Tarkenton made national headlines when he blasted Brett Favre for coming to the Vikings in 2009, publicly stating he hoped Favre would be a miserable failure. Since then, he has been the go-to guy in terms of bad-mouthing current NFL quarterbacks.
In an interview on Sirius Radio, Tarkenton promoted the Vikings' move to Christian Ponder while at the same time burying Donovan McNabb and striking an unprovoked glove-slap to Rex Grossman, who has nothing to do with the Vikings' change at QB.
When it came to Ponder, Tarkenton gave a half-hearted endorsement, saying the move isn't so much to see what Ponder can do, but proof of what McNabb can't.
"Let the kid play, because they're going nowhere with Donovan McNabb," Tarkenton said. "When are these guys going to understand when they play a retread, a guy that has either never shown he can play or that his best days are behind him in the way of Donovan McNabb?
For reasons unknown, other than perhaps the Redskins gave up on McNabb and promoted Grossman to the starting job (which he recently lost after a four-interception game), Tarkenton made no bones about his feelings about Grossman or McNabb, but again had praise for Ponder.
"In Washington, they go with Rex Grossman again," Tarkenton said. "Rex Grossman has proven he cannot play and they keep doing this. At least in Minnesota, with Ponder, I hear good things about him. The coaches like him and I'm getting really good feedback. But they need to see if he can play and the only way they can see if he can play is they play him, because they're not going to win with McNabb."
Just as it seemed as though the praise of Ponder was going to overshadow the dismissive comments on McNabb and Grossman's skills, Tarkenton added that Ponder has yet to prove anything and that his opportunity is the result of McNabb's incompetence, not anything he has proved to anyone outside of the coaching staff. He said the final 10 games of the season will be his proving ground.
"If he cannot play, then they need to get back in there and draft another quarterback a la Carolina," Tarkenton said, a reference to the Panthers taking Jimmy Clausen in the second round of the 2010 draft and Cam Newton with the first pick in 2011. "This is a good move by Minnesota. They're fourth-best in their division. They're going nowhere. But, here's the other thing: He can throw, he can run (and he's a) smart kid. The guys that separate themselves are the guys that figure out how to play quarterback – the ones that get it in the head. They become coaches on the field. They watch tape upon tape. That's what Peyton (Manning) did. That's what (Tom) Brady has done. That's what (Drew) Brees has done. And now we have a fourth in the league in Aaron Rodgers. The kid's got a brain. I think he graduated (from Florida State) in three years. He's a smart kid and he's got enough physical skills."
Tarkenton left his final analysis in a "wait and see" posture. If Ponder struggles, we will likely hear from Tark's tongue once again. As much as he endorses the move, he isn't giving it tacit approval.
"He has a chance, but we don't know," Tarkenton said. "You never know until they play and we'll see by the end of the year whether he has a chance. We're not going to see whether he's going to be as a good as Brady or Peyton Manning, but we're going to see if he's going to be a player. This is a good move with Ponder."
The question now becomes, let's say for example that Ponder completes about 55 percent of his passes for 2,000 yards, has as many interceptions as he has touchdown passes and has a passer rating a little below 75.0 – would that make him a failure? That was what Tarkenton did as a rookie starter and his career turned out pretty well – just ask him. However, if Ponder posts the same kind of numbers, we may see Tark bear his talons once again – even if Ponder's numbers are identical to those of the Hall of Famer.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.