Closure is a tough thing.
It’s never consistent.
No matter the situation or timing, whether big or small, its arrival is unpredictable. Yet seemingly always necessary.
Case in point…
The 1998 Minnesota Vikings.
Now I’ve been experiencing a little bit of writers block recently.
Laugh all you want at the phrase. And feel free to insert all the insults of “writer, what writer?” or “all the crap you write takes actual time and thought?” in the comment section below.
None of that will bother me. The fact is I’m never gonna force it. Or sit down and write something out of simply feeling an obligation to do so.
That’s not why I do this. I write for several reasons.
Shoving fake, forced, or phony content in your face isn’t one of them.
What’s not fake, forced, or phony are the feelings of sadness I get every year around Super Bowl time…
How the hell did the best team in Vikings history miss out on a trip to the world’s biggest game in 1998?
And how come I can’t get past it?
I was 16 years old when I watched that team play.
Since then I’ve graduated high school, finished college, had several jobs/careers of varying success, lived in Great Falls, Missoula, Las Vegas and Dallas, got married, and have 4 kids.
I’m gonna turn 39 soon.
Why the fuck am I still dragging this 1998 season around with me like a weight chained to my ankle every year at this time?
When I think back on that 1998 season, it always starts with me puffing out my chest. I loved the make-up of that team and still brag about them to this day.
It ends with me staring down at my feet, arms out, palms up, shaking my head.
In 1998, a Vikings organization that made the playoffs virtually every year under coach Dennis Green in the 90s, and also made losing in the first round an annual tradition, was thrust into a super bowl caliber team almost overnight with the drafting of rookie wide receiver Randy Moss.
The year started with Brad Johnson at quarterback. After a great game in week 1, where he threw four touchdown passes (two to Moss, two to Cris Carter), he suffered an injury in week 2 that turned out to be the ultimate blessing in disguise for the Minnesota Vikings. Veteran Randall Cunningham, whom Green had convinced to come out of retirement in 1997, would take over quarterback duties for the rest of the season and rejuvenate his career.
Cris Carter’s statistics went down in ’98, but, based on normal NFL receiver criteria, he was still very productive. As a veteran, and from a teammate standpoint, the man they called ‘CC’ had one of the best years of his career. He made big catch after big catch and was always in Moss’s ear about something, nudging him along the path to greatness.
I loved all their receivers that year.
Matthew Hatchette was young, tall, and fast. Jake Reed had four straight 1100+ yard seasons before Moss’s arrival, was a big fan favorite for his consistency, and remained a big reliable target for Cunningham in 1998. David Palmer was Mr. versatility…catching passes out of the backfield, regularly turning 3rd downs into 1sts, and was one of the best punt returners in the league. Chris Walsh was the 5th receiver who became locally famous for his malicious blindside ‘crackback’ blocks (legal at the time) and his ferociousness on special teams.
Running backs Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard brought a thunder and lightening element to the running game. While I have maintained my whole life that Robert Smith is probably the most overrated running back in football history, and he would constantly miss games with ear infections, chicken pox, hang nails, etc, he did put up solid numbers throughout his career. He had ‘home run’ speed that always left the potential for a big play anytime he touched the ball. Leroy Hoard was the businessman. North and South. He didn’t complicate things. Hoard once reportedly told his coaches, “If you need one yard, I’ll get you three yards. If you need five yards, I’ll get you three yards.” That pretty much summed him up.
The offensive line had to be one of the best collective units the league has ever seen. They were huge, but also quick and dominant. And deep. I remember one of the networks wanting to do a feature on them for their pregame show during the season. Starters Todd Steussie, Randall McDaniel, Jeff Christy, David Dixon, and Korey Stringer wouldn’t participate unless back-up Everett Lindsay was allowed to join. Lindsay was the back-up for literally every position on the line, and when called upon for duty was never considered a downgrade. Matt Birk was also a back-up on that team. Birk would eventually go on to make 6 pro bowl appearances and garner two all-pro selections in his career.
The defense was the Vikings supposed weak spot in ’98, but I loved that unit. My favorite players from that team played on that side of the ball. Robert Griffith, Corey Fuller, Dwayne Rudd, Jimmy Hitchcock, Ed McDaniel, John Randle, and Jerry Ball, amongst others.
Looking back on it, that unit was not weak. I’d take every player from that team over everybody the Vikings have today. (With the exception of switching out Eric Kendricks for Dixon Edwards and Harrison Smith for Orlando Thomas.)
They just got used to a specific way of playing, and it ended up biting them in the ass when it mattered most.
Every one of those guys was a gambler. Chasing stats, big plays, and seeing their highlights on Sportscenter…while often times sacrificing points and giving up large gains in the process…was their norm.
They were bad-ass shit talkers with short memories who hit hard. They tried to embarrass opponents, without any worry of embarrassing themselves. They played hard every play and when the team was up 21 points, they were always trying to make it 28 on the next play.
They spent a lot of time pinning their ears back and going for the jugular. A luxury afforded to them each week by the league’s best offense putting up monster totals.
What’s the worry in giving up 31 points if our offense is gonna get 41?
As a result a lot of guys on that defense spent more time trying to get that extra sack instead of filling their gap responsibilities. Or watching the quarterback’s eyes while trying to jump a route to get that extra int on the stat sheet instead of staying with their man. Or trying to jar the ball loose while giving up more yards, instead of simply making the fundamental tackle.
I don’t blame them either. They saw ballooning stats as a way to cash in on their free agency, and, with the bloated offensive point totals getting all the attention, they figured they had to put themselves on the map somehow. No one was gonna notice the negative plays anyway. And the mistakes, the lack of fundamentals, and the individual over the team mentality wasn’t hurting them in the win column. So why not?
That’s coaching. That’s all that is.
I blame coaching. Foge Fazio was their defensive coordinator and he was awful. It wouldn’t have been hard to get that team to buy into an ‘us against the world, no one respects us, what about us’ mentality. Because it would have been true.
They had stars on that side of the ball too, but nobody remembers that.
Instead Fazio, and ultimately Denny Green, let them run around like wild animals with no accountability. Big plays, huge hits, and causing turnovers jumped off the screen. While points given up were largely ignored. Green gave an interview halfway through the season saying “We have a bend but don’t break defense. The name of the game is to put points on the board.”
Even my dad embraced it during the season. At one point during a game, after the defense had just given up a TD, my mom asked, “Don’t they always say the best offense is a good defense?” Prompting my dad to say, “Best defense is a good offense!” then sit back, laugh, and enjoy his own joke.
