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Updated: April 25th, 2013 2:08pm
Reusse's Reality: Spielman, meet Finks

Reusse's Reality: Spielman, meet Finks

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by Patrick Reusse

Bert Rose was hired as the Vikings' general manager for the NFL expansion team that would start play in 1961. Bert had been the director of public relations for the Los Angeles Rams and was a buddy of Pete Rozelle, the NFL's new commissioner.

Rose had the title but the personnel decisions largely belonged to Norm Van Brocklin, who went from the NFL's MVP as the Eagles quarterback in 1960 to the coach of the Vikings.

Van Brocklin was the blustery face of the franchise. Rose was lost in the background.

The Vikings' five-person ownership wanted to hire a real general manager to deal with Van Brocklin and to make personnel decisions. The owners convinced Rose to resign in June 1964.

Three months later, the Vikings hired Jim Finks as general manager. He had been highly successful with the Calgary Stampeders in that role. And this still was an era when the NFL and fledgling AFL paid considerable attention to what was taking place in the Canadian Football League.

For all practical purposes, Finks was the only true general manager in Vikings history until Rick Spielman was given the title and personnel power on Jan. 3, 2012.

Finks was on the job for a decade. He resigned in May 1974, after a disagreement with team president Max Winter. Finks wanted to buy a small ownership stake that had become available. Max balked and Finks walked.

Winter had met Mike Lynn at NFL meetings, when Lynn was part of a group trying to land a franchise for Memphis. After Finks' departure, Winter hired Lynn to help with contracts and other matters.

Lynn was given the title of general manager in 1975, but the personnel and draft decisions were made by the consensus of Lynn, coach Bud Grant and the scouting brain trust of Jerry Reichow and Frank Gilliam.

Eventually, Lynn became the CEO and team president, and exerted himself more in personnel - most noticeably with the disastrous Herschel Walker trade. Still, Lynn's association with the Vikings was never as a traditional general manager ... more as the big boss through the '80s.

Lynn resigned effective at the end of the 1990 season and hand-picked Roger Headrick as his replacement. A year later, he hired Dennis Green as coach, and the consensus continued for a time.

Green was given full personnel power by owner Red McCombs after the 15-1 season of 1998. That power might have hastened Green's firing, since he had the Dimitrius Underwood fiasco in 1999, and two clunkers of drafts in 2000 and 2001.

Finks is held in great esteem by long-time followers of the Vikings. In truth, the draft was much more of an inexact science when Finks ran it for the Vikings from 1965 through 1974.

He did have his share of significant misses - including the first, when the Vikings drafted Notre Dame receiver Jack Snow, even though Snow stuck to his guns and refused to play in the frozen wasteland of Minnesota. The Vikings wound up trading him to the L.A. Rams.

The only real hit in that first Finks' draft was 13th-rounder Dave Osborn, a running back from North Dakota.

Finks also had the monumental failure of Ohio State running back Leo Hayden as the 24th overall selection in 1971. Hayden never had a carry for the Vikings.

There was one major item that kick-started Finks' path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as an executive: the trade sending quarterback Fran Tarkenton to the New York Giants after the 1966 season.

Finks received two first-rounders and two second-rounders. One of those first-rounders would come in 1968 ... the first overall pick in the draft given to the Giants as compensation for giving up its territorial rights (to make room for the Jets) in the NFL-AFL merger.

Finks made another trade before the draft, sending running back Tommy Mason and tight end Hal Bedsole to the Rams (and their new, veteran-loving coach George Allen) for tight end Marlin McKeever and the 15th overall selection.

The Vikings drafted Clint Jones with the No. 2 overall, receiver Gene Washington with No. 8 and the No. 15 ... well, that was Alan Page, a defensive tackle from Notre Dame.

Finks also landed receiver Bobby Grim with his remaining second-rounder, cornerback Bobby Bryant in the seventh round, and tight end John Beasley.

And a year later, Finks used the No. 1 overall acquired from the Giants to take Ron Yary, a Southern Cal offensive tackle and a Hall of Famer-to-be.

It was the greatest back-to-back draft coup ever and set up a run of Super Bowls. And that's what it should have been for Finks and the Vikings, with four selections among the top 15 players in two years.

Spielman is now getting started on his own Vikings' legacy. The personnel decisions still were consensus for the first decade of the 2000s.

Once Brad Childress was gone as coach, it pretty much became Spielman's show. He didn't get the GM title until last year, but when you rate Spielman as a GM and a drafter, the place to start is 2011.

And two years in, he's looking good ... with two more No. 1s to work with tonight.

Four decades after Finks' departure, the Vikings finally have another GM in the true sense, and he only needs to set up four Super Bowls to match the track record.

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Patrick | @1500ESPN_reusse | The Ride with Reusse
In this story: Brad Childress