1998: The Year That Made a Generation of Minnesota Vikings Fans Believe

Brandon Erickson@derkipstaCorrespondent IMay 16, 2009

Many seasons that define a franchise are not just the years that a record is broken. It's not always the year a goal is met. It's not always the year a promise is kept.

It isn't always the year that a team wins the Super Bowl.

It's defined by the adversity, the passion, and everyone's personal story converged to one. A sense of unity. It's this that defines a true champion.

To those who remain faithful in Minnesota, a championship has eluded them, despite four appearances, but nothing to show for it.

The Vikings currently have a division-leading 17 division titles and a division-leading 25 playoff appearances, despite having the shortest history of all NFC North franchises. They also have are tied for the most Super Bowl appearances (4) in the NFC North all-time.

Despite the fact, that the Minnesota Vikings have had arguably the most successful history in the NFC North, they remain without rings, a Lombardi trophy or anything to call their own... except a season; a year that will remain in the minds and hearts of all Minnesota fans of recent history and generation that defined the franchise and showed that even though a team may not be projected a winner, projections to decide passion, focus or dedication are the true measure of what a team needs to have to be successful.

After a second season of disappointment for the Minnesota Vikings, head coach Denny Green had just finished the 1997 season. The Vikings had finished the regular season 9-7 and just barely catching the playoffs, among the four teams (of five) in the NFC Central Division.

The Vikings began the playoffs by facing a potent New York Giants team in the Wild Card round. By half time, the Vikings trailed the Giants 22-13. However, to everyone's surprise, with less then 90 seconds remaining, the Vikings came back to win the game 23-22.

It was the first time since 1988 that the Vikings had won a playoff game, and Denny Green's first as head coach.

The win showed the potency and dedication of the club, but was dashed away a week later in the divisional round as the San Fransisco 49ers defeated the Vikings 38-22.

Green knew that with the talented squad before him, he needed to make a big grab in the NFL draft to make this offense a thriving one and to take their shot before time ran out.

He long had hoped that the character plagued Randy Moss of Marshall would slip to them at pick 21. To their surprise, they spared no time taking the dynamic receiver.

Many immediately criticized Coach Green for his foolishness to take such a player with off the-field-issues, but Green had faith in his veteran receiver Cris Carter to help shepherd the young receiver to one day be his successor.

Another player memorable from the 1998 draft was the sixth round pick, center Matt Birk from Harvard. As the all-pro center Jeff Christy faltered to injury late in the 1998 season, the young Birk made a surprising impact as a rookie who would for many years to come become a staple in the offensive line.

To many people's surprise, however, young Randy Moss was behaving himself and proved to be a big time player in training camp training with veteran Cris Carter.

Through camp, many faces began to show their personality and general focus for what they had hoped to bring to the squad in '98. These players being the key veterans Cris Carter, John Randle and Randall McDaniel.

In a more political light, the organization wanted there to be an owner with a more superior control to guide the team rather then have ownership split amongst the private investors. As such, the team was sold to San Antonio, Texas business man, Red McCombs.

Then began the preseason. The Vikings went straight through the preseason without much distress, cruising through all four games to be 4-0 in the preseason. Then began the real test.

The Vikings opened their 1998 season against the then division foe, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. To open the season, the young Randy Moss made an immediate impact as he caught four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings would go on to win the game handily 31-7.

That would only be the start of a unexpected season to come. The next week, the Vikings would head into St. Louis to face the Rams and a high octane offense and escaped with a 38-31 victory.

They then faced three straight division opponents in the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers and pulled off victories. They never scored any less than 29 points.

It was around this point in the season the starting quarterback Brad Johnson went down with an injury. Enter backup quarterback Randall Cunningham. Cunningham would enter into a vital spot to keep Minnesota afloat. He not only kept the team together but seemed to provide an almost invisible transition between the two quarterbacks.

Cunningham would finish the season 3704 yards, 34 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions en route to a Pro Bowl nomination.

