Tarkenton also founded Tarkenton Software, a computer-program generator company, and he toured the U.S. promoting CASE (computer-aided software engineering) with Albert F. Case, Jr. of Nastec Corporation. Tarkenton Software later merged with KnowledgeWare (with Tarkenton as president), until selling the company to Sterling Software in 1994.
Tarkenton was born in Richmond, Virginia. He went to Athens High School (which later became Clarke Central High School) in Athens, Georgia, and later attended the University of Georgia where he was the quarterback on the Bulldog football team, leading Georgia to the 1959 Southeastern Conference championship under legendary coach Wally Butts.
Also in Tarkenton's early years he was a member of the Masonic Youth Group DeMolay.
Tarkenton played for the Vikings from 1961 to 1966, during which time he frequently locked horns with head coach Norm Van Brocklin, who disdained the idea of a mobile quarterback, a concept that Tarkenton dramatically advanced in the NFL. Tarkenton was given the nickname "Scramblin' Fran" because he frequently ran around in the backfield to avoid being sacked by the opposition (among his other nicknames: "Sir Francis," used occasionally by Howard Cosell of ABC Sports). Tarkenton was traded to the New York Giants in 1967 and played there until 1972 when he was traded back to Minnesota. He led the Vikings to three Super Bowls in the 1970s, but the Vikes lost all of them.
Tarkenton won the NFL's MVP award after the 1975 season, capturing All-Pro honors in the process. Tarkenton was also 2nd Team All-Pro in 1973 and earned All-NFC selection in 1972 & 1976. Fran was named 2nd Team All-NFC in 1970 and 1974. Tarkenton was selected to play in nine Pro Bowls.
In his 18 NFL seasons, Tarkenton completed 3,686 of 6,467 passes for 47,003 yards and 342 touchdowns, with 266 interceptions. He also is 4th on the all-time list of wins by a starting quarterback with 125 regular season victories. He also used his impressive scrambling ability to rack up 3,674 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns on 675 carries. During his career, Tarkenton ran for a touchdown in 15 different seasons, an NFL record among quarterbacks. He ranks fourth in career rushing yards among QB's, behind Randall Cunningham, Steve Young and Michael Vick. He is also one of two NFL quarterbacks ever to rush for at least 300 yards in seven different seasons; the other is Tobin Rote. Voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986, Tarkenton is widely considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Vikings head coach Bud Grant flatly called Tarkenton "the greatest quarterback who's ever played."
However, Tarkenton's poor performance in three Super Bowls and his inability to win a championship ring in 18 seasons prevents some people from considering him as great as other famous quarterbacks. Despite not winning a Super Bowl, he won a great many playoff games, and in 1999 he was ranked number 59 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
One of the more difficult losses of Tarkenton's career occurred during the 1975 NFC Divisional Playoffs. With what was considered by some observers to be the best team of their Purple People Eater era, the Vikings lost to the Dallas Cowboys 17-14 on a controversial touchdown pass from Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach to wide receiver Drew Pearson. The controversy sprang from the appearance that Pearson interfered with defender Nate Wright while running his route. The call so incensed the crowd that one fan fired a whiskey bottle from the stands, striking official Armen Terzian in the head. This was partly responsible for the banning of glass bottles at arenas around the country. Common Vikings folklore blames this incident for every future bad call that referees make against the Vikings, and has been termed "Terzian's Revenge". Tarkenton also lost his father, who passed away while he was watching that infamous game; it had been rumored that the "Hail Mary Pass" caused the cardiac arrest, but in fact Mr. Tarkenton died during the middle of the fourth quarter. It was a disappointing end to a spectacular season for the Vikings. They had finished the season with an NFC best 12-2 record and Tarkenton had won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award, and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award.
A biography of Tarkenton titled Better Scramble than Lose was published in 1969. Tarkenton wrote a book titled Broken Patterns: The Education of a Quarterback, as told to Brock Yates. It is a chronicle of the 1969 preseason and the 14-game regular season with the NY Giants.
In 1986 Tarkenton, with author Herb Resincow, wrote a novel titled Murder at the Super Bowl, the whodunit story of a football coach killed just before his team is to participate in the championship game.
It is not widely known that Tarkenton was also a pioneer in computer software, and founder of Tarkenton Software, a program generator company. He toured the United States promoting CASE or "computer-aided software engineering" with Albert F. Case, Jr. of Nastec Corporation, but ultimately merged his software firm with James Martin's KnowledgeWare, of which Fran was president until selling the company to Sterling Software in 1994.
Since then, Tarkenton has been seen promoting various products and services including Tony Robbins and 1-800-BAR-NONE. He also founded GoSmallBiz.com , a small business consulting website, which also offers its services through Pre-paid Legal Services, Inc. His most current company is an annuity marketing firm called Tarkenton Financial
Tarkenton, his wife Linda, and daughter Hayley currently reside in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, Georgia.