Birth of the Minnesota Vikings: The Beginning of Purple Pride

The Minnesota Vikings are one of the most successful football teams in the National Football League. Based in Minneapolis, the team plays in the North Division of the National Football Conference. The division is known as the “Black and Blue Division,”named such because of the intense rivalries between the teams. As of now, the Vikings had won their division 17 times, among the most in the NFL and played in four Super Bowls. Unfortunately, the team has lost each game.

Establishing the Franchise

In August 1959, three Minneapolis businessmen were awarded a franchise with the former owner of the Duluth Eskimos. Originally targeted to be in the American Football League, it was changed to the NFL with the target date of 1961 to start. Thus, the Minnesota Vikings were born.

Beginning in the very first year, season ticket sales and regular attendance accounted for 85 percent of capacity. Playing at the Metropolitan Stadium, the seating was capable of accommodating up to 47,900 fans. The first important choices for the team were to decide who the head coach would be and what player would make up the freshman team. After a long vetting process, famous Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was hired for the coaching job. He was a perfect fit since he had just finished his final season with an impressive victory in the NFL Championship over the Green Bay Packers.

As far as players go, a combination of good rookie picks and quality off-season acquisitions was needed to create a good balance. Before the draft, the Vikings picked up one of the most notable players of the day: Hugh McElhenny. McElhenny was a running back who had played for nine years with the San Francisco 49ers. His fans referred to him as “The King” due to his elusive running style and amazing stats. By the time he joined the team, he had won Rookie of the Year and gone to five Pro Bowls. To round out the ground game, the first round draft pick was also a running back. The addition of Tommy Mason helped establish the Vikings as one of the pre-eminent running teams in the NFL. During his tenure with the team, Mason rushed for 3,252 yards and 28 touchdowns.

The Team’s First Star

The rest of the team was comprised of various quality players. However, Brocklin and the owners saw he need for a good quarterback. If that position could get filled with a high-quality individual, management and the NFL felt that this expansion project could turn out successful. The man they chose was picked in the third round, Fran Tarkenton from the University of Georgia. As a scrambling future Hall-of-Famer, Tarkenton revolutionized the idea of quarterback, forging the position of a mobile player with a strong throwing arm. As of now, he is the fourth-highest rushing quarterback in NFL history.

The First Season

With the team in place, the league looked forward to the success of the franchise. “Purple Pride” spread throughout Minnesota as the team took to the field for Opening Day against the Chicago Bears. Although the Bears were highly favored by fans and strategists alike, Tarkenton came off the bench for his first professional game and threw four touchdown passes and ran for one more. The Vikings came out of their first game with a 37 to 13 victory, establishing the basis for one of the NFL’s longest-standing rivalries.

However, this success was short-lived for the fledgling Minnesota team. The Vikings lost their next seven games in a row, ultimately achieving a one-sided 3 and 11 record for the1961 season.

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