This season the Vikings have high hopes for making a run at the Super Bowl. Many of the national NFL experts are predicting a division title – the first step to getting on a January roll. But this season will mark the 35th anniversary of what I am convinced would have been viewed as the one of the greatest teams in NFL history.
The year was 1969. Richard Nixon was in his first year as president, the Beatles were preparing to break up, the NFL and AFL were going to merge the following year and the Vikings were coming off their first playoff appearance in franchise history from the previous year – much less holding the dubious distinction of going 0-2 in the playoffs that year (thank you, NFL Playoff Bowl).
What the Vikings were preparing to do that season was create one of the lost dominant forces in the history of the game. It would set franchise marks for offense and defense that still stand and their dominance can't be questioned. If not for the Super Bowl IV loss to Kansas City, this team would be mentioned in the same breath as the 1985 Chicago Bears.
The season began on a down note, as the Vikings dropped the season opener to former Viking Fran Tarkenton and the Giants 24-23. What would follow over the next 12 weeks was the building of the Purple People Eater myth to the world and the "40 for 60" lore in Minnesota.
In Week 2, the Vikings would win their home opener 52-14 over the defending NFL champion Colts. That game was big in two respects. It would be the first of three times that season that the Vikings would score more than 50 points. It would also be the last time the Vikings allowed a team to score more than 14 points the rest of the season.
What followed was a series of 12 wins in which the Vikings won by margins of 38, 12, 31, 17, 14, 17, 48, 2, 38, 27, 7 and 3 points. Only with Bud Grant resting many of his starters in the season finale against hapless Atlanta in a 10-3 loss did the Vikings avoid a 13-1 season.
The numbers boggled the mind. The Vikings led the NFL by scoring 379 points – only two other teams scored within 50 points of that total. To complicate things, the Vikings allowed a league-best 133 points – only three of the other 15 NFL teams were within 100 points of that. The average score of a Vikings game in 1969 was 29-10. Thirteen opponents scored 14 points or less, nine scored 10 or less, six scored seven or less, one managed three in a 51-3 blowout and two got shut out.
Need more? In the first quarter of games, the Vikes outscored their opponents 84-6. The front four of Carl Eller, Alan Page, Gary Larsen and Jim Marshall combined for 46 sacks. Wide receiver Gene Washington had one more TD reception (nine) than the Vikings allowed. In 14 games, the defense allowed four rushing touchdowns – the same number of TDs scored by the Vikings defense and special teams that year. Opposing quarterbacks that year, which included Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Tarkenton, Roman Gabriel and John Brodie, had a combined QB rating of 42.1. The special teams allowed opposing kickers to make just seven of 18 field goals.
The Vikings put up a lot of points, but one has to wonder how they did it. Leading rusher Dave Osborn ran for just 683 yards in what would now be called a running back by committee with Bill Brown (430 yards), Oscar Reed (393) and Clinton Jones (241). Joe Kapp led the team in passing with 1,726 yards. No receiver had 40 receptions, but the top two – Washington and John Henderson – both averaged more than 21 yards a catch. Ten different offensive players scored at least one touchdown.
The Vikings rolled to their only NFL title with a 23-20 win over the Rams and 27-7 blowout of the Browns in the championship game – the Vikes' only NFL title. The Browns were a good team in 1969 – winning their division with a 10-3-1 record. But, in two games with the Vikes, the were outscored 78-10.
All the lore and history of that year was washed away by the Kansas City Chiefs and Hank Stram. In 1969, most NFL observers thought the Jets win over the Colts in Super Bowl III was a fluke – a one-time thing that wouldn't happen again. By losing to the Chiefs, the Vikings began a sad Super Bowl odyssey that has continued to hang over the franchise like a dark cloud.
But, in the context of a season, just as 1998 was a magical year for the Vikings and their fans, 1969 was one of the most dominant single seasons in NFL history. While few will gather to celebrate the 35th anniversary of that team, perhaps they should. There may never be a team that dominant again.
* VU would like to extend its congratulations to Vikings Public Relations Director Bob Hagan and his wife Val on the birth of their third child – Bradley James.
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