With all of the hype lately about the 5’10 quarterback who just finished the season with a 100.0 quarterback rating, it’s interesting to see all of the teams kicking themselves for missing the Russell Wilson boat. Rumor has it that several coaches and GMs across the football world were fired because they passed on “the Next Big Thing.” Before the draft, Pete Carroll did some homework on Russell Wilson and investigated whether he was capable of becoming the next Fran Tarkenton. First of all, it’s Fran and not Frank, and the comparisons to Russell Wilson are a little coincidental. Tarkenton like Wilson was drafted in the third round of the 1961 NFL draft (he was also drafted in the fifth round of the AFL draft, but that’s besides the point). Both Wilson and Tarkenton come from deeply strict and religious families. Both players were shorter than 6’0 and were told they could not play in the NFL because of their height, and they both have “super” scrambling abilities.
Despite being a third round draft pick because of his “diminutive” size, Tarkenton started his first game in the NFL with four touchdown passes and 250 passing yards. Nicknames for Tarkenton included the “The Mad Scrambler,” “Scramblin’ Fran,” and “Frantic Fran,” and he frustrated defenders with his spins, jukes, and accelerations prior to completions deep down field. As a student of the Game, it’s probably no accident that Wilson reminds us of “The Mad Scrambler.” I have no doubt that Wilson studied, copied and practiced Tarkenton’s moves just like many of us practice Michael Jordan’s fade away jumper.
The differences seem to be that the grumpy Tarkenton gets critical of others at least in his older age, whereas I would pay $100 to get Russell Wilson to say something bad about someone else. Tarkenton knows a lot of about leadership though. In the last 30 years, he launched over 20 successful start-up companies and leads with a passion, vision and mission towards helping small businesses thrive and prosper. According to Fran, the only purpose for a business being in existence is to enhance and improve the quality of life for the customer.
After playing six successful seasons with the Vikings, Tarkenton was actually traded to the Giants. Why on earth would you trade a future Hall of Fame Quarterback? Vikings Norm Van Brocklin actually disdained the mobile quarterback who would leave the “pocket” for scrambling. The story sounds similar to the Tim Tebow drama. Even back in those days, the quarterbacks were taught to “stay in the pocket.” Why is this? If you study the statistics of quarterbacks, quarterback ratings drop from the 80 to 90 range to the 20 to 40 range when they “leave the pocket.” After five seasons, Tarkenton was traded back to the Vikings. He lead them to three Super Bowls, although he ended up losing them all. During his career, he earned NFL MVP once and went to the Pro Bowl nine times while throwing for 47,003 yards with 342 touchdowns. He was called by some the “greatest quarterback who ever played.”
We cheer for the Russell Wilson’s of the world because we like rooting for the underdog. We love the athlete that shunned the criticism of others and went on to succeed despite limitations. Unlike Tarkenton, Russell Wilson was lucky to find a team and coach that appreciates his strengths. In contrast, Tarkenton started with a coach that did not appreciate his unorthodox ways. In life, our school system seeks to improve our weaknesses and likes to fit us into a one-size fit-all box. Pete Carroll knows how to focus on the strength and uniquenesses of individual athletes, and he brings out the best in the team by focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. Something to think about if have any leadership roles in your life.