After a bit of a hiatus, we are back with the Curse of 1998, Part 5.
After the nascent Brad Childress years, the Minnesota Vikings had begun to turn the ship around after 5 consecutive seasons middling around the .500 mark with only one playoff appearance (after miraculously snagging a wildcard spot at 8-8).
2007 was the year the Vikings started to really come back into their own, almost exclusively on the back of the bewildering, record-setting rookie season of Adrian Peterson.
After nearly a half-decade of not really having a central figurehead in the locker room, Peterson gave the team life, despite the authoritarian rule of Childress.
In 2008, Peterson would get company. Jared Allen would be brought in by the Vikings, and his impact was as immense as it was immediate.
The Texan, fresh off his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro first-team appearance with Kansas City, immediately changed the defensive side of the ball. It was a trade that saw a few high draft picks (that ended up being duds) go to KC in exchange for a future Hall of Famer.
Allen was a monster, gobbling up sacks at an alarming rate. Allen would go on to complete his 6 years in purple never going below 11 sacks in a season.
Couple Allen with the prime of Chad Greenway and a star-studded defensive line, and things were rapidly taking shape to turn the Vikings into serious contenders.
A 10-6 season saw the Vikings claim the NFC North for the first time in 8 years. But a painful home loss (which featured a back-breaking 71-yard 4th-quarter Donavan McNabb TD toss) to Philadelphia would see the Vikings out at the first round.
Despite the loss, the general consensus was that the Vikings had solid talent all around the team, except at the critical position of Quarterback.
Many knew that if there was a solid field general, this was a team that was primed for a deep playoff run, and in 2009, the Vikings sold their soul to get him.
Enter, Brett Favre.
The Mississippian had spent 16 years absolutely tormenting the Vikings with the Green Bay Packers, first in the three years preceding 1998 and throughout most of the 2002-2007 years. He had racked up 3 MVP seasons and a Super Bowl while doing so.
He was everything the Minnesota faithful hated for so many years of his career, until he donned the purple and gold.
I vividly remember being at Favre’s first Vikings appearance. It was a preseason game vs the Chiefs at the Metrodome, and the place was wall-to-wall packed. Everyone knew Favre, by now showing his age, would get little more than a run-out, but that didn’t matter. It was electric.
As the team started on a 6-0 run, the franchise became a national media circus. EVERYONE was hopping on the bandwagon of a team that seemed to check all the boxes, with the stirring narrative of ‘rival-turned-savior’ to boot.
Childress squeezed every last drop of success out of Favre, who had the best year of his career with 33 TDs, 7 picks (a career-low), a 68.4 completion percentage (career-high), and a 107.2 QBR (career-high).
Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson anchored the offensive line. Adrian Peterson was complimented on the ground by Chester Taylor. Favre was supported through the air by wide receivers Sydney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Bernard Berrian, and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
The defense was also very good with Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Ray Edwards, Ben Leber, Greenway, E.J. Henderson (at least in the regular season), Cedric Griffin, and Antoine Winfield.
The team would go on to sweep its season series with the Packers for the first time since 2005 en route to an electric 11-2 record with 4 games to play. The Vikings would finish the regular season 2nd in points for (470) while pairing the offense with a respectable 10th-ranked defense (312 points allowed).
Special teams’ play was buoyed by a career-best Ryan Longwell going 54/55 on extra points and 26/28 on FGs. Harvin returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns as well, the longest being 101 yards.
But, and there has always been a ‘but’ with the Vikings, at what cost did this success come at?
Vikings fans should have seen it coming. Maybe they did.
In a chilling end to the season, the Vikes dropped 3 out of their last 4, including losses to the 8-8 Carolina Panthers (by 19 points, mind you) and a 36-30 OT loss to the 7-9 Bears.
While the first round of the playoffs offered hope in the form of a 34-3 dismantling of Dallas, it was only false optimism.
The Vikings had sold their soul for Favre and, well, Favre repaid them in kind.
The 2009 season turned out to be a deal with the Devil for both parties, and on the evening of January 24th, 2010, Satan came knocking out of Dante’s 7th layer of hell, Violence, demanding payment at the cruelest time.
We all know what happened. There is no need to beat the dead horse named Brett Favre. After the game, he was a thoroughly broken man.
The man himself stated he “choked” on the infamous Tracy Porter interception, but this was the oldest player to ever start a playoff game at 40 years, and he was beat to hell by Saints players (literally) out for blood.
There is definitely blame to be assigned, but as I write this, it is hard to put it on Favre and the plethora of injuries he was playing through to finish this game, which he called the most “violent” of his career.
The turnovers certainly didn’t help, but it is hard not to wonder what would have happened if Favre wasn’t getting assaulted on the field. The pictures of what Favre was playing through are horrific.
I wish I had a nickel for the number of times Joe Buck notes a big hit on Favre in the highlights.
Favre cried after the game in his wife’s arms, either in pain or in dejection, nobody can know for sure. Favre had nothing left to give to the game that made him an idol.
And, with the Vikings having gone for broke, that was the end of that. All that was left was a hollow victory three years later when multiple members of the Saints organization were suspended and heavily fined by the league for the ‘Bounty-Gate’ scandal.
The subsequent nosedive was profound for the Vikes, who would go on to start another 7-year skid without a playoff win. Only two of those teams would have a winning record.
Stay tuned for Part 6 of 7, coming soon to Daily Norseman.