Ahead of the Vikings playing for the 67th time on Monday Night Football and being back on ABC, VEN’s Tatum Everett and I caught up with Gary Cuozzo, the starting quarterback of Minnesota’s first appearance on MNF.
After Jim Nabors sang the National Anthem, Cuozzo led the Vikings offense through a monsoon to a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 26, 1970, at messy, muddy Metropolitan Stadium.
Keith Jackson handled play-by-play duties for ABC and was joined by Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. At one point Jackson proclaimed, “I’m trying to mop the windows,” to get a better view.
The rain wasn’t quite as heavy earlier in the game when Cuozzo hit Bill Brown for a 17-yard touchdown, which proved to be the only trip to the end zone by either team thanks to an impressive stand by the Purple People Eaters.
Cuozzo finished 5-of-9 passing with 46 yards and a passer rating of 106.7.
“It rained that whole time. It was muddy. We threw no passes in the fourth quarter,” Cuozzo said. “We got ahead early, and between the philosophy of Bud [Grant] and the early lead, we ran the ball time after time. We had no interceptions and a few fumbles but we just outlasted them.
“We did a lot of that when I was there because that was Bud’s philosophy,” Cuozzo continued. “The offense wasn’t really out there to score a bunch of touchdowns. We never threw the ball very much and we didn’t have a lot of formations.”
In addition to leading Minnesota in receiving yards with that one catch, Brown also turned in a game-high 62 rushing yards. His night included an 11-yard scamper in the second quarter on which he became the 13th NFL player to rush for 5,000 career yards.
Meredith had been a three-time Pro Bowl QB during his time with the Dallas Cowboys (1960-68) before transitioning to the broadcasting world. Cuozzo recalled Meredith trying to do some prep work for the game.
“Don walked into the locker room and asked me to let him know what we were going to run inside the 5-yard line,” Cuozzo recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t think I can tell you that. Go ask Bud, and if Bud says it’s OK, I’ll let you know.’ He comes out later, I’m sitting there getting dressed, and he comes by me on the way out. I said, ‘What did he say, Don?’ He said, ‘I didn’t ask him.’
“With Bud’s stoic personality, Don wasn’t about to ask that question,” Cuozzo laughed.
Cuozzo and the 1970 Vikings went 10-2 in the regular season that followed Minnesota’s first Super Bowl appearance, but the squad fell 17-14 to the 49ers in the Divisional round of the NFC Playoffs.
Monday Night Football instituted multiple innovations for the sport and people enjoy it.
These days, Cuozzo, said he enjoys watching NFL Red Zone.
Once a QB, always a QB.
The former Colt (1963-66), Saint (1967), Viking (1968-71) and Cardinal (1972) has enjoyed seeing the modernization of offenses and the way the passing game has become so much more prevalent.
“During my era, the passing game was nullified quite a bit by bump-and-run and just the whole conservative aspect of football,” Cuozzo said. “It was almost a throwback to when football first started before helmets — almost like a rugby match.”
Permissible contact by defenders on receivers has been reduced over the years, and scheme and pre-snap complexities have boosted conditions for offenses.
“If you watch that game, we had two formations. We ran split backs and flanker,” Cuozzo said. “We had nothing, no motion, no slot, so as a defense looking at us, they pretty much knew where we were going to be.
“Fortunately we did well because we had a good offensive line and Brown and Dave Osborn and Oscar Reed, a lot of good backs,” Cuozzo said.
For more on Cuozzo and other Vikings players, be on the lookout for Purple Heroes: Football Stories from the Gridiron to the Cross, a book by Craig Olsen that was released in July. Former Vikings guard Ed White painted the cover art.
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