Purple Stain

Securities scams, karaoke-bar brawls, and the occasional boozy ride: At least there's one championship the Vikings might be winning

We'll leave such head-scratchers to the sociologists. But one conclusion leaped to mind: You could field a veritable dream team from the ranks of tarnished Vikings, drawing on star performers, sturdy role players, and the occasional obscurity. So, of course, that's what we did.

In keeping with the number-crunching ways of fantasy leagues, we devised a simple system to calculate the status of any Viking's reputation--what we'll call the Purple Stain Index (PSI). We gave a zero-to-ten ranking to both the stat sheet, which takes into account a player's accomplishments and standing in Viking lore, and the rap sheet, which considers the nature and headline-worthiness of the accusation against him. Then, in the interest of fairness, we subtracted from that total a third set of points based on mitigating circumstance or redeeming irony.

What conclusions may be extracted from such an exercise? Frankly, we're not sure, except that the whole thing does cast doubt on one old bromide: Sports may build character. But it sure as hell doesn't require it.

 

 

WHITE-COLLAR BLUES

BACK IN THE aforementioned good old days, million-dollar signing bonuses, lucrative endorsements, and fat contracts were still the domain of movie stars and corporate execs, not football players. As a result, lots of ex-Vikes from before the big-money boom of the mid-Eighties have had to scrape to get by after their playing days were through. A few learned a hard lesson: Bending the rules--a chop block here, a hold there--may be part of the fabric of the game, but off the field it can spell trouble.

 

PLAYER: Fran Tarkenton

POSITION: Quarterback (1961-66; 1972-78)

STAT SHEET: From his rookie season with the then-expansion Vikings until his retirement 18 years later, Tarkenton defined the franchise's burgeoning mystique more than anyone this side of former head coach Bud Grant. One of just three Vikings players to garner a spot in the Hall of Fame, Tarkenton led the team to three Super Bowl losses and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1975. Tarkenton's improvisational play, especially his penchant for scrambling, made him an enduring favorite of fans--if not coaches and players.

SCORE: 10

RAP SHEET: Since retirement, Tarkenton seems to have applied his trademark freewheeling style to his business ventures. By one count, Tarkenton has started as many as 30 separate companies, including a short-lived fast-food franchise called--you guessed it--Scramblers. Tarkenton's boardroom notoriety stems from his former role as chairman and CEO of the Atlanta-based software firm KnowledgeWare, where he allegedly orchestrated what the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) later called a multimillion-dollar "financial fraud scheme" designed to inflate the company's stock value and attract investors. In a 1999 lawsuit, the SEC alleged that Tarkenton had "personally instructed" underlings to concoct phony sales reports. The suit was settled in 1999 with an agreement under which Tarkenton made no formal admission of wrongdoing but agreed to cough up a $100,000 fine and some $54,000 in bonuses.

SCORE: 4

MITIGATING FACTOR: A deserving victim? One of the biggest losers in the KnowledgeWare fiasco was former Tarkenton friend and Twin Cities-based corporate raider Irwin "The Liquidator" Jacobs.

SCORE: 1

PSI: 13

 

PLAYER: Chuck Foreman

POSITION: Running back (1973-79)

STAT SHEET: Despite his relatively short career, Foreman remains the team's all-time leading rusher (5,879 yards). His soft hands made him a receiving threat as well, and he led the team in receptions three straight seasons. In 1975 he scored an amazing 22 touchdowns, a team record that stands to this day. He was named to five straight Pro Bowls.

SCORE: 9

RAP SHEET: Pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud last month in connection with an effort to avoid foreclosure on his Eden Prairie townhouse via a series of bogus sales. Foreman could face as much as one and a half years in federal prison, but he has pledged to cooperate in the prosecution of former associates linked to the "flipping" scandal and may receive probation.

SCORE: 2

MITIGATING FACTOR: So you've never been tempted to screw the bank for a change? Besides, he lost his home.

SCORE: 0.5

PSI: 10.5

 

PLAYER: Walker Lee Ashley

POSITION: Linebacker (1983-88; 1990)

STAT SHEET: A perennial backup during the Jerry Burns regime, Ashley saw most of his playing time on special teams and was said to be disgruntled in that role.

SCORE: 2

RAP SHEET: Following his retirement, Ashley worked as director of a youth development program for the City of Eagan. Faced with accusations that he'd forged checks, Ashley issued vigorous denials, saying, "I don't rip off kids." Three months later he pleaded guilty to a single count of theft. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to make $1,300 in restitution to Eagan plus $500 to kids whom he allegedly shortchanged, and to perform 50 hours of community service.

SCORE: 2

MITIGATING FACTOR: The job only paid $37,000 a year.

SCORE: 0.5

PSI: 3.5

 

 

FEEL THE POWER

ACCORDING TO THE authors of Pros and Cons, domestic abuse is the leading cause of arrest among NFL players, and more than a few Vikes have made headlines for such transgressions. Former team president Roger Headrick once confided to a reporter that more than a few accusations have never seen the light of day; even so, by 1995 waggish fans had begun to refer to the hometown heroes as "the Purple People Beaters."

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