clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Minnesota Vikings v Pittsburgh Steelers
Fred Smoot celebrates a Victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006.
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The Curse of 1998: Part 3

The Love Boat, Whizzinator, Super Bowl Tickets, and the continued descent into hell

In Part 2, we explored how the Minnesota Vikings truly began their descent into the NFL’s version of Dante’s Inferno, crossing into Limbo with 2003’s tragic season-ending loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

In the post-2000 decline, the 2003 season was the best one yet.

That slow but steady progress would continue. A 5-1 start to 2004 had fans once again cautiously optimistic about the season, although none of these wins would come against that season’s future playoff teams.

The 5-1 start would, however, be the peak of the regular season. Going 3-7 over their last 8 games (a feat that mirrored the last 10 games of 2003, mind you) had fans, again, up in arms. It was the worst slide into the postseason of any team in NFL history.

But, unlike the year prior, they were going to the playoffs. The playoffs.

With an 8-8 record.

That season, amazingly, the Vikings were not alone in becoming the first team to make the playoffs with a .500 or worse record. The St. Louis Rams, rebuilding after The Greatest Show On Turf, accompanied the Vikings in this dubious honor.

Also amazingly, both teams would win their Wildcard-round games, the first .500 teams to do so. The Seahawks would fall to the Rams, and the Vikings, after losing to them twice, beat the Packers in Brett Favre’s worst-ever playoff game.

Favre threw 4 picks (to only 1 TD), and was sacked twice in 21-degree weather. While the Vikings jumped out to a 17-0 lead, Green Bay would bring the game back to 17-10, but the Vikings would pull away late by the score of 31-17.

Dante Culpepper, in his final playoff win, passed for 4 TD’s, 0 picks, 284 yards.

We’ll stop here long enough to remember the stunning full moon on display, courtesy of Randy Moss’s last score of the night, which would cost the receiver $10k in “Straight Cash, homie”.

It was a truly iconic celebration, one that not only embodied Moss’ personality at the time, but also the Vikings' attitude towards the rest of the league... They were the bad boys of the NFL.

Culpepper was also historically great for the Vikings in 2004, setting the franchise record in passing TDs, leading the league in passing yards (4,717), and breaking Dan Marino’s league record of rushing+passing yards (5,123).

But in this era of NFL football, the bad boys always got what was coming to them. A trip to Philadelphia in the Divisional round made sure of that sentiment with a 27-14 loss.

The Patriots, Colts, and Giants exemplified the 2003-2008 identity of Super Bowl winners with their clean-cut quarterbacks and all-American muscle.

These Vikings were not that.

Although Moss was traded in March of 2005, the identity remained.

On October 6th, 2005, after a 3-1 start and on the bye, the Vikings entered the second hell of Inferno, Lust.

The infamous Vikings Love Boat scandal subsequently rocked not only the franchise and Twin Cities, but became national news. It was a comical, yet serious farce that would become a major turning point for the franchise.

Smoot chartered 2 boats, which would end up carrying an alleged 90 people (at least), including up to 30 Vikings.

The resulting party would, once again allegedly, be a hodgepodge of alcohol, drugs, and sexual acts. There were also reports that staffed crew members were offered money for sex and prostitutes were flown in.

Fred Smoot and Bryan McKinnie entered guilty pleas from the resulting charges of disorderly conduct and public nuisance on a watercraft. Each received $1,000 in fines and 48 hours of community service.

Chicago Bears Fan, Yacht Party Scandal
A Bears fan holds up a sign ridiculing the Vikings in October of 2005
Getty Images

After his successful prosecution, Steve Tallen stated that “hopefully, next year’s party will be at the children’s hospital.”

Moe Williams would have his charge of disorderly conduct go to court, where a jury found him guilty of disorderly conduct. Williams was fined $3,000 and sentenced to do 30 hours of community service that benefited women or children.

Charges against Dante Culpepper, the highest profile player on the Vikings post-Moss, would be dropped.

More than legal ramifications, however, the Love Boat would be the last and certainly foremost in the trio of scandals the Vikings would face in 2005.

After the scandal, the Vikings would drop 2 out of the next 3 (with Smoot getting embarrassed by Carolina’s Steve Smith in a humorous rowing-the-boat TD celebration). It was also Culpepper’s last ever game as a Viking, with 3 of his 4 major knee ligaments being torn, shredding his knee.

Despite finishing the year 9-7, the improved record did not result in a return to the playoffs.

Representing the third circle of Inferno, Gluttony, Onterrio Smith took a trip to the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport with something peculiar in his possession, the infamous Whizzinator.

Smith had put up decent-but-not-great form for the Vikings, with yds/carry rates of 5.4 in 2003 and 4.4 in 2004. However, Smith’s NFL career would be marred by substance-abuse violations per NFL policy. He picked up his second offense in 2004, missing 4 games.

While the NFL could not suspend him for the device, they did for a third violation which resulted in a year-long suspension.

Smith would never suit up for the Vikings again after the suspension, and show up 20 pounds overweight for Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp in 2006, never playing for them either.

The last scandal the Vikings would endure in 2005 was that of Head Coach Mike Tice’s Super Bowl Ticket Scalping Scandal, representing the 4th circle of hell, Avarice, or Greed.

Even though the practice had gone on around the NFL quietly for years, Tice was the first head coach involved in orchestrating the practice. That drew particular ire from league authorities, resulting in a mammoth $100,000 fine later that offseason.

It remains the highest fine ever for a Head Coach that does not hold GM powers or title.

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings
Mike Tice walks off the Metrodome turf for the final time after the end of the 2005 season. Allegedly, Zigi Wilf almost fired him moments after this photo was taken.

Moving On

New owner Zigi Wilf, who led a group in the purchase of the franchise in February 2005 (prior to the 2005 season), came down hard on the team in the wake of the top-to-bottom loss of control in the organization.

In the wake of the Love Boat scandal, Wilf issued a comprehensive and ruthless 77-page code of conduct for players, coaches, and other personnel.

In the aftermath of the season, fresh off an 8-3 last 11 games, Mike Tice was also fired (almost before he could even get back to the locker room after the final game of the season.

Many speculate that it wasn’t the on-field performances that did him in, although it can be argued that his team’s performances did make him expendable. It was ultimately the lack of discipline that would sever Tice, and the Vikings’ new ownership wanted a fresh slate.

The proof would be found in Tice’s subsequent replacement, Brad Childress, the quintessential anti-Tice. Dull, but ultimately efficient, Childress’s hire would go on to represent a new era in Minnesota.

Stay tuned for Part 4, coming soon.

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings fall to 0-3 – Is Kirk Cousins or Kevin O’Connell to Blame?

Vikings’ Hole Gets Deeper with Loss to Chargers

Minnesota Vikings News

Opening odds: Vikings open as slight favorite in battle of winless teams