In part one of this series, we explored the zenith of the tragic 1998 season and the subsequent effects it had throughout the end of the Dennis Green era.
“41-donut” was the last NFC championship game the Vikings would appear in for 10 years, and the end of yet another ‘shoulda-coulda-woulda’ era of Vikings football.
If the 2000 season was the death of the Minnesota Vikings as we knew them, what came next?
Welcome, Vikings fans. . .to purgatory.
(Author’s note, in part one, the ski area my family was watching the game at during the ‘98 Falcons loss was also called Purgatory. Haha. Ha. Oh no.)
2000’s 11-5 record would turn completely inside out the following season, and although the Vikings wouldn’t finish a season worse until 2011, the team became mired in the quagmire of missing the playoffs for 6 out of the next seven years.
Never finishing better than 8-8, the team would also never be bad enough to gain a top-6 pick in that time.
The best of those picks would be #7 Bryant McKinnie in 2002, #9 Kevin Williams in 2003, and #17 Chad Greenway in 2006.
The Vikings however took some misses in these drafts, passing on the likes of Ed Reed, Troy Palamalu, and DeMarcus Ware. Busts included DE Kenechi Udeze (11 sacks in 51 games as a #20 pick) and WR Troy Williamson (a pick received for Randy Moss at #7 who only caught 4 career TD passes).
In other words, garden variety draft incompetence. What follows is a type of happening that just does not happen to normal franchises.
The Vikings, in the first round of the 2003 draft, suffered the particular embarrassment of missing their first pick and sliding back two spots with nothing gained. Hell broke loose as Chris Berman had his hands in his head on the ESPN broadcast and the team was ridiculed by ex-head coach Dennis Green.
While it may or may not be the NFL’s fault, as a trade with Baltimore (Minnesota’s #7 overall for the #10, a fourth round, and sixth-round pick) was submitted via phone by the Vikings, the Ravens never got the league to pick up (apparently hearing a busy tone).
(Author’s Note: Fittingly, in 2011, the Ravens would see themselves slide back a pick in similar circumstances)
The real-time, nationally televised farce was broadcast for the entire country to see. The Vikings did get their man, Kevin ‘Should Be in the Hall’ Williams, but by God it was a disaster.
If the NFL Draft is the beginning of each season, like it is for the rookies who enter the league, the missed pick debacle would only be surpassed by the ending of the 2003 season.
Of course, we are talking about December 28th, 2003. Week 17, Tempe, AZ.
It has been another rollercoaster year for the Vikings. Minnesota started the season 7-0. Then, it all stopped.
The last 5 games would see the Vikings go W,L,W,L,W. One could not put a finger on this team. All the while, the Packers were gaining ground. A loss here would send the division to their most hated rivals.
After repeated chances to gain the necessary one win it would take to clinch the division, it is all going to come down to the last chance to wrap it up, and wash away the stink of the last 5 years.
Against the bottom feeding, 3-12, Arizona Cardinals. No other team had been worse over the last decade. Pundits had picked them to go 0-16.
It was a game that shouldn't have been as close as it was. The Vikings started the game by going 126 yards on their first two drives with zero points to show for it.
The Cardinals would be up 6-0 at half, to the detriment of the Vikings and Arizona’s draft position. After the half, the Vikings scored 14 straight, and made the lead 11 with 7 minutes to play.
All was normal.
Arizona would use 5 minutes to go down the field to the 1 yard line, seemingly throwing clock management out the window. The Cardinals would score on a horrific defensive series, although the resulting 2-point conversion would be stopped.
Then, the Cardinals recovered their first (and only) onside kick of that season (in 2023, teams went 3 for 56 on onside kick conversions).
There was dread. There was agony. And on the next play, there was a 30-yard phantom PI call against the Vikings.
Enter Josh McCown, err, Kevin Williams, who was gifted to the Vikings despite their draft-day debacle. A Williams sack would push the McCown back 7 yards. Another Williams assisted sack and fumble would push the Cardinals back another 11 yards.
17-12 Vikings. It is 4th and 24.
The seven seconds left of the Arizona Cardinals’ season are ticking down. The Vikings, well, they are just as far away from their first playoff appearance since 2000.
With time running down, game on the line, it’s “McCown, to the end zone, IT’S CAUGHT, Nathan Poole has a touchdown! THE PACKERS WIN THE NFC NORTH!”
It is unbelievably fitting that the Fox broadcast’s call of the final play never mentioned the two teams on the field, instead mentioning the last thing any Minnesota fan wanted to hear.
“THERE ARE VIKINGS CRYING ON THE FIELD” yelled Paul Allen.
The end of the 2003 season was, in every sense, pure damnation.
In Dante Alighieri’s historical epic ‘The Divine Comedy’, there are said to be 9 levels of hell. The first level is called ‘Limbo’.
‘Limbo’ comes from the latin word limbus - ‘edge, or boundary’ - which for ‘Divine Comedy’, means... The boundary of hell.
In Part 3, we will continue the Vikings’ descent into the damned.