The Minnesota Vikings' Three Best Games of the Past Three Decades
Introduction, and The 80's
The Minnesota Vikings have not been to a Super Bowl, (at least in uniform), since the late 1970's but they've had some very exciting and memorial games over the past three decades nonetheless. Surprising upsets, and stunning victories are what keeps fans coming back for more every Sunday, as well as every season without a Super Bowl win. The fact that Vikings fans still get ecstatic about their football team every season speaks volumes as to their team's ability to work the magic on the field, even when they're not playing for the Lombardi Trophy. In this article I've picked the three most memorial games since the 1970's in which the Vikings did just that: one game from each subsequent decade that unequivocally stood out amongst the rest.
With regards to the 1980's the Vikings were probably best remembered this decade for Tommy Kramer, their fearless and unpredictable starting quarterback throughout most of the Regan era. Also known as the Miracle Maker, there's no question Kramer had some phenomenal performances throughout his career as Minnesota's first string QB, but the only miracles Vikings fans witnessed during what was likely their team's most memorial performance from this decade came from wide receiver, Anthony Carter, field goal kicker, Chuck Nelson, a power packed Vikings defense, and a second string quarterback named Wade Wilson. Yes, to Vikings fans who can remember back this far, I'm referring to the 1988 Divisional Playoff Round against the then unstoppable San Fransisco 49er's. While the Vikings had barely managed a wildcard berth in the playoffs after an 8 and 7 record that season,following an early NFL strike in 1987, the 49er's, with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, after finishing the '87 season with a record of 13 and 2, were the top seated team in the NFC, and had the best record in the NFL. With the 49er's key players all healthy going into this game, the Vikings were 10.5 point underdogs upon their arrival in San Fransisco on that rainy January Saturday afternoon. Minnesota's head coach, Jerry Burns, decided to start second string quarterback, Wade Wilson, on account of an expected heavy field resulting from rain earlier that day. Believing Wilson may be able to scramble better under those circumstances than Tommy Kramer, whom he believed hadn't fully recovered from a pinched shoulder nerve, Wilson led the Vikings to an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter. Following Nelson's early first quarter field goal, the Vikings never trailed on points throughout the remainder of this game. They walked over the 49er's on 49er's home field like they were a mediocre team, at best. Joe Montana was sacked four times, and eventually got benched in favor of second string quarterback, Steve Young, who wasn't able to pull his team out of their slump. Wilson played a near flawless game for the Vikings, completing 20 of 34 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, but the two most noteworthy statistics were Anthony Carter's 227 receiving yards from ten receptions, (a then playoff record), and Chuck Nelson's five field goals, (a then playoff record as well).
I listened to most of this game from a school bus radio while returning from a Junior High wrestling meet in Iowa. I've never been in such a quiet school bus before in my life, except of course whenever the commentator announced a score by the purple. Arriving home just a few minutes before the game ended, I never seen my father so excited about a Vikings victory before in all my years watching football under his roof. It was understandable, however, considering the Vikings had finished this game on top, with a convincing win of 36-24, arguably the best playoff upset in the franchise's history, and a game no Viking fan will ever forget.
The 1990's for the Vikings can best be described as the decade of Dennis Green, the head coach who frequently assisted Minnesota to a playoff berth, but could rarely help his team win a game in the post season. The Vikings made it to the playoffs seven times during the 90's under coach Green, only to win twice, and never make it to the Super Bowl. Vikings fans observed the sun rising and setting on their team often during this decade. If not for finally winning a post season wild card game against the New York Giants by one point, after their mediocre 1997 season, fans may have started to seriously begin losing hope in their team's ability to succeed in the post season.
It was the year following the Vikings first playoff win of the 90's, however, that Vikings fans will remember the most about that decade. The Vikings were a surprisingly talented team in 1998, a lot of credit to be given to the rookie wide receiver, Randy Moss, who finished his first professional season with the Vikings with seventeen touchdown receptions and 1313 receiving yards, and later being awarded the NFL's Rookie of the Year Award, (after being passed up by twenty NFL teams in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft). Thanks to Moss, as well as an abundance of surprising talent on the Vikings offense that year, the Vikings finished the 1998 season with a record of 15 and 1, and achieved a then record for most offensive points scored in a season. It was clearly the Vikings best season of the 90's, and if not for an overtime loss in the NFC Championship game to the Atlanta Falcons, a game in which the Vikings were favored to win, and had led on points all the way up until the end, it may very easily have led to their first Super Bowl victory as well.
