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Catching Up with Fran Tarkenton on Innovations & QBs Deep in Careers


Fran Tarkenton has been retired from football for nearly 40 years, but he continues to innovate in his second career.

It took decades for other quarterbacks to catch the career passing records that Tarkenton set from 1961-78 in 13 seasons with the Vikings and five with the New York Giants.

When he did retire at age 38, Tarkenton had 47,003 passing yards, which ranks 10th all-time and was 6,764 more than Johnny Unitas, the only player still in the top 20 that had overlapping seasons with Tarkenton. Other marks set by Tarkenton that have since been passed were completions (3,686), attempts (6,467) and passing touchdowns (342), which still ranks sixth and was 52 more than Unitas, who played from 1956-73.  

Tarkenton stepped from the gridiron into the forefront of technology in business. He continues to look for innovation in his business, Tarkenton Companies. 

We recently spoke with Tarkenton, 77, about Ahmad Rashad’s induction to the Vikings Ring of Honor and caught up with the Hall of Fame quarterback on a couple other interesting topics. 

Tarkenton was at his Atlanta office, finishing up "compressed juices and raw extracts from kale" as he explained his appreciation of enjoying two careers.

"I go to work every day because God has blessed me with health at 77, and if you've got that blessing, you ought to be able to give back and help other people," Tarkenton said. "Being in business, being a quarterback on a football team is making other people better, bringing some value to the table.

"So we're working with small business entrepreneurs across the world, and we leverage technology to help them have a better chance to make their businesses work, and that's a joy and a pleasure."

He's also paying close attention as quarterbacks like Tom Brady, 40, and Drew Brees, 38, are extending their football careers by harnessing technology and nutrition. Peyton Manning made it to Super Bowl 50 at age 39, and Brett Favre turned 41 in 2010, a season after coming oh-so-close to the ultimate goal with the Vikings.

These days, Tarkenton usually watches games from his theater room with his two German shepherds and said Brady is "able to play at a level that I've never seen a quarterback play at."

"He plays as good as he did when he was 25, but he works at it," Tarkenton said. "He's got a full-time nutritionist, he eats well, he trains well, he sleeps well. He's doing things that we never thought about, and he's healthier.

"Most of us who were in generations before, I played until I was 39, but I really physically was not the same after 36," Tarkenton said. "You go look at [Roger] Staubach (37 in final season) and [Terry] Bradshaw (35) and quarterbacks in that age and even later with Troy Aikman (34), they retired in their middle 30s."

Tarkenton noted the improvements that teams have made to weight rooms and fitness training, as well as the focus on healthy foods.

"We didn't even have a weight room back then," Tarkenton said. "Nutrition, we didn't have any — fried chicken, biscuits and butter was nutrition."

He said the daily compressed juice and kale extract helps him "stay much more active and much more energized and have as much energy as I've ever had in my life because I've adapted into a healthier lifestyle."

"We didn't know anything about that in our football days," Tarkenton said. "I played a long time, but the last three years, I had a broken right shoulder and finally had to have it replaced. I had torn my LCL, but they couldn't see that back then. Therefore, they couldn't treat it, but I couldn't run anymore.

"I went from about a 4.8 40 to about a 7-flat 40, so my last three years, I couldn't run and didn't have arm strength," he continued. "Look at Drew Brees, he's 38 and playing at a high level, and they're leveraging nutrition and good life habits to be able to take care of their body as well as their minds."

Film review has become so convenient that coaches can watch it on tablets during the game, instead of the former method of still photos or even earlier days of threading film through a projector during the week.

"It's light years, the study of film during the week and how they can break down the film," Tarkenton added. "They can be so much more efficient in how they study the game and what defenses are doing."

In Tarkenton's era, quarterback helmets weren't even equipped with sideline-to-player communication devices.

"If I had [former Offensive Coordinator] Jerry Burns [in my ear], I'm not sure how that would have worked," Tarkenton joked before adding, "It would have been great, because when you're on the field, you can only see so much. If I could have had Jerry Burns saying, 'This is what they did, and this is how they reacted to you. This play will work better.' "

Tarkenton Companies helps small business owners and entrepreneurs by providing that "voice on the headset," so to speak.

Former CNN employees built a state-of-the-art studio for Tarkenton, allowing him to stream videos straight to clients' devices.

"The A.I. (artificial intelligence) coming out now and all of the new-fangled stuff that we're about to come into, it's just unbelievable what we can do and can leverage so the companies that do that are having enormous success, and the old-guard companies that are staid and set in their old ways and don't reach out, change and leverage technology, they're dying," Tarkenton said. "I've never seen a time in my life where you see two distinct things going on with all of this innovation and technology advancement that makes life better and then the old staid people who cannot get out of their own way."

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