Editor's note: The following article, written by Minneapolis Tribune staff writer Jim Klobuchar, was originally published on Sept. 18, 1961.
Rookie Fran Tarkenton, a pass-throwing prodigy from Georgia, stirred Minnesota's Vikings into a touchdown frenzy that struck down the Chicago Bears 37-13 and rocked pro football Sunday.
The 21-year-old rebel fired four touchdown passes and scored once himself to startle a Metropolitan Stadium crowd of 32,236 and leave the heavily favored Bears distraught.
It was a National Football League bombshell — a runaway victory by a first-year team making its league debut with a squad of alleged misfits and callow rookies.
Tarkenton, hurling passes with glacial calm and exploiting nearly every Bear bungle, completed 17 of 23 passes for 250 yards in one of the extraordinary first-game performances by an NFL rookie quarterback.
He entered late in the first period with the Vikings holding a 3-0 lead but demonstrating continued failures to click in touchdown territory.
Within two minutes after the second quarter opened, he whipped a 14-yard pass to Bob Schnelker for a 10-0 Vikings lead.
The bumbling Bears recouped momentarily, escaped their errors long enough to lunge 66 yards in 13 plays and sent Rick Casares over from the three to cut their halftime deficit to 10-6. They seemed to have momentum here. But the Vikings reversed it with one chilling tackle that permitted Tarkenton to deliver the touchdown that set off the stampede. It came early in the third period.
Rookie Rip Hawkins smashed Willie Galimore on the Bear 27 and the Chicago speedster fumbled, Rich Mostardi recovering. Three plays later, from the 29, Tarkenton arched a pass to Jerry Reichow, who out-stepped defensive back Dave Whitsell and made the catch gliding into the corner of the zone.
Moments later Tarkenton writhed away from the Bear pass rush and shot a 47-yarder to Reichow on the Bear two. The Vikings fumbled twice in the three plays on the goal line. But it was their day — everything came up roses. On fourth down Tarkenton rolled out and passed to Hugh McElhenny for two yards and a touchdown.
Charlie Sumner's interception sent the Vikings galloping again late in the third period and Tarkenton went over from the two, dragging a frustrated Joe Fortunato and Rich Petitbon with him.
The top-off was Tarkenton's fourth-down pitch to Dave Middleton from the two that boomed the Viking advantage to 37-6. The Bears got back on the board in the late minutes when Billy Wade passed 10 years to Galimore.
Rookie Mike Mercer, whose 12-yard field goal in the first period shoved the Vikings into a 3-0 lead, kicked four extra points.
The Chicagoans' misfortune came close to chaos.
Bear quarterback Ed Brown hit two of seven passes and had two intercepted. His relief, Billy Wade, also threw two interceptions. They fumbled four times and made the day of technical misdeeds complete by having center Ken Kirk's pass from center on a punt sail over John Adams' head at a time when the game was up for grabs.
The Bears went 22 minutes before completing a pass.
Smoldering over their 30-7 exhibition shellacking by the Bears two weeks ago — one of five Minnesota losses in a winless exhibition campaign— the Vikings made a physical show out of it yesterday.
Don Joyce, Jim Marshall, Jim Prestel and Bill Bishop hit savagely up front. The rookie linebacker, Rip Hawkins, raided the Bear backfield constantly. Galimore, dangerous through the first 35 minutes, lost effectiveness after a violent encounter with the 270-pound Joyce.
Still, the Bears were troublesome on the ground until their mistakes forced them to shift offensive tactics.
The Bears' own blitzing game ran afoul of Tarkenton's heady signal changes on the line of scrimmages. Trap plays that got fullback Mel Triplett loose for important gains and screen passes to McElhenny, Tom Mason and Triplett scored repeatedly.
Viking veteran George Shaw, struggling to hold his No. 1 job, moved the club smartly in the first minutes. After the Bears' J.C. Caroline was called for interference at midfield, Shaw passed 14 yards to Middleton and then eight to McElhenny, whose running had all the elements of the old McElhenny craft.
But the Bears held on to five and Mercer kicked his field goal.
Kirk's wild pass from center put the Vikings on the 19 later in the first period. Minnesota flubbed that chance, however, and Mercer's kick from the 19 was no good.
A few players later the Vikings were back on the 20 after Clancy Osborne intercepted a partially deflected pass.
Tarkenton entered to push the Vikings to the one, but Tarkenton's fourth-down thrust from the one fell short.
That was the last time the Vikings failed, however.
The victory left the National league in the unlikely situation of matching Minnesota and Dallas at Dallas next week with both unbeaten after the first games. Dallas defeated Pittsburgh yesterday.
WHAT THEY SAID AFTER THE GAME
Excerpts from the Minneapolis Tribune's coverage of the game:
"It was fantastic. A start like this for your time in its first game. And Tarkenton. What a rookie." — NFL Commissioner to Pete Rozelle to Vikings coach Norm Van Brocklin
"Give the Vikings credit for capitalizing on our mistakes. But I have never seen so many things go wrong for a football team as they did for us today." — Bears coach George Halas
"How about a rookie coming in like that playing the game he did. The guy has first-year poise that is hard to believe. He's the kind who goes in there — and boom." — Vikings coach Norm Van Brocklin on quarterback Fran Tarkenton
"Sure, this was the best passing day I ever had. I never threw this much in college." Fran Tarkenton
"Of all the games I've played, I enjoyed this more than ever considering all of the circumstances." — Vikings halfback Hugh McElhenny
"I was scared to death before the game, feeling something like this could happen. The Vikings threw a bold challenge right at us in the first quarter, and we failed to meet it. " Bears fullback Rick Casares
"I saw Fran Tarkenton get hit really hard several times, and he bounced up and gave it to us again. The guy's got guts." Bears offensive lineman Bob Wetoska
WHAT SID WROTE AFTER THE GAME
An excerpt from "Hartman's Roundup" by Sid Hartman in the Minneapolis Tribune on Sept. 18, 1961:
Norman Van Brocklin keyed the entire season for an opening victory over the Chicago Bears and he won as his Minnesota Vikings upset the Bears 37-13 Sunday at Metropolitan stadium.
"When we opened training camp in Bemidji, I told the boys that this was the one we had to win.
"I didn't care if we lost all the exhibition games. They didn't count. We didn't get up from them.
"I told the boys if they outhit the Bears, they would win. We were mentally right and did what only we expected."