The football world lost another great one last week with the passing of longtime former Vikings and Cardinals coach Dennis Green. Green passed of a heart attack at 67 years of age. While his infamous “they are who we thought they were” postgame rant is what he will be remembered for most, the world of football lost so much more than the creator of a humorous soundbite on Friday. Green’s greatest team, the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, deserve to be talked about.
Green was 113-94 in 13 seasons in NFL head coach. Also, his place as just the second African-American head coach in league history should not be overlooked. He also had to head-coaching stints in the college ranks at Northwestern and Stanford. However, as far as on-field accolades go though, he will best be remembered as a key part of one of the greatest near misses in football history.
Green’s 1998 Vikings were absolutely spectacular. They featured a high-powered offense led by veteran castoffs in quarterback Randall Cunningham and wide receiver Cris Carter. Two guys nobody else wanted. Throw in a freakishly talented rookie problem child wide receiver named Randy Moss and you really had something special. Moss shattered every rookie receiving record imaginable and Carter, an eventual Hall of Famer, caught everything thrown near him. The ’98 Vikings were not all flash.
They had a few solid, smart, and effective players as well, former Ohio State standout running back Robert Smith and defensive lineman John Randle immediately jump to mind.
The Vikings absolutely dominated the rest of the league. They had a 15-1 regular-season record. The team scored a then NFL record 556 points. They would never score below 24 points in any game that season. Quite frankly, words do not do this team justice, particularly on offense. The video below from the NFL’s YouTube channel will give you a better flavor. At times, it was simply unfair. It looked like they were playing street football.
The storylines wrote themselves. Broncos vs. Vikings in the Super Bowl. The Broncos were in the midst of their own all-time great season. They started 14-0. Denver did their part in racing through the AFC playoffs, but a funny thing happened in Minnesota.
With under three minutes left in the NFC championship game, the Vikings led an upstart Falcons team by seven. They were lining up to kick a 38 yard field goal that would give them a 10 point lead. They were in a dome. Their placekicker, Gary Anderson had not missed a field goal or extra point in two years. At the time, he was the NFL’s all-time leading scorer. You may have figured out where I am going with this.
As captured in the video below on the Dan Zinski YouTube channel, the unthinkable happened. Anderson missed the field goal. The Falcons promptly drove down and sent the game into overtime with a touchdown. Falcons’ kicker Morten Andersen did not miss his chance to put the game away in overtime. This NFC championship game is the first game I remember watching from start to finish as a kid. I was rooting for the Falcons because I knew Minnesota had a good shot at spoiling John Elway’s grand farewell in the Super Bowl.
Looking back on it now though, I am not sure there has ever been game that has so drastically effected the legacies of all involved. It was as close as Dennis Green ever got to a title as a head coach. Randall Cunningham and Cris Carter would never get to a Super Bowl. Randy Moss got to the Super Bowl with New England following the 2007 season, but lost in another spectacular upset.
Honestly, I have no clue whether or not the Vikings would have gone on to be that loaded ’98 Broncos squad, but boy it sure would have been fun to find out. If not for the 2007 Patriots, we would call the ’98 Vikings the best team ever not to win a Super Bowl. Green’s legacy goes so much deeper than one season, but he will always be remembered as the man who roamed the sidelines for one the NFL’s underappreciated great teams. Sports can be so cruel at times.