Fazio’s defense would rather go for a strip-fumble, or gamble to get an int on 3rd and 15, instead of making the for sure tackle to force a 4th and 8. That’s just how it was.
The talent was there, flying around all over the field every Sunday. The correct mindset and game plan was not.
Still, when I think back on that defense I have a lot of fond memories. If Mike Zimmer was coaching that unit they’d have been the number one ranked defense in the league.
As it stood the Vikings defense finished the year ranking a very respectable 6th.
Everything about the 1998 regular season was enjoyable. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings with no anxiety or nervousness. Sitting on the couch with my mom and dad, taking in all the action more casually than any other time I’ve watched the Vikings play in my life. I never went into a game worried they were going to lose. I wondered how much they were going to win by.
The 1998 Vikings were ahead of their time.
They ran an offense comparable to the Bills, Chiefs, and many other teams in today’s game. Only back then they were the only ones doing it.
And if they had a decent offensive coordinator calling plays they would have averaged 50-60 points per game.
That’s right. I said it and it’s true.
Offensive Coordinator Brian Billick, who ran the offense and called the plays from 1994 to 1998, was awful. Absolutely dreadful.
What he was, and what he thought he was, couldn’t be farther apart.
He was arrogant and pompous.
Somewhere in the middle of the 1995 season my dad and I, from our couch, started accurately predicting the plays he’d call at around a 50-75% clip.
He was the type of person that made me honestly believe I could do a better job coaching in the NFL. That’s how bad he was.
Combine that with his complete lack of imagination, throw in coach Denny Green’s lack of common sense, and you begin to understand why the Vikings had a bunch of talented teams throughout the ’90s capping out at 10-6, never dipping below 8-8, and producing a lot of 9-7 finishes.
(It didn’t matter what the score was, how much time was on the clock, or what the situation of the game called for…If it was 4th and inches, 4th and 1, 4th and 7, 4th and 15 etc, it was ALWAYS, always, always field goal or punt with Denny Green at the helm.)
It was no surprise Green’s Vikings were never ready for what teams like the 49ers, Cowboys, and Redskins had in store for them when the playoffs rolled around during the 90s.
Cris Carter had been with the team since 1990, and knew this all too well.
Towards the end of a week 4 game against the Bears in 1998, a narrow 31-28 Vikings victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated, NFL microphones picked up Carter talking to Brian Billick on the sidelines trying to implore him to see the big picture. “It’s not about beating the Bears,” Carter said, as he pushed back Billick’s attempt at giving him a celebratory hug. “It’s about when we play the big dogs, are we gonna be ready?”
But the Vikings were 4-0, and over the course of the next 12 games would go 11-1, blowing out nearly every opponent along the way, and finished the season with 15 wins against only one loss. Becoming only the 3rd team in the league at that point to finish a regular season 15-1.
And not even Brian Billick could screw up the offense this year.
Not with this team.
With all this in the backdrop of my mind, I took a major step in my life recently.
In an unprecedented, spontaneous move, I decided to sit down and rewatch the 1998 NFC Championship game between the visiting Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings.
Up until this point I’ve never been able to watch the highlights of the game, much less revisit the whole thing. I haven’t had the stomach for it.
The results of my decision to do so turned out to be as unpredictable as the game itself.
As youtube provided the FOX images of Pat Summerall and John Madden high up in the broadcasters booth at the MetroDome in Minneapolis, a strange happy feeling swept through my bones.
I immediately texted my dad and told him what I was doing. It was at this point that I knew for sure this was the next thing I was going to write about.
As the camera scrolled through the sell-out crowd of the MetroDome with an aerial view of the field, the site of the astroturf brought back some crazy memories.
I can’t believe they used to play on this carpet, which is basically concrete, and tackle each other all day on this stuff.
After the Vikings opening kickoff was returned to the 19-yard line by Tim Dwight of the Falcons, both Atlanta’s offensive and Minnesota’s defensive starters were announced and put on the screen. As Falcon names like Chris Chandler, Jamal Anderson, Tony Martin, and Terrance Mathis came across my computer screen, I wondered out loud how the hell a team like that went 14-2 during the regular season and made it to the super bowl. When the Vikings defensive starters were announced I salivated. It had a reunion type feel.
Missed you guys. What have you been up to? How’s life?
The Falcons didn’t have much trouble going down the field on the opening drive. The Vikings defense played uncharacteristically timid, and the corners gave way too much cushion to the Atlanta receivers.
The first play of the day was a 19 yard completion to Terrance Mathis, who made an amazing one handed catch along the sidelines. Corresponding 15 and 16 yard catches by Tony Martin, mixed between a couple of running plays, and the Falcons found themselves quickly inside Minnesota’s 20 yard line.
“If the corners play this far off, the Falcons can throw these patterns all day. The Vikings have given away first downs on this drive.” Piped John Madden out of the booth.
A couple plays later on a third and goal Chandler found Jamal Anderson over the middle for the games first touchdown.
Nothing subtle about it.
The Falcons weren’t going to be intimidated.
After the Falcons ensuing kickoff, the offensive starters for the Vikings were announced. I was reminded quickly why they are easily the best team Minnesota has ever had. Not a single weakness. Not one.
After two plays the Vikings quickly found themselves in a 3rd and 3 situation that featured Cunningham throwing a deep pass towards Moss. While the ball was in the air Moss managed to grab cornerback Ray Buchanan’s arm and pull him towards his body to make it look like Buchanan was buried in his chest when the ball arrived. The replay showed Moss doing this without ever taking his eyes off the ball.
I had to pause it.
Gosh, what a foreshadowing moment.
The guy was a rookie and he made that play better than any veteran in the game, and he made it look easy. That type of play would be a staple of his career for years to come.
A pass interference flag came flying in from two officials, both of whom saw it as a defensive penalty. Buchanan jumped around and went crazy. Moss calmly walked back to the huddle.
Full speed you can see how referees were fooled. On the replay there was no mistaking what truly happened.
But that didn’t stop Madden from being Madden. “And he did have his hands all over him,” he said about Buchanan, cluelessly confirming the call after seeing the replay.
The next play Cunningham hit Moss for a touchdown in the back of the end zone on a perfectly thrown ball. A play of 33 yards.
The play was again close. There might have been some question as to if he possessed the ball before getting both feet inbounds if the game was played in the modern era, but in 1998 there was no replay in the NFL, and the call of touchdown was easily glossed over again by Madden and Summerall.
Any questions about the Vikings coming into this game too nervous, cautious, or tight were answered.
The Falcons started their second drive with a 17-yard pass completion. Much like the first Atlanta drive, Tony Martin again had no problem getting open against a Vikings bump and run coverage that forgot to bump.
