Minnesota Vikings, formed in 1961, hold the unenviable record of becoming the first team to play in and lose four Super Bowls, but are the third most successful team in terms of winning their division, a feat they’ve achieved 16 times. Testifying to their pre-eminence in the league format, only Dallas has made more play-off appearances than the Vikings.
Pro football in the Twin Cities kicked off in August 1959, when five Minnesota businessmen were awarded a franchise in the new American Football League, although this was soon forfeited before Minnesota was awarded the 14th franchise in the National Football League.
The nickname "Vikings" originates from Minnesota’s place as a centre of Scandinavian American culture. They started off by playing at the Metropolitan Stadium, attracting an average home attendance of 34,586 in their first season.
The Vikings made the best possible start, defeating Chicago Bears 37-13 in their first ever game in 1961 thanks to rookie quarterback Fran Tarkenston, who threw four touchdown passes and ran for another. 25 years later, in 1986, Tarkenston would become the first Vikings player to be inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Minnesota’s first head coach was Norm Van Brocklin, having retired in 1960 after 12 years as a player. Van Brocklin took charge of 84 games between 1961 and 1966 to record a 36.3 winning percentage. To date, there have been eight Head Coaches of the Vikings, including current coach, Brad Childress.
In the Super Bowl
Van Brocklin was replaced by Bud Grant as Head Coach in 1967. He would go on to be the most successful coach in the Vikings’ history, recording a 63.4% win rate. Grant spent 17 seasons at the helm in Minnesota, and guided them to their first Central Division Title and their first playoff berth in 1968.
Shortly after Grant’s arrival, the Vikings began an impressive streak of 11 NFC Central division titles in 13 seasons. The following season, the Vikings had the best record in the NFL (12-2), including 12 straight victories, and won the NFL Championship game 27-7 against Cleveland Browns to reach their first Super Bowl (Super Bowl IV). Despite going in to the game as heavy favourites, Minnesota were defeated 23-7 by Kansas City Chiefs.
The Vikings reached the play-offs again in 1970 and 1971, with Alan Page winning the NFL Most Valuable Player Award. In 1972, Tarkenton returned to Minnesota, with the Vikings trading Norm Snead, Bob Grim, Vince Clements and a first round choice in 1972 and 1973 to the New York Giants to bring the popular quarterback back to the club.
After a disappointing 1972 saw them finish with a 7-7 record, Minnesota bounced back in 1973, winning their first 9 games and finishing the season with a 12-2 record. In the playoffs, they reached their second Super Bowl following wins over the Washington Redskins (27-20) and the Dallas Cowboys (27-10). The Vikings were sadly defeated again in Super Bowl VIII, going down 24-7 against the Miami Dolphins.
The season after, Minnesota were back again for Super Bowl IX, their third appearance in the NFL’s biggest game. But yet again the Vikings were to fall short, losing 16-6 this time to Pittsburgh Steelers, having defeated St Louis Cardinals (30-14) and the Los Angeles Rams (14-10) to get there.
Although they missed out in 1975, losing controversially 17-14 to Dallas Cowboys in the play-offs, Minnesota were back for Super Bowl XI in 1976 following a win over Los Angeles Rams 24-13 in the play-offs. Incredibly, for the fourth time, the Vikings were to lose their Super Bowl match, as Oakland Raiders defeated them 32-14.
Towards the end of the 70s, the team began to age, and it took its toll. They still managed to record NFC Central Division Championships in 1978 and 1980, but lost in the play-offs both years. Legendary quarterback Tarkenton then retired in 1979, capping a remarkable career with statistics of 6,467 pass attempts, 3,686 completions, 47,003 yards and 342 touchdowns.
Grant left in 1983 with a record of 168-108-5, the eighth best winning record of any coach. One year before his departure, the Vikings moved in to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, with its capacity of 63,000. The Vikings’ final game at Metropolitan Stadium, on December 20th 1981, saw a 10-6 defeat against Kansas City Chiefs.
Finding a successor
Grant’s shoes were always going to be hard to fill, and the responsibility of filling them fell to Les Steckel, who had already been at the club as offensive assistant for five seasons. He was the youngest head coach in the NFL, but lasted just one season, fired after losing 13 games, the worst record for the franchise. Grant was to return for a single season in 1985, but retired once again in January 1986.
