The Minnesota Vikings entered the National Football League in 1961. These were the years the American Football League started operations, and the NFL quickly expanded in 1960 to "claim" cities for their league by placing franchises there. NFL teams added in these years included the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings have had success in every decade of their existence, and has frequently been considered a contender over the years. Despite this fact, the Vikings have never won a Superbowl. The team has been to four Superbowl games, losing each time. These games took place in the 1960′s and 1970′s exclusively, during the Bud Grant years.
Norm Van Brocklin
Norm Van Brocklin, a former quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, was hired as the Minnesota Vikings’ first head coach in 1961. Van Brocklin would continue as head coach until his resignation in 1967, making the way for Bud Grant. According to some published reports, Bud Grant had originally been considered in lieu of Van Brocklin.
The team added future Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton in these early years, but they did not always know how to utilize his talents as a scrambling quarterback. The team had its first winning season in 1964, but the front office would continue to undergo changes until Bud Grant was added.
Bud Grant: The Legend
Bud Grant took over in 1967. In the months that followed, the Vikings made the mistake of trading Fran Tarkenton to the New York Giants. The Vikings would lose Tarkenton’s services through five of his prime years, when the Vikings were a notable contender.
The Vikings success in these years was built on the strength of the Purple People Eaters defense, led by Jim Marshall, Alan Page, Gary Larsen and Carl Eller. The defense would lead the team to a 12-2 record in 1969, when the Vikings made their first postseason appearance. The Vikings would defeat the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game, and went on to face Hank Stram and the Kansas City Chiefs in Superbowl IV.
Superbowl IV Loss
The Minnesota Vikings were heavily favored, but the Chiefs would handle the Vikings easily, 23-7. Though the New York Jets victory over the Baltimore Colts in the previous Superbowl is generally given credit for establishing the credibility of the AFL, this game was probably just as important, as it established the Jets’ victory was not a fluke. In the offseason, the AFL and NFL fully merged into one league.
The Purple People Eaters defense continued to dominate in the 1970 and 1971 seasons, as Alan Page became the rare defensive player to earn an NFL MVP award. The team’s playoffs hopes were dashed due to limited offensive capabilities in these years, though.
Fran Tarkenton Returns
After the 1971 season, the Vikings traded a package of draft picks and players to reacquire Fran Tarkenton from the Giants. The Vikings would advance to 3 of the next 4 Superbowls, and narrowly miss the Big Game the fourth year.
In 1973, the Vikings went 12-2, but lost to the Miami Dolphins in the Superbowl. In 1974, the team when 10-4, but lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Superbowl.
The Hail Mary Pass
The Vikings looked to be having their best season in 1975, when they started the season 10-0 and secured the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. This was important for the Minnesota Vikings, for they played outside in those days in the harsh Minnesota winters. In the NFC Championship Game, the Vikings hosted the Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys had been a contender for most of the previous ten years, but several star players had retired in the previous few seasons. 1975 was considered a potential rebuilding year for the Cowboys, who had brought in 12 rookies that year. So when Dallas advanced to the NFC title game, they were a prohibitive underdog.
The Vikings led late in the game, and the Cowboys were down to desperation heaves of the deep ball. This led to the so-called Hail Mary pass, where Roger Staubach threw a TD to Drew Pearson at the Vikings goal line. After the game, Roger Staubach said he threw the pass and said a Hail Mary prayer when he let it go. Afterwards, all late-game desperation deep throws have come to be known as Hail Mary passes.
Vikings fans continue to dispute the legitimacy of the Hail Mary pass. Replays showed that Drew Pearson very well may have pushed off the cornerback to gain seperation for his catch. Vikings fans of the 1970′s believed this was the best Minnesota Vikings team of the era, and this team had its best chance to win a Superbowl. The young Cowboys team would play a close, hard-fought contest against the defending champion Steelers in the Superbowl that year.
