One thing has been almost certain across the history of the Border Battle rivalry: If you watch a Minnesota-Green Bay game, you’re going to see at least one pretty good quarterback slinging the ball around (or handing the ball off a lot, depending on weather/field conditions).
It hasn’t happened very often that both teams have gone into a week with pure mediocrity or even outright badness at the QB position. Most of the time there’s a Bart Starr, or a Fran Tarkenton, or a Brett Favre or an Aaron Rodgers. Or at least a Lynn Dickey or a Tommy Kramer or a Daunte Culpepper. Often you get two of those guys pitted against each other, doing epic John Fazenda-narrated battle, hopefully in the snow or sleet or some other god-awful form of precipitation.
But you don’t always get Tark vs. Starr, or Kramer vs. Dickey, or Favre vs. Rodgers. Or even Wade Wilson vs. Don Majkowski (which isn’t as great as those other match-ups but is still acceptable). A few times over Vikings-Packers history, both teams have gone off the QB cliff at the same time and been forced to send averageness or even blow-averageness onto the field. This weekend will be one of those times.
In honor of Christian Ponder v. Scott Tolzien – not the showdown we were dreaming of, that’s for sure – I present the five worst QB match-ups in Vikings-Packers history.
5. Gary Cuozzo vs. Scott Hunter – October 17, 1971
1971 was a black hole season for the Green Bay Packers. Bart Starr was finished and the Pack were forced to go with rookie QB Scott Hunter, a sixth round pick that year out of Alabama. The Packers would finish a dismal 4-8-2 that season, the beginning of a run of mediocrity that would last pretty much until the ’80s.
The Vikings too were in a transitional year with their quarterback situation. Joe Kapp was gone and Fran Tarkenton was still a year from returning. The Vikes had to cobble it together at QB with long-time backup Gary Cuozzo, second-year man Bob Lee – who also punted – and journeyman Norm Snead. That the Vikes were still able to go 11-3 that year is testament to the greatness of the Purple People Eaters and the power of their running game, led by Clint Jones and Dave Osborn. And of course the leadership of Bud Grant.
Both teams would go through multiple QBs during the course of that season – washed-up Starr would get a couple starts with the Pack before giving way to Hunter – but as things fell, the two Vikings-Packers match-ups would feature Cuozzo vs. Hunter. The Vikings won the first game 24-13 behind Cuozzo’s 182 yard, 3 TD performance. The rookie Hunter would throw for 230 yards on only 50% passing with three picks, two to Ed Sharockman.
After years of Starr vs. Tarkenton and Starr vs. Kapp, Cuozzo vs. Hunter was more than a little bit of a comedown. It ain’t easy replacing legends.
4. Gary Cuozzo vs. Scott Hunter – November 14, 1971
The second showdown between competent Cuozzo and forgettable Hunter. This game was played at the Met under decent conditions for November – 45 degrees with a manageable wind. Nevertheless, the game would turn into a total old school slugfest. The quarterback stat lines pretty much tell the story on this one. Cuozzo threw for 42 yards on 5-of-11 passing with zero touchdowns. Hunter managed a whopping 61 yards on 5-of-8 passing. With those kind of numbers, it should be no surprise that the game ended 3-0. Yes, I said 3-0. In favor of Minnesota.
The key play in this one was a bonehead decision by the rookie Hunter. The Packers had a chance to tie late, but instead of sitting on the ball to set up a field goal, Hunter went for the win and threw into the end zone – and was picked off by Charlie West. That sealed the game for Minnesota. Scott Hunter would last two more seasons in Green Bay before moving on to Atlanta. Cuozzo would play for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972 – yeah, they used to be in St. Louis – before calling it quits.
3. Christian Ponder vs. Scott Tolzien – November 24, 2013
It’s highly unlikely that this weekend’s game will end 3-0. That’s about all I can say with any certainty about this match-up. I have no idea how Tolzien will perform with the Packers’ season hanging in the balance. I have no idea how Ponder will perform coming off a dreadful performance against Seattle. The weather might be less-than-favorable in Green Bay so this could end up a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair. Or it could be a shootout in spite of the conditions.
Normally there is uncertainty only on the Vikings’ side of the ball going into these games. With the Packers, you usually know what you’re going to get. But the Packers are in semi-disarray right now, especially defensively. It helps them to have established a real running game with Eddie Lacy but Tolzien will still have to step up and do his part.
Quarterback-wise, you’ve got the wildly inconsistent Ponder vs. the untested Tolzien. It’s not exactly Favre vs. Rodgers. It’s closer to Cuozzo vs. Hunter. It could still be a good game, and hopefully Ponder will be able to rebound and lead the Vikings to victory.
2. Bob Lee vs. David Whitehurst – November 27, 1977
The circumstances of this game were incredibly crazy. It is remembered in Vikings-Packers lore as one of the most hideous snow games in the whole history of the rivalry. Lambeau Field was already buried at the start, and several more inches of snow would fall before the game was finished. If you’ve ever seen video of this one – and it’s up on the internet if you want to look around for it – you know how insane it was.
The ridiculous blizzard conditions would have made the game memorable enough, but it’s also recalled for another crazy reason: this was the game Fran Tarkenton and Lynn Dickey both missed because of broken legs.
Dickey broke his leg in an early November game against the Rams, and Tarkenton broke his the very same week against Cincinnati. Tommy Kramer initially came in for Tarkenton, but gave way to long-time backup Bob Lee for the Lambeau Field match-up. The Packers sent Dickey’s backup David Whitehurst into the ice-planet-Hoth-level blizzard to face the Vikings.
The horrendous conditions, blinding snow plus wind plus below-zero wind chills, had a predictable impact on the passing game. Neither team could throw it hardly at all. The Vikings did somehow manage one huge wind-defying passing play in the game, a 40-yard strike from Lee to Sammy White for their only touchdown. The game went into the half 13-6 and they could’ve stopped it there. Given the conditions, maybe they should have. The game ended with the same 13-6 score. Had it not been for booze, there might have been multiple deaths by freezing in the stands.
It was a horrible day to play a football game and an even worse one to be a spectator. But at least all those hearty Packer fans got to see David Whitehurst vs. Bob Lee. They’re telling their grandkids about it right now, gesticulating with their fingerless hands.
1. Tony Adams. vs. Alan Risher – October 4, 1987
This is the sort of putrid matchup that only a strike season could bring into existence. The Vikings QB Adams had a little NFL experience, having played for the Chargers and Chiefs. He even started quite a few games in his life, his last NFL start before this game coming in 1978 with Kansas City. Nine years between NFL starts? Doesn’t sound like a recipe for disaster at all.
But at least the 37-year-old Adams had some knowledge of the offense, having played under Bob Schnelker in San Diego – six years before. That stint in San Diego was Adams’ last in the NFL before being signed by the Vikings as a replacement player for the strike season of ’87. His backup? A Chicago insurance salesman named Larry Miller.
Alan Risher was younger but had nothing like Adams’ experience. He was with Tampa in 1985 but never started. When he stepped onto the Metrodome turf in 1987 as a replacement player for the Packers, it was his NFL starting debut.
Youth would trump experience this day. Risher and the Packers bested Adams and the Vikings 23-16. Risher threw for 164 yards and a TD, while Adams passed for 234 with a TD and an interception. Both men would get two more starts as replacements before the strike ended, bringing back the real players. And sanity.
Someone should send the NFL and the leadership of the NFLPA the video of this and every strike game from 1987. Both sides should be forced to come together once a year and watch the games together. And remember the horror. It’s the only way to guarantee that there will never be another strike. For the sake of the children, there must never be another Adams v. Risher game.