Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings: Where QBs Go To Die
Are the Minnesota Viking cheerleaders really Valkyries; the heavenly females who escort fallen warriors to Valhalla? If so, that would make Valhalla—the great after world of Norse mythology—the Metrodome. Who’d of thought?
The Minnesota Vikings have a history of seeking out one veteran quarterback after another hoping he’ll be the one to finally get them a Super Bowl ring. Instead, Minnesota becomes either the final stop for QB journeymen looking for one last hurrah or the beginning of the end.
Here are some past Viking QB hopefuls who were acquired for their experience in the hopes of bringing the hard luck Vikings some good fortune. They all either made Minnesota another stop on their journey or ended their careers with the club.
We’ll also take a glimpse at the future of the franchise, Christian Ponder.
Warren Moon (1994 – 1996)
After 16 years in professional football (six in the Canadian Football League then 10 with the Houston Oilers) the Vikings brought Warren Moon to Minnesota.
Moon spent three seasons with the Vikings. During that time, he passed for 4,264, 4,228 and 1,610 yards, respectively. A broken collar bone kept him out of half of the 1996 season.
The next year, Brad Johnson took over the starting quarterback job. The Vikings offered Moon a $3.8 million pay cut to serve as Johnson's backup. He declined and they released him. His flame burned brightly for two seasons after that with the Seattle Seahawks before it finally extinguished in Kansas City.
Warren Moon’s collective work makes him one of the greatest to play the game. It’s no wonder Minnesota took a chance on him.
Brad Johnson (1992 – 1998, 2005 – 2006)
Brad Johnson shouldn’t be on this list. He was drafted out of Florida State in 1992 by Minnesota as the 227th overall pick—so he doesn’t fit the journeyman type.
He spent seven years with the Vikings (1992-1998). In his final season, Johnson suffered from a broken leg and later, a broken thumb. While he was out, Randall Cunningham was in. Cunningham ended up with the best passer rating in the league that year and Johnson got traded to Washington.
After a short stay in Washington, Johnson moved on to Tampa Bay where he led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory in 2002. It was his success in Tampa that prepared him for this list. In the following two seasons, he went 4-11 (despite good numbers) and was benched in favor of Chris Simms. His falling out in Tampa made him the perfect fallen warrior for Minnesota.
He returned to Minnesota in 2005 to back up Dante Culpepper and when Culpepper blew out his knee, Johnson stepped up. He won seven of his last nine games. However, the following season he struggled, throwing 15 interceptions to only eight touchdowns prompting the Vikings to release him.
Johnson had a short stint in Dallas before retiring from football.
Randall Cunningham (1997 – 1999)
Drafted in 1985 by the Eagles, Cunningham cut his teeth backing up Ron Jaworski. He gained popularity for his quick feet and scrambling ability, often coming in on third down plays. In 1987, he became the official starting quarterback.
Cunningham put up impressive numbers and had some amazing moments like the 1988 Fog Bowl against the Chicago Bears where he passed for 407 yards. However, in 1991 he tore is ACL, which marked the beginning of a string of injuries leading to his retirement in 1995.
Ten years in the game and one year retired? That’s our kind of guy.
Having been out of football for a year, the Vikings signed him in 1997. Minnesota thought they’d found their man when Cunningham led the team to a 15-1 record in 1998 only to lose the NFC Championship game to the 14-2 Atlanta Falcons.
Cunningham went on to play back up roles in Dallas and Baltimore before retiring after the 2001 season. He put up some amazing numbers over his 16-year-career but never garnered a ring.
A point of interest: As a Dallas Cowboy, Cunningham started a game in Philadelphia against the Eagles’ new quarterback—Donovan McNabb—who also has a spot on this list.
Gus Frerotte (2003 – 2004, 2008)
Unless you are a Vikings fan, you may have forgotten about this journeyman and his stop in Minnesota.
He then went on to play for the Dolphins and Rams before returning to the Vikings in 2008 as their starter. He was released by the team in February of 2009 and retired from the NFL to make way for the next greybeard on our list.
Brett Favre (2009 – 2010)
The Vikings secured their best chance of grasping the Super Bowl ring when they acquired Brett Favre.
After 18 years in the NFL, and a retirement or two, it would seem Favre was destined to be a Viking. Minnesota picked him up from the Jets in 2009. Someone with his pedigree and renowned durability surely would be the one, right?
Favre led the Vikings to the 2009 NFC Championship where they faced another storied franchise without a Super Bowl ring—the New Orleans Saints. The Vikings found themselves yet again in an overtime struggle where they came up short when Favre threw one of his signature cross-body passes that was intercepted.
The Vikings lost 31-28 and the Saints went on to defeat the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl.
Favre returned to Minnesota in 2010 and pushed his total yards passing to 70,000 and completed his 500th touchdown pass, but injuries did not allow him to finish the season.
Much to their chagrin, the Vikings had the honor of being the team to close the curtain on Favre's career.
Donovan McNabb (2011 – Present)
The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Donovan McNabb as the second overall pick in the 1999 draft out of Syracuse University.
Although he was initially met with a chorus of boos from Eagle fans he led the Eagles to four-straight NFC East division titles, five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl. McNabb captained the Eagles for 11 seasons. Although 2009 proved to be one of his best years statistically, the season ended badly with two losses to their division rivals the Dallas Cowboys.
In the early part of 2010, Eagles head coach Andy Reid assured everyone that McNabb would be the starting quarterback for the upcoming season, yet on April 4th, McNabb and the Eagles went their separate ways. McNabb landed in Washington.
McNabb only lasted one season with the Redskins, when the Vikings recognized his veteran-journeyman-status and snatched him up. He started six games for the Vikings before being replaced by newly drafted Christian Ponder.
Whether McNabb plays out the rest of his days in Minnesota remains to be seen.
Christian Ponder (2011 – Present)
With Christian Ponder, the Vikings break their cycle of bringing in veteran QBs posturing for their last shot at greatness.
Instead, they revert to the example of Brad Johnson and the one person who played among the QBs named here but did not make the list—Daunte Culpepper.
Culpepper was selected by the Vikings in the first round of the 1999 draft and played for them for seven years, giving them a sense of stability, although no championships.
Ponder, another quarterback out of the state of Florida, has that rare quality all franchises look for—hope. Hope for the weary Norsemen. Will he be another Culpepper? Will he be better? Will he finally bring fortune to the hard luck team?
In his first start for the Vikings, he faced the Green Bay Packers and went 13/32 for 219 yards, two TDs and two INTs, not outstanding but respectable. What the stats don’t show is this: he looked good—he had poise and he showed some athletic ability.
Only time will tell.
As a final thought, given the Vikings’ proclivity for aging journeymen at the QB position, how is it they never got a hold of Vinny Testaverde?