Two plays later Martin was wide open again for 20 yards, only this time he dropped what should have been an easy catch.
On 3rd and 11 Chandler dropped back and threw a simple swing pass to fullback Harold Green, who turned to run, tripped on the turf, hit the ground, and fumbled the ball…all this happening with no one near him.
The Vikings quickly recovered at the Minnesota 40.
The quick change of possession didn’t stop Summerall and Madden ranting and raving about how the ground can’t cause a fumble and the officials missed the call. Replay after replay, angle after angle, the same explanation spewed out of Madden’s mouth, with Summerall throwing the chum out into the water for him every time.
3 or 4 plays after the Vikings started their next drive, FOX showed the replay again and Madden explained Green was never touched by a defender. Therefore it didn’t matter if the ground caused the fumble or not, it was still a fumble. He went on to say that ‘this isn’t college, because in college that can’t be ruled a fumble.’
Ooooohhhhhhhh. Thanks John. Didn’t you win a super bowl as a head coach? And how long have you been broadcasting NFL games? Thanks for that explanation. And college? Who cares. Outta here with that.
The producers clearly told him between plays what the rule was and put the replay back up in order for him to correct himself.
And on the game went.
Minnesota’s first play of the drive was another deep pass to Moss. This time the ball was under thrown. Buchanan, being in similar position coverage-wise as he was when they called pass interference on him earlier against Moss, dropped an easy interception. Right in the breadbasket. Instead of being disappointed, shaking his head, or showing any sort of frustration at all, Buchanan celebrated for 10-15 seconds, slapped hands with teammates, talked a little shit to Moss, and strutted back towards the line of scrimmage.
That’s how good Moss was. A pro bowl corner, dressed in all sorts of Deion Sanders flare, who clearly cared about his image on every play, celebrates after he missed an easy interception. Simply because preventing Moss from catching it was good enough. Truly amazing.
Following a pass play to Matthew Hatchette for 13 yards and a first down, the 1st quarter came to an end.
As FOX came back from commercial they showed a few sights of snowy Minneapolis before panning back to the game.
Madden piped in with another duesy, saying “That’s one of those things, [about the snow] if you don’t have to live in it for a long period of time it’s enjoyable.”
So far every yard the Vikings had gained had been through the air or the result of a defensive penalty. Every run Robert Smith had attempted flashed me back to the Herschel Walker days…always running directly into his own lineman.
The 2nd quarter the Vikings started to establish themselves. In addition to the ball they just completed to Hatchette to end the 1st, they used passes of 8,7,7, and 6 to tight end Andrew Glover, Moss, Carter, and Moss, to get down inside the Falcons 20. All of them were passes a good high school quarterback could make. The Falcons had clearly decided they were going to focus on taking away the deep ball in this game, leaving these passes wide open.
Then Brian Billick’s offensive play calling abilities came shining through.
One 1st and 10 he handed off to Robert Smith for a 6 yard gain. Okay, fine. On 2nd down he again went to Smith, no gain. Then on 3rd and 4 he called a designed quarterback bootleg, which should have been a 4 yard loss, that Cunningham somehow turned into a 2 yard gain. That brought up a 4th and 2 from the Atlanta 11.
Your team just nickel and dime’d the other down the field with short passes. They had no answer. Why did you stop calling pass plays once you got to the 19-yard line? And on 3rd and 4, why would you call a designed run if you weren’t prepared to go for it on 4th and 2 or less?
The field goal was a victory for the Falcons. They’d be happy with giving up 3 points to this team all day.
Billick had outsmarted himself.
The first play of the Falcons next drive saw them complete a pass to tight end O.J. Santiago, who turned to run and was stripped of the ball by Orlando Thomas. Robert Griffith was in the right spot at the right time and recovered for the Vikings.
Now it was Vikings ball at the Falcons 33 yard line. Their next play was a thing of beauty. Moss came in motion, after the snap Cunningham faked the end around to him, looked down the field for a split second, then came back to Moss with a pass parallel to the line of scrimmage. Moss took it and ran around for awhile like a kid playing flag football, showing off his athleticism. When all was said and done it was an 18 yard gain down to the Atlanta 15 yard line. From there the Vikings put the unproductive-thus-far Smith on the bench and gave way to Leroy Hoard. After a surprise hand-off to fullback Charles Evans for 8 yards, Hoard did the rest. Getting them down to the 1 yard line with 3 straight bull rushes up the middle. Cunningham then scored on a QB sneak on first and goal from the 1.
Thanks for stopping by Atlanta. Enjoy your trip home.
We’ve already created two turnovers, aren’t settling for anymore field goals, and we’ve got too many weapons.
And ya’ll ain’t stopped us yet.
That, of course, is what I would be thinking if this was the first time I watched this game.
Which appeared to be what the Falcons were thinking too. The next drive they went 3 and out. John Randle got a sack on first down, they busted up a screen on 2nd, and a 3rd and 19 throw from Chandler sailed out of bounds.
At this point the dome is electric, the Falcons players and coaches are yelling at each other on the sidelines, their defense is tired and has to go right back out on the field, and the Vikings offense is ready to put their foot on the oppositions throat like they always do.
The first two plays of the next Vikings drive the Falcons looked like they’d phoned it in. A hand off for no gain to Robert Smith resulted in a 15 yard facemark penalty. Then a swing pass to Evans resulted in a late hit out of bounds for another 15. It was 1st and 10 from the Atlanta 19 that quick.
The next play Cunningham dropped back and had what he wanted, a slant to Moss wide open over the middle at the goal line. He threw the perfect ball…and Moss just dropped it. It’s that simple. That catch would’ve made it 24-7 and been goodnight Falcons. For whatever reason, Moss just muffed it.
No big deal, it was still just 2nd and 10 inside the 20, plenty of time left to do some damage.
Momentum is still in our favor.
He goes ahead and wastes a play and gives it to Robert Smith, who gets a yard, which was actually a big gain for him on this day. I don’t even mind the call to run the ball, but give it to Hoard or run some sort of misdirection if you do that. The hand-off up the middle to Smith had been done to death and had fooled no one in an Atlanta jersey so far.
On 3rd down Cunningham threw to Carter who was mugged and mauled by Buchanan and didn’t get the call. A play that if completed, would’ve no doubt only created a shorter field goal attempt on 4th and 2 instead 4th and 10. Classic Billick.
No matter. A field goal is made regardless.
And the Vikings, who have now scored on every possession so far, have settled for two field goals inside the Falcons 20.