The Final Superbowl Defeat
The 1976 Vikings advanced one again to the Superbowl. This time, they played the Oakland Raiders, who rode a number of turnovers to a 32-14 victory over Minnesota. The Vikings have not been back to the Superbowl since. In 1977 and 1978, the Vikings would make the playoffs again, but the team was now aging and they were defeated in each season by old rivals, the Cowboys in ’77 and the Rams in ’78.
The 1980′s Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings would remain competitive through much of the 1980′s, but they were mainly a disappointment in light of the successes of the Seventies. Bud Grant would continue to coach until his retirement in 1983, whereupon he was replaced by Les Steckel. Steckel’s lone season was a disappointment, so the Minnesota Vikings re-hired Bud Grant for the 1986. Once again, the 1986 season was disappointing, so Grant retired for good after the 1985 season. This time, Grant would be replaced by Jerry Kramer.
Jerry Kramer had been the Vikings offensive coordinator from 1968 until 1985. In his first year as head coach, Kramer coached Tommy Kramer to become the Comeback Player of the Year. In a strike-shortened season, the Vikess went 9-6 and qualified for the playoffs as a wildcard.
The Vikings went on the road to defeat the New Orleans Saints in a blowout in the Superdome, then traveled to Candlestick Park in San Francisco to upset Joe Montana and the 49ers. This game was notable for the big game which Vikings star receiver, Anthony Carter, posted.
The Vikings would barely miss the Superbowl, when they lost a chance late in the Champsionship Game to tie the Washington Redskins. Trailing 17-10, Tommy Kramer hit RB Darren Nelson with a pass at the Skins goal line. Nelson dropped the pass, and the Redskins would go on to win the Superbowl.
The Herschel Walker Trade
After a loss to the Niners in the 1988-1989 playoffs, as Steve Young replaced an injured Joe Montana in the game and made a number of big plays, highlighted by his 49-yard TD run that is still shown in highlights to this day.
Vikings management decided they were one player away from a Superbowl. They needed a dominant running back. When Herschel Walker became available early the next year, the worst trade in the history of the Minnesota Vikings was in the offing.
1989 was the first year of the Jimmy Johnson era in Dallas. The Cowboys were in the midst of a 1-15 season, and Hershcel Walker was their only star player. As legend has it, Jimmy Johnson was walking the track at the Cowboys training facility with several of his assistant coaches, and was brainstorming about how the team could get good quickly. Johnson wanted draft picks. Dave Wannstedt, the Cowboys defensive coordinator, said that Walker was the only player they had with any value. Johnson was soon shopping Walker around the league.
The Vikings were takers. They eventually traded a combination of 12 picks and players for the rights to Herschel Walker. This move never worked, as Walker never quite meshed with the Minnesota Vikings offense. The Vikings wanted a bruising running attack that would eat up the clock.
Walker, despite his big size for a runner of the time, was more of a big play runner with ball-catching skills. He didn’t move well laterally, especially at this point in his career, and this hurt his effectiveness running between the tackles. The Vikings would never contend seriously for the Superbowl, while the Dallas Cowboys would use their extra draft picks to build a team which would win 3 Superbowls. Emmitt Smith was drafted with one of the Vikings’ picks the next year, which alone made the trade one-sided.
Dennis Green was hired to coach the Minnesota Vikings in 1992. Green would coach the Vikings to four division titles and several other trips to the playoffs throughout the rest of the decade, despite playing in a division against Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers and Barry Sanders’ Detroit Lions.
Green accomplished his wins with a succession of quarterbacks, men who were often past their prime or just breaking into the business. Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham were two of the former cases, while Brad Johnson and Daunte Culpepper were examples of the latter case.
What the Vikes did have in these years was offensive skill position talent. The team’s running back was Robert Smith, known for his breakaway speed. The Vikings added Cris Carter and Jake Reed at receiver, and later in the decade drafted Randy Moss. Together, these men would break records for offensive production.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings were coached by Tony Dungy, at least until he left to be the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dungy would make the Vikings defense respectable, even coaching them to be the #1 unit in the NFL in 1995. Defensive tackle John Randall was the anchor of the unit.
