The start of the 1980's signaled a changing of the guard. The good old Purple People Eaters were no more. People like Tarkenton, Marshall, Page, Foreman, Hilgenberg, Tingelhoff, Eller, and Bryant were gone, replaced by names like Kramer, Nelson, Browner, Jordan, Senser, Studwell, Blair, and Anthony Carter. Bud Grant realized that pro football itself was undergoing great change; new offensive philosophies, systems, formations and trick plays started popping up everywhere. The Super Bowl teams were now depending on a more possession-style game, formulated upon the reasoning that "As long as we have the ball, the other team can't score," as opposed to just expecting overwhelming defense to win. The 70's were the Decade of Defense Fearsome Foursome, Purple People Eaters, Dallas Doomsday, Steel Curtain, "Just Win Baby" Raiders, Miami No-Names. As a result of this era of defense coming to a close, Grant gave his new QB, Tommy Kramer, a free hand at running the offense.
This wise decision yielded good results. Kramer threw 23 touchdown passes to take the Vikings into the 1980 playoff campaign, including a Hail Mary winner to WR Ahmad Rashad against Cleveland at the Met, perhaps the most famous winning score in Vikings' history. Grant brought in new, talented stars that would shine for the Vikings and to get back to the greatness that they once were. From 1980 to 1983 and in 1985, Grant drafted DE Doug Martin, T Tim Irwin, QB Wade Wilson, TE Steve Jordan, RB Darrin Nelson, FS Joey Browner, DE Chris Doleman, and C Kirk Lowdermilk, all of whom made a significant impact in the Vikings' success during the 1980's. Browner, with his martial arts training, was and probably still is the strongest safety every to play the game. Who else could catch Herschel Walker from behind and drag him down? Or a Denver RB, snapping the poor fool's leg with a ONE-handed jerk of the guys collar? Or a Tampa KO returner who started on the sideline and courtesy of a Browner clothesline, wound up going over the table covered with Gatorade cups and nearly into the second row of seats in the old Sombrero (wondering if anyone got the license plate of the truck that hit him)?
In 1981, however, the Vikings finished 7-9, their worst effort since 1967. But it paled in significance compared to the announcement that the Vikings were moving to an indoor stadium for the 1982 season. The old Met (Metropolitan Stadium) had been their home for all of their 21 years. It was at the Met that a young, inexperienced Vikings team became an NFL powerhouse, with the most feared home-field advantage in existence. But no longer would opponents cringe at the thought of playing the short-sleeved Vikings in subzero arctic conditions. "I'll miss that home-field advantage," Grant said wistfully. The Vikings christened the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome by qualifying for the playoffs.
When the Vikings finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs at the end of the 1983 season, Bud Grant made the shocking announcement that he was retiring. "Impossible," fans said including myself but it was true. At the press conference, and in his usual no-nonsense style, Grant simply said, "I'd like to spend more time doing what I love fishing and hunting." And so he turned over the reins to the next Vikings general, Les Steckel. In 1984, Steckel, an ex-Marine, emphasized all-out conditioning and held a an Iron Man Competition on the first day of training camp to drive the point home. RB Darrin Nelson passed out from exhaustion as TE Steve Jordan won. Steckel's rigorous camp, conditioning, and drills proved too much for the team and they posted a horrifying 3-13 record, their worst since 1962, their second year in existence. Particularly hard to take that season were a 99-yard TD run by Dallas' Tony Dorsett and Chicago QB Jim McMahon coming off the bench to throw 3 TDs in his first 4 passes, both at the Metrodome and on Monday Night Football.
Steckel was fired immediately after the last game of the year, and two days later the Vikings held a press conference to announce who would be the team's next coach. Everyone had their own idea who it might be. But there were no hints given, and no one knew, save for the team's front office and the new coach himself. About an hour into the press conference, the introduction of the new coach took place and the door swung open. In strode the new coach and the old one. To everyone's surprise, Bud Grant had returned. Grant saved the Vikings from the Steckel debacle, reviving them enough to post a more respectable 7-9 in 1985, but missing the playoffs. Grant re-retired, this time for good, after the season, electing not to exercise an option in his contract that allowed him to remain with the team on his own terms, and citing the same rationale for departing as the first time around. But this time he advised the Vikings on who his replacement ought to be, and they wisely listened, selecting longtime assistant coach Jerry "Burnsie" Burns.
