Did you hear that Fran Tarkenton is angry at the National Football League? Apparently, Tarkenton’s undies are in a twist because the league isn’t fawning over him as Miami’s Dan Marino gets closer to breaking his passing records. The league office didn’t invite him to attend any of the record-breaking games or ask him to do media interviews about his records, so Tarkenton is having a conniption fit.
Capsuled, Fran the Man is behaving like Fran the Jerk.
That doesn’t come as a surprise to some people. Especially people who played with him.
Tarkenton had many fans when he was the Vikings’ quarterback, but few of them were teammates.
“I’ve called him like three or four times and never heard a word back,” Chuck Foreman said.
Foreman shared a backfield with Tarkenton. He helped Tarkenton set all those records Marino is about to break for passing attempts, completions, yardage and touchdowns. You’d think that would count for something. Something as simple as returning a phone call.
“Everybody on the team knew he was for himself,” Foreman said. “It was no secret. He was a helluva football player. We all knew that. He was just a ‘me’ guy.
“I got along with him, but I understood how he thought. I wasn’t (anything) to him other than on the football field. I know that. That’s just the way it is and just the way he is. Off the field, I knew I didn’t mean crap to him. On the field, I meant everything to him. I’m not saying Fran mistreated me. I just knew off the field I didn’t mean a damn thing to him, and still don’t.
“I’m not here to cut him down. But I knew, and everybody on the team knew, he didn’t give a damn about anybody but himself.”
Said Ron Yary, a former teammate of Foreman’s and Tarkenton’s: “I think Chuck’s assessment about Francis is dead accurate.”
Said another former teammate, Jim Marshall: “There certainly were indications that he had his own personal agenda.”
Said Paul Krause, yet another ex-teammate: “He was probably one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, but he walks to a different drummer than most people. I’m not saying that’s good or bad. That’s his way of life.”
Stu Voigt was Tarkenton’s roommate for three years. He seems to like Tarkenton, but even he said, “Francis is the man as long as you treat him like the man. But you better not vie for the No. 1 position. It’s OK if you’re No. 2, 3, or 4.”
Tarkenton has an ego that just won’t quit. He told a writer for the Los Angeles Times that he got a phone call from a public relations assistant with the Vikings who asked him to take part in the franchise’s 35th anniversary reunion, which was held a few weeks ago.
“Some kid I never even heard of,” Tarkenton said. “All I did for that organization… . I was insulted.”
Said Yary: “I don’t think that’s an issue to be slighted about. If the p.r. department called me, I’d be honored. I’d be honored no matter who called.”
Not Tarkenton. He was insulted.
He also was insulting. In the interview with the L.A. Times, Tarkenton lit up Vikings President Roger Headrick, who he has never met.
“Roger Headrick is the Pillsbury Doughboy,” Tarkenton said, referring to Headrick’s old job as chief financial officer for Pillsbury. “What love does he have for the game? He’s not even a football guy. There’s too many guys like that owning a team.”
That’s Fran the Man, all right. Fran the Bitter Man. Years ago, when Irwin Jacobs and Carl Pohlad were trying to take control of the Vikings, Tarkenton was involved in the deal and supposedly wanted to run the team. Perhaps he’s ripping Headrick because Headrick has the job he coveted. That wouldn’t be anything new, Tarkenton wanting to do someone else’s job.
“Francis got into trying to make cuts on the team,” Yary said. “He overstepped his right as a player. When I heard that, that he was making decisions about who should play and who shouldn’t, and who should stay, I lost respect for Francis. He should’ve stuck within his boundaries as a player.”
Yary isn’t exactly a charter member of the Fran Tarkenton Fan Club. The truth is, he’s never been a big admirer.
“I sense an insincerity in him,” Yary said. “He was a great player and deserves all the accolades he’s received.”
“But he liked Ed White, and Ed was my roommate, and he’d come into my room and make fun of other players on the team. Then he’d go into another room and make fun of other players he’d just been with. There was a point of duplicity there I could not respect.”
For years, Tarkenton seemed to want nothing to do with the NFL, other than when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. He wasn’t going to pass that up.
If it’s self-serving, if it brings him recognition, like getting into the Hall of Fame or Marino’s assault on his records, then Tarkenton is more than willing to be heard from. His interview with the Los Angeles Times is a rarity; he seldom, if ever, returns calls from the media.
I’ve spoken to Tarkenton once - the day he made it into the Hall of Fame. Of course he would talk then. It was self-serving. He’s never returned any of my other calls. Including the one left Wednesday.
“That doesn’t surprise me one bit,” Foreman said.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Fran Tarkenton.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.