While the Vikings packed a punch in nearly every game they played in 1998, there was one game that seemingly stood out amongst the rest. From my perspective, it was their most memorial game of the 90's. Occurring on Monday night, on the fifth day of October that year, it was against none other than their primary divisional and NFL rivals: the Green Bay Packers. Traveling to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers in torrential rain, despite starting the season off with a 4 and 0 record that year, nobody gave the Vikings a chance to win this game. The Packers had won their last twenty-five consecutive games at Lambeau Field, just two wins shy of the all-time home field winning streak record, and after having made it to the Super Bowl the prior two seasons, winning one, and losing the other by a close margin, they were considered by many to be unbeatable when playing at home. This went along with having their three time MVP quarterback, young and healthy Brett Favre, still confidently leading his team to regular season victories. Ultimately, the Packers also had a 4 and 0 record going into this game. They also had a defense ranked number one in the NFL. As such, they were favored to win by all the professional football experts. But Minnesota fans weren't trembling. Eager for some payback after getting swept by the Packers the prior year for the first time under coach Dennis Green, they knew their team was good that year, they just weren't convinced yet whether or not their team was great.
But there was nothing left to doubt about the Vikings greatness that season three hours after the opening kickoff that evening. Their starting quarterback, Randal Cunningham, replacing an injured Brad Johnson, had a reputation of being a rushing quarterback earlier in his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, but on this evening he surprised the Packers by ignoring the rushing game, and passing the ball constantly while on offense. And despite the pouring rain that night, he passed with superb success, finishing the evening with 442 passing yards, with a remarkable average of over twenty-two yards per completed pass, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. His 442 passing yards that evening were the most the Packers had ever allowed in their eighty year franchise history. Cunningham would later be honored as the NFL's player of the week for his performance that Monday night, but Cunningham was not the only player wearing a purple jersey who deserved credit for the eventual 37-24 Vikings victory over the Packers that night. Rookie Randy Moss had five receptions for an incredible 190 receiving yards, and two touchdowns, Vikings wide receiver, Chris Carter, had eight receptions that evening, and wide receiver, Jake Reid, caught a 56 yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, giving the Vikings an early lead, which they held onto for the remainder of this game. Vikings defense played phenomenal in this game as well, sacking Brett Favre twice, intercepting three of his passes, and holding him to only 114 yards passing for the evening, his fifth worse passing game as a starter for Green Bay at that time. While the final score was in fact 37-24, until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the score was actually 37-10. If not for Packers' second string quarterback, Doug Pederson's two garbage-time touchdowns scored in the final four minutes of this game, (after Brett Favre had been instructed to take the bench), it may have been the worse loss by Green Bay at Lambeau Field in the team's franchise history, (instead it was their worse loss at Lambeau Field since 1990). These were two touchdowns Vikings fans forgave their defense for allowing, however, very quickly, considering the final statistics in this game.
But it wasn't just statistics Vikings fans will remember about this surprising blood bath at Lambeau Field in 1998. Memories of Brett Favre lying on his stomach on a drenched Lambeau Field, swatting his helmet into the grass after throwing his third pick in the second half, Mike Holmgren, The Packers' beloved head coach at the time, frowning in absolute humiliation and disgust on the sidelines, after watching his team fall by a margin of 27 points at home, and soaked Packer fans gazing from the bleachers, so stunned and confused, it was if they'd been painted onto the television screen will remain in Vikings fans' minds forever, (along with Vikings defensive tackle, John Randle's fourth quarter victory dance on the sidelines). There was never so clearly a perception of defeat, and to think it took place at Lambeau Field, of all places, against Vikings fans' most hated rivals at that time, couldn't have made it a sweeter victory. In my mind, I doubt many Vikings fans would disagree that this was truly the team's greatest victory of the 1990's.