The window for the Falcons would’ve been closed at 24-7.
20-7 left it cracked ever so slightly.
After the field goal was made the FOX camera scanned across the Vikings sideline where I saw a familiar face and hit rewind. I was shocked to see Andre Patterson, the current Vikings co-defensive coordinator, with a head set on writing something down on a clipboard on the sidelines. Further research informed me he was actually the Vikings defensive line coach in 1998.
His only other year with the organization since he came back in 2015. Crazy.
When FOX came back from commercial they jumped right into a replay of the third down play in which Carter was mugged. It showed Moss, for some reason, running his route half-ass with his mouth guard in his hand the whole time, having never inserted it in his mouth. Madden came to the conclusion it must be what Moss does when he knows the ball’s not coming to him.
I found it both interesting and stupid at the same time.
Atlanta once again wasn’t in the mood for production when they got the ball back. A blitz up the middle on 1st down netted Griffith a sack and put the Falcons in a 2nd and 21. Anderson then caught a pass and broke a couple of tackles to make it 3rd and 12. Chandler missed a wide open receiver with a massive overthrow on the next play and the Falcons were forced to punt. The Vikings got the ball back at their own 18 yard line with 1:17 to go in the half.
Up 20-7, and getting the ball back at the start of the 2nd half, after basically dominating the entire half, what would you think any normal team/coach should do at that point?
It’s fairly obvious to me.
Run the clock out and go into the locker room.
The Falcons had all three timeouts left, but they were beat up physically and mentally. They would have signed off quickly on the Vikings not trying for anymore points, taking a knee, going into the locker room only down 2 possessions, and regrouping. The last thing they needed to see on the scoreboard was 23 or 27-7 at half. 20-7 was bad enough.
But whether it was Billick or Green’s choice, the Vikings decided to play for more.
Only it was non-committal. These motherfuckers were timid as hell.
Reminded me so much of my golf game any time I’m between clubs. I constantly find myself in a place where I’m not fully committed to my swing when that happens. Then 100% of the time the result is I never even gave my shot a chance. For a novice like me, it’s a constant reminder…whatever it is you’re doing, commit to it.
The Vikings threw two lazy incomplete passes that were going nowhere even if completed, and on 3rd down Cunningham was pressured, flushed out of the pocket, and stripped of the ball during his throwing motion.
The Falcons easily recovered at the Vikings 10 yard line with 59 seconds left in the half.
A graphic popped up that said ‘Vikings first lost fumble in their last 11 games.’
Yeah. Thanks. Should’ve already been in the locker room at that point.
Regardless, the Falcons scored easily on the first play from scrimmage when Chandler hit Mathis in the middle of the end zone standing all by himself.
This kind of shit happens in sports all the time. They call it ‘hanging around.’ It means an inferior team basically admits to knowing they are the lesser of the two squads and comes out with a game plan of ‘but if we just find a way to hang around and be there with a chance to win at the end, the superior team will feel the pressure and we’ll take advantage.’
It sounds so stupid, but I’ve seen it play out time and time again.
It’s why the NBA and MLB play seven game series. Team’s might be able to steal one that way, but not four. It ensures the best team will usually end up winning.
No such luck in the NFL.
All of the sudden, one stupid decision by the Vikings coaching staff had the Falcons going into the locker room at halftime down by less than a touchdown and carrying all the momentum.
Nice job boys.
The score at halftime really seemed to affect the way Minnesota’s offense came out to play in the 2nd half. For the first time all year the offense played not to lose instead of to win.
As the 2nd half kickoff was about to commence, a stat flashed across the board. Cunningham was 1 for 2 on passes over 15 yards in the first half. One was completed to Moss for a TD, the other one Moss dropped in the end zone. No other passes were even attempted. You can give the Falcons some credit if you want. That was clearly their game plan. But I stop short of tipping my hat to Atlanta. The 1998 Vikings could beat you 6 or 7 different ways. It was always pick your poison with this team.
The only thing that can’t happen is a coaching clam-up.
The Vikings came out on the first possession of the 3rd quarter, picked up one first down and had to punt.
It was at this point Summerall announced that Randy Moss had a stomach injury and they didn’t know anymore details.
Moss never came out of the game, or showed any signs of being injured, but Summerall and Madden would make plenty of meaningless references to it as the game played out.
Ironically Ed McDaniel, Dixon Edwards, and John Randle had all been hurt, with no mention from either broadcaster, despite constant camera shots of them standing on the sidelines during crucial defensive downs. McDaniel tore his ACL and Edwards pulled a hamstring. Both were out for the game. Randle hurt his knee earlier in the game and was attempting to play through it by lining up in standing position on the defensive line the rest of the game. That stance apparently wasn’t a big enough red flag for Summerall or Madden to ask any questions.
The Falcons took the ball down the field on their first possession of the second half and kicked a field goal to make it 20-17 Vikings. The drive was catapulted by two Vikings offside penalties, which now gave them 4 on the day, and a big gain on a direct snap to Tim Dwight who simply took the ball around the corner for a 23 yard gain. On the play Dwight was tackled in a malicious manner along the sidelines by Orlando Thomas who grabbed his face mask and much, much more, but somehow no penalty was called. The Vikings were then helped by Jimmy Hitchcock’s big play in the backfield, tackling Anderson on a 3rd and 1, making it a 4th and 3.
At this point any regular season confidence and cockiness I had about this team was surely out the window when I watched it the first time.
It’s amazing how many of these plays I blacked out in my mind. In many ways it was like watching a brand new game.
As the Vikings offense trotted back onto the field for their 2nd drive of the half, another statistical graphic flashed upon the screen.
Robert Smith: 11 carries, 16 yards.
Sounds about right.
The Vikings found themselves in 3rd and 10 after another no gain from Smith and an incomplete pass. Cunningham was able to find Carter for 15 yards. I think every Viking fan that saw that catch said ‘finally.’
CC was the heart and soul of that team, and the offense had gone away from him completely in the first half.
After Smith ran for a 2 yard gain on 1st down, Moss dropped another pass on 2nd that would’ve netted the Vikings about 6 yards. On 3rd and 8 Cunningham found Carter again for another first down, catching it around the sticks and maneuvering for another 12 yards in the process. The crowd was now back into it.
After a 15 yard pass to Glover, the third quarter had come to a close.
Vikings 20 Falcons 17.
The first play of the 4th quarter Cunningham hit little used tight end Greg Delong for an 11 yard gain, and two plays later hooked up with Hatchette for a big-time touchdown catch in traffic over the middle of the field.
Long way to go.