109/06/1998Tampa Bay BuccaneersW 31-7HHH Metrodome1-0
209/13/1998St. Louis RamsW 38-31Trans World Dome2-0
309/20/1998Detroit LionsW 29-6HHH Metrodome3-0
409/27/1998Chicago BearsW 31-28Soldier Field4-0
510/05/1998Green Bay PackersW 37-24Lacmbeau Field5-0
710/18/1998Washington RedskinsW 41-7HHH Metrodome6-0
810/25/1998Detroit LionsW 34-13Pontiac Silverdome7-0
911/01/1998Tampa Bay BuccaneersL 24-27Reymond J. Stadium7-1

The Vikings would go on to one of its best starts in franchise history, an unbelievable 7-0. The Vikings soon became one the two frontrunners in the NFL for a Super Bowl bid along with the Denver Broncos led by re-surging John Elway.

It was at this point the Vikings would lose its first game of the season against the very team they beat in the first game of the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Raymond James Stadium, 24-27.

What happened next, I remember well, as a 10-year-old boy who had just gotten introduced to this intriguing game of football. My father had finally been able to find a stable job for over three years and the company wished to reward him by giving him two tickets to a Vikings game.

The date was Nov. 8, 1998. It was a cool day. I remember donning my father's old Alan Page sweater that he had from when he was young man watching the 'Purple People Eaters' at the old Metropolitan Stadium.

The seat was Gate F, Section 119, Row 2, Seat 12, right behind the endzone. I walked into the stadium as the smell of hot dogs, brats and beer filled the air, all foreign to young boy like myself. I had been to a couple Minnesota Twins games, but nothing like this.

The noise in the stadium was unlike any other I had ever heard. As the Vikings entered, the roar intensified and I found myself screaming along with them, somehow uncontrollably as if I had been hypnotised.

The opposing New Orleans Saints entered the stadium and like the rest of the crowd, I expressed silent disregard for the out of town opponents.

The Vikings would defeat the Saints 31-24 handily thanks in large part to the play of Robert Smith and Brad Johnson.

To this day, I remember that day as my biggest sports day of my life. In large part for what it brought to my relationship to my father and to my love for football.

It was after this game that the Minnesota Vikings became 8-1 and never looked back.

1011/08/1998New Orleans SaintsW 31-24HHH Metrodome8-1
1111/15/1998Cincinnati BengalsW 24-3HHH Metrodome9-1
1211/22/1998Green Bay PackersW 28-14HHH Metrodome10-1
1311/26/1998Dallas CowboysW 46-36Texas Stadium11-1
1412/06/1998Chicago BearsW 48-22HHH Metrodome12-1
1512/13/1988Baltimore RavensW 38-28Ravens Stadium @ C.Y.13-1
1612/20/1998Jacksonville JaguarsW 50-10HHH Metrodome14-1
1712/26/1998Tennessee OilersW 26-16Vanderbilt Stadium15-1

The Vikings would then put the cruise control on to become the third team in NFL history to win 15 games in season. Twelve of their 15 wins came by a margin of at least 10 points.

The Broncos would end the season as the best team in the AFC with a 14-2 record, making the Vikings by records the best team in the NFL in the regular season.

The Vikings also led in Pro Bowl participants for the '99 Pro Bowl with ten  representatives including:

  • QB Randall Cunningham (3704 Pass Yards, 34 TD's, 10 INT's)
  • RB Robert Smith (1187 Rush Yards, 6 Rush TD's, 2 Rec TD's)
  • WR Cris Carter (1011 Rec Yards, 12 Rec TD's)
  • WR Randy Moss (1313 Rec Yards, 17 Rec TD's)
  • T Todd Steussie
  • G Randall McDaniel
  • C Jeff Christy
  • DT John Randle (10 Sacks)
  • LB Ed McDaniel (7 Sacks)
  • K Gary Anderson (35/35 Field Goals)

The Vikings were at the top of the world and were going to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. From the outside looking in, they had done what no one could have imagined.

There were many reasons for their success to that point. For one, Denny Green had been stockpiling this talent for near eight years heading into 1998.

Even more so, the offensive mastermind behind this explosive offense was none other then Brian Billick, who would become head coach of the Baltimore Ravens that next year in 1999 and lead them to a Super Bowl victory in 2000.

