A Moment in Time: How You Played the Game


The attention of the world will be on Minneapolis when the National Football League plays Super Bowl LII on Sunday February 4, 2018 between the Philadelphia Eagle and New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Even though the Minnesota Vikings will not be playing in the “Big Game,” Minnesota has not been a stranger to the Super Bowl and the festivities.

Super Bowl IV

The first brush with greatness occurred on January 11, 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans when the Vikings played the Kansas City Chiefs for Super Bowl IV in front of 80,562.

At the time, the NFL played a fourteen game schedule and during the 1969 season, the final season before the merger between the NFL and the American Football League, and the Vikings won the NFC Central Division with a 12-2 record. They lost the first game of the season 23-24 at the New York Giants, and the last game of the season, 3-10 at the Atlanta Falcons. In between, they won twelve consecutive games and advanced to the playoffs.

After defeating the Los Angeles Rams 23-20 in the Western Conference championship game and the Cleveland Browns 27-7 in the NFL Championship, the stage was set for the Super Bowl against the Chiefs.

The New York Jets were the winners of Super Bowl III, and many sportswriters and fans, who had considered the AFL to be the inferior league, thought that the Jets victory was a fluke and figured that the Vikings would have an easy time with the Chiefs.

Bud Grant, head coach of the Vikings, saw things differently.

“In probing the films of three games, we couldn’t find a weakness in their defense. They have big, strong lineman, outstanding linebackers and a great secondary,” said Grant. “Most of the time you can find a defense where you can take advantage of some weaknesses. We didn’t find any in Kansas City’s.”

The Vikings came out flat-footed in three of their first five possessions with a dropped pass that would have resulted in a first down to go along with two fumbles. The Chiefs capitalized on the Vikings miscues and took a 16-0 lead at halftime with three field goals from kicker Jan Stenerud and a five-yard touchdown run by running back Mike Garrett.

“It was a tough situation with third and four on the goal line. We had just decided to turn down a five-yard penalty. We just didn’t have the man in the right place to stop it. We know they never throw inside the five-yard line,” said Grant, who viewed the Garrett touchdown as the play of the game.

After forcing the Chiefs to punt on the opening possession of the second half, the Vikings drove 69-yard on ten plays, capped by fullback David Osborn’s four-yard rushing touchdown.

It would be their only score of the game as the Chiefs answered with a six-play 82-yard drive of their own. The Vikings were hit with a 15-yard personal foul penalty which put the ball on the Minnesota 46 yard line. Chief’s quarterback Len Dawson hit wide receiver Otis Taylor on a short five-yard pass. Taylor broke a tackle by Vikings cornerback Earsell Mackbee at the 41-yard line and then broke another tackle by safety Karl Kassulke at the 20-yard line and scampered into the end zone for the touchdown. The Chiefs led 23-7 after three quarters.

Even though neither team scored in the fourth quarter, the Vikings were demoralized after the Taylor touchdown.

“We made more mental mistakes in one game than we did in one season,” said Kassulke, lamenting the three interceptions, three fumbles and six penalties in Super Bowl IV. It was the final game for Mackbee, who was injured when Taylor broke his tackle. Mackbee retired from the game and opened a chain of restaurants. It was also the final game for Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp, who became a free agent after the Vikings exercised their option for the 1969 season instead of signing him to a new contract. He signed with the Boston Patriots in September 1970 but NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped in and forced them to give the Vikings two first-round draft picks in compensation.

Super Bowl VIII

The Vikings made it back to the Super Bowl four years later, their first after the NFL-AFL merger. Like their previous trip, they finished the regular season with a 12-2 record for first place in the NFC Central Division. They then defeated the Washington Redskins 27-20 in the divisional playoff and dispensed with the Dallas Cowboys 27-10 in the NFC Conference Championship.

They faced off against the Miami Dolphins in front of a 71,882 strong crowd at Rice Stadium in Houston on January 13, 1974.

