There is a lot of enthusiasm among Minnesota sports fans right now with the return of Kevin Garnett to the Timberwolves, coming right after Torii Hunter’s return to the Twins. But if my memory is correct, the Vikings bringing back Fran Tarkenton in 1972, after an absence of five years with the New York Giants, caused unparalleled excitement by the Vikings fans of that time, as rabid as any fan base the state has ever seen.
Bud Grant recalled that the return of Tarkenton at the old Metropolitan Stadium made the crowd go wild when he was introduced in the 1972 season opener, a Monday night game against the Redskins.
Tarkenton’s first game back wasn’t as successful as Garnett’s on Wednesday, with the Vikings losing 24-21 to Washington before an announced 47,900. Tarkenton threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns, more yards than the 203 the entire Redskins offense produced, but the Vikings were stung by a blocked punt and a fumbled kickoff and gave up fourth-quarter touchdowns to Larry Brown and Charlie Harraway.
The Vikings went 7-7 that year, losing five games by three points or fewer. But over the long term, Tarkenton’s return was a success, as he guided the Vikings to three Super Bowls.
Still there’s no question that Tarkenton was without a doubt as popular with Minnesota fans then as Garnett and Hunter are today. The Vikings faithful were certainly upset at Tarkenton’s departure, which occurred after the Vikings went 4-9-1 in 1966. Tarkenton was feuding with coach Norm Van Brocklin, a relationship that soured to the point that the two could no longer work together.
Tarkenton demanded a trade, and he was dealt to the Giants in March 1967 for two first-round and two second-round picks. The Vikings used those picks to grab Clint Jones, Bob Grim, Ron Yary and Ed White. Yary and White would become stalwarts of the Vikings offensive line for years to come.
In comparison, Garnett was moved after the Wolves decided they had to deal away his giant contract to rebuild the team into a winner. But Garnett had a major say in where he went, and he initially did not want to play for Boston. That changed when the Celtics acquired All-Star guard Ray Allen. The Celtics also had been unwilling to deal Al Jefferson, but they finally agreed to move Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff and two first-round picks for Garnett.
But the deal didn’t help the Wolves, who have been a losing franchise for more than a decade now. On the other side, Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce won an NBA title for the Celtics in 2008, their first year together. Garnett has appeared in five All-Star Games since departing the Wolves.
The Twins, meanwhile, simply lost Hunter in free agency to the Angels after the 2007 season when Los Angeles offered him a five-year, $90 million deal as a free agent. The Twins, in comparison, offered him a three-year, $45 million deal in August 2007. Hunter reached the playoffs twice with the Angels and twice more with the Tigers, but his teams always fell short of the World Series.
Did well in New York
Tarkenton had personal success in New York, but his time there was during a 17-year stretch without a playoff appearance for the Giants. He reached the Pro Bowl four times in five years, and threw for 13,905 yards and 103 touchdowns (averaging 21 scores a season and 2,781 yards passing).
Tarkenton wrote a column about coming back to the Vikings last year for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, saying: “When I came back to the Vikings in 1972, joining Bud in Minnesota set off the most rewarding time in my entire career. We won six straight division championships together and went to three Super Bowls in four years — and I learned so much.”
Tarkenton returned at age 32. Garnett is 38 and Hunter 39. It remains to be seen what their returns to Minnesota will bring in the long run, but it’s hard to imagine either one having quite as large an impact as Tarkenton.
Gophers might get three picks
Following the NFL combine, here’s how the Gophers’ draft prospects rank, according to CBS Sports:
Maxx Williams is rated as the best tight end in the country and projected as a first- or second-round pick. David Cobb is 10th among running backs and is slated to be a third-round pick. Damien Wilson is ranked as the 16th-best inside linebacker prospect and is projected as a seventh-round pick or to sign as an undrafted free agent.
The last time the Gophers had at least three players taken in one draft was in 2006, when running back Laurence Maroney (first round), defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery (fifth) and offensive linemen Greg Eslinger (sixth) and Mark Setterstrom (seventh) were selected.
• The Gophers men’s basketball team went from a ranking of 93 to 79 in the RPI after beating Michigan State on Thursday. That’s not good enough to reach the NCAA tournament, but it could help get them an NIT invitation.
• One of the highest-recruited players in recent Minneapolis North High history is Tyler Johnson, who stars in basketball and football. The junior has received some basketball offers, but in football he has drawn interest from Florida State, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota State, UNLV, Wisconsin and the Gophers.
• The Dallas Morning News published the coaching salaries of every Big 12 coach, and former Gophers coach Tubby Smith has a salary of $1.7 million this season with potential bonuses of up to $400,000. His Texas Tech squad has struggled, although it beat Oklahoma State on Saturday to improve to 13-18 overall and 3-15 in the Big 12. … Dan Monson’s Long Beach State squad has taken a fall after starting the season 7-1 in the Big West, although it beat Cal State-Fullerton 70-47 Saturday to end a five-game losing streak. … Jim Molinari, the Gophers interim coach after Monson was fired, is an assistant at Nebraska, which is 13-15 overall and 5-11 in the Big Ten.
• Former Gophers hockey player Cory Laylin has done wonders as the coach at Hamline. The St. Cloud native inherited a team that won just three games in 2014, but this year the Pipers are 13-10-4 and in the MIAC playoff finals after beating St. Thomas 6-3 Saturday and Augsburg 4-3 Thursday.
• Former Gophers center Gabe Guertler is with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League and has 24 goals and 24 assists in 58 games. … Former Gophers and Wild player Jeff Taffe leads the Swedish Hockey League in scoring with 17 goals and 39 assists for Linkopings.