Last night I was watching TV and on the NFL Network came across a replay of the 1998 NFC title game between the Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. For those of you who might not remember, this was the game that the Vikings had a ten-point fourth quarter lead, and Atlanta came back to tie it, and won it and went to the Super Bowl, as the Vikings went home empty.
I debated whether I should watch it, but since I haven't seen it since it occurred nearly 10 years ago, I thought why not. There are times I can't resist torturing myself.
It is probably best remembered for Gary Anderson's missed FG (pictured) with just over two minutes to play. Anderson was perfect the entire season, and had made an astounding 122 kicks in a row (which included extra points) going back to the previous season. The Vikings were up, 27-20, and a 38-yard field goal would have just about iced the game.
And sure enough, he pulled it wide left. And he just missed it, by less than a foot. I will always remember that kick missing, and thinking that could his one miss all season cost the Vikings the Super Bowl, their first in 22 years?
It did. It's a shame that's what he'll be remembered for, after having one of the best careers any kicker has ever had. But Anderson wasn't the only one to blame. The Vikings defense went to sleep in the final Atlanta drive, allowed them the game-tying field goal with 49 seconds to play. And Dennis Green went all conservative after the game was tied, as he had 30 seconds to play, with 2 time outs on his own 30 on third down and sat on the ball and sent the game into OT. And this for the highest scoring offense in NFL history, as the Vikes scored 556 points that year and kicked the crap out of everyone. (The Patriots broke their scoring record last year. And didn't win the Super Bowl either.)
I was at the Metrodome the following August for an exhibition game, and saw a banner hanging from the rafters: "Denny: Use Every Second!" I guess I wasn't alone in thinking Green should have taken that final shot before overtime.
As I was watching the program last night (and it was a pleasure listening to the team of Pat Summerall and John Madden doing the game, as they were always my favorites), I was thinking how closely this game paralleled another painful sporting event I would later witness: Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
Like the Vikings, the Red Sox had a late lead, and a win would have sent them to the sport's pinnacle event. But sure enough, the manager made a fateful late game decision (I don't have to say what the ALCS' was, do I?) that came back to haunt the team. Both teams lost in extra time, and both fan bases were stunned and devastated by it. Fortunately, the Red Sox bounced back the next year, and exacted revenge on the same field the very next year.
The Vikings however, got back to the NFC title game two years later, and were slaughtered by the Giants at the Meadowlands. They haven't been back since. (And tomorrow, the Vikings can wrap a playoff berth and take a big step towards reaching the NFC title game by beating yes, Atlanta. And yes, it's at the Metrodome. And yes, they're favored to win. Again.)
The two Red Sox championships have erased the pain of the 2003 loss very much, but the Vikings are still seeking to get to their first Super Bowl since 1977. It's the most devastating loss I've been through, and it hurts far worse then any of the Super Bowl losses in the 1970s, as this 1998 Vikings team was whacking everyone and were odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl that year. They didn't even get there.
And the irony of last night was that just as the Vikings were losing that game on the NFL Network, the Red Sox were seen on the MLB Network channel winning the 2004 World Series.
Opposite ends of the spectrum for me.
Or as I used to say about the Red Sox before 2004, which applies to the Vikings: I hope I live long enough to see them win it all. Just once.