15-1 Minnesota Vikings in 1998
After Dungy left, the Vikings became ever-more offensive minded. In 1998, Randy Moss’s first year with the Vikings, the team went 15-1 in the regular season. After Brad Johnson went out hurt for the year early in the season, an aging Randall Cunningham came in to have his best statistical year.
Any defensive deficiencies were covered up by the fact the Vikings were usually ahead by two or three scores, allowing a light, speedy defensive unit to rush the pasher and cause turnovers. This strategy worked until the NFC Championship Game, when the Vikings were defeated by a better-balanced 14-2 Atlanta Falcons defense featuring a big running back, Jamal Anderson, a solid passing game led Chris Miller and a stout defensive unit. Even at this, a missed field goal by a kicker who had been flawless all year was the difference in the two teams.
The Minnesota Vikings would struggle to match their mark of the 1998 with Cunningham at quarterback the next year, but had another resurgence in 2000, Daunte Culpepper’s first year as Vikings quarterback. The Minnesota Vikings were once more a major force, reaching the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants. Playing in bad weather in Meadowlands Stadium, the high-powered Vikings were shut out and humiliated, 41-0.
In the years following, the Vikings would suffer retirements (Robert Smith) and free agent losses (Todd Steussie, Jeff Christie). The death of star OT Korey Stringer during a Vikings training camp session was a particular blow to the Minnesota Vikings franchise, coming at the start of a difficult season of lost potential. After this season, 2001, Dennis Green left the team. Mike Tice would take over as head coach.
The Tice Years
The Vikings continued to contend for the playoffs in the next several years, mainly through the combination of Culpepper, Moss and Carter. They made playoff appearances in 2003 and 2004, though the 2004 team went 3-7 over their last ten games and only finished 8-8. The 2003 team went on the road to defeat their hated division rivals, the Green Bay Packers, at Lambeau Field. This was thought to have salvaged an otherwise disappointing 2004 campaign. After this season, the Vikings traded disgruntled receiver Randy Moss to the Raiders. Cris Carter had retired after the previous season.
The 2005 Minnesota Vikings were the subject of a boat scandal, where several key members of the team attended a boat party with strippers. This became a major national story, though it appears blown out of porportion in retrospect. Daunte Culpepper, who was placed on I.R. after a slow start and a major knee injury, was the major focus of the scandal. Culpepper would be traded to the Miami Dolphins in the offseason, as new Vikings owner Zygi Wilf wanted the franchise to operate in a moral, scandal-free way.
To that end, Wilf hired Brad Childress to bring a no-nonsense approach to the Vikings locker room. Childress was the former offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, who had just played hardball by suspending a disgruntled Terrell Owens. Childress was a propenent of a Phillie-style version of the West Coast Offense. He would bring in RB Chester Taylor of the Baltimore Ravens as the focus of his offense, as RB Bryan Westbrook had been with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Childress’ first season with the Vikings had its successes, though the team was plagued by inconsistent quarterback play and unproven wide receivers. Taylor had his moments, while the Vikings defense was the #1 defense in the league against the run. In fact, Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin received the Pittsburgh Steelers head coaching job on the strength of the performance of the Vikings 2006 defense.
In the 2007 NFL Draft, the Vikings took running back Adrian Peterson out of the University of Oklahoma with the 7th overall pick. Peterson fell, perhaps due to injury concerns, but he was clearly the most talented offensive player in the draft. Despite already having Chester Taylor, Childress and the Vikings decided Peterson could not be passed up. The two running gacks split carries early in the season, but after Taylor got hurt, Peterson took over the running duties. He was voted NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year for 2007.
Once again, the Vikings defensive unit was #1 against the run. Despite this fact, the Vikings missed the playoffs again. Childress installed young Tarvaris Jackson as the quarterback. Jackson played poorly at times, and was injured at other times.
With the lack of a passing attack, the Vikings were one-dimensional and often got behind in games. This tended to negate their solid running attack and their defense’s advantages. Still, the Vikings finished with some wins late in the season, so if they can find the answers at quarterback and wide receiver, the Minnesota Vikings have the stars to become a playoff contender in the next few years.