About the Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings began playing NFL football in 1961, coming into the league with a bang. Hosting the Chicago Bears in their first game, and with a rookie quarterback in Fran Tarkenton under center, they upset the Bears and served notice that they would not be a team to be taken lightly. While the Vikings would struggle for wins in their first few years, they would build a powerful defense with exceptional speed and toughness and would soon become the most formidable team in the league.
The Vikings would get to the Super Bowl four times by the end of the 1976 season and lose all of those games. They have not been able to make it back since and what was once a steady and productive team is now looking for answers.
- The Vikings made a name for themselves and made enemies long before their first game. Owner Max Winter had agreed to join the American Football League and his Minnesota franchise was scheduled to begin play in 1960. However, when Chicago Bear owner George Halas realized the AFL was legitimate competition, he and Redskin owner George Preston Marshall convinced Winter to abandon his new partners and take an NFL expansion franchise.
Winter agreed and his decision forced the AFL to replace his team with a franchise in Oakland. The Vikings were coached by Norm Van Brocklin, who had been a great quarterback in the NFL. Van Brocklin was tough on his players and was especially harsh on Tarkenton. Van Brocklin had been a classic dropback passer while Tarkenton was a scrambler. Van Brocklin looked at Tarkenton's style as amateurish.
Tarkenton would eventually be traded to the New York Giants and Van Brocklin would be replaced by Bud Grant in 1968. The Vikings won their first division championship. They lost a 24-14 decision to the Colts in the Western Conference championship game, but the Vikings were an established entity. They rolled to a 12-2 record in 1969 behind a ferocious defense that was nicknamed the "Purple Gang" because of the Vikings' uniform colors. The key to the Purple Gang was the defensive line, featuring defensive ends Jim Marshall and Carl Eller along with defensive tackles Alan Page and Gary Larsen. Marshall, Eller and Page were relentless pass rushers while Larsen was a stalwart against the run.
The Vikings defeated the Rams in the divisional playoffs and the Cleveland Browns in the NFL championship game, earning them a spot against the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs. This was the team owner by AFL founder Lamar Hunt. He had been cut to the quick by Winter's decision to leave the AFL for the all-but-guaranteed success the NFL promised and he was thrilled to have this opportunity. Hunt, normally the most placid of men, gave his players an eye-opening talk in the lockerroom before the game about what the Vikings had done.
Minnesota had been big favorites in the game, but the Chiefs whipped them 23-7. The Chiefs would return to the Super Bowl against the Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders, but would lose each time. While losing four Super Bowls has hurt the franchise's reputation, a look back reveals that all four opponents were formidable and the Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders were three of the best teams that ever took the field.
The Vikings were one of the toughest and most physical teams in pro football, but that changed after the 1981 season when the Vikings left their outdoor venue, Metropolitan Stadium, for the controlled climate of the Metrodome. That stadium gave the hearty Viking fans the creature comforts that they had never asked for. The team suffered on the field after that.
Minnesota went through a bit of a renaissance in the late 1990s and they went 15-1 in 1998 and were favored to get to the Super Bowl. The Vikings set an NFL record with 556 points scored and were considered nearly unstoppable. However, they struggled in the NFL championship game against the Falcons and had a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter when head coach Dennis Green sent placekicker Gary Anderson onto the field to attempt a field goal. Anderson had not missed all season, but he missed this time and gave the Falcons knew life. They tied the game on a late touchdown and won it in overtime, sending Atlanta to the Super Bowl and leaving the Vikings at home.
- The Vikings are well-represented in pro football's Hall of Fame. Tarkenton was not only a brilliant quarterback, he became the first of the NFL's mobile signal callers. Before Tarkenton came along, quarterbacks were expected to sit in the pocket and wait for receivers to get open. Tarkent would take off out of the pocket to buy time for his receivers to get open or run. Most of the top quarterbacks in the current era have the mobility that Tarkenton first displayed. Page was a force in the middle of the line who could destroy the pocket with his quickness. Eller had great speed coming around the corner and the ability to reach over the offfensive tackle and get his hands on the quarterback. Offensive tackle Ron Yary played in the late 1960s and 1970s, and is widely recognized as the best tackle of his era and one of the best linemen to ever play the game. Grant was a steady, stoic-looking coach whose sideline demeanor never revealed that he was an emotional man behind the scenes who could chew out his players when disappointed with them and also heap praise on them when they deserved it. General manager Jim Finks was the key man behind the scenes who brought the Vikings great talent in their early years and helped them go from expansion team to NFL force in a relatively short amount of time.
- Grant is recognized as one of the great head coaches in the game. He would direct the Vikings to four Super Bowls. While the last three were with Tarkenton at quarterback--he would return in a trade from the Giants--the first was with former Canadian Football Leaguer Joe Kapp at quarterback. Kapp was a macho tough guy at quarterback who was quite inconsistent when it came to throwing the football. That Grant was able to harness his ability and turn the Vikings into a powerhouse is a great testament to his ability.
The Vikings had a great two-headed rushing attack with Bill Brown and Dave Osborn during the 1960s and 1970s. Neither man had impressive speed or moves, but both were effective running backs because of strength and power. The Vikings have often struggled at the running back position, but the drafting of Adrian Peterson from Oklahoma in 2007 turned that situation around. Peterson has more natural talent than nearly every back in the game.
- Few teams have had more off-the-field problems than the Vikings. The team used to turn something of a blind eye to players who had legal problems, and that included DUIs and weapons possession. Things grew out of hand in the last decade. Former Viking receiver Randy Moss had an incident with a traffic officer in which he tried to nudge her along when he was driving his car, while the Vikings had an infamous 2005 incident on a party boat in Lake Minnetonka in which players reportedly engaged in lewd activity in a brazen manner.
- The Vikings are seen throughout the NFL as a team that lacks discipline and balance. The Vikings need a much steadier hand at the head coaching slot than they have been getting and have long been searching for someone like Grant who commanded respect but did not do it by screaming and yelling. If they can regain that kind of leadership there are indications that the team has the talent on the field to once again become a formidable presence in the NFL. (So does Chilly Fit this?)