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Vikings Edged Patriots for Mason, Hawkins & Tarkenton Long Before 1st Game

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Sunday's game will be just the 13th meeting between Minnesota and New England, but the franchises have a much deeper head-to-head storyline.

A decade before the Vikings defeated the Boston Patriots 35-14 at Harvard Stadium on Dec. 13, 1970, the teams vied for draft choices.

Minnesota, participating in the NFL Draft for the first time in 1961, selected running back Tommy Mason, linebacker Rip Hawkins and quarterback Fran Tarkenton with the opening selections of the first three rounds.

The 1961 NFL Draft was held at the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia on Dec. 27-28, 1960.

Boston, participating in the second-ever American Football League Draft on Nov. 21-22, 1960, had selected Mason second overall, Hawkins 10th overall and Tarkenton in the fifth round from the 34th overall spot via telephone. The league, which began play in 1960, completed its draft on Dec. 5-6, three weeks ahead of the NFL.

Ralph Bernstein of The Associated Press wrote about how the establishment of the AFL affected decision makers for NFL teams:

Mason was tapped by the fledgling Minnesota Vikings who will field their first team next year.

After the selection of Mason, 21-year-old Southeastern Conference star who ranked 15thnationally both in rushing and pass receiving, the draft selection quickly bogged down into a tortuous five-hour first round.

Most clubs — all equipped with telephones at their respective tables in the hotel draft room — were on the long distance lines to check whether their potential picks would sign up or already had signed with the rival American Football League.

The St. Louis Cardinals took 90 minutes before announcing they were drafting All-America tackle Ken Rice of Auburn. Baltimore took more than 35 minutes to choose Tom Matte, Ohio State quarterback.

In pre-AFL days, the NFL clubs would zip through the first two or three rounds in less than half an hour. The Canadian Leagues continue to bid actively for top American talent and they too were responsible in part for the slow-down.

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Teams vied to sign prospects, and Minnesota prevailed in signing Mason, Hawkins and Tarkenton, three players who helped shape the identity of the franchise.

Mason, whose story before and after his time with Minnesota is relayed in a display of artifacts on loan in the Vikings Museum, told the Star Tribune in 2007 about his decision to join the Vikings over offers from the Patriots and the Canadian Football League.

"I wasn't sure the AFL was going to last, and Canada seemed a long way away for a Louisiana boy," Mason said. "My dad, Bill, was a watchman at a chemical plant, and my mom, Mary, was a nurse, and they couldn't believe it … that this team from Minnesota was willing to pay their boy $12,000 to play football."

Patriots Founder/President William H. Sullivan, Jr., lamented not signing Mason.

A carbon copy of a letter from Sullivan to V.A. "Babe" LeVoir and Mason is currently in the Vikings Museum archives.

Part of the typed letter follows:

Babe, when you have a chance, say Hello to Tommy Mason, the Tulane halfback who has been signed by the Vikings. We tried hard to get him, and although we did not succeed, I developed quite a friendship with the young man and can assure you that he is top-grade in every respect.

Sullivan also added a personal note:

Tom, If you have an opportunity, please look up "Babe" LeVoir. He is a real top guy and he knows everyone in town. Good luck.

Mason went on to become the first Viking to garner All-Pro in 1963. He and Hawkins were selected to the Pro Bowl that season as well.

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Tarkenton played for the Vikings in the franchise's first six seasons before he was traded to the Giants in 1967 and then reacquired by Minnesota in 1972. He became the first Viking enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

Vikings Selections in 1961 NFL Draft

Players in bold made Vikings roster

1. (1) RB Tommy Mason, Tulane

2. (15) LB Rip Hawkins, North Carolina

3. (29) QB Fran Tarkenton, Georgia

4. (43) DB Chuck Lamson, Wyoming

5. (57) DB Ed Sharockman, Pittsburgh

6. (71) WR Jerry Burch, Georgia Tech

7. (85) WR Allan Ferrie, Wagner

8. (99) T Paul Lindquist, New Hampshire

9. (113) T Dan Sheehan, Tennessee-Chattanooga

10. (127) RB Doug Mayberry, Utah

11. (141) T Jerry Mays, SMU

12. (155) LB Steve Stonebreaker, Detroit

13. (169) RB Raymond Hayes, Central Oklahoma

14. (183) T Ken Peterson, Utah

15. (197) K Mike Mercer, Arizona State

16. (211) RB Ted Karpowicz, Detroit

17. (225) RB Willie Jones, Purdue

18. (239) T Bob Voight, Los Angeles State

19. (253) RB Bob Hill, Presbyterian

20. (267) Mike McFarland, Western Illinois

Patriots Selections in 1961 AFL Draft

1. (2) RB Tommy Mason, Tulane

2. (10) LB Rip Hawkins, North Carolina

3. (18) T Dan LaRose, Missouri

4. (26) G Mike Zeno, Virginia Tech

5. (34) QB Fran Tarkenton, Georgia

6. (42) DE Larry Eisenhauer, Boston College

7. (50) QB Paul Terhes, Bucknell

8. (58) G Charley Long, Tennessee-Chattanooga

9. (66) DT Roland Lakes, Wichita State

10. (74) WR Dick Mueller, Kentucky

11. (82) HB Mel West, Missouri

12. (90) C Wayne Harris, Arkansas

13. (98) T Dan Underwood, McNeese State

14. (106) DB Jim Wright, Memphis

15. No choice

16. (122) T George Balthazar, Tennessee State

17. (130) HB Ray Ratkowski, Notre Dame

18. (138) HB Tom Rodgers, Kentucky

19. (146) HB Joe Bellino, Navy

20. (154) DB Clarence Childs, Florida A&M

21. (162) T Don Oakes, Virginia Tech

22. (170) WR Bob Johnson, Michigan

23. (178) C Darrel DeDecker, Illinois

24. (186) DB Don Webb, Iowa State

25. (194) T Bob Minihane, Boston University

26. (202) T Charley Granger, Saginaw Valley State

27. (210) T Terry Huxhold, Wisconsin

28. (218) QB Bryant Harvard, Auburn

29. (226) T Ernie McMillan, Southern Miss

30. (234) DT George Hultz, Minnesota

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