Monday, Sept. 18, 1961: Vikings shock Halas, Bears

Posted on April 24th, 2006 – 6:45 PM
By Ben Welter
Future Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton hurled one during the Vikings’ first training camp in Bemidji in July 1961. The “Tarkenton” written on the tape on his helmet confirmed his rookie status. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by John Croft)

In 1961, the Minnesota Vikings drafted University of Georgia quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the third round. A few months later, the rookie led the expansion team to a 37-13 victory over heavily favored Chicago in the first NFL game played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

The Tribune’s game story detailed Tarkenton’s exceptional afternoon in relief of veteran George Shaw: 17 of 23 for 250 yards, four TD passes, one rushing touchdown, no interceptions. Two minutes into the second quarter, future offensive-coordinator-turned-whipping-boy Bob Schnelker scored Minnesota’s first touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Tarkenton. The defense, led by Jim Marshall and Rip Hawkins, “hit savagely up front” and kept the pressure on the Bears all afternoon.

Aside from the disappointing attendance (32,236), the franchise was off to a great start. But reality soon set in for the team laden with rookies and veteran castoffs. The Vikings lost their next seven games and finished 3-11.

Here’s an interesting sidebar published the morning after the big victory over Chicago. Note how classy the Bears were in defeat. No whining, no complaining — just matter-of-fact observations and praise for their opponents.


‘Never Seen Anything Like It’

Minneapolis Tribune Staff Writer

George Halas slowly rubbed a vein-line right hand through wisps of white hair and shook his head in utter disbelief.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” confessed the owner-coach of the Chicago Bears, who had just absorbed a 37-13 National Football league loss from Minnesota’s Vikings.

Papa Bear could hardly believe his eyes. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by John Croft)

“Give the Vikings credit for capitalizing on our mistakes,” Halas said. “But I have never seen so many things go wrong for a football team as they did for us today.

“I’ve been with the Bears for 42 years. In all that time I have never seen a center pass sail 10 feet over a punter’s head in a league game. I saw it today.

“The pass interference call [on J.C. Caroline] right away started us off on the wrong foot. We never did get going. The entire first period was a comedy of Chicago Bear errors.”

Then Halas stopped a moment, as if reminiscing through his own youth. “But how about those Vikings!” he said in obvious admiration. “They went out there with a purpose today. I can only imagine how Van Brocklin feels.”

“The moment the final gun had sounded, Halas shook off his gloom and raced over to shake [Norm] Van Brocklin’s hand. “This is a big day for you,” he boomed. “A big, big day. You’ll never forget it.”

Once over the shock of what happened to them, the Bears were able to offer an account of their dissection:

Rick Casares [fullback]: “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.”

Dave Whitsell, defensive back: “On the long pass play on which Jerry Reichow scored, he bent in and then out. I had him covered, but then I lost the ball in the sun. He made a great catch.”

Bob Wetoska, Minneapolis native [and DeLaSalle High graduate]: “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.”

John Adams, Bear punter who watched Ken Kirk’s center fly over his head: “Kirk has never made a bad pass in his life. The first thing I recall was chasing the ball. I think that play gave the Vikings the lift they needed.”

Kirk: “Nobody hit me at the snap. It was just a bad pass.”

Herman Lee, tackle: “You could move a Viking out of a play, and the next second he’d be in on a gang tackle.”

Vikings win first game
Beer and at least one cigarette were the order of the day as coach Norm Van Brocklin, quarterback Fran Tarkenton and the rest of the Vikings whooped it up after the team’s first victory. Defense back Rich Mostardi, far right, had the heater going. And that’s Bert Rose, the team’s GM, in the suit. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by John Croft)

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