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Who Says You Can't Go Home?

Before LeBron James triumphantly returned to Cleveland, the Vikings had their own prodigal son

Minnesota once had a prodigal son, too.
Minnesota once had a prodigal son, too.
Associated Press

When word broke that LeBron James, the NBA's greatest player, was going to re-sign with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, Cavs fans everywhere were excited. Now they're wondering whether or not King James can bring his talents back to Cleveland and bring that city a much deserved title, in anything. As vilified as he was when he left for Miami, he is now hailed as a conquering hero, a prodigal son, in his return.

It reminded me of a period of Vikings history that saw a prodigal son of their own return home.

When the Vikings played their first game, waaaaay back in 1961, they were an expansion team with castoffs and rookies.  Yet in their first game ever, they absolutely rolled the perennial powerhouse Chicago Bears, 37-13. They were lead by a rookie quarterback in Fran Tarkenton who was, at the time, the most unorthodox quarterback in the NFL.

Tarkenton introduced us to the word 'scrambling', and he drove defenses nuts throughout his entire career.  He was short, and made up for his lack of size by running around the backfield, keeping a play alive, until a receiver broke open.

Unfortunately, Tarkenton also drove head coach Norm Van Brocklin nuts, too. Van Brocklin, the Vikings first coach and an NFL Hall of Fame QB in his own right with the Rams, wanted Tarkenton to become a more traditional, drop back quarterback.  It was hard to argue with Tarkenton's play on the field early on, as he was an All-Pro in 1964 and '65, but his play dropped, and eventually Van Brocklin became frustrated with Tarkenton and benched him towards the end of 1967.

Tarkenton demanded a trade, and so Minnesota dealt him to the New York Giants for three first round picks and a second round pick. After the trade, Van Brocklin resigned, kind of out of the blue, and the Vikings hired Bud Grant.  It turned out to be a great trade for the Vikings, as two of the four draft picks turned into Ed White and Ron Yary. White would be a long time All-Pro for the Vikings in the 1970's, and Yary would go on to the Hall of Fame as a tackle.

The trade turned out to be one of the best in team history for the Vikings, and Tarkenton had five very good years in New York, but the Giants struggled to win.  In Minnesota, Grant quickly brought in Joe Kapp once he realized the quarterbacks on the roster were not going to cut it, and the Vikings took off, and the Purple People Eaters era began.

You could make the argument that without that trade, the Vikings don't win the NFL Championship in 1969 and go on to Super Bowl IV.

But a contract dispute with the Vikings caused Kapp to get traded to New England after they won their only NFL Championship in 1969. The team still did well, but QB Gary Cuozzo couldn't get the Vikings out of the first round of the playoffs in 1970 and '71, so the Vikings traded All-Pro WR Bob Grim to the Giants to get Tarkenton back.

Ironically, Grim was one of the players the Vikings selected with the bevy of draft picks they received in the first trade with the Giants.

Tarkenton was the final piece to the puzzle, and the Vikings went to three Super Bowls following his return. If you argue that the Vikings don't go to Super Bowl IV without the first Tarkenton trade, you could also make the argument that the Vikings don't go to Super Bowls VIII, IX, and XI without the second Tarkenton trade.

They finally had an offense that was on par with their ferocious defense, and the Vikings would go on to dominate the NFC Central like few teams have dominated any division, in any sport, for almost the entire decade.