Over the 60 years of the Minnesota Vikings existence, there have been so many moments that break our hearts. In fact, it seems to be the common thread among fans of the purple and gold. Throughout my fanhood, like many others, I have gone through immense heartbreak and have been asked the question: what is the worst of them all? Every time I answer this question, I seem to have a different answer. Whether it be an injury, a trade, or a devastating loss, we have seemingly dealt with it all.
Sometimes, ideas for an article come from the most random of places. This one, however, came from our friends at Purple Daily and SKOR North. On their Saturday episode, they took questions from their YouTube comments and one of them sparked an idea for this piece. The question was: “What are the top 5 worst moments in Vikings history?” Judd Zulgad and Declan Goff had some really good answers, but I took it in a different direction. What are the most soul-crushing ones? The ones that just took the wind out of your sails. Going down memory lane to find the toughest ones in history was not enjoyable, but it’s also important to know history so you don’t repeat it.
5-December 28, 2003 -Nate Poole Crushes Our Dreams
The 2003 season was a wild ride for the Vikings. They opened the season against all 3 opponents in the NFC North, including 2 of those on the road. The high-powered offense led by Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss beat all 3 and then won the following 3 games as well to start 6-0. Throughout the next 9 games, the Vikings went 3-6 setting themselves up for a must-win game against the Cardinals. They, along with the Green Bay Packers, were 9-6 and both played in the 3:15 timeslot in week 17. The Packers played at home against the Denver Broncos but needed a win and a Vikings loss to clinch a playoff berth. The Cardinals were a measly 3-12 and struggling with second-year quarterback Josh McCown.
Late in the 4th quarter, the Vikings were up 17-6 with just 2 minutes to go. They allowed a touchdown on 4th down with 2 minutes to go. The following onside kick was recovered by the Cardinals. They drove down and, on the last play of the game 4th and 25, Josh McCown hit Nate Poole in the corner of the endzone. This was crushing because it cost the Vikings not just a playoff berth, but a division title that went to their biggest rival. I will never forget as a 14-year-old how awful that moment was, and Paul Allen’s radio call of the play was voted the best call in NFL History by NFL Network.
4-January 10,2016-Blair Walsh Channels His Inner Florida State
The second year of the Mike Zimmer era was an excellent one. Going from a 5-10-1 season in 2013 that saw the final nail in the coffin for former first-round pick Christian Ponder to a division-winning 11-5 just 2 seasons later was a remarkable turnaround. Zimmer’s hiring as the head coach of the franchise changed everything from the culture and mentality to the play on the field. While they did lose 5 games, they were competitive and tough throughout them all. They capped off the 2015 campaign with a division-clinching victory at Lambeau Field, which was a remarkable game and gave the Vikings home field for the wild card round, which ended up making a massive difference.
That January day was a legendary one with wind chills as low as -40 degrees. For the coin toss, Bud Grant came out to midfield wearing just a golf polo, evoking memories of the legendary purple people eaters who weren’t allowed to have heaters on the sidelines.
That game was a brutal one for many reasons. A true defensive battle, the weather made a massive impact on the game. Both offenses struggled throughout with the Vikings unable to get the ball in the endzone and the Seahawks passing offense stalled out by the frigid temperatures, resulting in many turnovers. The final drive of the game was masterful by Teddy Bridgewater, carving up the Legion Of Boom with smart, calculated passes both short and up the seam. Teddy drove them all the way to the 10-yard line setting up first-team all-pro kicker in 2012 Blair Walsh for a chip shot 27-yard field goal.
Walsh had a spectacular rookie season in 2012. The 5th round pick out of Georgia, Walsh was the first kicker in NFL history to make 10 or more 50-yard field goals in a season. He was a relatively solid kicker after that incredible rookie season and was set up to send the Vikings to Carolina for the divisional round. You can blame the holder Jeff Locke for not getting the laces turned around, but missing a field goal like that is almost inconceivable unless you’re a Vikings fan, where it’s just status quo. That miss kicked off a series of events that changed the franchise forever, including Walsh’s release on November 15th, 2016. Ever since this kick, the Vikings have had 5 years of struggles in the kicking game that continue to be a major question mark going into this season.
3-August 30, 2016-Teddy Bridgewater Dislocates Knee
The 2015 season was a pleasant surprise for the Minnesota Vikings. It was never meant to be the breakout season for the team, but Mike Zimmer turned around the defense into a great unit really quickly. The success of the 2015 squad had the fans and media believing that the 2016 squad could make a Super Bowl run. Teddy Bridgewater stepped up big time in his second season, the 2015 draft class is on par with any before or after it in the last decade and they were increasingly gelling as a team each week. Bridgewater, however was the key to the 2016 team. The third season is well believed to be either the make-or-break season or the one where they finally put it all together. When you watched Teddy play in the final preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, he was in full control of the offense. He was making checks at the line of scrimmage, poised and commanded the pocket and was making crisp, accurate and strong throws to all levels of the field. He even put the Chargers on skates.
