Former Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton didn’t have any idea who Ragnar is.
Missteps by longtime mascots must not be included in the regular updates that the Hall of Famer gets about his Vikings.
The founder and CEO of Tarkenton Companies, based in Georgia, Tarkenton was at the Eden Prairie Costco to sign his latest book, “The Power of Failure.”
He’s as lively and exciting as when he was scrambling in the backfield. I got to sample Tarkenton’s verbal scrambling abilities when discussing my favorite passages from Monte Burke’s book about the making of Alabama coach Nick Saban. Burke reports that Saban, one of Tarkenton’s golf buddies, tries to discourage his players from having babies before they get married. I love that Saban does this.
It was a thrill to interview the Vikings legend, whom I remember watching when I was a kid in the Deep South, wondering: Why is the quarterback’s name Fran?
We talked about that, too, in this Q&A, which also includes a video.
Q: What was your biggest business failure?
A: I failed about 10 times last week. I don’t have a biggest. Any time I fail, you fail. You’ve got to own the failure, recognize the failure and learn from failure.
Q: Should Adrian Peterson read your book?
A: I think everybody should read my book. Everybody thinks there’s a silver lining, an easy way to get there. The only way you have success is you’ve got to make things happen, do things, try things, and if you do that you’re going to get knocked down some and you’re going to fail a lot.
Q: How often do athletes come to you seeking financial advice, because you’re very successful and you were playing at a time when they weren’t giving out these astronomical contracts?
A: Oh, I made a lot of money in football. You didn’t know? $12,500 was my first salary. I made a lot of money and I worked an offseason job. I worked for a trucking firm way out in South Dakota. My job was to knock on the doors of shipping clerks. Pretty cold. But they paid me a lot of money! $600 a month. I made speeches for $25. I’d go speak anywhere. [Big smile]
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you see pro NFLers make when they get a fat contract?
A: Oh, that’d be a generalized answer. I don’t know. I’m sure they are trying to do their best. They’ve got financial advisers and this and that. But probably in my generation, this generation, everybody’s looking to make the quick buck and they think there’s a silver bullet solution so they are very vulnerable to somebody coming to them and saying, Here I’ve got this great deal. Put in your million dollars and we are going to double your money in a few seconds. That normally doesn’t work out too well.
Q: How were you able to resist the lure of NFL team ownership?
A: I didn’t have a billion dollars. I think the NFL is the greatest investment. I told someone, not long ago, the best investment you could have for safety and return would be an investment in the NFL. But today you’ve got to have … it’ll cost you $2 billion now, to buy a franchise. So you have to have about $5 million to do that. [Chuckle]
Q: How much would Ragnar be worth if you were paying him?
Q: You don’t know who Ragnar is? He may not have been around when you played. He’s the team’s mascot.
A: I don’t know him.
Q: He created a little controversy wanting to go from $1,500 to $20,000 a game.
A: Well, let me say he’s lucky to have that platform. At the Super Bowl they have the leading singers of the world sing at halftime, and they do it for free. You know what they are going to start doing this year? Make ’em pay for the right to sing at the Super Bowl.
Q: Who in your locker-room career could string together the most amazing group of expletives?
A: [Chuckle] I don’t think we had anybody who was doing that. We actually talked English in the locker room. It was OK. We always had a team prayer before we went out on the field and Jeff Siemon was our most religious guy. He said the prayer and after that it was a little more energetic and cantankerous about what we were going to do to the opponent that day. That’s when we’d have expletives.
Q: So you didn’t hear any curse words in the locker room?
A: Yeah, after the team prayer. “Let’s go out and do bup, bup, bup. Let’s go out and BEAT ON THESE GUYS.” The verbiage was a little stronger than GO BEAT ON THESE GUYS.
Q: What was the situation with gay athletes when you were playing? There had to be some in the locker room.
A: No question. No question. We had them here in Minnesota. We never knew they were gay until after they left our team. Sure we’ve had gay players forever. One of my best friends was probably one of the first NFL players who died of AIDS, a tight end for the Washington [NFL team] named Jerry Smith. He played Pro Bowls with me. I didn’t know he was gay and wouldn’t have cared if I had known but he was a great friend of mine.
Q: Do you think this should be a big deal with the NFL?
A: Naw! Not at all. Not at all.
Q: Monte Burke’s new book about Nick Saban includes a story about the Alabama coach telling his players that having children out of wedlock is a distraction. Should the NFL do more to discourage this behavior with mandatory birth control courses and parenting classes for the athletes who get into these situations?
A: I don’t know. Nick Saban is a good friend of mine. These social issues have to be handled by each group of people, franchise, teams, whatever.
Q: Have you ever seen Nick Saban do the Electric Slide?
A: I have not. We play a lot of golf together.
Q: Do you do the Electric Slide?
A: I don’t know what the Electric Slide is. Last time I danced was about 1899 .
Q: Do you ever pull for any of Georgia’s rivals — Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina?
A: Yeah, I pull for Tech whenever they are not playing Georgia. I almost went to Georgia Tech. But other than that I pull for Georgia. I pull for the Vikings.
Q: Do you ever pull for the Packers?
A: I’m not sure I pull for the Packers, but I really like Aaron Rodgers. I don’t like the Bears very well, don’t like the Lions. I like the Packers better than the rest of those guys.
Q: Let’s pretend that you have to vote for either Barack Obama or Kanye West, for president. Which one?
A: [Long laugh]. I don’t know much about Kanye West.
Q: But you know who Kanye is?
A: I know the name. Is he a singer, dancer?
Q: He’s a rapper and he thinks he’s a genius but he’s not.
A: Thinks he’s a genius. I think I might go for Barack Obama.
Q: Did being called Fran get you beaten up very much on the playground?
A: No, because I wasn’t called Fran growing up. I was called Francis and that was a girl’s name. They kidded me a lot about that. Then there was a movie “Francis the Talking Mule,” and so I got a lot of hee haws when I was playing high school sports. [Big smile] Made me tougher though. [Smile] … That was a uniquely different interview. That was a good one. You did good.
Interviews are edited. The contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Jason Show.”