Training Camp is imminent. Most Vikings fans are wrought with uncertainty. It’s hard to properly interpret the hot start in 2016, the 3-8 breakdown, all of the injuries, and the effect of 2017’s offseason moves.
Luckily, (or maybe, unfortunately) we have a boatload of history to rely on. A 10 year segment of Vikings football features many failures. It’s tough, but below I’ll try to use these examples for good. What can we learn from the past disasters? Let’s get to it
1997 Collapse: 8-2 Start, 1-5 Finish, 15-1 Record in 1998
The 1997 Vikings were very good. They excited with an offensive brand of football. Quarterback Brad Johnson distributed the ball to multiple weapons, including Robert Smith, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed. Unfortunately, a five game losing streak shocked us and sunk the season. The team snuck into the postseason, delivering an epic playoff win in New York on Wildcard Weekend. They couldn’t get by Steve Young and the 49ers a week later.
With Denny Green’s solid coaching staff in place. The Vikings went all in for 1998. Randall Cunningham supplanted Johnson. On defense they added Jimmy Hitchcock while Dwayne Rudd grew into a starting role. Kicker Gary Anderson also joined the team. Then the Vikings drafted Randy Moss and Matt Birk. Birk didn’t make an immediate impact, but Moss surely did. In 1998 the Vikings fielded the best offense we’ve ever seen. Unstoppable. In one year they turned from an underachieving squad into a colossus. A true Super Bowl contender.
2001 Collapse: 3-3 Start, 2-8 Finish, 6-10 Record in 2002.
A bad 2001 squad fell apart, losing six of their last seven after Thanksgiving. Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, and Cris Carter made for a strong passing attack, but a lackluster run game couldn’t finish drives. An awful defense also hurt. The team fired Dennis Green and promoted Mike Tice for 2002. In the offseason the Vikings let Carter and Robert Griffith walk. Ed McDaniel and Orlando Thomas retired. Moe Williams came back from Baltimore, but they only added Bryant McKinnie to a struggling OL.
They unfortunately flopped again in 2002. Four losses to start the year combined with four at the end of 2001 made for eight straight defeats. Tice almost righted the ship afterwards. Michael Bennett broke out to lead the best rushing attack in the NFL. They couldn’t overcome all the talent that left, however. This team resembled the 2001 team; great offense and terrible defense. It made for some fun, high scoring games that left fans grimacing. Thankfully, the Vikings won three straight to end the season.
2003 Collapse: 6-0 Start, 3-7 Finish, 8-8 Record in 2004.
The 2003 team dominated early in the season, but Mike Tice’s squad infamously folded. Fans hoped for a season-saving playoff berth before Nate Poole caught a 28 yard touchdown pass to oust the Vikings. That preceded a relatively quiet offseason roster-wise. The Vikings added Antoine Winfield, Morten Anderson, and Darren Bennett. The draft haul included Kenechi Udeze and Mewelde Moore.
In 2004, the similar roster brought similar results. The Vikings sprang to 5-1 going 3-7 down the stretch again. After backing into the playoffs, the team did achieve an epic playoff victory in Green Bay. They trounced the hated Packers in the famous “Let Your Hair Down” and “Disgusting Act” game. A week later Philadelphia jumped to a 14-0 lead and never looked back.
2004 Collapse: 5-1 Start, 3-7 Finish, 9-7 Record in 2005.
Heading into 2005 Red McCombs sold the team to Zygi Wilf, but not before trading Randy Moss to Oakland for Napolean Harris. Brad Johnson returned to Minnesota to backup Daunte Culpepper too. The team added Darren Sharper, Fred Smoot, Troy Williamson, and Erasmus James. I groaned while typing that last sentence. On top of all that, Matt Birk missed the entire season due to injury.
The Vikings made 2005 a mirror of 2004. They stumbled in their first seven games, winning only two of them. Then the team reeled off six straight wins after Brad took over for Daunte. Minnesota improved to 9-7, didn’t qualify for the playoffs. Losing Moss and Culpepper struggling really hurt the offensive prowess that previously powered them. By the end of 2005 the Vikings were good, but aging. Zygi fired Tice before he could even leave the stadium on the last Sunday of the season.
2006 Collapse: 4-2 Start, 2-8 Finish, 8-8 Record in 2007
The 2006 Vikings were mediocre outside of a stellar run defense in the hay day of the Williams Wall. In 2006, opponents simply stopped running on Minnesota. Teams continuously tested the pass defense, breaking them. A poor WR corps of Williamson, Travis Taylor, and Marcus Robinson hamstrung Brad Johnson and his game-manager style. The formula lost a lot of games, proving the 4-2 start a mirage
For 2007, Tarvaris Jackson took over for Johnson at QB. The Vikings added Adrian Peterson, Visanthe Shiancoe and Anthony Herrera. Chad Greenway and Cedric Griffin also stepped into starting roles.
They took a step in the right direction this year. Peterson became an instant hit, leading the Vikings to the best rushing attack in the NFL. The run game massively improved, but the passing attack went in the other direction. Tarvaris Jackson went through a lot of growing pains. Defensively the team remained elite in stopping the run and porous against the pass. The 2007 team started 2-5 before surging to win 6 of the next 7. Vikings fans saw awesome maturation, but they fell apart late to miss the playoffs.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius
Reviewing these seasons reveals a recurring theme. Almost all breakdowns feature an elite unit that can’t prop up the rest of the team’s weaknesses for all 16 games.
For 2017, the Vikings made a concerted effort to fix those weaknesses. Cordarelle Patterson and Captain Munnerlyn left, but those losses pale in comparison to all the additions. Mike Remmers, Riley Reiff, Datone Jones, Dalvin Cook, and Pat Elflein all should contribute in 2017. History shows that aggressive offseason moves lead to improved results after a collapse.
Believe it or not, the Viking’s past leaves me optimistic on 2017. After that type of failure, the Vikings never completely fall apart. 2016’s strengths remain and Rick Spielman addressed their weaknesses. Y’all need to get ready for a fun season!