The Vikings were unable to match their 1998 season the following year, barely making the playoffs after a 10 and 6 season, and losing the Divisional Playoff Round to the unstoppable Saint Louis Rams in 2000. Following an exceptional season the following year, which ended with an absolutely humiliating 41-0 loss to the New York Giants at the NFC Championship game in 2001, Vikings football seemed to become less interesting for a number of years that followed. In fact, after their embarrassing playoff loss to the Giants, if I had to describe Vikings games throughout the majority of the 2000's in one word, I think 'boring' would pretty much have summed it up. Boring coaches, boring decisions, boring same old expected wins and losses. While the Vikings did have one mere playoff victory throughout the remainder of the entire decade, against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field of all places, in 2005, I still wouldn't have described this game as anything other than boring. Some Vikings fans would argue the 2005 playoff victory against their most hated rivals was the most standout game of the past decade. I couldn't, however, disagree with this argument more, believing the Packers put forth a bad performance at their home field at this 2005 post season game, and that the Vikings merely came out on top, after playing an unexceptionally normal and expected game of football.
Eight years of seemingly boring and expected football out of the purple jerseys did fortunately come to an end in 2009 with a little preseason announcement that took place that year..
BRETT FAVRE IS COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT TO QUARTERBACK FOR THE VIKINGS!! An acquaintance sent me a text message about it immediately after hearing this news, but I never would've believed it until actually witnessing it on the news myself. It was the most excited I'd been with regards to Vikings football since 1998. Sure the gunslinger had been a hated rival amongst Vikings fans for many years while playing for Green Bay, but a successful season of quarterbacking for the New York Jets in 2008 proved to me, and to many other fans, that his devotion was to the game of football, and not to the team in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he'd started as quarterback for for sixteen straight years, until 2007. When I saw Favre wearing that purple jersey for the first time that year, I knew it was for real, and that something special was about to begin for the Vikings that season, something I, and many other Vikings fans had been waiting for all decade.
After signing a two year contract with the Vikings in August of 2009, the Vikings, with Favre as their starting quarterback, won their first six regular season games that year, and finished the season with a 12 and 4 record, and the number 2 seat in the NFC. It was their best record throughout that entire decade, and it would've led to a Super Bowl appearance if not for an unforgettable and gut wrenching loss to the New Orleans Saints in overtime in the NFC Championship game of 2010. Despite not making it to the Super Bowl in 2010, Brett Favre, regardless of his age, lived up to his reputation as one of the most talented and determined quarterbacks ever to play professional football, and it was during game three of the regular season in which I believe he proved he meant business while playing for the Vikings. As such, I believe the Vikings home game, played on September 27, 2009 against the San Fransisco 49er's was their most memorial game of the 2000's.
It was the Vikings home opener that year, and coming into it undefeated, (2 and 0), with a seemingly talented team, and more importantly, Brett Favre as their starting quarterback, they were favored to win it as well. However, San Fransisco came into it nothing short of determined to force an upset, which was exactly what most Vikings fans felt they'd accomplished by the last minute of the fourth quarter. After a dramatic roller coaster ride of a game, in which the Vikings lost their lead twice to the 49er's, the Vikings found themselves with the ball on San Fransisco's 32 yard line, down by a score of 24-20 with only twelve seconds remaining in the game. Still adjusting to having a better than average quarterback calling the plays, most Vikings fans began accepting the team's first loss of the season at this time. But after what happened in the next play of this game, no Minnesota fan ever doubted Brett Favre's distinguishable talent and determination as a quarterback again. Brett Favre's 32 yard touchdown pass to Greg Lewis during the last twelve seconds of the game, giving the Vikings the victory, forced Minnesota fans to adjust very quickly to the fact that their team had an exceptional quarterback who actually played better under stress, something Vikings fans hadn't seen since Fran Tarkenton. The play, which was later awarded the ESPY Award, and referred to by many viewers that season as the "Minneapolis Miracle," will always be remembered by Vikings fans. As a Vikings fan myself, I just hope it isn't a decade before we see anything like that again.
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