It’s time for me to continue my quick looks at the teams coming over to play in the 2017 NFL London games at Wembley and Twickenham stadiums. This time I’ve done a bit of digging around for a bit of history of the Minnesota Vikings who are scheduled to play my Cleveland Browns at Twickenham on either 22nd or 29th October.
So let’s dive in and start from the beginning.
AFL or NFL?
The Minnesota Vikings started life in 1959 when the area was awarded a franchise in the American Football League (AFL). They agreed to the deal with the league but after pressure was put on the businessmen who were leading the venture to bring a team to the Minneapolis area – Max Winter, Bill Boyer and H.P. Skoglund – they pulled out of their AFL deal and agreed to join the NFL instead.
Once settled on which league they were actually going to join the Vikings began to play in 1961 as the Vikings. The name came about due to the area having one of the highest concentrations of Scandinavian-Americans in the country.
Support for the team was good right from the start with an average home attendance of over 34,500. The fans didn’t have to wait long for the team’s first win as it came in their very first regular season game as they beat the Chicago Bears, 37-13. Things looked good for the new team but it wasn’t to be. They only managed a winning season once in their first decade of play despite having eventual Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton at the helm.
In 1967 it was time for a change in an attempt to steer the team to greater things. QB Fran Tarkenton was traded to the New York Giants in exchange for a couple of 1st and a couple of 2nd round draft picks spanning the 1967-1969 NFL drafts. There was a change at the head coach position too as Norm van Brocklin resigned and was replaced by Bud Grant who’d been having a successful career as a head coach in the Canadian Football League (CFL) with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Grant brought the veteran QB Joe Kapp with him from the CFL to replace the now departed for New York Fran Tarkenton. The head coach also built a solid defense in Minnesota that would become known as the “Purple People Eaters”.
These changes had the desired effects as the Vikings turned their averageness around and won their division – the West Conference’s Central Division – with a record of 8-6 and their first trip to the playoffs. They lost 24-14 in their conference championship game to the eventual league champion Baltimore Colts.
The success continued in 1969 when they went 12-2 during the regular season and made it to the championship game where they defeated the Cleveland Browns 27-7. This was the last championship game to be played before the AFL-NFL merger and the championship game would become known as the Super Bowl.
Good Ol’ Days
Arguably the best period in Vikings history came during the 1970’s. In the early years of this decade, they managed to get into the playoffs regularly and also decided to bring the popular Fran Tarkenton back to the team from the Giants. They had to give up 1st round draft picks in the 1972 and 1973 drafts as well as a few players. This move wasn’t enough to propel them further in the playoffs as they were being let down by their running game and Tarkenton couldn’t do it all. The addition of Running Back Chuck Foreman via the 1973 draft sorted that problem.
The Vikings powered to a 12-2 regular season record in 1973 and made it to the Super Bowl that year. They would play the Miami Dolphins at Rice Stadium, Houston, Texas but end up on the wrong end of a 24-7 scoreline. A season later they would return to the Super Bowl but would again lose, this time to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 16-6. They could have gone to their third straight Super Bowl had they not lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1975 divisional game by a score of 17-14 in controversial circumstances. At the end of the game, there was a passing play that went for a touchdown and gave the Cowboys the win, but most people say there was clear offensive pass interference that should have brought the play back.
They did, however, make it back to the Super Bowl in the 1976 season, which would be their third appearance in four years. They would lose again but this time to the Oakland Raiders at the Rose Bowl in California by a score of 32-14.
The team’s playoff appearing ways would continue through the ’77 and ’78 seasons but no more Super Bowl appearances were had. QB Fran Tarkenton would retire after the 1978 season after a successful career having broken many NFL passer records.
You Coming or Going Bud?
With an ageing roster full of players starting to retire, the Vikings suffered another blow when their incredibly successful head coach Bud Grant also decided to retire in 1984. In 17 seasons as the Vikings head coach, he’d taken the team to the playoffs 12 times with 4 Super Bowl appearances, although they never managed to win one.
After a year without him, the Vikings were soon asking Bud to come back. His replacement had been Les Steckel, who was 38 years old and the youngest head coach in the league. He wasn’t up to the task of taking on an ageing team and as a result, was fired after just a year in charge. Bud Grant stepped back into his old role for a season before the franchise decided on their next top man. Bud Grant’s longtime Offensive Coordinator, Jerry Burns was the man chosen due to his experience and success with the team through their many successful years.
With Burns at the helm, they soon got back to winning ways and the playoffs in 1987. After two upset victories over the Saints and 49ers, the Vikings finally lost to the Redskins in a very closely fought game for the NFC championship title.
The Vikings have been a consistent playoff team throughout their time in the NFL and have had many great players on their roster through the years such as WR’s Cris Carter and Randy Moss, QB’s Fran Tarkenton, Brett Favre, Daunte Culpepper and Randall Cunningham, DE Jared Allen and RB Adrian Peterson. I’ll be having a look at some of these legends (and maybe some others) in their own blog posts as the year goes on and the London games get closer.
The Vikings Today
Current head coach, Mike Zimmer was hired in 2014. He has put together another great defence in Minnesota and has again got the team into the playoff conversations each season. With injuries and off the field issues affecting some of their star players, such as Adrian Peterson and young QB Teddy Bridgewater, the team struggled to stay in the playoff race during the 2016 season. When Bridgewater got injured during a training session, the Vikings decided to give up their 2017 1st round draft pick as well as a conditional 4th round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for the unsettled QB Sam Bradford. Many, including me, thought that this was a high price to pay for a QB that has suffered from injuries throughout his career and who would most likely lose the starting job to the young, talented Bridgewater when he returned from his injury.
The Minnesota Vikings obviously considered themselves to be a strong playoff team, however, and pulled the trigger on the trade. Sam Bradford had a decent season but could only lead the team to an average 8-8 regular season record, after a great start, and no playoff football.
The Green Bay Packers are by far the biggest rivals of the Minnesota Vikings. This is partly because of their geographical locations, making them close neighbours and natural rivals. The arrival of QB Brett Favre to Minnesota after spending the vast majority of his career in Green Bay certainly added fuel to the rivalry fire.
It didn’t help cool the rivalry any when the Packers went to Minnesota on Monday Night Football only to have their old Quarterback beat them with his new team in front of over 21 million viewers.
Be sure to keep checking the blog as I add more quick grabs of information about the 8 teams coming to play in the NFL London series of games.
Information about the games, locations and events will all be added.