It would have been fitting if the NFL's schedule makers had selected the Vikings to play at Chicago two weeks ago on Halloween day rather than Nov. 14. For the last three years, Soldier Field has been a house of horrors for the Vikings, where the standard rules of close-to-the-vest divisional play goes right out the window.
When people think of the Vikings-Bears rivalry, they think of low-scoring Black and Blue Division games. But, given the recent history of the rivalry, at least when the two teams play off the shores of Lake Michigan, something bizarre takes place. Big plays happen. Turnovers run rampant. Craziness rules the day.
"Every game has its own flow, but things get weird in Chicago," tight end Jim Kleinsasser said. "It can go both ways. Sometimes it's the defenses that dominate a game and sometimes the offenses can seem to do no wrong. When you get in one of those games, you kind of get the feeling it's going to be whoever has the ball last is going to win. We've had some crazy games down there."
Last year, the 11-3 Vikings went to play the 5-9 Bears. They trailed 16-0 at halftime and, despite a furious 30-point comeback in the second half, a blocked extra point forced the game into overtime. Despite two TD passes and 321 yards from Brett Favre and two touchdown runs by Adrian Peterson, the Bears won 36-30 in overtime, when Jay Cutler completed his fourth touchdown pass – the final one to Devin Aromashodu, who caught seven passes for 150 yards. Although the Vikings scored 30 points in 30 minutes, it wasn't enough to beat the Bears.
If that was an isolated incident, it could be written off as just "one of those games." However, the incidents haven't been isolated. Husain Abdullah remembers the 2008 visit to Soldier Field. In a game that was dominated by the Vikings, it seemed like the Gods were against them.
"Every game stands on its own merit, but we've had some strange things happen when we go to Chicago," Abdullah said. "I remember my rookie year we were down there and we had a muffed punt and had another punt that they kicked that bounced off of (Chuck Gordon's) leg and gave them another touchdown. What I remember most about that game is that we were still in it despite shooting ourselves time and again. It was weird."
In that game, both teams were 3-3 at the time of their annual meeting in Chicago and it quickly became obvious that the defenses stayed away. The Bears opened up a 27-24 halftime lead and, thanks to four interceptions from Gus Frerotte and two special teams touchdowns, the Bears won 48-41. One of the Bears' touchdowns came after Chris Kluwe missed the ball on a punt attempt and, when he picked up the ball and tried to punt again, it was blocked and returned for a touchdown, and the other special-teams score happened when a phantom bounce hit return man Chuck Gordon in the leg and was recovered in the end zone by the Bears. It was more than mildly bizarre.
In 2007, the Vikings headed into Chicago with a 1-3 record and desperately needed a win. Although they allowed journeyman quarterback Brian Griese to throw for 381 yards and three touchdowns, a then-record-setting rushing performance from Adrian Peterson (20 rushes for 224 yards and three touchdowns) helped get them a close win. The game featured a season's worth of big plays. The Vikings scored on runs 35, 67 and 73 yards, and Troy Williamson caught a 60-yard touchdown from Tarvaris Jackson. Not to be outdone, the Bears got touchdowns on passes of 39 yards to Bernard Berrian and 33 yards to Muhsin Muhammad, and Devin Hester had a monster game, bringing back a punt 89 yards for a score and catching an 81-yard TD pass. In the end, it took a 53-yard kickoff return from Peterson and a career-best 55-yard field goal as time expired from Ryan Longwell to give the Vikings a 34-31 win.
"That was one I'll remember the rest of my life," Longwell said. "Usually during the pregame warmups, I let the coach know where I feel comfortable kicking a field goal from. I don't remember what I told them I could hit from, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't 55 yards."
As the Vikings get ready to head back to the Windy City for a game that many are viewing in the "must-win" category, they may have to prepare for the unexpected because, if the last three meetings have taught us anything, chances are good for a high-scoring shootout with big plays and multiple turnovers. All that can be expected is the unexpected.
"I wouldn't hold anything out of the realm of possibility down there," Longwell said. "Just when you think you've seen it all, something else happens. We're coming down there expecting to execute our game plan, but you get the feeling something big is going to happen that will influence the game. Hopefully, we'll be on the right side of it this time around."
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.
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