The next Falcons possession found them quickly in a 3rd and 9 situation. The crowd was on their feet, banging against their chairs, ready for Minnesota’s defense to help them take control of this game once and for all…
Then Chandler hit Martin for 70 yards down the sideline.
It looked like a miscommunication in the secondary, but it also looked like neither guy particularly gave a shit, at a time where you’d think the last thing you’d want to give up is a big play.
Regardless, Atlanta now had the ball 1st and goal at the 9. After Jamal Anderson gained two yards, Chandler threw back to back passes to Mathis in the end zone. Both were dropped. The Falcons settled for a field goal. The Vikings temporarily dodged a bullet.
And here we go.
The Vikings quickly went three and out. Smith lost a yard on 1st down. An incompletion and a sack followed on the next two, and after a 37 yard punt by Mitch Berger, the Falcons found themselves with the ball in Minnesota territory down just seven.
On the incompletion Glover decided he had better things to do than get two feet down on the sidelines, when 99% of NFL pass catchers easily have no problem doing so in that spot. On the sack Cunningham took a huge hit, the kind that gets you thrown out in today’s NFL, and popped right up.
It’s funny at this point how I’m getting really into the game, cussing, and rooting for an upcoming defensive stop. The game was 22 years ago.
Maybe it worked, because the Vikings defense responded with their best series of the game. On 1st down Corey Fuller made a great break on a ball and was able to knock it away. Three guys merged onto Chandler for a 2nd down sack. And on 3rd and 18 Chandler threw a deep ball into traffic that easily could’ve been picked off.
The Falcons punted a ball that should have been easily downed at the one, but two players merged on the ball, one got turned around and lost, the other watched as the ball bounced off his finger tips and into the end zone.
Up 27-20 with the ball.
Time to go score and put this game away.
What we got instead was absolute NFL Mayhem for the next hour.
After a scramble on 1st down for 3 yards and another completion to Hatchette for a first down on the 2nd play, Cunningham fumbled the 3rd snap of the drive and the Falcons recovered at the Vikings 30 yard line.
After 2 runs totaling five yards, and an incompletion caused by pressure from the defensive line, The Falcons elected to keep the offense on the field and go for it on 4th and 5. It’s a decision most teams would make without blinking in today’s game, but, not surprisingly, Madden and Summerall couldn’t figure out why the Falcons didn’t want to bring the field goal unit out and cut the lead to 4.
Regardless, Corey Fuller made a huge defensive play on a quick slant route and knocked the pass away. It was the rare 4 and out, and fans were again fired up and ready for the offense to put the game out of reach.
With 6 minutes to go, and the ball at their own 25 yard line, the Vikings put together a drive that should’ve done just that.
Robert Smith finally decided he was going to be productive.
Minnesota gave him a steady dose of carries, eating up yards and burning up clock.
On 1st and 10 he carried for 9. On 2nd and 1 he carried for 16, thanks to a big block from Cris Carter on the outside.
Leroy Hoard came in to spell him for a play and gained 5.
At this point the camera panned over to John Randle on the sidelines. He was getting his knee iced and wrapped and was in obvious pain, but still no mention at all from the Hall of Fame broadcast crew. Instead Madden choose that moment to comment on how great of an offensive line coach Mike Tice was.
“He had a sign up in his office when we visited with him this week that said ‘asking a stupid question is better than making a stupid mistake,’ and I thought ‘that’s what a teacher is.'”
On 2nd and 5 the Vikings went back to Smith who picked up 8.
The next play, Smith again, another 8. Then Hoard gained a yard to make it third and 1. With the corners still sagging off Moss, Cunningham completed an easy 4 yard pass to the rookie for another first down. It was his first catch since early in the 2nd quarter.
The camera then panned over to Robert Smith who was, of course, on the sideline after being injured on the play. Madden had called him ‘a warrior’ and compared him to ‘Michael Jordan seizing the moment’ on the drive so far. The replay showed Smith taking the weakest of hits and simply falling to his knees two plays before. As Madden saw the playback he uttered, “Smith has given it all on this drive, showing he wants to go to Miami.”
I must be on another planet.
Moss celebrated like it was ballgame. Cunningham was even more elated. The Falcons had already used two of their three timeouts on this drive and now the Vikings had the ball, 1st and 10 at Atlanta’s 24 yard line with 3:06 to play.
The crowd was buzzing and the Vikings sideline was starting to celebrate.
Robert Smith earned epic gladiator status from Madden as he came back into the game and took the first down carry for 4 yards. On 2nd and 6 Smith was bottled up for a one yard loss as the Falcons burned their final timeout.
3rd and 7 from the Falcons 21. A first down wins the game.
Cunningham dropped back, scrambled a bit, couldn’t find anyone open and had to throw it away.
With 2:09 to go, the Vikings trotted out Gary Anderson, the 39-year-old placekicker who hadn’t missed a kick all year, (35-35 FG 59-59 XP) to try a 38 yard field goal and put the game out of reach.
“Field goal wins it!” Denny Green was heard saying in a tone that would suggest he was surprised to learn that fact, as he sent the kicking unit out onto the field late.
Everything seemed rushed at that point. Most field goal attempts you watch in the NFL have a certain routine and structure to them. This attempt seemed out of whack from the beginning. Instead of taking a timeout to settle things down, (I’m sure Denny didn’t want to seem like he was icing his own kicker) Minnesota proceeded with the kick.
Anderson missed wide left by about the length of a football.
And the energy from the crowd and the Vikings sideline was sucked out of the building. It got so quiet you could hear the Falcons players celebrating the miss on the sidelines on TV.
It was time for this opportunistic defense to make one final stop.
It was at this point that my friend Patrick called me. I told him I was in misery as I was rewatching this game for the first time.
“Yeah?, well I’m at the airport, my flights delayed, and I’m eating a lunchable….on Super Bowl Sunday.”
It was a classic.
The drive the Falcons put together to tie the game was, on a broader scale, symbolic of what it’s always been like to be a Vikings fan.
It started with a 10 yard pass to Mathis. Then Chandler completed a pass to someone named Ronnie Harris for 29 yards…no idea. Typical.
Then Chandler threw a wounded duck down the middle of the field that should’ve been picked by Robert Griffith. The next play Chandler scrambled and hurt himself after picking up 7 yards. Anderson took a handoff on the next play, gained 4 yards, and got out of bounds.
With just over a minute left and the ball at the Vikings 16 yard line, Chandler dropped back to pass. Mathis was near the end zone in the middle of the field. The ball was slightly under thrown. Fuller leaped and was able to get two hands on the ball, and popped it up ever so slightly. Griffith made a diving attempt to catch the deflection but had it trickle through his hands.
