As we know, the Vikings will be travelling west this weekend to take on the San Francisco 49ers. I'm not sure about other Vikings' fans, but whenever I think about Vikings/Niners, there's one game that immediately comes to mind.
No, it's not the 35-7 drubbing at the Metrodome from the 2003 season. . .although that was pretty great.
No, it's not the game from 1969 where Jim Marshall recovered a San Francisco fumble and proceeded to run about 70 yards in the wrong direction for a safety. (Although I've seen that clip approximately 206,871 times, just like most of you.)
Allow me to channel Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls, if I may. . .
(And yes, that's a Golden Girls reference on a football blog. Shut up.)
Picture it. . .1988. . .
The Vikings finished the regular season with a rather non-descript 8-7 record, and made the playoffs despite losing the season finale at home to the Washington Redskins by a field goal, 27-24.
Yes, only 15 games. . .the reason for this, for the uninitiated, was the 1987 NFL strike. Turns out labor strife isn't just for baseball after all. As a result of said strike, one week was totally wiped off the schedule, while three other weeks were played by what came to be known as "scabs," or replacement players. Those games were the 3rd, 4th, and 5th games of that season for the Vikings. . .and they resulted in 3 losses. (A 23-16 loss to the Packers in Minneapolis, a 27-7 loss to Chicago at Soldier Field, and a 20-10 loss at Tampa Bay.) So, I guess if you take out the games played by replacement players, the Vikes were 8-4. But I'm rambling. Back to the story.
As a result of the shortened season, there were only 5 playoff teams from each conference instead of the normal 6. The 5 NFC playoff representatives were San Francisco, New Orleans, Washington, Chicago, and Minnesota. As the Bears, Redskins, and 49ers were all division champions, they each got a week off. New Orleans and Minnesota got to face off against each other for the right to play the 49ers the next week, while the Redskins and Bears would be matched up in the other NFC semi-final game.
The Vikings were pretty heavy underdogs. As well they should have been. . .after all, the Saints finished the season at 12-3 (10-2 in non-scab games), and had the #2 scoring offense in the NFL (28.1 ppg) to go along with the #5 scoring defense (18.9 ppg). Minnesota, on the other hand, had scored only one more point over the course of the regular season than they allowed (336 points scored, 335 given up). The Saints also had one of the finest LB corps that I can remember seeing, with their 3-4 alignment of Vaughn Johnson, Sam Mills, Rickey Jackson, and Pat Swilling. Everything was pointing to the Saints advancing to face their division rivals.
Well, to make a long story short (or a little shorter, anyway). . .Vikings 44, Saints 10. Minnesota went into the Superdome and absolutely blasted the heavily favored Saints in a game that wasn't remotely close. New Orleans scored the first touchdown, and then Minnesota completely took over. So, the Vikes were on to the second round of the playoffs. . .where they were, again, huge underdogs.
Sure, the Vikings had blown out New Orleans, but they weren't playing the Saints the next weekend. . .these were the 49ers. This wasn't Bobby Hebert behind center any more. . .this was Joe Montana. This wasn't a comfortable dome any more. . .this was Candlestick Park, one of the toughest stadiums in the NFL to go into and win.
Yes, the Vikings were supposed to lose. But that day, there was one guy that simply wasn't going to let that happen.
Ladies and gentlemen. . .quite possibly the most underrated player in Minnesota Vikings history. . .
Yes. . .before #80 came along, there was another wide receiver named Carter that was synonymous with the Minnesota Vikings. Anthony Carter, a 3-time first-team All American at the University of Michigan who joined the Vikings after the USFL dissolved, quickly became Minnesota's most dangerous receiver. How dangerous? In the '87 regular season, he caught only 38 passes. . .and STILL had nearly 1000 receiving yards, averaging a gaudy 24.3 yards per reception.
Carter's performance against New Orleans was fairly pedestrian. . .6 catches, 70 yards, 1 TD. Surely the 49ers would keep A.C. under wraps, wouldn't they?
That afternoon in San Francisco, Anthony Carter put on what was, quite frankly, the greatest performance a Minnesota Vikings' receiver has ever put on. Against the #1 pass defense in the National Football League, A.C. caught 10 passes for 227 yards as the Vikings pulled out another huge upset, beating the 49ers 36-24. He even added a 30-yard carry on a reverse for good measure.
I was 11 years old, sitting at home watching that game. . .and in the 19 years since, I've never seen a greater performance from any Minnesota wide receiver. Not from Cris Carter, not from Randy Moss, not from anybody.
And that's the game I immediately think of whenever someone mentions Vikings/Niners to me.
Game preview coming sometime over the course of the weekend. Have a good one, folks!