For All Vikings' Fans, There Will Always Be 1998
The Vikings are perhaps the most successful franchise in the NFL to have never won a Super Bowl. They've been to four...and were routed all four times. They've won the NFC Central/NFC North division 17 times.
They have a total of 25 playoff appearances. Twenty-five appearances and no title—none, zip, zilch. Nothing to show for it. The missing Super Bowl ring is perhaps the biggest monkey held over Minnesota sports.
The first generation of Vikings' fans followed Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Carl Eller, Gary Larsen, Bud Grant, and Jim Marshall. The 1970s yielded names such as Chuck Foreman and John Gilliam.
It also yielded the original Hail Mary, Roger Staubach's pass to Drew Pearson in the 1975 Divisional playoff game against the high-powered Vikings, who had earned a 12-2 record.
The 1980s were spearheaded by Tommy Kramer, a new stadium, and the return of Bud Grant and Jerry Burns...as well as the very painful Herschel Walker trade.
By the time the 90's rolled around, Minnesota football fans were tired of disappointment and "almost" winning it all.
Enter Dennis Green, a charismatic and innovative coach out of Stanford. Green made the Vikings a competitive and consistently winning team throughout the early and mid-90s, but he was harshly criticized for his inability to win playoff games.
By the time 1998 rolled around, the Vikings had a new owner in Red McCombs and a new desire to win.
The first step towards the Vikings' improbable run was the 1998 NFL draft. They received sensation Randy Moss, out of Marshall, who had miraculously not been drafted by any other team due to his off-the-field problems.
The Vikings took a chance by picking Moss, and the result was the final piece to an offensive juggernaut that couldn't be stopped.
Moss made an immediate impact, grabbing four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns in his debut against Tampa. Moss would tie a rookie record with 17 touchdowns that season.
The Vikings destroyed the Buccaneers, 31-7, and it only got better after that. With support from veteran Cris Carter on the right side of the field and Robert Smith in the backfield, the Vikings' high-powered offense scored 556 points and broke the record for most points scored in the regular season.
Even after quarterback Brad Johnson went down in week two, the Vikings did not falter, and in fact, gained more steam, when Randall Cunningham came off of the bench to post the best season of his career.
He led the NFL in passer rating with 106 and only threw 10 picks to 36 TDs. The Vikings also had a truly perfect kicker in Gary Anderson. Anderson became the first NFL kicker of all time to have a "perfect" season—he did not miss any extra points or field goals during the regular season.
The Twin Cities were buzzing with the wildest anticipation for football not felt since the glory days of the Purple People Eaters. The Vikings cruised past the Cardinals 41-21 in the Divisional round. What happened the following week shocked everyone.
The Atlanta Falcons went 14-2 in the regular season and had a fantastic offense led by veteran quarterback Chris Chandler and running back Jamal Anderson.
Still, no one expected the Falcons to compete with the Vikings in the NFC Championship, let alone win.
Early in the game, all went according to plan for the Vikings. After the Falcons managed to score first and go up 7-0, the Vikings quickly struck back when Cunningham threw a 31-yard strike to Moss to tie it up 7-7.
They followed up with two Anderson field goals and a Cunningham QB sneak for a 20-7 lead near the closing of the first half. The Vikings smelt blood, and as usual, went for the kill.
But as Cunningham was rearing back for a deep bomb, the ball was swatted away by a Falcons' defensive lineman, and the Falcons recovered deep in their own territory.
They capitalized on this, and scored a touchdown on a 17-yard pass from Chandler to Terance Mathis, cutting the Vikings halftime lead to 14-20.
The Falcons pulled closer as the second half began, when a Morten Andersen field goal brought the score to 17-20.
Matthew Hatchette, a Vikings' receiver who had only caught 15 passes all season, made the biggest catch of his career, when he leaped to catch a five-yard touchdown pass from Cunningham, putting the Vikings up 27-17 in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons responded with another field goal from Andersen to make the score 27-20. What happened next was the beginning of the end for the greatest Vikings' team ever to play.
With only a little over two minutes left to play, the Vikings drove to the Falcons 25. Anderson, the man who had not missed a field goal all season, came out to put the game out of reach for the Falcons.
With the kick being only 38 yards away, it was almost an automatic three points. But Anderson, for the first time all season, missed the kick.
An eerie silence fell over the Metrodome, as the unreal became a reality. The rejuvenated Falcons took full advantage and scored a touchdown with only 52 seconds remaining to play.
Denny Green controversially decided to knee the ball into overtime and hoped to bury the hatchet in the extra time.
The Vikings' high-powered offense went nowhere on two possessions, and Moss narrowly missed a bomb from Cunningham that would have pinned the Vikings down at the Falcons own 10.
The Falcons drove down to the exact same position on the field that Gary Anderson had missed his kick—their own 25. This time, Andersen would not miss, however, this Andersen's first name was not Gary.
Morten Andersen kicked the Falcons' game winning field, making the final score 30-27. The Metrodome was completely silent, save for the Falcons' celebration on the field.
On the sidelines, Cunningham buried his head in his hands in disbelief, and defensive tackle John Randle cried in fellow defensive end Derrick Alexander's shoulder as the two embraced.
For Vikings fans everywhere, it would be considered the worst loss in the franchise's history, worse than any Super Bowl loss that they endured in the 60s and 70s.
Vikings players canceled their trips and hotel reservations in Miami and watched with expressionless faces from their homes. Vikings' fans followed suit. It was a bitter pill to swallow on the cold January day over a decade ago.
No matter what mess the Vikings get themselves into, whether it be the current QB problems or their inability to put together a winning team, Vikings' fans everywhere can always reflect on 1998.
Where, for one season, their home team was almost the greatest in football, and every Sunday was met with excitement and joy. This author will never forget it. As Jim Marshall once said:
"Winning isn't everything, but losing sure is nothing."
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