I don’t know the last time a single sporting event — or a single play, even — made the entire state of Minnesota so happy.
Maybe we have to go back to 2009, when the Twins won Game 163 against the Tigers? Or five years before that, when the Gophers women’s basketball team went to the Final Four and the Timberwolves beat the Kings in the Western Conference semifinals Game 7? Or two years before that, when the Gophers men’s hockey team won the NCAA title at Xcel Energy Center? Maybe we have to go all the way back to 1991, when the Twins won the second of their two World Series titles.
All I know is this: It snowed a lot in Minneapolis on Sunday. It’s freezing cold right now and it’s the middle of winter. The Super Bowl is here in three weeks. The collective mood in this state would have been MISERABLE had the final score at U.S. Bank Stadium read 24-23 in favor of the Saints.
Case Keenum’s improbable walk-off 61-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs — call it a miracle if you want — lifted the spirits of a fan base, a state and even an entire region.
In the immediate aftermath, I was pretty sure I had just watched the greatest Vikings game in the team’s history. But to be sure, I went back through 57 seasons. To qualify for this list, a Vikings game had to have some combination of drama, impact or both. Here is my best shot at the 10 best Vikings victories in their history (note: Any year playoffs are listed it pertains to the year matching the regular season):
10) 1997 Wild Card playoffs. Vikings 23, Giants 22: This was not an objectively good game to watch. The Vikings trailed 19-3 at halftime and looked like they were going to fall to 0-5 in the playoffs during the Dennis Green era. There were rumblings that his job could be in trouble if Minnesota lost. And his book, “No Room For Crybabies” famously came out in the midst of that season. Minnesota, playing on the road, pulled within 19-13 in the fourth quarter, but the Giants added a field goal for a two-score lead. With four minutes left, trailing 22-13, the Vikings punted. They were basically giving up. But they forced a three-and-out, took over at midfield after a short punt, and made it 22-20 on a Randall Cunningham TD pass to Jake Reed. Chris Walsh recovered the ensuing onside kick, setting up a 24-yard field goal by Eddie Murray — which if memory serves BARELY snuck inside the upright — for a 23-22 victory.
9) 1982 regular season finale, Vikings 31, Cowboys 27: This was the Monday Night game in which Tony Dorsett had a 99-yard touchdown run, helping the Cowboys rally to take a 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter. A Tommy Kramer to Rickey Young TD late rallied the Vikings to a 31-27 win, which got them into the playoffs in the strike-shortened year. This is the first Vikings game that I truly remember watching, and I know it was a big deal because our family went to another family’s house to watch it on their color TV. (We did not have a color TV until I was about 10).
8) 1987 playoffs, Vikings 36, 49ers 24: After clobbering the Saints 44-10 in the opening round, the Vikings continued their upset-minded ways with a huge win over San Francisco in the division round. Anthony Carter caught 10 passes for 227 yards, getting the Vikings into the NFC title game where they lost a heartbreaker to Washington.
7) 2004 playoffs, Vikings 31, Packers 17: You probably remember this more for the Randy Moss fake moon, but this was also the first time in history these two rivals met in the playoffs. The Vikings were underdogs after sneaking in as a Wild Card at 8-8, and they had lost two heartbreakers to Green Bay during the regular season. But they dominated the Packers in the third meeting, intercepting Brett Favre four times and never trailing in the game at Lambeau Field.
6) 1969 division playoffs, Vikings 23, Rams 20: To avoid the impression of complete recency bias, let’s go back almost 50 years to the Vikings’ first-ever playoff win. The Vikings trailed 17-7 at halftime and 20-14 in the fourth quarter before a Joe Kapp touchdown run put the Vikings ahead. They added a safety later for the final margin in the first game of what would be a march to their first Super Bowl trip.
5) 2009 regular season, Vikings 38, Packers 26: I could have picked either Brett Favre revenge win over Green Bay, but the one at Lambeau was sweeter. The Vikings went up 24-3, the Packers rallied, but Favre threw two late touchdowns to seal the game.
4) 1980 regular season, Vikings 31, Browns 26: This is certainly one of the most amazing finishes in Vikings history, with Tommy Kramer finding Ahmad Rashad on a Hail Mary to win on the final play — a victory that helped Minnesota get into the playoffs. For fans of a certain generation, this might still be No. 1.
3) 2009 regular season, Vikings 27, 49ers 24: The first inkling the season was going to be a special season was a Week 3 win in which Brett Favre threw a desperation pass in the closing seconds that was improbably grabbed by Greg Lewis in the back of the end zone for a 27-24 victory. Before Sunday, that was probably the greatest finish to a Vikings victory in their history.
2) 1998 regular season, Vikings 37, Packers 24: I put this game this high up because it signaled a changing of the guard in the NFC North. The Vikings, behind star rookie receiver Randy Moss, trounced the Packers on Monday Night at Lambeau Field. The final score does not reflect what a shocking rout this game was. If there was a moment when everyone believed 1998 was special, this was it.
1) 2017 playoffs, Vikings 29, Saints 24: In weighing everything, there’s only one conclusion. This was the greatest victory in Vikings history. It’s one of the greatest finishes to a playoff game in NFL history. Aside from the Diggs catch, there were four lead changes in the final 3:01 of the fourth quarter. It was all set to be one of the worst losses in franchise history, after leading 17-0 at halftime at home. Instead? It’s the greatest win — subject to change, of course, if it ends up leading to the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.