Memories of 2004 playoff upset run deep
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Memories of 2004 playoff upset run deep

Cullen Loeffler was just a rookie when the Vikings beat the Packers in their only other playoff matchup. From the week of buildup to the game itself to Moss' moon in response to Packers fans, plenty of memories were created in that one-week window.

In the 52-year history of the Vikings, Minnesota and Green Bay have been bitter rivals. Both have experienced the highs and lows of franchise success, but rarely did they happen simultaneously. When the Packers were riding high, typically the Vikings were struggling. When the Vikings were a powerhouse, usually the Packers were pedestrian.

Saturday will be just the second time in Vikings history that the Vikings and Packers have met in the playoffs. The first meeting was Jan. 9, 2005. The Vikings had backed into the playoffs with an 8-8 record and were heavy underdogs to Green Bay, who had swept the Vikings by identical scores of 34-31 in the regular season.

Only three players remain on the Vikings from that 2004 team – Antoine Winfield, Kevin Williams and Cullen Loeffler. Like several of the young Vikings players of 2012, Loeffler was a rookie long snapper and said the postgame atmosphere following their final regular season game was a night-and-day difference from what the Vikings experienced last Sunday.

"It was crazy, because we had lost our last game to Washington (21-18) and we thought we were out of the playoffs," Loeffler said. "I remember the feeling in the locker room was brutal. We felt we had knocked ourselves out of the playoffs. It was a similar scenario to what we went through this year – win and you're in, lose and you're probably out.

"We found out about 10 or 15 minutes after our game was over that the chips fell where they may and a team we needed to lose (New Orleans) had lost and we made the playoffs at 8-8," Loeffler said. "We thought we were done. We were glad that we were in, but there wasn't any celebrating. We were so disappointed that we didn't take care of our own business, we felt like we had backed in. It wasn't like we weren't happy to be there, we just weren't on a roll like we were this year – winning the last four to get the chance to play in the postseason."

The 2004 Vikings had struggled badly and didn't have the look of a playoff team. After starting 4-1 to open the season, the team had lost seven of their final 10 games, including four of the last five. They brought new meaning to the term backing into the playoffs. But Loeffler recalled that something happened once they got in. A team that had been drained of all its confidence suddenly took on a much different persona.

"I'll never forget how intense that week was," Loeffler said. "I had always heard that there is a level you reach during the regular season and then there is another higher level you reach during the postseason. The intensity level definitely rose for that week and we played harder than they did and we were so ready to play them. We didn't care if it was at Green Bay or not. We were ready for that game."

Outside of friends and family, few people gave the Vikings a chance against the 10-6 Packers led by a younger, less grizzled Brett Favre. They had swept the Vikings during the regular season and the third meeting was supposed to be the same. However, as the sun sank below the walls at Lambeau Field, a funny thing happened. The Vikings blew the doors off Favre and the Packers. Daunte Culpepper threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Moe Williams less than two minutes into the game and, after Favre threw the first of four interceptions, Culpepper found Randy Moss for another touchdown. Less than four minutes later, a Morten Andersen field goal gave the Vikings a 17-0 lead less than nine minutes into the game and the rout was on.

"The memory that sticks with me is that we got off to such a strong start," Loeffler said. "We had played them tight in both games. We lost both of them (34-31) on Ryan Longwell field goals. We knew we could hang with them and had given them everything they wanted in the first two games, but lost them both. We knew we matched up well with them and, when we got off to that fast start, it was incredible how fired up everybody was on our sideline. We were close to the fans and they were letting us have it before the game. A lot of guys were giving it back to them after we got up so fast."

Moss was front and center with the lasting memories of that game. One of the reasons was his hairstyle, which appeared to be a hybrid of the styles of Don King and Buckwheat from the Little Rascals.

"It was the afro game," Loeffler said. "Randy had dreadlocks and there were about a half-dozen other guys that just let them go. Randy looked like he had been electrocuted because, when the dreads came out, his hair was really long and stood straight up. All the guys who could just let their hair go. It looked pretty crazy."

Loeffler wasn't able to partake in the ritual of letting his hair grow crazy. Thanks to a rookie hazing ritual that had people wondering if he was in cancer treatment, even if wanted to join in, they never let poor Cullen join in any reindeer games.

"I would have joined in, but I couldn't," Loeffler said. "I was a rookie and I had my head shaved along with my eyebrows. I looked pretty weird after that happened. By the time we played Green Bay, my hair was maybe an inch long at that point. I was with them in spirit, but I couldn't get anything close to wild afro going."

The other enduring moment of that game was described by Joe Buck, who said, "That is a disgusting act!" when Moss scored his second touchdown, performed a fake mooning of the crowd in his touchdown celebration and rubbed his butt on the goal post. Buck was unaware of the ritual of Packers fans mooning the opposing team bus. Loeffler was unaware of the furor that was taking place, because as Moss was going through his machinations, he was running on the field to snap the extra point.

"I never saw it," Loeffler said. "As to their crowd mooning the bus, I never really paid attention to what was going on after games when we got on the bus unless somebody threw eggs that hit the window I was by. I was usually reading or listening to music and off in my own world. I was kind of lost in translation. But I had heard that Packers fans would line up and moon the bus. The funny part of that was, when we pulled into the stadium in Philadelphia the next week, we got mooned like 150 times. The one that stood out was a father-son combo that dropped trou' together. I was watching because of the buildup. I was cracking up because it was so ridiculous."

Loeffler holds onto those memories of the underdog Vikings going into Lambeau Field and coming away with a victory few people thought possible. His hope is that the next generation of young Vikings players will take away similar memories from Saturday's game – both in terms of making the playoffs when few thought they could and handing a numbing loss to the favored Packers.

"As a young player, you can get a little entranced by the mystique because you've heard about Lambeau Field your entire life," Loeffler said. "It's a great venue and you know their fans are going to be loud and help create that playoff atmosphere. But we're reminding the young guys that this is a business trip and we have a job to do. Hopefully we can come away with a win again."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.