It also came down to the unexpected and explosive play of young Randy Moss, who highlighted his best performance against the Dallas Cowboys on national television with three catches for 163 yards, all three for touchdowns! He went on to set a record of 17 touchdowns in a season by a rookie.

On top of just Moss, the combination of Cris Carter and Jake Reed, easily No. 1 receivers on any other team, made this receiving corps among the most dangerous in history.

Another reason for their success was the consistent play of their kicker Gary Anderson, who not only kicked 35 of 35 field goals during the regular season (a first by an NFL kicker), but made every extra point as well.

Robert Smith's unexpected healthy season also factored into the Vikings' success, playing 14 games in 1998. It also helped Smith that he had three Pro Bowl lineman blocking for him in Todd Steussie, Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy.

Lastly, it was the play of the Vikings defense led by Ed McDaniel and John Randle that kept opponents to 296 points in the regular season. Randle would go one to have the most sacks by a defensive tackle in a career in the NFL.

As the Vikings enjoyed a week to relax, their divisional opponents, the Arizona Cardinals led by Jake 'The Snake' Plummer defeated the Dallas Cowboys 30-7 to advance from the Wild Card round on to face the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round.

The Vikings would easily handle the Cards in a 42-21 throttling and a full speed ahead into the NFC Championship game.

It was here that the Vikings faced their ultimate test against the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons, like the Broncos, had gone 14-2 during the regular season. The game would prove to be the ultimate game for deciding the NFC representative in the Super Bowl.

After putting the game in their favor, the Vikings lead 20-7 just before halftime. Some would argue that the Vikings got greedy with their play-calling after that, as they called a deep pass play on 3rd down, which led to a Cunningham fumble deep in Minnesota territory. Shortly thereafter, the Falcons scored to cut the lead to 20-14.

The Vikings were again leading 27-20 with two minutes left in the 4th quarter and had a chance to potentially put the game out of reach with a field goal.

However, kicker Gary Anderson who had gone 35 for 35 in the regular season, missed a 38-yard attempt which would have sealed the Vikings victory. Instead, it allowed the Falcons to tie the game.

The Vikings got the ball before regulation expired, but opted to down the ball and take their chances in overtime even though they had arguably the most dynamic offense in NFL history.

The Vikings won the toss, but ended up punting after three quick plays that accumulated for little.

Afterwards, the Falcons would drive down into Minnesota territory, coincidentally, for a 38-yard field goal, the same the Gary Anderson missed. Kicker Morten Anderson for the Falcons made the kick and sent the Falcons onto the Super Bowl where they lost to the Denver Broncos 34-19.

The Minnesota Vikings then became the first and only team to ever go 15-1 and not make the Super Bowl.

The Minnesota Vikings would go on to the playoffs two years under Denny Green. In 1999 the Vikings got in as a wild card with 10-6 record, but lost in the divisional round. In 2000, the Vikings returned to the NFC title game, but were mangled 41-0 by the New York Giants.

After of which, Denny Green's Vikings went 5-11 in 2001, leading to his timely removal from the head coach position.

The Vikings have since not seen the NFC Championship and would only see the playoffs again in 2004 when the Vikings defeated their long hated division rivals the Green Bay Packers, only to be tossed aside in the divisional round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was last year, in 2008, that the Vikings finally returned to the playoffs, but once again were kicked out by the Eagles in the Wild Card round.

The Vikings fan base has as such not seen as great a team as 1998 Vikings and may never again see a team quite the same. Many hadn't given Cris Carter, John Randle or Ed McDaniel any credit for their position until after the 1998 season.

It was year that made shaped the destiny for the team.

Now, 11 years later...

The Minnesota Vikings are making the moves to possibly make a similar run with similar circumstances to that of the '98 Vikings.

Much like 11 years ago, the Vikings have drafted Percy Harvin, a wide receiver who is a big playmaker, but has off the field issues.

Once again, the Vikings have a defense that can hold its own and once again, the Vikings have an offense that is ready to become elite.

The 2009 season marks the next big opportunity for the this generation of Vikings fans, but none will know this franchise any differently then the way it became what it is in 1998, the year that got away.


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