Fifty years is a long time so it’s no wonder that when I recount the story of attending the first Minnesota Vikings regular season game, younger colleagues look at me as if I had traveled to Met Stadium by covered wagon.
It was Sept. 17, 1961. The upstart Vikings shocked the NFL by defeating George Halas’ Chicago Bears 37-13, thanks to the heroics of a then-second string, rookie quarterback, Fran Tarkenton.
This was when John Madden was just a coach and not a playstation millionaire, when helmet face masks were thin, single bars across the face rather than fortified bird cages and when a ticket to an NFL game cost about $5.
At 7 years old, my only true memory of the game revolves around beer. This was before the NFL started hoisting up nets behind the goal posts to catch extra points and field goals. We sat in the north end zone, behind what was the third baseline when the Twins played. My dad was upset when he saw a beer vendor wrestle a young kid for a souvenir football after a successful kick. The moral dilemma for dad was that he wanted to buy a beer but he didn’t want to patronize an adult who would take a ball from a kid. Fortunately, a second kick split the uprights and the vendor caught it and graciously tossed it to a young fan.
Remembering my dad’s outrage at an injustice against a youngster, I hope the football the vendor initially kept was Tarkenton’s first touchdown, that it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and that he casually threw it out with the trash one day. It would serve him right.