Minnesota Vikings: Top 5 Most Heartbreaking Moments in the Last 25 Years

While the Minnesota Vikings are infamously known for their four Super Bowl losses in the ‘70s, the pain that Vikings fans have had to endure did not stop there. The last quarter century has featured several moments which Vikings fans wish they could forget forever. Apologies in advance Vikings fans.

Honorable Mention – 4th & 24
Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals – Dec. 28, 2003 (Week 17)

It is devastating for a season to end the way the 2003 season ended for the Vikings. It is even more devastating that such an ending does not even crack the top five most miserable moments for Vikings fans in the last 25 years. The 2003 Vikings went on a tear to start the season, winning their first six games. However, the Vikings showed their true colors as the season progressed, losing six of their next nine games. Despite these struggles, the Vikings still had the opportunity to win in Week 17 to clinch the division and a playoff berth. All that stood in their way was the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals had nothing to play for but pride in this Week 17 matchup. Meanwhile, the Vikings were playing to keep their season alive and advance to the playoffs. It was far from the prettiest performance by the Vikings, but a 17-6 lead at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter nearly ensured that the Vikings would be playing in January. But fate quickly turned as the Cardinals scored a touchdown and recovered the ensuing onside kick. Down 17-12 now, the Cardinals needed to drive 60 yards in under two minutes to eliminate the Vikings from the postseason. Half of that yardage was gained on the first play of the drive due to a deep pass interference penalty. The Vikings defense held their own until the clock was ticking its final seconds.

The Vikings had just sacked Cardinals’ quarterback Josh McCown for the eighth time, setting up a 4th & 24 from the Minnesota 27-yard line as the game clock approached zeros. In a chaotic scramble, the Cardinals were able to get off a final play. “McCown, takes the snap. He steps up. He’s all by himself. Fires into the endzone… CAUGHT! TOUCHDOWN! NO!” exclaimed shocked Vikings’ play-by-play announcer Paul Allen. McCown’s last second connection to receiver Nate Poole in the back right corner of the endzone left Vikings fans in disbelief. Not only did this meltdown end the Vikings’ season, it also allowed the Green Bay Packers to secure the NFC North and a playoff berth.

If you feel it cannot get more painful than that, stay tuned.

#5 – An NFC Championship Game Disaster
Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants – Jan. 14, 2001 (NFC Championship)

The 2000 Minnesota Vikings were highlighted by an explosive offense, led by quarterback Daunte Culpepper, running back Robert Smith, and receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter. This offense helped lead the team to an 11-2 record, but the Vikings would drop their last three games of the regular season heading into the playoffs. Despite this stretch, the Vikings earned a first round bye and cruised past the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Round. That set up a date with the conference’s No. 1 seeded New York Giants to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XXXV.

What was supposed to be a tight affair between the NFC’s top two seeds ended up being a massacre victory for the Giants. The first few dives set the tone for what would be a horrifying performance from the Vikings in all three phases of the game. The Giants scored a touchdown on their opening drive, recovered a fumble on the following kickoff, and immediately scored again. By the time Culpepper and the offense took their first snap, the Vikings already trailed 14-0. The Vikings’ offense failed to dig out of this hole and the Giants continued piling it on. By halftime, the Giants led 34-0 and the game was practically over. The Vikings could not post points in the second half either, resulting in a dominant 41-0 victory for the Giants. The previously high-powered Vikings offense left Giants Stadium with a woeful 114 total yards and five turnovers.

Vikings fans, along with all other football fans, were taken away from the chance of seeing an offensive versus defensive clash in the Super Bowl against the AFC’s Baltimore Ravens. Although the Giants were slight favorites, no one expected such a beatdown. The opportunity to play in the Super Bowl along with a humiliating performance helps this loss cracks the top five, but it would not be the last time the Vikings would perform miserably in an NFC Championship Game.

#4 – Blair Walsh Misses Wide Left
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings – Jan. 10, 2016 (NFC Wild Card)

Like the 2003 season, the 2015 season also fell victim to an unexpected and heartbreaking ending. The 2015 Vikings were far from spectacular, but led by All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson and defensive Pro Bowlers Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, and Everson Griffen, they finished the season with an 11-5 record. Second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was not exceptional, but showed that he could become the Vikings’ franchise quarterback. The No. 3 seeded Vikings hosted the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card Round on a freezing afternoon at the open TCF Bank Stadium.

The two teams had met just five weeks prior at the same venue, where the Seahawks stomped all over the Vikings in a 38-7 beating. However, this playoff game would play out very differently. The temperature at kickoff was -6 degrees Fahreneheit, which resulted in an extremely sluggish game. Neither team could sustain long drives or create big plays. Peterson was shut down in the running game, rushing 23 times for a lackluster 45 yards. By the start of the fourth quarter, the Vikings led 9-0, meaning Seattle would have to score at least twice in frigid weather to win the game. A broken play early in the fourth quarter became a critical turning point when Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson had a snap go behind him in the backfield. Wilson retrieved the ball nearly twenty yards behind the line of scrimmage, scrambled, and located an open receiver downfield for the Seahawks’ longest play of the game. A touchdown, followed by a Peterson fumble, and a field goal, gave Seattle a 10-9 lead.

