings and their faithful is sour. A poor start due to second half failures has placed Minnesota in a position of rebuilding before the season's seventh game. Leslie Frazier has given up on the 34 year-old Donovan McNabb despite a decent performance in the most recent loss. Christian Ponder will be asked to perform as he did in last week's mop-up role. He looked good in a meaningless minutes of the Vikings' 39-10 loss to the Bears.
It makes sense in that the chances of making the playoffs disappeared with close losses to the Chargers, Lions, Chiefs, and Bucs, not to mention the blowout by the Bears, to start the season. A rebuild would begin with the first round pick Christian Ponder. Chosen 12th overall, he is the second highest quarterback ever drafted by Minnesota. Only Daunte Culpepper was chosen higher, he being with the 11th pick in 1999.
Culpepper's first year was very different. He played in only one game, and never threw a pass. However, he would go on to start all sixteen games the next year (2000), winning eleven, and threw for nearly 4,000 yards and a quarterback rating of 98.0. The extra year to learn appeared to be good to Culpepper. But Culpepper never panned out. He had big numbers early in his career with the Vikings, but finished 38-42 overall and a mere 2-2 in the playoffs.
Tommy Kramer was chosen with the 27th pick in the first round of the 1977 draft. In his first season he started only a single game (lost) and appeared in six total. His rating was 77.0 with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions thrown. He became the full-time starter in 1979, with a first year record of 7-9. He would finish 54-56 with the Vikings, 159/158 TD/INT, and 2-3 in the playoffs. Kramer ended up being known for off the field exploits more than his efforts on the field.
Fran Tarkenton was chosen in the third round with the 29th pick in 1961. He, like Ponder, was asked to take over early in the season. Tarkenton would go 2-8 in his first season with a rating of 74.7 (not very good). Fran would not have a winning season until 1964. But ultimately he would have the greatest career by a Viking quarterback, and rivals the greatest of all-time. Tarkenton would finish 124-109-6, with two lengthy stints in Minnesota in a long career.
There were many other quarterbacks chosen over the years. The Vikings, while not known for taking quarterbacks early, did manage to chose a few that were surprising. The 1981 drafting of Wade Wilson with the 210th pick in the draft comes to mind. Wilson was 27-21 while with the Vikings. 1985's Steve Bono (chosen 142nd) was a bust in Minnesota, but he went on to a Pro Bowl visit with the Chiefs. Brad Johnson (1992 chosen 227th) would finish 72-53 with a Super Bowl win with Tampa Bay.
Others were less fruitful. Steve Dils (1979-97th) would start only fiifteen games, finishing 6-9. Names like Thigpen, Booty, Pease, and others forgetten. Bigger busts like Tarvaris Jackson (64th pick and 10-9) trying to be forgotten.
And now Christian Ponder.
If the past means anything, Ponder might benefit from a season of struggles like Tarkenton. This team has far more talent than the 1961 fledgling Vikings, but the records are eerily similar. Tarkenton's two wins in his rookie year may be in jeopardy for most by a Minnesota rookie quarterback. But no one is expecting too much in Ponder's first game at Green Bay.
Given the weakness of the present offensive line, Ponder may end up scrambling more than you-know-who.
No, not Cam Newton.