Bench Brilliance: The Vikings Legacy of Stand-In Stars

Joshua Dobbs has become the feel good story of the NFL. His sudden and unlikely rise to becoming the Viking starting quarterback - only days after being traded to the team and leading them to shocking wins - seems like something from a Hollywood movie. As someone posted in a comment section not long after Dobbs' second win, "Josh Dobbs. Rhymes with Roy Hobbs" If you're unfamiliar with who Roy Hobbs is, he was the lead character in the Robert Redford baseball film, "The Natural." It's a gem of a film and I suggest you watch it if you've never seen it. Roy Hobbs seemingly comes out of nowhere and leads the struggling New York Knights to a long sought after pennant.

As you look around the NFL, teams that lose their star quarterback during the season don't fair well. I just heard that the Bengals odds of making the Super Bowl were 16-1, but after Joe Burrows went down for the season, they are now 100-1. But for some odd reason, Minnesota has a long history of doing some pretty amazing things after their starter goes down. In fact, it's pretty remarkable.

In 1975, Fran Tarkenton was voted the league MVP. He was the best quarterback in the league for a good share of the the 1970s. In 1977 Tarkenton was leading the Vikings to a 5-3 record when he broke his leg in game nine. Bob Lee, a 1968 Viking 17th round draft pick, took over and guided the team to 9-5 record and the Central division title. In the playoffs, they beat the Rams in the famous Mud Bowl and went on to the NFC championship game before finally losing to the Cowboys.

Ten years later in 1987, Tommy Kramer was the QB. The previous season he'd been the top-rated quarterback in the National Football League and was the Pro Bowl starter. The Vikings made the playoffs in '87 and during their first playoff game against the favored Saints, Kramer was injured and Wade Wilson entered the game. They walloped the Saints 44-10. In the next game against the heavily favored 49ers and Joe Montana, they destroyed San Fran 36-24, and the score makes it look closer than it was. In the NFC championship game, a dropped pass on the goal line by Darrin Nelson at the end of the game was the only thing that prevented the Vikings from tying the game and a possible trip back to the Super Bowl.

Again, ten years after that in 1997, the Vikings had picked up Randall Cunningham, who hadn't even played in 1996. Dennis Green found him cutting tile and talked him into becoming a backup for the Vikings. When Brad Johnson went down with an ankle injury, Cunningham took over and led the team to the playoffs against the Giants. Losing 22-13 with only 90 seconds left, Cunningham led the Vikings to a 23-22 playoff win. They lost to the 49ers the following week. But the 1998 season was one for the record books as Cunningham, Smith, Moss, Carter and Reed dominated pretty much everyone. Unfortunately, the magic died in the NFC championship game against the Falcons.

20 years later in 2017, starter Sam Bradford's knees just couldn't hold up any longer and he was replaced in game two by journeyman Case Keenum. Keenum had bounced around between the Texans and the Rams and no one expected much from him. Much like in 2023, there was a lot of talk of tanking and drafting a QB in the next draft. But the team caught fire with Keenum and he led them to a shocking 13-3 record and a first round bye in the playoffs. The Vikings hosted the Saints and with only 10 seconds left on the clock, Keenum and Diggs connected in the now legendary "Minnesota Miracle" against the New Orleans to win the game 29-24. But Zimmer never warmed to Keenum and let him sign with the Broncos the following season.

So it seems that unlike other NFL teams, for some odd reason, Minnesota always seems to excel when their starter goes down. Can they do it again? Will Dobbs be that backup who leads the Vikings to a Super Bowl? The odds are against it.

But then again, Dobbs does rhyme with Hobbs....

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