The Vikings were unraveling, but plenty of hope still remained. With under two minutes left, a pass interference penalty and a big reception by tight end Kyle Rudolph put the Vikings far inside field goal range. With 26 seconds remaining, the Vikings called out kicker Blair Walsh to kick a 27-yard field goal which would nearly seal a victory and keep the Vikings’ season alive. Walsh was 9 for 9 on field goals between 20 and 29 yards in 2015. He had led the league in made field goals that year with 34. He had been the only Viking to score that day, with field goals from 22, 43, and 47 yards. So surely he could knock through a 27-yard chip-shot. Wrong. Walsh drilled the rock-solid ball through the icy Minnesota air far left of the goalpost, leaving fans, players, and commentators speechless. Seahawks players, who expected for their season to come to an end, sent prayers to the heavens while Vikings players watched their season collapse in disbelief.

Walsh’s kick is just one example of a Vikings moment which highlights the difference between what should have happened and what actually happened. Paul Allen says exactly what all Vikings were thinking, “The season can’t end like that.” Unfortunately for Walsh, his playoff debacle took away all of his confidence and he mightily struggled the following season. The one-time Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro kicker lost his job in the NFL just two years after his miss versus Seattle. Even more unfortunately, Bridgewater suffered a major knee injury right before the 2016 season which would jeopardize his future with the Vikings and his career in the NFL. The Wild Card game would be his final start for the Vikings, what a shame.

#3 – An NFC Championship Game Disaster Pt. 2
Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles – Jan. 21, 2018 (NFC Championship)

Vikings fans will never forget the special 2017 season, which makes its ending that much more unbearable. The 2017 Vikings were not supposed to be serious contenders, especially after injuries to quarterback Sam Bradford and rookie running back Dalvin Cook early in the season. But behind head coach Mike Zimmer’s top ranked defense and surprising performances from backup quarterback Case Keenum, the Vikings won eleven of their last twelve games to finish 13-3. The Vikings defense included five Pro Bowlers: safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen, and defensive tackle Linval Joseph. After a first round bye, the Vikings hosted the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round. On an evening football fans will never forget, the Vikings scored a last-second touchdown on a 61-yard prayer from Keenum to receiver Stefon Diggs to beat the Saints 29-24. This iconic moment, known as the “Minneapolis Miracle”, secured a date with the Philadelphia Eagles the following week.

After the “Minneapolis Miracle” game, it seemed as if this would be the year the Vikings would get the chance to battle in their first Super Bowl since the 1970s. This year was even more special since the Super Bowl would be played in the Vikings’ own US Bank Stadium. All that stood in the way of being the first team to ever play at home in a Super Bowl was the No. 1 seed Eagles. Like the Vikings, the Eagles were relying on a backup quarterback, Nick Foles, due to injury. Mediocre play by Foles in his few starts caused the Vikings to be three point favorites entering Philly. The confident-looking Vikings marched down field on their opening drive, scoring a touchdown with ease. However, that would be the last bit of confidence the Vikings would show that night.

Not only did the Vikings’ offense struggle to put together another successful drive, their top ranked defense crumbled. Third down conversions and chunk plays had the Vikings’ defense on their heels all night. Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson was one step ahead of Zimmer throughout the game. What was expected to be a tight game turned into a massacre, with the Eagles winning 38-7. The “Minneapolis Miracle” just a week earlier was all for nothing. The chance to play a home Super Bowl was thrown down the drain. The miraculous season ended in an embarrassment on the biggest stage. It was a storybook season that lacked a storybook ending, leaving Vikings fans in a known feeling of dismay.

#2 – Favre Throws Away Super Bowl Hopes
Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (-4) – Jan. 24, 2010 (NFC Championship)

All of the previous moments hindered the Vikings from playing in the Super Bowl, but none would be closer in reach than Super Bowl XLIV in the 2010 postseason. Former Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre signed with the rival Vikings prior to the 2009 season after a brief stint with the New York Jets. The 40-year-old Favre brought instant success to Minnesota, helping the team obtain a 12-4 record and a first round bye. The 2009 Vikings received standout seasons from Adrian Peterson, receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, defensive end Jared Allen, and defensive tackle Kevin Williams. The Vikings would trample the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round 34-3, allowing for a matchup with the best team in the NFC: the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints were led by MVP runner-up quarterback Drew Brees, who had been the most efficient passer in the 2009 season. Behind Brees, New Orleans held the league’s best offense and cruised through their schedule by way of several high scoring performances. Like the Vikings, the Saints had also come off of a dominant victory the week prior to the NFC Championship. The game played out just as any big game between two great teams should. One team scored and the other answered immediately. The constant back and forth action kept all viewers in their seats, unlike other Vikings’ NFC Championship games. Although a one possession game throughout, the Vikings shot themselves in the foot over and over with three fumbles, two being in the Saints’ redzone. Yet the game still rested under Minnesota’s control as time was ticking away. Then disaster struck.

