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49ers at Vikings: The good, the bad, and the ugly

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Minnesota and San Francisco have a colorful history of games

San Francisco 49ers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I generally don’t consider the Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers rivals, do you? The Vikings are a Midwest team that plays in the NFC North, the 49ers play in the NFC West. They’ve only played each other 41 times, which isn’t a lot considering how long these teams have been in the NFL, but in reading Fearless Leader’s look back and the ensuing comments, there’s quite a history between the teams. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in this series.

The Good:

I would argue that of the 21 all time victories the Vikings have against San Francisco, there are three that immediately pop into my head: the 1985 season opener, the 1987 playoffs, and week three of the 2009 season.

1985 season opener: When Bud Grant retired at the end of the 1983 season, it marked the end of an era. The team had left Metropolitan Stadium for the Metrodome a few years earlier, the Purple People Eaters were gone, and the Vikings named Les Steckel the coach for 1984.

It was a disastrous choice, and it led to one of the worst seasons in franchise history, as the Vikings went 3-13, losing 11 of their final 12 games. Grant was coaxed out of retirement to come back in 1985 to right the longboat, and the first game of the season was at home against the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers. They were in the middle of their Bill Walsh-Joe Montana dynasty, and for those too young to remember they were the Patriots of that era...only Walsh and Montana were likable personalities. The Vikings had little hope, even with Bud Grant back. Yet the Vikings scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, and the Vikings beat the Niners 28-21.

I found this abbreviated game highlight on YouTube:

Love those old Vikings uniforms, by the way. They’ll always be my favorite version.

1987 playoffs: With Jerry Burns taking over from Grant in 1986, the Vikings were finding their way back to prominence, just not for as long a period of time as the Purple People Eaters era. The 8-7 record doesn’t seem all that impressive, but 1987 was the year the players went on strike, and three games were played by replacement players. The Vikings replacement team was horrid, and went 0-3. Conversely, the regular team went 8-4, and had a pretty good offense and defense. Still, when they rolled in to Candlestick Park to face the 13-2 49ers, no one was giving them a chance. San Francisco was the best team in football, and were the heavy favorite to return to the Super Bowl and win.

Only Anthony Carter and the Vikings had other ideas. Minnesota outclassed and outplayed San Francisco from the opening kickoff to the final gun, and Joe Montana was benched for poor play for, I think, the only time in his Hall of Fame career. If you watched this game live, like I did, it was a mixture of joy and disbelief at how easily the Vikings steamrolled this juggernaut, in their stadium, in the playoffs. It’s probably one of the 3-4 signature wins in franchise history.

Here, enjoy this Antony Carter-centric game recap:

If you would like to watch the entire game (and why wouldn’t you), go ahead and waste away your work day by clicking right here. Also, those old road uniforms were fantastic.

Week three, 2009: Until the Vikings win the Super Bowl, 2009 will always be my favorite overall season. It was the first time my Dad and I got to watch all the games together since I was a kid in the 1970’s, and they signed Brett Favre and all the hoopla that came with that. Dad and I were all in, too. I bought Favre jerseys for the both of us, and we had a hoot watching this team that year.

Although Minnesota started out 2-0, the first two games that Favre played as a Viking were fairly pedestrian. He had a total of 265 yards of passing, and the offensive focal point the first two weeks was Adrian Peterson. But in week three, the Vikings were 80 yards away from a game winning TD and had no timeouts with only 1:29 on the clock:

Iconic moment from an iconic player. After that game, My Dad, in his low key style, looked at me and said ‘I think we might have something special here, son.’

I didn’t hear him at first as I was hootin’ and hollerin’ like a moron. Whew, what a lot of good memories. Those uniforms were terrible, by the way.

The Bad:

So we’ve talked about the good in this rivalry, but there has also been some bad, particularly in the 1980’s. Although there isn’t a historic rivalry between these two clubs, you could argue they had one for a brief period of time in the mid 80’s, after the 1985 upset and ‘87 playoff game. But this brief rivalry started to turn sour for the Vikings during a week week nine game in the 1988 season.

Steve Young run. The teams both entered the game at 5-3, and were both considered to be on track for the playoffs. Minnesota held a 4th quarter lead, and then Steve Young broke 324 tackles enroute to a 49 yard touchdown run that has become, arguably, the defining play in his Hall of Fame career, and San Francisco won that game 24-21. No video of that run survives that I am aware of, because of course I would post it if it did...

Two bad playoff losses in 1988 and 1989. After that loss, though, the Vikings peeled off five straight wins, finished 11-5, and secured a Wild Card spot in the playoffs (the Bears were 12-4 and won the NFC Central). They beat the Rams 28-17 in the playoffs...and then went in to San Francisco and got dominated in the post season two years in a row. In 1988 they fell behind 21-3 at halftime, and Roger Craig iced the game with two fourth quarter TD runs. 1989 was even worse, as Minnesota looked like hammered garbage from the opening kickoff enroute to a 41-13 drubbing. Sadly no videos of those games exist anywhere on the Internet, either. Weird...

The Ugly:

Although you could argue those playoff losses were ugly, there are two games that come immediately to mind here that make me just go ‘good God what an embarrassment’.

Week 15, 1984 season. 49ers 51, Vikings 7. The reason I remember this game so vividly is that it was the only Vikings game I saw on TV all year. I had moved to Columbus, OH., and back in those days we didn’t have the Sunday Ticket, or Internet, etc. Yeah, the Vikings were bad, but it was the Vikings! On TV! Woo hoo!! My Dad and I went down to the basement and settled in...and it was horrible. Midway through the third quarter Dad got up and said he was done with that game, but for some reason, I watched until the end. Because I am a masochist, apparently.

The whole team quit, except Scott Studwell, who was flying around making plays after the game had long been decided. At least Les Steckel got fired at the end of that season and Bud Grant returned, so there was a silver lining, I guess. As far as I know, there really ISN’T any video of this. And we can all be thankful for that.

Week one, 2015 season. 49ers 20, Vikings 3. This might have been one of the most disappointing Vikings games I’ve ever watched...which is really saying something when talking about the history of this franchise. There was a fair amount of hype for the Vikings entering 2015, and for good reason. Adrian Peterson was back, Teddy Bridgewater looked to build on a promising rookie season and had a looked sharp in the preseason, Minnesota traded for Mike Wallace for Teddy to throw to, and the defense was really taking shape in Mike Zimmer’s second year. There were a lot of folks around here thinking the VIkings were a playoff team and could even end Green Bay’s dominance of winning the division, and a 49ers team that had gone in to rebuilding mode under Jim Tomsula would be an easy week one target.

LOL yeah right. Carlos Hyde clowned the Vikings defense most of the night enroute to 168 yards rushing, Jim Tomsula...Jim Tomsula...completely outcoached Mike Zimmer, and the Vikings offensive line let us know they were going to be a hot mess for the next two seasons STARTING RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Minnesota was able to right the ship and win the division, though, and the 49ers would struggle to a 5-11 season...which in retrospect makes that game all the more ugly as we look back on it.

So for a team that really isn’t considered a rival for the Vikings, there’s still a really interesting history there.