This Sunday marks the final division game against the Buccaneers, and fans of both teams are probably breathing a sigh of relief. Much has been made of the teams splitting the season series in each of the last eight years. The Vikings won the first game at the Metrodome earlier this year, and Tampa Bay is favored to hold serve at home.
This series started in 1977, shortly after the Bucs joined the NFL. Back then, it was two coaching legends meeting, Bud Grant and John McKay. Nowadays it is Denny Green against his former assistant Tony Dungy. Although the Vikes have a lead in the series with a 31-16 record, the Bucs have won many times when Vikes fans expected an easy win. With the teams more evenly matched in recent years, highlights for Buc fans include a dominating 28-14 win in the Metrodome in '97 (last Bucs victory at Minnesota); spoiling the Vikings' hopes for a perfect season in '98 with a 27-24 win in Tampa; edging the Vikes for the division title on the strength of a 24-17 Monday night win in '99; and last season's 41-13 dismantling of an undefeated Vikings team.
Viking fans have enjoyed some big wins against the Bucs in recent years also: The 31-7 rout in Randy Moss' first game in '98; the 21-14 win in '99 when the Vikes led 21-0 early and held on to win; last year's exciting 30-23 win on Monday night; and this season's desperation win, with the Vikes going 96 yards late in the game to pull out a 20-16 win and avoid an 0-3 start on the season.
Big, strange plays have marked these games also. Remember the Vikes getting a touchdown in Tampa in '96 when the runner was clearly down well short of the goal line? Remember Moss batting the ball to himself in the end zone on a bomb in '98? How 'bout the Bucs blocking a field goal and returning it for a touchdown last year at the Metrodome? Jeff George's interception on a wide receiver screen that was returned for a touchdown on the first series in '99? Mike Alstott running over several Vikings at the goal line before running backwards into the end zone?
Most of the recent games have been close, and Sunday's game will probably be another battle. As much as Denny Green seems to enjoy playing Tampa, I can't say that I'm sorry to see them go. Getting the Bucs out of the Central means two less games against a very difficult opponent. Goodbye Tampa, hope we can finally break the eight-year deadlock and send you out of the Central with a loss. No hard feelings.
I think the Vikes can win this game, provided they have some success running the ball and score some points early in the game. Tampa has been wearing down on defense this year, and the offense is struggling. If the Vikes can get an early lead, the Bucs offense may unravel. If the Vikes put up 20 points or more, they should win the game.
Note: In an NFL scheduling consistency, this is the fourth time in five years the Vikes have played at Tampa in the seventh or eighth week of the season (should be the eighth week this year, but Week 2 was rescheduled).
Bucs Rivalry Loaded With Memories
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