Quarterback rankings mostly suck. Each quarterback is so different from the next that homogenizing them into a single, linear list is a worthless exercise. You may have Josh Allen above Lamar Jackson, but if the two teams traded quarterbacks, both would get worse. I say do away with quarterback rankings entirely. Instead, focus on what the quarterback enables you to do or prevents you from doing.
In spite of this, I found myself having some fun thinking about the below tweet from Tyler Forness, and expanding that to quarterbacks throughout Vikings history.
Don’t worry, I got bored well before I had the energy to write an entire article dryly ranking quarterbacks that retired decades ago, I would never make you read that. But I still think it’s fun to reminisce. To vibe with the past. So let’s just focus on the vibes. This is not a ranking of the best quarterbacks. This is a ranking of every three-plus year starter based purely on his vibes.
To whittle down the litany of quarterbacks who have had a cup of coffee with the Vikings, I cut out everyone who shows up fewer than three times in the “top passer” column of ProFootballReference’s Franchise Encyclopedia. This sadly cuts out some beloved Viking rentals like Warren Moon and Brett Favre, but it also loses Gary Cuozzo and Christian Ponder, so we’ll take it.
We’ll go in reverse order. What’s life without a little suspense, right?
8. Wade Wilson (1987-1989)
Wade Wilson accidentally finds himself on this list, despite being a backup for most of his career. Thanks to a number of injured Tommy Kramer seasons, Wilson ended up as the primary starter for three years by the skin of his teeth. His vibe has basically nothing going for it. He’s a career backup, that’s a bad vibe. He’s a journeyman, which is a terrible vibe. The best quarterback vibe is the one that immediately associates you with that team. Joe Namath? That guy’s a Jet. Elite vibe. Terry Bradshaw is a career Steeler.
I put Wade Wilson at the bottom mostly because he didn’t see as much success as Brad Johnson did, and also because I can’t Google his name without getting a whole bunch of Deadpool results.
7. Brad Johnson (1996-1997, 2005-2006)
Brad Johnson almost didn’t make the list. He had two separate stints with the Vikings with two years in each as the starter for the majority of games. He stayed in Minnesota for longer as a backup, which is already two strikes against his vibes. Nobody likes Grover Cleveland; his broken-up term is messy and it makes the back of your history textbook awkward.
Johnson is the only member of this list to start and win in a Super Bowl, which is a pretty cool vibe, but he got carried by the elite 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. That team got so good at their particular brand of cover 2, they started calling it Tampa 2. The strong safety from that team runs the San Francisco 49ers now. Johnson was a passenger on the ship and goes into the Trent Dilfer category of champion. He’s someone you cite to talk yourself into maybe Ryan Tannehill winning the Super Bowl if everything breaks right.
Speaking of Ryan Tannehills…
6. Kirk Cousins (2018-Present)
Kirk Cousins has garnered a reputation as the most medium quarterback of all time. He is the new “Dalton Line.” He is an even 59-59-2 as a starter in his career, complete with some ties for extra medium-ness. Famously, no team has ever lost to Kirk Cousins and won the Super Bowl in the same year. When people make quarterback tier lists, they name the middling tier “Kirk Cousins.” A medium vibe is a bad vibe, but at least he’s not a career backup. Plus, it’s fun to make fun of him.
Cousins doesn’t know how to get a good crust on a steak on the grill. He dressed up like Buzz Lightyear once and it made Pat Elflein‘s Mario look good by comparison. He drove a 2000 GMC Savana with a dent in it until it got totaled, and then he replaced that with a new van. Credit to Cousins for embracing his goofy dad-who-keeps-interrupting-the-sleepover-to-ask-if-anyone-wants-carrots vibe. It would be much worse to deny it. But that won’t convince me that this is a good vibe.
5. Rich Gannon (1990-1992)
Gannon started for three years in the ‘90s, bridging the gap between Jerry Burns and Denny Green. This was a tumultuous time in the history of the Vikings. They were experiencing all the pains caused by the Herschel Walker trade of ’89 and were still getting used to being an indoor team. Gannon quarterbacked this unit with the fire it needed, as an opinionated, yell-at-you-on-the-sideline leader. He’s not the coolest dude to play for the Vikings, but he’s what they needed at the time.
Gannon’s vibes have plenty of knocks. He split his career over three different teams. I suppose Gannon is a Raider since they went to that Super Bowl (and lost to Brad Johnson, a big knock there). But you could just as easily envision him as a Viking or a Kansas City Chief. Both the Vikings and Chiefs seemed to regret letting him get away as he led the Raiders to their first sustained success in a decade, which, on this Minnesota Sports website, is a bad vibe.
