At the age of 15 the spectacular high school quarterback could set his aerial bombs aloft an extraordinary 75 yards. At 16, when he and others were anticipating even grander displays of passing ability, his best throws measured only 55 yards. A dislocated shoulder, suffered during a game, had diminished the passing ability of the future quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, Fran Tarkenton. "We treated it with ice packs, whirlpools, ultrasound; you name it, we tried it. It just progressively got worse," said Tarkenton.
Despite the quarterback's progressive shoulder ailment, Tarkenton continued to hone the skills and techniques that elevated him to pinnacles of success in both the collegiate and professional football arenas. Tarkenton was a scrambler, evading his opponents and capitalizing on his ability to consistently hit the receivers with his shortened passes. He set National Football League (NFL) records for most career touchdown passes (342) and most career passing yardage (3,686 completions for 47,003 yards), records held until 1995. In 1986 he was voted a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.
With every pass, though, Tarkenton's right shoulder became a little more bothersome. Finally, after a professional football career that spanned 18 years and included three trips to the Super Bowl, Tarkenton played his last game in 1978. "I had to retire when I was 38 years old," commented Tarkenton.
The football career stopped, but over the years his shoulder pain intensified—his shoulder had become arthritic. "I couldn't golf, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't do anything—I had a totally dysfunctional right shoulder," Tarkenton explained. "I went to see my doctor, Dr. Andy Bishop, athletic director for the Atlanta Falcons. He told me that the only guy to see was Charlie Rockwood at the Health Science Center in San Antonio."
So in May 1996, Tarkenton traveled to San Antonio on a Sunday, had a total shoulder replacement surgery on Monday at University Hospital, and went back home to Atlanta, Ga., on Wednesday. "Dr. Rockwood was great, the staff was great and everything went very well," said a grateful Tarkenton.
Tarkenton's physical therapy began the afternoon following surgery. "Six weeks after the surgery I shot an 81," commented the avid golfer. "Now I have no pain in my right shoulder. I do everything. I play golf. I lift weights. My only regret is that I didn't have it done earlier." Beyond his frequent games of golf, Tarkenton's pain-free shoulder has enabled him to work 18-hour days and pursue entrepreneurial interests. He has launched eight small businesses, including the Fran Tarkenton Small Business NETwork, a membership group for small business owners. "I'm on television every night with five different infomercials," added Tarkenton.
Asked if he still enjoys a game of recreational football, Tarkenton responded, "I play golf—I've retired from football."
Tarkenton has been experiencing some problems with his left shoulder and x-rays indicate the possible need for surgery. "I'll be visiting Dr. Rockwood again if it needs to be replaced," he added. "Nobody in the world understands the shoulder like Dr. Rockwood. And he's a terrific guy."