Vikings’ Most Heart-Breaking Losses Of All-Time

April 23, 2022

Today we’ll take a look back at some of the Vikings most heart-breaking losses that fans recall. We’ll cover the 2009 NFC championship at length but it is of course one of the worst. Let’s dive in.

Vikings Most Heart-Breaking Losses of All-Time

1998 NFC Championship Game

We’ll begin with, perhaps, the Vikings most heart-breaking losses of all-time. It holds this spot in the hearts of most Vikings fans for just about every reason one could think of; a close game lost at the last minute, the Vikings were heavily favored, and a win would have secured a trip to the Super Bowl. 

Coming off of a 15-1 regular season, the best in Vikings history, this team was an absolute juggernaut. Its offense set the record at the time for points scored in a single season boasting a passing attack that was in a league of its own. Cris Carter, Jake Reed, and rookie Randy Moss stressed secondaries with the threat of the deep ball from Randall Cunningham, and halfbacks Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard combined for over 1600 yards and 15 touchdowns. Even future Super Bowl winning coach Brian Billick was the Offensive Coordinator for the near-unstoppable unit. The defense was no slouch either, ranking sixth in 1998 in points allowed. Pro Bowlers John Randle and Ed McDaniel headlined a unit that was buoyed by its offense dominating the time of possession. 

The team steamrolled into the playoffs and over their first opponent, The Arizona Cardinals, by a score of 41-21. The game was only further affirmation that this team was something special. The NFC Championship Game seemed like a formality.

The #2 seed Falcons were heavy underdogs coming into the game at the Metrodome eager to hush the doubters. The opening drive for Atlanta, which included a ridiculous one-catch by Terance Mathis, culminated in a Chris Chandler touchdown pass to Jamal Anderson out of the backfield. The Vikings wasted no time answering as Randy Moss caught a score in the back of the end zone to tie it up midway through the first quarter. This was followed by 13 more unanswered points from Minnesota and an Atlanta touchdown making the score 20-14 at halftime. 

Atlanta tacked on two field goals and the Vikings , a touchdown leaving the score 27-20 with two minutes left in the game. The Vikings had driven methodically down the field and set up Gary Anderson for a 39-yard field goal, a relative chip shot. Anderson hadn’t missed a field goal in nearly two calendar years; he stood confident, peering over his single-bar facemask. Wide left. 

Atlanta, rejuvenated, swiftly tied the ballgame with a score. Minnesota regained possession at its own 20-yard line with 49 seconds to go. After a Cunningham scramble that did not stop the clock, disappointment echoed through the Dome as the home crowd booed Denny Green’s decision to take a knee and play for overtime. But the Vikings won the toss! Needing only a field goal, Minnesota’s drive was stymied near mid-field forcing a punt. They got the ball back and subsequently had to punt again. The Falcons were given too many chances and finally on their third drive of overtime, they were able to win on a.. 39-yard field goal. No Super Bowl.

2003 At Arizona Cardinals

The next game may pale in comparison to the ‘98 blunder, but this game was just about as shocking. The Vikings began the 2003 season 6-0 before losing four straight. After a Week 16 shellacking of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Vikings sat at 9-6, still controlling their own destiny. Coming into week 17 at Arizona needing only a win to secure the NFC North crown.

The Cardinals entered the game with a 3-12 record and nothing but pride riding on the season’s final game. In front of its home crowd, the Cardinals played tough holding a Minnesota offense that scored 45 points in the week prior, to just 17.

The game had a few highlights before the final minutes. Rookie Kevin Williams was dominant with three sacks and four tackles for loss, terrorizing Josh McCown and an aging Emmitt Smith. Randy Moss caught a score and Michael Bennett ran for 63 yards on a slow day.

With 1:54 remaining in the 4th quarter, the Vikings led 17-6 before a Steve Bush touchdown and failed 2-pt conversion made it 17-12. The game still seemed well out of reach until Arizona recovered the onside kick. A defensive pass interference call granted Arizona free yards to get across midfield and McCown kept his offense moving thereafter. The clock kept running as Arizona clung to its final timeout. They had no choice but to call it on 3rd and 14 from the 17 after Kevin Williams’ third sack.

Lance Johnstone got to him on the following play as the Cardinals’ offense scrambled back to the line. 4th down, last play of the game, Green Bay fans watching the Jumbotron in Lambeau, McCown rolls out and slings it to Brian Poole in the corner of the end zone. Touchdown. Many of us can still hear the disdain in Paul Allen’s voice as he made the call. The Vikings were knocked out of the playoffs, relinquishing the division to none other than the Packers.

2017 NFC Championship Game

This one is fresher. We all remember the Case Keenum season. The team was riding high into the playoffs following one of its best defensive seasons under Mike Zimmer. The Vikings went 13-3 and secured a first-round bye.

The stage was set for the Minneapolis Miracle against the Saints. This article isn’t about heart-mending games so I won’t go into detail on that game, but it is ultimately what made the subsequent loss so crushing.

The end of the Saints game further affirmed the sentiment among Viking fans that this was “the year”. The football gods must be on Minnesota’s side this time. Anticipation mounted as a Super Bowl berth seemed like a fire gone conclusion. A Super Bowl. In Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium. The stars had aligned! Until the Vikings were clobbered in Philadelphia.

38-7 is a score that will live in embarrassing infamy until the Vikings get back to the big game. It is unlikely, however, that we will see an opportunity as perfect as the one squandered in 2017.