It was a ball that was tough to catch for both players. It was a play that needed to be made. If you wanna go to the super bowl, if you wanna put your defense on the map for the world to see, and start the narrative that ‘it’s not just the offense, we’re here too,’ you gotta to pick that ball off. One of you needs to catch that. It’s that simple.
That’s what the narrative would’ve been too. The reality is, aside from the opening drive and the big play to Martin down the sidelines, the Vikings defense played outstanding all day.
But the ball hit the ground, and on the next play Chandler didn’t miss. He hooked up with Mathis for a touchdown in virtually the same spot as the play before.
What happened next completely blew my mind. I had to rewind it back to make sure I wasn’t imagining things.
Madden started talking about the upcoming kickoff.
There was still 52 seconds left and the Vikings had all three timeouts. It was conceivable Minnesota could get into field goal range and have a chance to win in regulation.
Instead of bringing something like that to the viewers attention, Madden went into full looney tune mode and talked about how the Vikings kickoff team needs to go into onside kick prevent formation, to defend against any potential onside kicks. He repeated that a couple of times. When the Vikings came out in their normal kick return formation he went crazy talking about how surprised he was that Minnesota wasn’t in a formation to prepare for a potential onside kick.
I watched it back a couple of times and I still have no idea what he was talking about.
After the kickoff went for a touchback, and Madden calmed down, the Vikings had 49 seconds, and all three of their timeouts, left to get into field goal range.
But the most potent offense in NFL history buckled at the knees.
Cunningham dropped back to pass on 1st down, with nobody open he scrambled for what should have been 10-12 yards and a 1st down, but he veered off the path to try to get out of bounds and ran backwards a few yards to do so. He was unsuccessful. 7 yard gain. Timeout Minnesota.
The 2nd and third down plays pretty much told the story of the entire game.
Cunningham aired it out deep to Moss on 2nd and 3. Moss was double covered, but had both guys beat by two yards. The ball was slightly under thrown and Moss gave ZERO effort to go get it.
Another foreshadowing moment of Moss’s career.
On 3rd and 3, the Vikings, in a play I’ll never understand with the team and roster they had, took a knee and were content to take their chances in a sudden death overtime.
The Vikings won the toss, Palmer returned the kick out to the 28 yard line and the Vikings went to work.
On 1st down a fresh legged Leroy Hoard caught a swing pass at the line of scrimmage, made three unbelievable moves while dodging tackles, and picked up 12 yards. All the sudden the Vikings were at the 40.
C’mon two or three more first downs, I said under my breath. Give it to him again.
The next play Cunningham dropped back and looked deep and was forced to scramble out of the pocket, while doing so he was stripped of the ball by an Atlanta defender. The ball bounced straight into 340 pound David Dixon’s hands. He put his head down and rumbled for about four yards before coughing it up himself. Atlanta recovered, but the officials ruled he was down. The replay showed the officials got it right. A wild sequence that left Minnesota with a 2nd and 6 after all the dust had settled. The Vikings then handed off to Hoard for no gain. On 3rd down Cunningham tried to force an 8 yard pass to Moss but it was deflected at the line of scrimmage, and then again by Buchanan, before the ball could get to him.
Berger came on and hit a high beauty that Atlanta fair caught at the 15 yard line.
Madden couldn’t help himself.
“Looking at the field position after the punt, I think I’d rather be Minnesota in this situation rather than Atlanta in this spot.”
A super bowl winning coach and a hall of fame announcer just declared he’d rather be on defense than have the ball at his own 15 yard line with a 1st and 10 in a sudden death overtime situation.
When your team is losing the announcing is always gonna piss you off. That still rings true 22 years later. But Madden was beyond ludicrous at this point.
To my amazement, the Vikings defense did their job again. The unit was resilient. Playing without the injured Randle, Edwards, and McDaniel, the Vikings found a way to muster up one last stop.
The Falcons were able to pick up two first downs on the drive, one of them on an Anderson 10 yard run, the other on an 11 yard pass to him over the middle. But managed to hold on the next set of downs.
On first down Chandler threw a pass to the sideline that was tipped by Jerry Ball and could’ve easily been picked by Jimmy Hitchcock and taken all the way back for a touchdown. On 2nd and 3rd down Chandler missed on throws to Mathis and Anderson. Amazingly the Vikings got the ball back again.
After the Falcons punt, Minnesota started at the 26 yard line. An incomplete pass to Hatchette on 1st down put Minnesota in a 2nd and 10 situation where Cunningham was able to find Cris Carter for a 15 yard completion over the middle.
The crowd roared and Carter popped up quick, flipped the ball to the official, and looked at the Vikings sideline as if to say ‘Damn, been here all day, what the fuck we been doing?’
On the next first down play Cunningham inexplicably tried to force the ball to Delong, who was well covered, and the pass fell incomplete. Replays showed Moss wide open and frustrated with his quarterback’s decision. It appeared to be one of those plays where the QB breaks the huddle having already predetermined who he was going to throw it to. 2nd down pressure on Cunningham forced him to throw it away. 3rd and 10 with the season on the line saw the Vikings go with their bread and butter. They went deep to Moss, the ball was under thrown again, and Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was just barely able to recover in time to disrupt a potential completion. I would describe Moss’s effort about a 25% on the ‘give-a-shit’ meter on the play. It definitely wasn’t a first quarter effort from him. After the play Moss was seen bickering and waving his hands in disgust at his quarterbacks throw, and walked off the field disgusted.
Another great punt by Berger left the Falcons starting their next drive at their own 9 yard line.
But the Falcons had no problem getting down the field on the last possession of the game.
The Vikings were fatigued and banged up. When back-up linebacker Bobby Houston got hurt on the first play of the drive, Edwards was forced to come back in and play with a torn hamstring. Multiple replays showed him literally dragging his leg around trying to make plays. The coaching staff apparently felt playing with 10 healthy guys was better than bringing in an extra defensive back and/or playing dime or nickel.
Regardless. That was just the icing on the cake. The Vikings had been doomed for this result all day.
As Chris Chandler seamlessly scrambled down to the 21 yard line, Madden and Summerall finally realized John Randle was hurt, and with that came the final bell.
Falcons kicker Morten Andersen came out to kick the game winner from almost the identical spot where Gary Anderson Missed for the Vikings late in the 4th.
The Vikings called timeout. Instead of going to commercial, FOX decided to do a quick recap of all the important plays in the game up to that point.