With the emerging Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen as the receivers on the outside and Adrian Peterson in the last year of his prime, the Vikings were locked, loaded and ready to go. As is the theme of this piece, it was not to be. On August 30th, 2016 around 2pm, Teddy dropped back in a routine practice rep and collapsed to the ground screaming in pain. He stepped wrong and suffered a catastrophic knee injury. He tore his ACL and fully dislocated his knee. In fact, it was so gruesome that teammates were throwing helmets and vomiting
Thankfully for Teddy, head trainer Eric Sugarman was right there, diagnosed the injury immediately, and set his leg. Without the quick action of Sugarman, there was a real chance that Teddy would have had to have his leg amputated. The injury, similar to the Blair Walsh miss, set off a series of events that the Vikings are still suffering from today. With the massive uncertainty of the long term health of Bridgewater and their only developmental quarterback Taylor Heinecke on the PUP list with torn tendons in his ankle, Rick Spielman made a trade. He acquired Sam Bradford for a 2017 first round pick and a 2018 4th round pick. Not only did Bradford not pay off for the Vikings, but the first round pick the Eagles acquired was Derek Barnett, a key rotational pass rusher that beat the Vikings in the NFC Championship game that year. After the 2017 season, Bradford and Bridgewater were let go due to the uncertainty of their knees and the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins, which has been a major point of contention for the media and fanbase. If Teddy never gets hurt, the Vikings have a really good chance at winning the Super Bowl over the next 3 seasons while Teddy is on a rookie contract.
2–January 24th, 2010-Ben Leber’s Phantom Pass Interference
The 2009 season will forever be known as the year where we took a Green Bay Packers Hall Of Famer and had him take our team to new heights. From the week 3 miracle win against the 49ers with the Greg Lewis touchdown pass to the interception at the end of regulation to Tracy Porter, the entire season was the epitome of Brett Favre. While we have been mad and frustrated with Favre making that fateful pass after the abysmal 12 men in the huddle penalty, it’s difficult to really blame Favre because his style of play is what got the team to the game.
While it felt like some that the Tracy Porter interception (which was the 5th turnover of the game, but that’s another story), the moment it felt like the game was over was the awful pass interference call on Ben Leber in overtime. Right after converting a 4th and inches, the Saints dialed up a play-action wheel route to the H-Back David Thomas. Leber was in a trail technique and admittedly face guarding when the ball was thrown over his head by quite a bit. The call was admittedly awful. Thomas was massively off-balance and Not only should that call not have been made in a regular-season game, but you especially can’t make it with the Super Bowl on the line. Even with the Porter interception, there was still overtime and the defense to that point had held the Saints to a shade over 200 yards. Even losing the coin toss didn’t feel like a death sentence. Once that pass interference was called and upheld after a long discussion, the wind was taken out of our sails
1-January 17,1999-Dennis Green Is A Coward
The 1998 Minnesota Vikings boasted the best offense that the NFL has ever seen, a claim that I will still defend to this day. In their only loss, they scored 24 points and didn’t best 30 points only 5 times all season. They had multiple pro bowlers on the offense, including 3 Hall Of Famers in Cris Carter, Randall McDaniel and Randy Moss. The team didn’t have a weakness on offense and could beat you passing the ball on all 3 levels, with the power game, inside and outside rushes as well. It was as dynamic and balanced as you could ever dream.
The one moment that people always associate with the tragic loss to the Falcons is Gary Anderson’s missed field goal from 39 yards out. Was it devastating? Absolutely it was. The man was 35/35 on field goals and 59/59 on extra points, completing the first-ever perfect season for a placekicker in league history. What we forget though is there was still 2:00 left on the clock with the Vikings up 7. Yes, they did give up a tying touchdown to Terrance Mathis, but they got the ball back on the 20 with 49 seconds left and 3 time outs. For me, what happens on the ensuing 3 play drive is what I will always remember.
On first down, Randall Cunningham drops back to pass and scrambles for 7 yards
On second down, Cunningham targets Randy Moss 65 yards downfield for an incompletion
On third down, Cunningham takes a knee
You read that correctly. Dennis Green had Cunningham, who ran the best offense in the history of the NFL with 2 timeouts to spare, take a knee. I have always regarded Green as the second-best head coach in team history. The track record he had with this team was incredible, only missing the playoffs once from 1992-2000 using numerous starting quarterbacks. This decision was the most baffling one. The amount of cowardice that he showed in taking that knee has tarnished his legacy. If the idea is to take a knee right away, I can somewhat understand that. The team had dealt with a crushing blow seeing their lead dissolve. Giving them some time to get themselves together can be a very effective strategy. Doing so after 2 plays on a 3rd and 3 is unforgivable. We shouldn’t blame Gary Anderson for missing the kick, we should blame Dennis Green for not trusting the best team to never win a Super Bowl in crunch time.
There are a lot of different moments that could have made this list. The multiple Super Bowl losses, 41-donut and 38-7, the Darrin Nelson fumble or even the draft day fumbles under Mike Tice all have merits to be included here. When constructing this list, I focused on the ones that came within massive disappointments and gutwrenching moments, including using different moments from those devastating defeats than are usually associated with them. Every fan will have a different list