Each week during the 2015 season, Viking Update examines a past game against the Vikings' upcoming opponent. Some of the choices are obvious; others are not. However, all the games chosen stand the test of time.
Vikings vs. Raiders
Super Bowl XI (Pasadena, California)
Jan. 9, 1977
The graying Purple People Eaters and 16-year veteran quarterback Fran Tarkenton had one more chance after the Minnesota Vikings advanced to their third Super Bowl in four years and fourth in franchise history. Finally, the Vikings could atone for three previous Super Bowl disappointments and permanently remove the “can't win the big one” label.
Minnesota claimed the NFC Central Division title with an 11-2-1 record in 1976. But cracks were beginning to appear in the strong foundation established by head coach Bud Grant. The games were closer. Five victories were by eight points or fewer. Two one-point wins and a tie were secured via blocked kicks. The defense, while still strong against the pass, proved more susceptible to the ground attack. A year after leading the NFL by surrendering just 109 rushing yards per game, the 1976 Vikings fell to 17th in the league with a 149.7 yards-per-game average. On offense, Tarkenton had another fine year with 17 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions. Chuck Foreman led the team in rushing (1,155 yards) and receiving (55 catches). Rookie Sammy White and Ahmad Rashad gave Tarkenton his two best-ever wide receivers. However, the offense didn't put up huge numbers, slipping from 26.9 points a game in 1975 to 21.8 points in 1976. Both the offense and defense struggled at times in the NFC Championship game, a special-teams inspired 24-13 win over the Rams. To snap the Super Bowl jinx, all three phases of the Vikings game would have to click against the powerful Oakland Raiders. John Madden's team went 13-1 before dispatching New England and two-time defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh in the playoffs. The Raiders were installed as four-point favorites over the Vikings.
Bright sunshine and a comfortable 52 degrees created the ideal environment for Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl. A Super Bowl record 100,421 fans and 81 million television viewers – at the time, the most ever for a sporting event – settled in to see which franchise could finally claim a championship. The Vikings were outscored 63-20 in their three previous Super Bowls. The Raiders lost their lone Super Bowl appearance and had fallen in three recent AFC Championship games.
In the early going, it appeared that the Super Bowl might finally smile upon the men in purple. The Raiders had an efficient first drive, but Errol Mann missed a 29-yard field goal. Seven minutes later, the Raiders had another special-teams meltdown when Fred McNeill became the first man to block a punt off the foot of All-Pro Ray Guy. The Minnesota linebacker broke free from the left side and fully extended himself to block the kick and send the ball bouncing near the Oakland 10. The Vikings' Bobby Bryant, who returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a touchdown in the NFC Championship game, was once again in position to snag the pigskin and coast to the end zone. However, the ball took a big bounce over Bryant's head, and McNeill eventually pounced on it at the 3. Only nine feet separated the Vikings from their first Super Bowl lead. A short plunge by Chuck Foreman got them a yard closer. On second down, it became apparent that the Super Bowl gods were just teasing the Vikings. Running back Brent McClanahan fumbled when hit by linebacker Phil Villapiano. Fellow linebacker Willie Hall recovered the loose ball to snuff out the scoring threat.
Three plays later, Oakland established the tone for the remainder of the afternoon. On third-and-7 from their own 6, the Raiders' Clarence Davis went to his left and raced 35 yards for a first down. That long run and a 25-yard pass from Kenny Stabler to tight end Dave Casper led to a Mann 24-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
The score was just 3-0 but it felt like 30-0. The Vikings offense was sputtering and the team had squandered a prime opportunity after the blocked punt. The massive Raiders offensive line was dominating the Vikings’ front four. Following left guard Gene Upshaw and left tackle Art Shell, the Raiders punished the right side of the Vikings defense. The effective ground game opened up the passing attack for the crafty Stabler, who would consistently find Casper and wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff for key plays. A 1-yard toss to Casper completed a 10-play, 64-yard drive, and a 17-yard pass to Bilentnikoff led to a short touchdown run by Pete Banaszak and a 16-0 Oakland lead at the half.
The Raiders increased their advantage to 19-0 after Mann hit a 40-yard field goal with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter. The Vikings responded by giving their fans a flicker of hope. Tarkenton, playing with an injured right knee, engineered a vintage Minnesota 68-yard march, mixing some Foreman runs with clutch passes to tight end Stu Voigt and receivers Rashad and White. Tarkenton's 8-yard TD strike to White cut the deficit to 19-7 entering the fourth quarter.
The Purple defense did its part at the beginning of the final stanza by forcing a rare three-and-out by the Raiders. Tarkenton then continued to hint at a monumental comeback that forever would wipe away past Super Bowl setbacks. Passing on nearly every play, the Hall of Famer led the Vikings from their own 22 to the Oakland 37. On third-and-3, Tarkenton tried to hit Foreman with a short pass, but Hall intercepted it to end the Minnesota threat. A few plays later, the Raiders ended any doubt regarding the outcome. A 48-yard pass to Bilentnikoff set up Banaszak for a 2-yard TD run and a 26-7 lead.
In desperation mode, Tarkenton willed Minnesota to the Raiders 28 with 6:04 remaining. On first down, he threw to his left looking for White. Instead, he found Oakland's Willie Brown, who jumped the route and returned the interception 75 yards down the sideline for Super Bowl XI's exclamation mark. The Vikings added a meaningless touchdown in the waning seconds on a Bob Lee to Voigt 13-yard pass to make the final 32-14.
As the last seconds ticked off the scoreboard, the overwhelming nature of the Oakland win was evident on the Minnesota sideline. A dejected Tarkenton sat on his helmet and tears consumed Foreman's eyes as another Super Bowl setback sank in. The Raiders' dominance was one for the record books. Oakland set Super Bowl marks with 429 total yards and 266 rushing yards. Davis finished with 137 yards on the ground and Bilentnikoff, the Super Bowl MVP, had four catches for 79 yards.
The Raiders forced Brent McClanahan to fumble when the Vikings were on the verge of taking their first-ever Super Bowl lead. Phil Villapiano's hit and Willie Hall's recovery ended Minnesota's lone scoring threat in the first half.
Vikings Player of the Game
Middle linebacker Jeff Siemon registered 15 solo tackles.
Purple Honorable Mention
Linebacker Fred McNeill, whose block of a first-quarter Ray Guy punt gave the Vikings a golden opportunity to gain early momentum.
(via the Jan. 10, 1977 New York Times)
“We just played them on the wrong day. Next time, we'll play them on a Wednesday.”
“They totally dominated us. We have no excuses.”
(via the book, Minnesota Vikings: The Complete Illustrated History by Patrick Reusse):
“I don't know how to handle this. I mean, how I'm going to cope with another failure like this in the Super Bowl. Other guys, maybe they can shake it off. Me, it hurts. It grabs me and shakes me, and I just hate it. I wanted to be so proud of our team, and I guess I still am, but this was a terrible way to lose a championship football game. I'm just so damned depressed.”
The aging Vikings nucleus returned in 1977. Despite losing Fran Tarkenton to a broken leg in the later stages of the season, Minnesota managed to win another NFC Central Division crown with a 9-5 record. It was the first time since 1972 that the club won fewer than 10 games. In the playoffs, the Vikings shocked the favored Rams, 14-7, in the game forever known as the “Mud Bowl.” A week later, Minnesota fell shy of another Super Bowl berth when Dallas beat them 23-6. Minnesota is still waiting for a fifth trip to the Super Bowl.