This is where the haunting memories come back into play. Suddenly I was right back at my parents house. On the couch. In my pajamas. Steaming. On the brink of an emotion I’d never felt in my life up to that point.
As the sequence of Anderson’s missed kick in the 4th quarter appeared on the screen as a part of the FOX recap, my mother started screaming “He missed it, Oh my God! He missed it!” in elation.
No mom. That was just a replay of the Vikings kicker missing earlier. We’re not back live yet, watching the Falcons kicker miss. Unfortunately.
That was the ultimate twisting of the knife.
A situation that normally would call for me to make fun of my mom, at that moment somehow made me feel even worse for all of us. This was supposed to be our year. We bonded every Sunday while watching this team. It was fun. The whole year was fun. We were never jaded and bitchy. We laughed while watching the games. We went out to Minnesota as a family to watch them play the Cardinals in the playoffs the week before. There was a Cardinals fan sitting in front of us that was a great sport…we gave him shit all day as we watched Minnesota maul Arizona 41-21. I believe it was the first game my sister and mom had ever been to.
On the way back home a bunch of the roads were closed because of a blizzard, and instead of waiting around for a day or two, my old man got the map out and starting looking for back gravel roads to go on. We went up and down these gravel roads, some icy, some not so much. There were times when a hill was steep and icy enough that my sister and I were forced to get out and run next to the red minivan to reduce weight. During some of the more sketchy moments my mom boldly declared “we’re not dying out here in the snow on the backroads in eastern Montana!” to get us all fired up and out running along side the car again. We bumped into a Subaru packed full of shit, with two college kids in it. When they saw us their eyes lit up. When we pulled over, the two guys said they were from Virginia, headed back to Bozeman for the next college semester and didn’t want to wait for the roads to open back up. Then said they had some scary run-in with someone who posted a no-trespassing sign and asked if they could just follow us for awhile.
And of course my dad eventually led us all outta there. We somehow all ended up outside a cafe in Miles City when it was said and done. As the college boys thanked him and continued on their way, we headed inside to eat.
This team was the source of a lot of family bonding, and as the Falcons kicker nailed a 39 yarder to win the game and end the Vikings season, all that had come to an end.
It was over. Just like that.
I headed straight for the door, (a move I have since repeated a few times in my life after a critical loss) walked around outside in below zero weather, and felt no chill of the cold even with just my pajamas on. I walked around the block balling and sobbing.
That was the team. That was the year.
They’ve had other teams make the NFC Championship game since, but never one where I knew for sure they were the better team.
Other teams have given me hope and left me disappointed. That team taught me about the danger of overconfidence, and drove a stake through my heart.
The fact that I still feel the need to write about 22 years later, while searching for closure, should tell the whole story.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
For years I used to blame the missed field goal for that loss, but rewatching this game has given me plenty of perspective. Some of my favorite Vikings deserve just as much of the blame for losing this game as the Vikings kicker.
Why are we celebrating early and letting our guard down? You wear a Vikings uniform. You’ve never won a damn thing. Stay focused until the end. Most of the Vikings players were too busy hugging each other on the sidelines before Anderson even attempted that infamous kick.
Other players who can take responsibility for the loss:
Cunningham: Several under thrown balls, and a sudden lack of pocket awareness leading to multiple fumbles cost the Vikings. Even though the coaching staff were the idiots who decided to try to score more points before the end of the half, it’s still up to Cunningham to protect the ball and unfortunately he didn’t do that. There’s a big difference between 20-7 and 20-14 going into halftime.
Griffith: Dropped two potential game winning interceptions on the last drive. Neither one of them were gimme’s, but knowing the type of player he was all year long for the Vikings, he was more than capable of coming down with either one.
Moss: It’s amazing how some things never change. Moss was one of my favorite all time Vikings and has been constantly revered for his performance in his rookie year. But the NFC championship game in 1998 showcased more of what kind of player Randy was, and what kind of career he was destined for, than any other game that year. His rookie year was filled with spectacular plays, huge catches, constant double teams, head scratching comments, showing up teammates, and completely lacking effort. This one game showcased quite a few of these moments just on it’s own. While Moss scored the Vikings first touchdown of the game, and made a few other catches for first downs, he never made the big play when Minnesota needed it most. The most daunting of them all being the wide open touchdown pass he dropped in the 2nd quarter that would have put the Vikings up 24-7, instead of the field goal they settled for making it 20-7. His lack of late game effort also served as a big middle finger to both his teammates and the fans.
Brian Billick: To trot your offense back out there in hopes of scoring more points in a 20-7 game from your own 18 yard line with 1:18 left in the half is the decision that cost this team the most. It’s not just about points, it’s about common sense, it’s about momentum. And why were we not taking that same approach when we actually needed to? Game tied 27-27 late in the 4th, 3 timeouts left…you take a knee and play for overtime? There wasn’t a single Vikings fan in the world watching that game who thought Minnesota was going to win after that. And apparently not many of the players did either.
Corey Fuller: Fuller played great all day. He makes the list for dropping a potential game ending interception in the 4th quarter. Similar to Griffith, not an easy play, but one he can make. And given the magnitude of the moment he needs to make it.
Terry Williams: This guy is a family friend. All year long my mom, dad, and I would watch Vikings games alone in pretty much the same spot in the living room every week. The team being as successful as it was I saw no reason to change that up. So you can imagine my surprise when ten minutes before game time my dad mentions to me that Terry Williams is coming over for that game. It’s no ones fault. My dad was just being nice when Terry sort of implied that he might like to watch the game with us. But I remember being pissed at the time, and still give my old man shit about it to this day. He walked through the door with a bag of chips shortly before kick off, big ole grin on his face, “I just hope it’s close. Hope it’s at least a good game. I don’t want the Vikings to blow them out…’
When I went to school the next day I actually remember a couple of my friends being sympathetic towards me. But my piss-ant friend Kolter gave me shit all day in ways only he could to maximum annoy me. He was a Bronco fan, and as luck would have it Denver would have been Minnesota’s opponent in the Super Bowl had they gotten by the Falcons that year. He got me so mad that I immediately declared Minnesota would go 16-0 the next year and no one would beat them in the playoffs.
In 1999 Minnesota started off its season playing the Falcons in Atlanta. In a relatively emotionless revenge game, the Vikings managed to squeak out a 17-14 victory. Minnesota would lose 4 outta their next 5 games and start the season with a 2-4 record. At that point, depending on who you ask, Cunningham was either benched or flat out quit on his team. Newly signed enigma QB Jeff George was brought in to save the season, and remarkably he did just that. Under George the Vikings finished 8-2 in their last ten and made the playoffs with a 10-6 record. They even won a playoff game, beating the Cowboys at home in the wildcard round.
