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Almost Glory: The 1987 Vikings

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When it comes to the Vikings over the last 50+ seasons, they have a long history of winning, from the late 1960's to the the late 1970's and into the early 1980's, then again from the late 1980's to the late 1990's. As a matter of fact. from 1968 to 1982 (15 seasons), the Vikings won 12 division championships. From 1987 to 2000, they won 11 division championships in 14 seasons. If my math is correct, that's 23 division titles in 29 years. THAT is winning. Since their last Super Bowl appearance after the 1976 season, the Vikings have been to the playoffs a total of 19 times, and reached the NFC Championship Game 5 times (1977, 1987, 1998, 2000 and 2009), with nary a Super Bowl appearance since then.

The 1977, 1998, 2000 and 2009 teams were destined to participate in the NFC Championship games after the season they had, but the 1987 team was a little different. After starting out 2-0, the NFL players decided to go on strike for the 2nd time in 6 seasons. But instead of canceling games until the strike was over (like they did in 1982), the NFL decided to play the games with "replacement players". That meant every team had to put together a collection of rejects from the NFL, college players never drafted or signed, former college players whose dream of the NFL ended in 9-5 jobs, and other odds-and-ends. For instance, the Vikings' starting QB for the 3 replacement games that year (games 3-5) was a former NFL, WFL (World Football League) and CFL player by the name of Tony Adams, who was 37 at the time.

After the three "replacement"games, the Vikings sat at 2-3. However, they turned things around by winning five of their next six games, putting them at 7-4 with three straight division games and a game at home against Washing ton finish out the season. The team had struggled offensively for most of the season - Wade Wilson played part of the season at QB, with Tommy Kramer subbing for a few games. Wilson lead the team with these stats: 140-264, 2103 yards passing, 14 TDs and 13 INTs. Darrin Nelson was the leading rusher with 131 carries for 642 yards, despite only playing in 10 of the 15 games. Leading receiver Anthony Carter had 38 catches for 922 yards (an astounding 24.3 yards-per-catch) and 7 TDs. TE Steve Jordan had 35 catches for 490 yards.

In the last four games of the regular season, the team went 1-3, ruining what had been - up to that point - a season of promise. The media were all over the team for "backing into the playoffs", and the consensus among NFL scribes and experts that the Vikings were going to be a one-and done team. As a matter-of-fact, the Vikings would be facing the 12-3 New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. The Saints had finished the season on a 9-0 tear, and their offense scored 422 points, 2nd-most in the NFL that year. Their defense gave up the 5th-fewest points in the league, and the Saints came into the game as a 6.5 point favorite. As the game started, the Saints drew first blood with a TD pass.

From then on, it was all Vikings.

In the first half alone, they scored 31 points, taking it to the Saints in their own building and embarrassing them by a final score of 44-10. The Purple had outgained the Saints 417 yards to 149. It wasn't even close.

The next week, the Vikings went into a game with the San Francisco 49'ers, who ended the regular season as the best team in the league. The 49'ers scored 459 points (highest in the league), gave up 253 (3rd lowest), and outscored their opponents by and average of 30-17, tops in the league.

Once again, though the Vikings were heavy underdogs (11.0 points to the 49'ers), they came together as a team and completely shocked San Francisco and the rest of the league by winning 36-24. It wasn't even that close. The Vikings had knocked the 49'ers HOF QB Joe Montana out of the game in the first half, and the score was 20-3 at halftime. By the end of the game, Vikings WR Anthony Carter was the game MVP with 10 catches for 227 yards and 1 rushing attempt for 30 yards. It was a clear and convincing 36-24 victory for the Vikings, who now were poised on the brink of their 5th Super Bowl.

The following Sunday, the Vikings took on the Washington Redskins, who had finished the season 11-4, and had beaten a solid Bears team the week before 21-17. Though it was a hard fought game, things were just not meant to be for the Vikings. The Redskins were the better team, defeating Minnesota 17-10. The Vikings famously had a last-ditch effort to tie the game in the last minute, but a pass from Wade Wilson to Darrin Nelson fell just short at the Washington goal-line. The Redskins defense was just too much for the Vikings, sacking Vikings QB Wilson 8 times during the game.

Unfortunately, the Vikings went 11 more years before reaching the NFC Championship game (1998), and we all know how THAT turned out.

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