4. Tommy Kramer (1979, 1982, 1984-1986)
Two-Minute Tommy had an underrated vibe. He had a ton of talent, made all the throws, and had a very cool clutch gene. He had that same spicy leadership that Gannon had. Here he is yelling at a kicker for getting his extra point blocked. We love that fiery passion.
In his debut game, he took over in the fourth quarter, down 24-7, and won the game. That was in 1977, a year where the Vikings won the division by a single game. Of course, he quarterbacked the Miracle at the Met a few years later, which everyone remembers. Unfortunately, Kramer just couldn’t stay healthy. Injuries peppered throughout the 1980s derailed his career, allowed guys like Wilson onto this list, and led to the worst playoff drought the Vikings experienced since they were an expansion team.
3. Fran Tarkenton (1961-1966, 1972-1978)
Everyone agrees that Tarkenton is the best quarterback in Vikings history, but his vibe leaves a little more to be desired. Watching him scramble around and throw up moonballs on 35mm film is pretty cool. He quarterbacked in three different Super Bowls, although, that might not go very far for some disappointed fans. There’s certainly a vintage, old-school-coolness to it that applies to any quarterback who played in the ‘60s. On the field, his vibe rivals anyone’s.
Off the field, there’s not much to go on. Tarkenton was the son of a Southern Methodist minister, and he didn’t like it when Norm Van Brocklin swore. He’s a goody-two-shoes that probably goes down much smoother in his hometown in Georgia than he does to a 30-year-old city slicker like me. Still, everyone loves watching Tarkenton highlights. Great vibe.
2. Daunte Culpepper (2000-2004)
If you ask a bunch of Vikings fans when they became fans, you’ll get three answers most commonly: They were born into it, when they watched Brett Favre and the 2009 Vikings, or when Daunte Culpepper was throwing bombs to Randy Moss and Cris Carter. I grew up with this Three Deep poster on my bedroom wall like so many other Millennial Vikings fans.
In the ‘80s, it felt weird that the Vikings were a dome team. Watching Bud Grant coach home games inside in December felt like something out of the Upside-Down. It wasn’t until the Denny Green and Mike Tice eras, quarterbacked by Culpepper, that the Vikings actually became a cool team. Culpepper’s scrambling was fun, but in my opinion not quite as fun as Tarkenton’s. It was Culpepper’s howitzer of an arm, mixed with Moss, Carter, and Jake Reed, that made the Vikings the sickest team in the NFL.
Also, Culpepper was on the Love Boat, which is by far the funniest thing the Vikings have done as a team. Depending on how cool you are, that’ll be either a plus or a minus to his vibes.
1. Joe Kapp (1967-1969)
I could have written this whole article at the same length about just how much Joe Kapp rocks. He barely sneaks on the list at three seasons, and he’s the reason I didn’t make it four. To a modern Vikings fan, think of Joe Kapp as Case Keenum with impossible toughness. He knocked out a linebacker in the NFL Championship once, and he’s still proud of it. Back in the 1960s, quarterbacks were relatively uncontroversial pretty boys plucked straight out of Leave It To Beaver. Kapp would show up to the party with a black eye and a tequila hangover, then lob up three touchdowns and run for a fourth.
Kapp’s play is so much fun to watch. It wasn’t like Fran Tarkenton‘s smooth, impossibly frustrating scramble drills, nor did he have the eye-popping talent of Culpepper. He didn’t throw with the laces, he jumped when he threw and he rarely threw a spiral. He met contact like he was a fullback. He just found a way. If you could make a quarterback from pure grit and toughness, it would be Kapp. But as fun as his play was, things got even cooler after he retired.
After 1969, Kapp left for Boston to become the highest-paid player in NFL history at the time. And he gave that all up for his principles. Back then, the league had players sign “standard contracts,” which were brazenly illegal measures that gave teams full control over the destinations of their players. There was basically no negotiating power on a player’s side. Kapp held out of training camp and got released over it.
He sued the league for this breach of the Anti-Trust Act and won, but wasn’t awarded a dime. That lawsuit laid the precedent that the courts cited when they forced the NFL to repeal the Rozelle Rule in a later suit, which forced teams to compensate the former team of any free agent. Kapp gave up the highest contract in the league to break headlong through a labor barrier that fundamentally changed how the NFL works. Athletes make inordinate money now. You can partially thank Joe Kapp for that.
Later, he coached the Cal State Golden Bears, his alma mater. He was head coach in 1982. If the 1982 Cal State Bears sound familiar, it’s probably because of The Play, which only worked because Kapp brought a silly lateral-based game from Vikings camps into his college camps. This is all detailed in his book, The Toughest Chicano, which you can buy here. I highly recommend it.