NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Bump In The Road

15 Dec

On this week’s NFL schedule there is a meeting of the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts, 2 teams that were members of the old guard NFL before the merger. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature our sights are set on opening day of the 1964 season, which was a pretty successful one for the Colts and their young coach, Don Shula. The old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota was the setting for the game, the September 13th home opener for the Vikings. The team was still relatively young as a franchise, entering their fourth season under coach Norm Van Brocklin. The Colts, still located in Baltimore then, had high hopes for the new campaign. They had ended the 1963 season with 3 straight wins, including a 41-10 thrashing of the Vikings, and appeared ready to shed the mediocre reputation that had befallen the franchise since winning back-to-back NFL titles in the late 1950s.

That old pro football saying of “any given Sunday” is a real thing, and it played out on this day. Minnesota’s Tommy Mason raced 51 yards for a touchdown in a sign of things to come, as the Vikings’ rushing attack would have 2 backs go over 100 yards for the day and the team would amass over 300 on the ground. Lenny Moore got the Colts even with a 2 yard scoring run, followed by a short Fred Cox field goal and a 48 yard TD pass from Fran Tarkenton to his fullback, Bill Brown. That gave the Vikings a 17-7 halftime lead. The entire second half amounted to the teams trading scores. John Unitas cut the Viking lead to 17-14 with an 18 yard touchdown throw to Jimmy Orr, but the Vikings answered that with a 1 yard Brown plunge. Unitas kept his club close with a 70 yard bomb to Moore to close out the third quarter. Tarkenton, however, opened the final stanza with an answer to that, finishing a drive with a 6 yard touchdown toss to Paul Flatley to put Minnesota up 31-21. The teams traded field goals to close out the scoring and Minnesota had themselves an impressive 34-24 opening day victory.

Mason finished with 137 yards on 20 carries while Brown added 103 on 20 tries and also chipped in 84 yards on 3 receptions to fuel the Viking attack. It wasn’t the start Shula and the Colts expected, but they didn’t let it derail their aspirations. They would lose only 1 more time in that ’64 regular season, finishing 12-2 to claim the Western Division crown. Their string of wins included a sweep of Vince Lombardi’s Packers and shutout wins of 52-0 over the defending champion Bears and 34-0 over the Lions. Their only other regular season loss was in the season’s penultimate week, to Detroit, after they had already clinched the division. Despite the dominance, the Baltimore club lost the championship game to Cleveland in disappointing 27-0 shutout fashion.

Vikings’ Tommy Mason finds daylight (Neil Leifer-Getty Images)


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