Even though the Dolphins also finished with a 12-2 record, many thought they were better than the 1972 team that went undefeated. The 1972 team didn’t play a single team that had a record better than 8-6, and despite two losses in the 1973 season, the schedule was much more difficult.

Heading into this game, it was the AFC team that was the heavy favorite. In fact, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, stated on television, “If Miami gets the kickoff and scores on the opening drive, the game is over.”

Namath’s prediction came true as Dolphins return specialist Jake Scott returned the opening kickoff 31 yards to the Miami 38-yard line. The Dolphins opened up their “battering ram” as fullback Larry Czonka ran five times including a 16-yard carry and a 5-yard touchdown run on a misdirection play.

After the ensuing kickoff, the Dolphins forced the Vikings to punt on a three-and-out. Led by three carries from Czonka for 28 yards, the Dolphins scored on a ten play drive that ended with running back Jim Kiicks one-yard touchdown run. It was his only touchdown of the season as Miami took a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

After trading punts in the beginning of the second quarter, Miami opened up their lead further when Vikings linebacker Wally Hilgenberg was given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty which gave the Dolphins the ball at mid-field. Kicker Garo Yepremian’s 28-yard field goal extended the lead to 17-0 with 6:02 remaining in the half.

Minnesota had their best chance to score in the first quarter on the next possession. Quarterback Fran Tarkenton led a sustained drive from their own 20-yard line to the Dolphins 15-yard line on nine plays. Running back Oscar Reed gained only one yard on two carries, forcing a fourth-and-one. Instead of kicking the field goal, Reed was given the task of converting the first down. Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti tackled Reed which forced a fumble that Miami recovered.

“Nick Buoniconti had a good hit on me with his helmet and he knocked the ball loose. Miami was a lot more aggressive than I’ve ever seen them,” said Reed.

With Miami driving in the third quarter, Hilgenberg was flagged for defensive holding giving the Dolphins the ball and the first down at the eight yard line. Czonka ran for a six-yard gain and a two-yard touchdown to put the game away 24-0 with 8:44 remaining in the third quarter. It would be the Dolphins final score of the game.

The Vikings managed to avoid a shutout in the fourth quarter when Tarkenton led a 57-yard ten play drive of his own, which ended with a four-yard touchdown run himself.

There was a glimmer of hope with the score 24-7 and 13:44 remaining on the clock. Minnesota recovered the onside kick which was nullified by an offsides penalty. Minnesota kicked deep on the second attempt and then forced the Dolphins to punt on a three-and-out.

Tarkenton led another sustained drive, but threw an interception to Dolphins cornerback Curtis Johnson at the goal line, who returned it to the ten. The Dolphins gave the ball to their running backs, Czonka and Kiick, who combined for the game’s remaining dozen carries as they ran out the clock and took home their second Super Bowl victory. Miami only threw seven passes, a record for the lowest number of passes in the Super Bowl.

Czonka had 33 carries for 145 yards (then a record) and two touchdowns. He was named the game’s most valuable player.

“Czonka is a fine big back who has a lot of drive and determination. They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect,” said Vikings defensive end Carl Eller.

Super Bowl IX

The Minnesota Vikings continued their NFC Central dominance the next year with a 10-4 record and another first place finish. They defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional playoff game and the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Conference Championship for another trip to the Super Bowl.

This time they would face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans in front of an announced crowd of 80,997 on January 12, 1975.

The Steelers were founded in 1933 as an expansion team by Art Rooney, but until Super Bowl IX, had never appeared in an NFL Championship game. After hiring Chuck Noll as head coach, the Steelers went from being a 1-13 team to a championship contender.

Before the game, Vikings head coach Bud Grant said, “We hope to pass when we want to, not when we have to.” Now it was a matter of seeing if that was going to happen on the field.

The game opened as a defensive grudge match. Minnesota managed to get one first down, but was held to 20 passing yards and no rushing yards in the first quarter. Pittsburgh wasn’t any better with 18 passing yards, 61 rushing yards and four first-downs.

