The power of the NFL will be on full display tonight because, for reason unknown to logic, the announcement of the 2017 schedule will be a prime-time event. We already know the opponents. The announcement will be focused on when teams are playing each other – with an emphasis on the season opener.
Betting lines will being set in Las Vegas shorty after tonight’s announcement, with the first game of the season setting the tone for the new-look teams getting ready to make their imprint on the 2017 season.
Whether good or bad, first games can often set the tone for a season.
The Minnesota Vikings are no stranger to this phenomenon. In their history, they’ve had plenty of opening games that made a splash – good or bad, short-term or long-term.
We’ve pared them down to a dirty dozen of the most memorable. Here they are.
Sept. 17, 1961 – Vikings vs. Chicago Bears. In their first games against the vaunted Bears of George Halas vintage, the expansion Vikings started the game with trivia answer George Shaw. In the second quarter, he was replaced by their third-round draft pick – a skinny kid with an effeminate name (Francis Asbury Tarkenton). The kid completed 17 of 23 passes for 250 yards, four touchdowns and a passer rating of 148.6. The rest was history.
Sept. 21, 1969 – Vikings at New York Giants. Tarkenton got his revenge against Minnesota at Yankee Stadium in his first game against his former team. Trailing 23-10 in the fourth quarter after a 10-yard field goal (not a misprint) by Fred Cox, Tarkenton rallied the Giants for two touchdown passes to Don Herrmann and the Giants won 24-23. In arguably the greatest season in Vikings history, they wouldn’t lose again after Sept. 21 until Dec. 20.
Sept. 20, 1970 – Vikings vs. Kansas City Chiefs. After losing the Super Bowl the Chiefs – the second straight time the upstart AFL had beaten the NFL champ, giving them full-on legitimacy – the Vikings and Chiefs met in the season-opening game after the official merger. The Vikings opened a 17-7 halftime lead and blew out the Chiefs, 27-10, to exact a small piece of revenge…a very small piece.
Sept. 7, 1980 – Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons. The Purple People Eater days were officially dead at the end of the ’70s. The Vikings won the NFC Central on the miracle tipped pass caught by Ahmad Rashad, but without the season-opening 24-23 win, in which the Vikings got three touchdowns from Tommy Kramer to take a 21-6 lead (the six being because of a blocked extra point), the division wouldn’t have been theirs. In the opener, the Falcons rallied late to take a 23-21 lead, but kicker Rick Danmeier stuck a German dagger into the Falcons’ hearts with a 27-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 24-23 victory that would prove critical when Rashad hauled in an improbable Hail Mary for playoff dough.
Sept. 2, 1984 – Vikings vs. San Diego Chargers. Bud Grant was gone. Les Steckel was beginning a new era in Minnesota. It was going to be boot camp. By 1984, NFL players had worked hard enough to earn that right to play at the highest level. They were treated like boot camp recruits and the opener was an ominous portent of things to come. It was bad enough when Dan Fouts cut them up. When tight end Pete Holohan threw a 25-yard seed to Charlie Joyner, Steckel’s debut saw his beaten-down troop down 35-3. It was the start of the infamous “Lose, Rinse, Repeat” season that ended with a whimper and gave Vikings fans less Steckel.
Sept. 8, 1985 – Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers. After insisting on less Steckel, this Bud’s for you! Bud Grant was lured out of retirement to do what he did – win. Unfortunately, he was facing the defending-champion 49ers who went 18-1 and ran roughshod over the rest of the league on their way to the coronation of Joe Montana as the best QB ever (up to that point). In a game that was tied 7-7 after three quarters, the Vikings never led until Ted Brown ran in a 10-yard TD to give Bud a 28-21 win in a fourth quarter that included 35 points in 15 minutes.
Sept. 6, 1992 – Vikings at Green Bay Packers. Welcome to the NFL, Denny Green. After purging the veteran nucleus of the team, the Vikings had to bring their self-appointed “new sheriff” into the unfriendly confines of Lambeau Field. The expectation for the season was that the Vikings were in rebuild mode. Not so fast, my friend. It took overtime to achieve, but the Vikings won 23-20 – the first of 11 wins in Green’s rookie season on their way to an improbable division title.
Sept. 6, 1998 – Vikings vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Randy Moss made his NFL debut with then-starter Brad Johnson in a season that would help put the exclamation point on the career of Randall Cunningham, at the time a guy taking time off from his granite business in Vegas. Johnson completed just 15 passes for 189 yards, but four went for touchdowns – two of them to Moss, who catches four passes for 95 yards in his NFL debut. Tampa Bay got beat down, 31-7. They respond by playing the perfect game later in the season to prevent a perfect regular-season record for the Vikings, but the opener set the tone for the season.
Sept. 9, 2001 – Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers. The Vikings had made the NFC Championship Game two of the previous three years, the band was back together and ready to finish the job. Two days before the world changed irrevocably, Daunte Culpepper threw three picks against the previously hapless Panthers and Carolina humbled the Vikings 24-13. Two days later, the NFL stops business and, by the time the season ends, Spergon Wynn threw for 86 yards and Mike Tice had replaced Green as head coach in the smoldering ruins of what should have been an epic Vikings season.
Sept. 9, 2007 – Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons. Adrian Peterson made his NFL debut and all he did was rush 19 times for 103 yards and a touchdowns, and, ironically, caught one pass for a 60-yard touchdown. By the end of the month, Peterson was already being hailed as the best running back in the NFL – a title he held for the better part of the next decade.
Sept. 9, 2010 – Vikings at New Orleans Saints. With the Vikings looking for revenge for Bountygate after Seal Team Six threw Brett Favre in a bag to assure that the magical 2009 season would get off to a hot start, the Saints won ugly on an opening Thursday. The Vikings never recovered and Favre took a beating that finally pushed him into retirement three months later.
Sept. 7, 2014 – Vikings at St. Louis Rams. Mike Zimmer came to town amid boasts of defensive prowess and made his first (and almost certainly last) visit to St. Louis as a head coach and made Stan Kroenke tear up in a 34-6 beat-down that wasn’t as close as the score would appear.
For better or worse, an opening game on a schedule can dictate the course of a season or set a significant tone from a historical perspective.
Will tonight’s announcement of the Vikings 2017 schedule potentially knock one of these dirty dozen off the all-time list?
In four months, tonight’s speculation will turn into reality.