The Vikings then set about replacing Grant for the second time, and this time turned to long-time assistant coach Jerry Burns, who had served as offensive coordinator in the period 1968-85 when the Vikings won eleven division titles and reached four Super Bowls.
In his first season, the Vikings went 9-7, the first time they had finished with a winning record in 4 years. In 1987, the Vikings went 8-7 to reach the play-offs, but missed out on the Super Bowl in a 17-10 loss to Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship game.
At the start of the 1989, the Vikings went down in history for one of the biggest trade blunders in the NFL, known as the Herschel Walker Trade with Dallas Cowboys. To obtain Walker and a number of draft picks, the Vikings traded five players and eight draft picks in total. Surely the Vikings had received a dead cert but, much to their embarrassment, Walker failed to impress and, to cap it all off, the Cowboys went on to build a Super Bowl winning team.
Burns announced his retirement as Head Coach in 1991, finishing with a record of 52-43 in his six seasons at the helm. He led the Vikings to the play-offs 3 times, including a division title and an NFC Championship game. Fairly impressive statistics but the big Super Bowl victory remained as far away as ever, much to the despair of the Vikings’ fanbase.
Coach number five
Vikings’ fifth head coach was to be Dennis Green, who in his 10 seasons as coach, won 4 NFC Central division titles, made 8 playoff appearances and finished with a record of 97-62. 1998 proved to be a significant year for the franchise both on and off the pitch.
Prior to the season start, the franchise was sold to Red McCombs, after the NFL expressed their unhappiness in the previous ownership of the Vikings, which saw ten different people in charge, none owning 30%.
On the pitch, the Vikings became only the third team in NFL history to win 15 games during the regular season. Having lost starting quarterback Brad Johnson to injury, their hopes rested on the shoulders of Randall Cunningham, who guided the offense to a then-record 556 points in the season.
Rookie Randy Moss made a massive impact at Wide Receiver and a total of ten Vikings were named in the Pro Bowl of that year. But, after dominating throughout the regular season, the Vikings would fall short of the Super Bowl, going down 14-2 to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.
The agony of defeat was felt again in 1999, as the Vikes reached the play-offs with a 10-6 record but lost to eventual Super Bowl winners St Louis Rams in the Divisional Playoff. The following year, led by first year starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota finished 11-5, but were routed 41-0 by the New York Giants in the Conference Championship.
Worse still, the 2001 season was overshadowed by the death of offensive lineman Korey Stringer, who died of heat stroke in training camp. The Vikings failed to reach the playoffs, finishing with a poor 5-11 record, which culminated in the termination of Dennis Green’s contract as Head Coach.
Mike Tice became the sixth head coach in Vikings history, and with it became the first ex-player to coach the franchise. In his first season in 2002, they finished 6-10 but started 2003 with six straight wins, before finishing with a 9-7 record and cruelly missing out on the playoffs.
Daunte Culpepper came to the fore in 2004, leading the NFL in passing yards (4,717), setting a Vikings record for passing touchdowns (39), and breaking an NFL record for total yards (5,123), but Minnesota could still only manage an 8-8 record, although they did reach the play-offs, losing to Philadelphia Eagles.
Since then, the Vikings have failed to even reach the play-offs. In 2006, Brad Childress was hired as head coach, overseeing a 6-10 record in his first season. In 2007, they fared better, and were still in with a shout of a playoff place come the final game of the season, but a defeat to Washington Redskins in the penultimate game of the 2007 regular season took their destiny out of their own hands, and they failed to reach the playoffs.
Worryingly for the immediate future, the past glories in the Divisional Championships seem a distant memory, with the ultimate Super Bowl prize but a dream.
- NFL Championship – Winners (1969)
- NFL Western Conference Championship – Winners (1969)
- NFC Conference Championship – Winners (1973, 1974, 1976)
- NFL Central Division Championship – Winners (1968, 1969)
- NFC Central Division Championship – Winners (1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000)
- 10 – Fran Tarkenton
- 53 – Mick Tingelhoff
- 70 – Jim Marshall
- 77 – Korey Stringer
- 80 – Cris Carter
- 88 – Alan Page