Minnesota is said to be "The Land of 10,000 Lakes," but few people know that there's actually more like 15,000. The other 5,000 are the result of the collective tears that have been shed by Viking fans over the past 45 years.
I've only been watching the Vikes since 1982. My earliest memory was the Monday Night game against Dallas where Tony Dorsett ran for a touchdown that covered "Uh-oh, 99 yards and a half!" While I was spared the pain of the four Super Bowl losses in the '70s and the Drew Pearson push-off, I still have plenty of painful memories to dwell on. Here are my top five most painful moments as a Vikings fan:
5) 1987 NFC Championship game: Redskins 17, Vikings 10
Having just witnessed my baseball team win the World Series a few months before, it just seemed natural that Vikings would do the same. After backing into the playoffs the Vikings blew out the Saints (who were actually good that year) and the 49ers on the road. With a chance to meet the Broncos in the Super Bowl who were led by John "can't-win-without-Terrell-Davis" Elway, and trailing the Redskins by 7 in the fourth quarter, with a fourth down on the 6-yard line, Darrin Nelson drops a pass at the goal line sending the Redskins to Super Bowl. The Redskins then pound the Broncos, 42-10.
4) 2000 NFC Championship game: Giants 41, Vikings 0
The blow was somewhat softened by the fact that it was over in the first quarter. The score was 14-0 before we even got the ball. What was even more painful was the fact that this game could have been played at home if Mitch Berger would have just spiked the ball against Green Bay (see #3).
3) 2000, Monday Night: Packers 26, Vikings 20 (OT)
On a rainy night in Lambeau Field reminiscent of a game two years prior, the Vikings and Packers were tied at 20 in overtime. The Vikings were lining up on third down to kick the game-winning field goal. In a scene that would have been deemed too unbelievable for the Three Stooges, Mitch Berger the holder fumbled the snap, picked it up, scrambled around like Fran Tarkenton, and then tried to throw a pass to an offensive lineman that was intercepted. If he simply would have spiked the ball we would have had another chance on fourth down. But no, he suddenly decides that he's Steve Young and changes the entire course of the season.
But that wasn't the worst part. On the ensuing drive Brett Favre throws up a wobbly duck on third and long which bounces off Chris Dishman and rolls around on Antonio Freeman's elbow, knee, foot, thigh, stomach, spleen, and about seven other body parts without ever touching the ground before it falls into his hands and he gets up and strolls into the endzone to win the game. The play is now known as "The Immaculate Deflection" as can be seen replayed on ESPN Classic about 35 times a day.
2) 2003, last game of the season: Cardinals 18, Vikings 17
The Vikings had one simple task to get into the playoffs. All they had to do was beat the lowly Cardinals and they would clinch the division. If not, the Packers would win the division and the Vikes would be home for the holidays. The Vikings led throughout the entire game. In the final seconds the Cardinals managed to drive to the Vikings' 30 with time for one more play. With no time on the clock, quarterback What's-his-name throws a prayer into the endzone which is caught for a touchdown while Paul Allen coins the phrase, "NOOOOOO!!!!!!!" and the Cardinals celebrate their fourth win of the year. Immediately I switch over to the Packer game on CBS where they show the final score on the jumbotron and the Lambeau faithful erupts like Israel before taking Jericho.
1) 1998 NFC Championship game: Falcons 30, Vikings 27 (OT)
This one still baffles me to this day. We were 15-1 and had the highest scoring offense in NFL history. People were reserving hotel rooms in Miami in October. The entire town was painted purple and nobody had the slightest notion that anything other than a Super Bowl win awaited us at the end of the season. We blew out the Cardinals in the first game of the playoffs and faced the Falcons for the right to go to Miami.
With a 7-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Gary Anderson, who hadn't missed a single field goal all year, lined up to kick a field goal that would have given us a 10-point lead and sealed our trip to the Super Bowl. From where I was sitting it looked like he made it. There was actually about a period of two and a half seconds before I saw the referee signal "no good" where I knew, not thought, knew the Vikings were going to the Super Bowl. The Falcons would have no time to score twice and I could just sit back and relax and wait for the celebration. Those two and a half seconds were glorious. But it was not to be. The referee signalled that the kick was wide left as a collective gasp went up from the Metrodome faithful and the Falcons proceeded to march right down the field to score a tying touchdown.
But there was still 45 seconds left on the clock! So what does Denny "Nobody-can-beat-us-when-we-play-like-we-play-when-we-play" Green do with the highest scoring offense in NFL history and the greatest wide-receiver the world has ever seen and only needing to get into field goal range to win it? He takes a knee of course and sends the game into overtime where the Falcons kick the game-winning field goal. And since there's no rule in the NFL that says if the Falcons make it to the Super Bowl they have to start the season over, the Falcons really did advance to the Super Bowl much to the delight of millions of bandwagon-jumping Nascar fans.
As we were exiting the stadium the ground was littered with "Purple Pride" towels which had been handed out to everyone in attendance. I decided to save mine as a reminder of that painful day and planned to burn it when the Vikings finally do win a Super Bowl. It still hangs on my wall to this day. I take it down every now and then when I need to wipe another tear from my eye.