Football Tests Us On & Off The Field
Pete LoPresti gave up 7 goals one night to the mighty Montreal Canadiens. During the middle of the 1970s LoPresti became the starting goaltender for his home state Minnesota North Stars. Hall-of-Famer Lorne “Gump” Worsley had retired and regular goalie Cesare Maniago was aging. LoPresti, fresh from college and the son of a former NHL goaltender got pressed into service. The North Stars, now known as the Dallas Stars, wore a dazzling uniform and were mostly awful. The Montreal teams of the middle to late 1970s were the most dominant sporting machine I ever saw.
With a final score of 7 to 3 a reporter informed LoPresti during the course of the game he had given up the 10-thousandth goal in Montreal team history. “At least I only gave up 7 of them,” the goalie replied.
It’s a fitting testament to Minnesota sports history. The North Stars moved. The Minneapolis Lakers had moved to Los Angeles. The Golden Gophers football team hasn’t been a factor in college football since the Great Depression. The highlight of the 1970s may have been the state’s professional football team. Minnesota had a franchise assigned in the early NFL but due to extreme cold the Duluth Eskimos didn’t play in Minnesota but were exclusively a road team. The Eskimos are now known as the Washington Redskins. When the AFL threatened to put a team in Minnesota in 1960 the NFL awarded an expansion franchise for the Minneapolis area. The Vikings were born. The team spent most of the 1960s as doormats for the Green Bay Packers but in 1969 Minnesota had an offensive explosion. It lasted until January of 1970 when the underdog Kansas City Chiefs thrashed the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. The Chiefs haven’t been back to the big game since. Minnesota returned after the 1973, 1974 and 1976 seasons. The result was always the same. Humiliation for Minnesota fans. In the 1975 NFC Championship the Cowboys derailed the Vikings on a last minute touchdown pass. In the ’76 Super Bowl the Vikings lost to the Raiders, the AFL franchise the NFL chased from Minnesota.
While I’m a native Western New Yorker the Vikings were my first love. When the club brought Fran Tarkenton back from his long exile in New York the franchise really caught fire. Terry Bradshaw used to mock his rival quarterback calling Tarkenton a “dinker”. It means he threw a lot of short passes and built impressive numbers on plays not very thrilling. Bradshaw was throwing passes to a pair of Hall-of-Fame caliber receivers and had a Hall-of-Fame running back who could catch out-of-the-backfield. Tarkenton played a dozen years with the likes of Homer Jones who couldn’t remember what pass route he was running. John Gilliam and Ahmad Rashad were pretty good. You ask Gilliam who? As for Rashad, he’s better known for the broadcast booth and a pretty wife.
As the Vikings faded and disappointed I drifted more-and-more into the Buffalo Bills camp. By arbitrary geography I missed the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers bandwagon by growing up just over the New York side of the state line. My dad, born in Western Pennsylvania, had been a Browns fan. Before 1972 the Steelers were awful and despite training for many years in Western New York didn’t ever build a reliable fan base.
The Bills became the AFC version of the Vikings. Each made four trips to the Super Bowl for a combined 8 losses. I wouldn’t give a second chance to an unfaithful woman but when it comes to football I keep returning for abuse. Now it’s playoff time. The Chiefs currently have a halftime lead in Houston. Minnesota hosts a more experienced Seattle team tomorrow. The Vikings are considered a year away from great things. Odds are stacked against a Chiefs-Vikings rematch. After 46 years the guys who played in Super Bowl IV are now old geezers. Tarkenton missed that blowout loss but suffered through the latter three Minnesota debacles.
And I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cardinals go all the way this year. If anything is more disheartening than being a Bills or Vikings fan it’s following Arizona. The team is in its third city and is the oldest continuous operation in pro-football with roots dating back to 1895. The last time a Cardinal franchise tasted champagne was when Truman was President. I love the game. No matter how it treats me.