Brian Billick was named assistant coach of the year after the 1998 season. He was also hired by the Baltimore Ravens to be their head coach a couple days after the loss to Atlanta.
If I was old enough, and not still stinging so much from the worst loss in franchise history, my old man and I would’ve celebrated with champagne.
The logic for any team hiring Billick was flawed.
It’s the exact same thing as thinking Adam Gase would be a good head coach because he was the offensive coordinator for Peyton Manning (news flash: he wasn’t) or that Josh Mcdaniels was/will be a good head coach because he called plays for Tom Brady under Bill Belichick (11-17 as Broncos head coach/and he won’t be.) Or now with the whole outcry over Eric Bieniemy not getting a chance…Eric Bieniemy is an offense coordinator on a team whose head coach calls all the plays and employs Patrick Mahomes at QB. Put all the obvious racial stuff aside and ask yourself the football question…does that mean he’s gonna be a good head coach somewhere else? Well, if Mahomes comes with him, yeah. If not, we don’t know. There’s plenty of good examples to support each side of the argument.
But anyone in the world could have done just as good of a job with the 1998 Viking’s offense as Brian Billick did. I’d argue most people could’ve done a lot better. He was given the keys to a Porsche and told not to crash it.
And he didn’t get to take that offense with him to Baltimore.
Two years later, the so-called offensive genius led the Ravens to a super bowl championship. Do I have to eat crow? You tell me…
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were led by one of the best defenses to have ever played the game. They set many all-time records that still stand today, including fewest points ever allowed in a 16 game season (165) and fewest rushing yards ever allowed (970). They also led all teams in turnovers that year with 49 (49 turnovers in 16 games!) and had the defensive player of the year in Ray Lewis. They were the first team since the 1985 Bears to post shutouts in back to back weeks, and totaled four on the season.
That defense was coached by Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, and Rex Ryan. All future head coaches in the league. I doubt Billick dipped his toe into the water much on that side of the ball. I don’t give him any credit for that unit. He was specifically brought in to improve Baltimore’s anemic offense.
With all that as a backdrop, let’s dive into that 2000 Ravens potent offensive attack led by play calling guru Brian Billick.
After starting 4-1 that season, three of those wins coming by virtue of a defensive shut out, the Ravens went 5 STRAIGHT GAMES without scoring a touchdown. Billick then benched starting quarterback Tony Banks, whom the coach was brought in to help turn a corner, and named journeyman Trent Dilfer the starter for the rest of the season.
After Dilfer threw a pick-6 in a game against the Titans in week 11, Ray Lewis, who was mic’d up on the sidelines, was yelling “Damn, just don’t screw it up. That’s all you have to do! Don’t give them points and we win! That’s it.”
With that message clearly sent to Dilfer and the offense, the Ravens finished 12-4 that year. Dilfer became a game manager. The Ravens ran the ball a lot, Dilfer didn’t force any more passes, and the Ravens relied heavily on their defense.
With that formula in place, the Ravens cruised to the championship, giving up 3, 10, and 3 points in three playoff games, and only 7 to the Giants in their super bowl victory.
Brian Billick was a super bowl winning coach. And the USA Today AFC Coach of the Year.
He somehow managed to swindle the public again.
In 9 seasons as coach in Baltimore, Billick’s teams made the playoffs four times. During those years he failed to develop any young quarterbacks, despite drafting several during his tenure, (Kyle Bowler, Derek Anderson, Chris Redman, Anthony Wright) and never produced a top 10 offensive unit.
His offenses ranked 24th, 16th, 14th, 25th, 21st, 31st, 25th, 12th, and 24th from 1999-2007.
The Minnesota offenses he left behind cracked the top 10 five times during those years, ranking 3rd, 5th, 12th, 2nd, 1st, 4th, 19th, 26th, and 15th without his guidance/handicapping.
Was Brian Billick a good coach?
Generally if you win a Super Bowl and/or have some sustained success in the league as a head coach, and you’re fired or quit because you’ve sort of overstayed your welcome as the face of a franchise, another team can’t wait to swoop in and pick you up.
Did Andy Reid, Mike Shanahan, Dick Vermeil, Mike Holmgren, and Bill Parcells stay available for very long?
And how many times have teams tried to lure Jimmy Johnson, Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden (finally convinced him 3 years ago), and Tony Dungy out of retirement once they said they were done?
Billick hasn’t been given an interview since his firing at the end of the 2007 season. He was 53 years old at that time.
I think the league finally figured it out the answer to that question.
It’s just too bad he never got to broadcast games with Madden. Those two would’ve been perfect for each other up there.
The Vikings team he left behind was able to make it back to the NFC Championship game in 2000.
Since Billick left I don’t remember too many years where I’d come out and say their offense was flat-out bad. Not until the Christian Ponder era started in 2011, but even those teams had an Adrian Peterson 2000 yard season and a playoff birth. The first year of head coach Brad Childress’s regime was pretty dull too, but I can’t think of too many other examples.
The Vikings have made 3 NFC championship games since 1998 (2000, 2009, 2017) but have never had a better team in my lifetime.
After rewatching the game for the first time I do feel a little better about that team. I’ve always loved them, and it was nice to go back and see them.
The game has changed so much now that every team in the league has the potential to flare up and win a super bowl in any given year. The fact that the Vikings made the playoffs pretty much every year of my childhood and peaked with the ’98 team who had a chance to go to the super bowl was a pretty good way to experience being a fan in those years.
I could’ve been a Browns or Bengals fan and been screwed.
I’ll probably never have as much fun watching the Vikings as I had that year. In 2017 when they made a run at it with a 13-3 regular season record and an appearance in the NFC championship game, I wondered aloud every week how they did it. “Wow, they won again, can’t believe they keep doing this,” I’d say as Case Keenum handed the ball off to Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon game in and game out.
In 1998 wins were just expected. That’s what makes that loss so hard. I figured they could make a couple more runs at it with that team, but the playoff loss in 1999, and the defeat in the NFC championship game in 2000 didn’t have the same feel. It was over.
But I think now, watching that team, and having it be a part of my life the way it was, can be best summed up by Steve Tasker, a former Buffalo Bills player who played on all 4 of the teams that made it to the super bowl in the early 90s that were never victorious.
In a documentary on ESPN called “The Four Falls of Buffalo” he said, “For awhile those teams were looked at as failures, but the more time that goes by the more people come up to me and tell me how great those teams really were.”
I feel the exact same way about the 1998 Vikings. They somehow get better every year.
And will live rent free in my head forever.