In the second quarter, the Vikings recovered a fumble by fullback Rocky Bleier at the Steelers 24-yard line, but could not advance the ball much further. Then kicker Fred Cox missed a 39-yard field goal attempt.

Pittsburgh was forced to punt on the next possession and the Vikings got the ball on their own 7-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Fran Tarkenton handed the ball off to fullback Dave Osborn, who mishandled the ball which bounced back to the goal line. Tarkenton dived on the ball and was tackled by Steelers defensive end Dwight White for the safety. The 2-0 lead by Pittsburgh would be the only score in the first half.

White was hospitalized with pneumonia during the week leading up to the game, lost twenty pounds, and was not expected to play. Yet his safety was the first time the Steelers scored in a championship game.

The Vikings received the kickoff to begin the second half, but Minnesota’s Bill Brown lost a fumble on a squib kick which gave the Steelers the ball at the Minnesota 30-yard line. Halfback Franco Harris ran the ball on the next three plays. The first was a 24-yard gain, then a 3-yard loss, followed by a 9-yard touchdown run to put the Steelers up 9-0.

The Vikings drove to the Pittsburgh 5-yard line early in the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Joe Greene forced a fumble by Minnesota running back Chuck Foreman. However, the Vikings defense held strong forcing a three-and-out by the Steelers. On the punt, Minnesota linebacker Matt Blair broke through the line and blocked the punt. Safety Terry Brown recovered the ball in the end zone for a Vikings touchdown making the score 9-6.

Though the game was close, Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw led a 66-yard 11-play sustained drive that took 6:47 off the clock. The drive ended with a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Larry Brown to extend the lead 16-6 with only 3:31 left on the clock.

Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, on the first play of the next possession, threw his third interception of the game, which allowed the Steelers to run the clock down to 38 seconds before they turned the ball over on downs.

After the game, an irritated Grant admitted, “There were three bad teams out there – us, Pittsburgh and the officials.”

“The Pittsburgh defensive line was as good as any we have faced,” admitted Vikings guard Ed White. “I won’t feel anybody whipped us until I look at the films.”

Super Bowl XI

Minnesota lost the divisional playoff to the eventual NFC champion Dallas Cowboys, who lost to the Steelers the next season. They bounced back in the 1976 season and found themselves facing the Oakland Raiders in the championship game.

Both teams were dominant during the regular season with the Raiders going 13-1 and the Vikings winning their division for the eighth time in nine seasons.

The game was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California in front of 103,438 spectators on January 9, 1977, the earliest start to a Super Bowl in league history.

The Raiders kicked a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter for the game’s first score. Minnesota was held three-and-outs on their next two possessions while the Raiders scored touchdowns in their next two possessions. By halftime it was 16-0 and turning into a rout. It was the fourth time in as many Super Bowls that the Vikings failed to score in the first half.

Another Raiders field goal in the third quarter extended their lead to 19-0 before the Vikings began to fight back. Quarterback Fran Tarkenton led a 12-play 68-yard drive which ended with an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Sammy White for a touchdown.

Oakland scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, which was matched by only one from the Vikings. When the clock ticked down to zero, Oakland won in a 32-14 rout after managing 429 yards in total offense.

Foreman was in tears after the game.

“When you get this far and lose, it’s hard to take. What can you say when we get beat the way we did?” he asked.

Defensive tackle Alan Page was also bitter after the game.

“The attitude of the press is ridiculous,” said Page. “What we’ve done all year to get here doesn’t mean one thing. Now that we lost this game, we’re a bunch of losers, a bunch of dogs. We’re four-time losers so that means we’re a lousy football team.”

Even though the Vikings finished with a Super Bowl record of 0-4, they were dominant during the regular season with an 87-24-1 record in the eight year span, the best record of all NFL teams during those years. They won the division three out of the next four years, but never made it back to the Super Bowl. In the past 41 years since their final Super Bowl appearance, they played in five NFC championship games but never made it past that round.

Perhaps legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice was thinking about the Vikings when he wrote, “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game.”

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