Burns had been with the Vikings through the Super Bowl years, starting in 1968 when Grant hired him. Burns invented the single-back style offense (to take advantage of Chuck Foreman's abilities), better known these days as the "West Coast Offense." Make no mistake, it was not Bill Walsh and the S.F. 49ers who invented it and used it so well in the 80's, it was Burns in the 70's that originated it and made it famous. He brought with him the respect he earned and deserved from the players. Since he played such a key role in helping the Vikings to four Super Bowls, they wanted to give him a fifth shot, this time as a winner.
Burns led the Vikings to the playoffs three times in his six years as head coach, losing all three times to the eventual Super Bowl champion 49ers twice, Redskins once. The closest Burns came to the Super Bowl was in 1987, when a powerful defense anchored by DT Keith Millard and DE Chris Doleman and an offense led by WR Anthony Carter destroyed the Saints in New Orleans in the wild card round 44-10. They then pulled one of the biggest upsets in playoff history, defeating the 49ers in Candlestick Park 36-24, with Carter setting an NFL record for receiving yardage. But a third straight road playoff victory was not to be at RFK Stadium against the Redskins, despite another career day by Carter. The Vikings were trailing 17-10 and faced with fourth-and-goal from the 3 with mere seconds left in the game. QB Wade Wilson faded back to pass, looked right and then threw left for an open Carter. But RB Darrin Nelson, thinking the ball was for him, dove in front of Carter at the goal line and couldn't hang on to the ball. Carter was left to stare down at Nelson in shock, hands frozen where the ball would've hit them squarely, as RFK erupted in celebration.
The 80's would end with a bang, however, as Burns led the 1988 and 1989 teams into the divisional round of the playoffs. Both times losing to the 49ers at Candlestick 1989 in humiliating fashion, as 49ers QB Steve Young, replacing an injured Joe Montana, rumbled, bumbled, stumbled, scrambled and broke at least 9 tackles, resulting in a 45-yd TD run to clinch the game. And the Vikings used a strange method to defeat the Los Angeles Rams at the Metrodome, 23-21, by scoring on 7 Rich Karlis FGs and a LB Mike Merriweather blocked punt for a safety in overtime. The 7 FGs is still an NFL record.
|Best Regular-Season Record:||1969, 12-2|
|Worst Regular-Season Record:||1962, 2-11-1|
|Best Athlete:||DT Keith Millard (virtually unblockable, until knee gave out).|
|Fastest Player:||WR Anthony Carter (even in spite of self-described "chicken legs").|
|Slowest Player:||NT Tim "Icebox" Newton (In Buffalo, ran 40 yards with a fumble in 10 minutes).|
|Most Intimidating Player:||FS Joey Browner (scared more folks with one hand than most players could with their entire body).|
|Famous Firsts:||Set NFL single season team sack record (1989), first team to win OT game with a safety, most points scored in a game without a TD (the 7 FG-and-safety 23-21 win over L.A. Rams).|
|Famous Lasts:||Finally changed from black to white shoes upon Bud Grant's ultimate departure, being the last team to do so after the NFL dropped the black shoes uniform requirement.|
|Fashion Trends:||DE Al Noga cutting the neck of his jersey down to his navel or so, and LB Scott Studwell sporting blood on his pants by the third play of every game.|
|Least Appreciated Player:||QB Wade Wilson (took team to 1987 NFC Title Game, then was unceremoniously dumped for Rich Gannon, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, and Warren Moon, none of whom ever approached a conference title game).|
|Best Hit:||FS Joey Browner, who with one hand dragged down a Denver RB from behind who was about to score a TD, breaking the runner's ankle and blowing out his knee in the process.|
|Best Trade/Pickup::||Landing WR Cris Carter off waivers for $100 (best C-note the Vikings ever spent).|
|Best Trade/Pickup:||Take a wild guess.....:-)|
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