With the game tied 28-28, the Vikings had the ball on the Saints 37-yard line with 19 seconds remaining following a careless “12 men in the huddle” penalty on Minnesota. The Vikings could run one more play and call on kicker Ryan Longwell, who had only missed two field goals all season, to drill a long kick to send them to the Super Bowl. Tragically for the Vikings, Longwell would not be given that chance. Cue Paul Allen once again: “Brett Favre goes back to pass, he pumps, now he fires over the middle… intercepted. I can’t believe what I’m seeing.” This was followed by an irate, “Why do you even ponder passing? I mean, you can take a knee and try a 56 yard field goal! This is not Detroit, man! This is the Super Bowl!” The final offensive play could have gone several ways for the Vikings. A run with Peterson. A safe pass. Even a knee. Even if Favre had decided to hold on to the ball and scramble, he would have allowed for a shorter field goal attempt. But none of those things happened. Instead, the game would go to overtime, where the Saints would win the coin toss and eliminate the Vikings on their first drive with a field goal.

Favre’s gunslinger mentality was the reason he had been such a prolific quarterback, but in the biggest moment of the year, it cost the team their season. Questionable officiating, the sudden death overtime rules, and the later discovered “Bountygate” scandal made this loss an even tougher pill to swallow for Vikings fans. Three heart wrenching NFC title games have been covered, but another taken the crown for the most pain-inflicting loss in Vikings’ history.

#1 – The Kick
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings – Jan. 17, 1999 (NFC Championship)

As we approach the 25-year anniversary of this awful day, this game continues to haunt Vikings fans. Although it was followed by numerous collapses described earlier, the 1998 season ended with more heartbreak than any season in the last quarter century. The 1998 Vikings were easily the best team Minnesota has had in the last 25 years. Led by an electrifying offense, the Vikings earned a league-best record of 15-1. The Vikings’ offense had been catapulted by veteran quarterback Randall Cunningham and rookie wide receiver Randy Moss. Along with running back Robert Smith and receiver Cris Carter, the Vikings were one of if not the most exciting teams in the league.

The road to Super Bowl XXXIII ran through Minnesota, who were a stellar 9-0 at home entering the NFC Championship. The visiting Atlanta Falcons also had a phenomenal season, finishing with a 14-2 record. Despite that, they came into Minnesota as eleven point underdogs. The heavily favored Vikings had been so dominant in 1998 that they were expected to take full control in the championship game. This seemed to be the case for most of the first half, as the Vikings scored twenty unanswered points to lead 20-7. However, a costly Cunningham fumble in the Vikings’ redzone near the end of the half allowed the Falcons to go into halftime only down by six. With about six minutes left and Minnesota leading 27-20, the Vikings defense forced a turnover on downs, setting up the offense to put the game away. Several Robert Smith rushes drove the Vikings into field goal range, and the Super Bowl was well in sight.

One kick is all it would take. Vikings kicker Gary Anderson was set to kick a 39-yard field goal with about two minutes left to all but ensure a victory. Anderson had made 122 consecutive kicks to that point. His last miss had been over a year earlier on December 15, 1997. The All-Pro kicker had the chance to finally send Minnesota back to the big game. If you have noticed a pattern, you can assume what occurs next: Anderson misses for the first time in over a year. In what seems to be typical Vikings fashion, they would allow a touchdown to send the game to overtime, in which the Falcons would make the game-winning field goal. Not only did Vikings fans have to endure the misery of Anderson’s shocking miss, they also had to witness giving away their spectacular season at the end of regulation and in overtime. While Anderson is given much blame for the loss, the Vikings had plenty of opportunities after the kick to win the game. The Falcons’ game-tying drive included a dropped interception, which would have guaranteed a Vikings win. With little time remaining, Vikings head coach Dennis Green decided to take the game to overtime rather than attempting to get into field goal range with his potent offense. In overtime, the Vikings offense had two drives that both resulted in punts. Cunningham had Moss wide open down the sideline to win the game and underthrew the pass. The Vikings had so many chances yet they squandered them all.

After Anderson’s miss, Vikings kicking woes became a norm, and a constant reminder of the most miserable day in Vikings’ history. Almost 25 years later and some Vikings fans still cannot get over how the 1998 season concluded. All of these moments have instilled the mindset of preparing for the worst in all Vikings fans. Regardless of the circumstance, the Minnesota Vikings will always find a way to disappoint.