One of my most cherished rabbit holes on the ‘ole youtube is that of SB Nation’s Jon Bois. I’m sure many of you share this admiration.
Being highly interested in sports (of all kinds) I also harbored a (soon to be explored) love of journalism in all its flavors and discovered his earliest works which were ‘Pretty Good’.
For those that haven’t seen any of this remarkable work, he is a purveyor of the weird, whacky, and whimsical, primarily focusing on the MLB, NBA, and of course, NFL.
As a journalist, the most impressive aspect of Bois’ work was and is his unquestionable sourcing prowess.
Never relying on current interviews, ‘Pretty Good’ and its successor ‘Dorktown’ (with Alex Rubenstein) illustrate stories with ungodly amounts of newspaper clippings and sports database-sourced statistics with a unique research prowess.
While none of this content has exclusively focused on the Minnesota Vikings, there have been references here and there.
There is a bevy of remarkable stats that pertained to the Minnesota Vikings of ‘98:
The first team ever to score at least 24 points in every game of the season, the first team ever to score more than 550 points in a season, and a point differential of +260 (only two teams, the ‘99 Rams and ‘07 Patriots, have exceeded that since).
I couldn’t turn my eyes away, even though a billboard couldn’t have told me what was coming up more clearly.
I’m not going to go over the game, as we all know what happened.
Bois described the loss for Minnesota as emphatically “tragic”, and classified the Vikings as “a story for another day.”
I hold out hope that that day comes soon, and in the following series, I will explain why that kick changed everything not only for the Vikings but also for the next half of a century in major professional sports in Minnesota.
At the moment of that game, my family and I were on a ski trip in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I was 2 ½ years old, incapable of comprehending what just transpired.
I would come to learn that my family was given unsolicited condolences while grocery shopping, in southwestern Colorado mind you, during the days that followed.
They came home to a community in northern Minnesota that was in the throes of “a collective depression” as my mother put it. Blank stares, shrugs, and the agony of one of the most promising seasons in NFL history ripped away from an already-tortured fanbase.
There was no recovery from that loss, both as a team and on the individual level.
Sure, the Vikings would put in respectable seasons of 10-6 and 11-5 in the next two years, but everyone knew 1998 was the fatal blow to that regime.
It would be a slow death, until a sudden flatline.
‘98 would be the high point of QB Randall Cunningham’s career as well, the only season in which one of the NFL’s all-time best passing and rushing QBs won more than 11 games.
After that season, Cunningham would go on to make only 11 more starts, winning only 5 for Minnesota, Dallas, and Baltimore.
Randy Moss, well, his rookie year set a bar that he would never surpass again in his career at 19.0 yards per reception.
‘The freak’ would also exceed that year’s 17 touchdown receptions only once (Moss did tie that mark in 2003), with the best quarterback in the history of the NFL throwing him 23 in Moss’ 2007 season in New England.
That was also the only year where Moss’ team finished with a regular season record surpassing that of the ‘98 Vikings, a perfect 16-0 in regular season play.
Moss, Cunningham, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, John Randle, Randal McDaniel, Dennis Green, Gary Anderson. All of these all-time greats (and many others) from the ‘98 Vikings squad would never win a Super Bowl. Ever. In any uniform.
After 1998, the 2000 regular season was the first in which many fans viewed the season as another shot at doing something special.
After scoring 397 points and racking up almost 6,000 total yards, the offense was firing on all cylinders. The defense, admittedly, was not good, with 371 points allowed and 5,701 yards surrendered, but on the whole, the offense was picking up the defense’s slack and then some.
A divisional-round dismantling of the New Orleans Saints, 34-14, quelled fears brought on by entering the playoffs on a 3-game slide.
The Vikings were favored by 1 point, on the road, to win the game, touting much of the same core of ‘98 (including 1,000+-yard receivers Moss and Carter, plus 1,500-yard rusher Smith).
It’s fair to say there was a palpable air of redemption for ‘98’s 2000 NFC Championship game as the Vikings were one game away from the Super Bowl.
What it ended up being, was… Damnation.
The 34-0 nothing halftime lead remains the largest margin in an NFC Championship game ever when entering the break. The Vikings were down 14-0 before QB Daunte Culpepper even took the field.
By the time the contest (if one can call a 41-0 loss that) was over, Giants co-owner Wellington Mara proclaimed after the game “Today, they’ll say we were the worst team to ever win the NFC championship.”
Of the interesting tidbits from the game, eventual Vikings’ supervillain Sean Payton (the Giants’ offensive coordinator at the time) got his first major lick in at Minnesota, drawing up an “Air Raid” gameplan that demolished Minnesota’s lackluster defense.
A betting underdog has never won by more regardless of conference in the postseason.
It was also league-leading rusher Robert Smith’s last-ever game as he retired after the season. This loss fundamentally broke one of the best to ever do it in a Vikings uniform.
The Giants would lose the Super Bowl, like the ‘98 Falcons, in a game that was never close. In the 34-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Giants’ only score came while being down 17 points in the 3rd. The Giants’ offense never scored in that game.
Head Coach Dennis Green was kept on for another 15 games after that 2000 season, but it was clear:
If 1998 was the murder of the late 90’s Minnesota Vikings, 2000 was the funeral.
Welcome to the curse of 1998.