The Twin Cities newspapers were not quite as insane in their coverage of dramatic Vikings games in the 1970s as is the case four decades later. Still, there were ample numbers of articles in the Minneapolis Tribune and the afternoon Star when the Purple advanced to four Super Bowls in the eight Januaries from 1970 to ’77.
As you might either have witnessed or heard mentioned by your Minnesota ancestors, the outcomes were not favorable to Bud Grant’s Purple warriors:
Kansas City 23, Vikings 7, on Jan. 11, 1970, in New Orleans; Miami 24, Vikings 7, on Jan. 13, 1974, in Houston; Pittsburgh 16, Vikings 6, on Jan. 12, 1975, in New Orleans; and Oakland 32, Vikings 14, on Jan. 9, 1977, in Pasadena, Calif.
There was some suffering from the veteran columnist, Sid Hartman, in the Tribune, and supercalifragilistic sentences from Jim Klobuchar in the Star, but the newspaper coverage of these defeats was more straightforward than angst-filled.
One perspective that was very limited in the newspaper accounts was that from Jim Marshall, an original Viking, the ironman of the NFL and also this, in the words of Fred Zamberletti, the Vikings first and long-serving trainer:
“Marshall would take care of problems for Bud. They throw around the term ‘leader’ in sports. Marshall was the true leader of the Vikings.”
Yet, there were not many Marshall quotes to be found from the post-Super Bowl locker rooms. Why was that, Jim?
“No sense in talking when you don’t have much to say,” he said. “The failure to win a Super Bowl has hung over me since we lost the first one. My analysis is as simple now and as it was then:
“We were a great team that never managed to play our best in the Super Bowl. And we went up against four great teams that did play their best.”
Marshall was sitting in his favorite chair in the comfortable home he shares with wife Susan in St. Louis Park. He was about to turn 80 (Dec. 30) when this interview took place and an otherwise jovial conversation took a low-key turn when the topic switched to being 0-4 in Super Bowls.
He shook his head and said, “I can still hear ‘65 toss power trap’ in my sleep.”
That was the play that produced Mike Garrett’s 5-yard touchdown run that gave Kansas City a 16-0 lead in the second quarter of Super Bowl IV, and remains a source of Hank Stram’s cackling on NFL Films well after the KC coach’s death.
The Vikings were 12-point favorites vs. the Chiefs — although for no reason other than the ongoing belief the NFL was far superior to the AFL, the league with which it would undertake a full merger starting with the 1970 season.
“The Jets had beaten the Colts a year earlier, but no one took that seriously, I guess,” Marshall said. “There were seven Hall of Famers on that Chiefs team, and that doesn’t include Otis Taylor, the receiver.
“They had players like Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier. That’s hard to beat for linebackers, isn’t it?”
Zamberletti said the 1969 Chiefs were a team that had to be seen in person — not on film — to be appreciated.
“I knew we were in trouble when the Chiefs were running around before the game,” he said. “You saw them in uniform for the first time and they were bigger, and faster, and when Jan Stenerud kicked …
“I never saw a kickoff go so high and stay in the air for so long.”
One of those Stenerud kickoffs led to a fumble by Charlie West late in the first half, the Chiefs recovered at the Vikings 19, and a few plays later, Stram sent in a play by saying, “The 65 toss power trap might pop wide open.”
It did from the 5-yard line for Garrett to make it 16-0, and has lived in Marshall’s restless nights of sleep since.
Joe Kapp left after that season, and the Vikings wasted a couple of seasons of overwhelming defense with subpar quarterback play. They reacquired Fran Tarkenton to take care of that issue, and after a 7-7 flop in 1972, there were regular seasons of dominance and three more Super Bowls.
Miami had a perfect run in 1972 to a Super Bowl win. The Dolphins came into the next Super Bowl in January 1974 as 6 ½-point favorites over the Vikings and with the simplest of game plans:
“Give the ball to Larry Csonka,” Marshall said. “We couldn’t take the ball away from them.”
Bob Griese threw only seven passes. Csonka carried 33 times for 145 yards and two TDs.
“One of the fastest games I’ve played in,” Marshall said. “The clock just kept moving.”
The Vikings were back the next January for a second Super Bowl in New Orleans. The Superdome construction was behind schedule, so the game was played on a cold day in Tulane Stadium.
“The Steelers were just getting started as a great team,” Marshall said. “We were at our peak. Chuck Foreman had added a lot to our offense. We should’ve won that game.”
The Vikings defense came closest to living up to its reputation in that Super Bowl. Trouble was, Tarkenton had a bad shoulder and the offense was punchless. It was 2-0 at halftime and eventually a 16-6 Steelers victory.
Two years later, the fourth of the Super Bowls was in the Rose Bowl. Oakland, with a mighty offense led by Ken Stabler, and a defense with unique talent such as Ted Hendricks, turned it into a 32-14 thumping of the aging Vikings.
Marshall was the right defensive end, next to Alan Page. The left side of the Raiders line was Art Shell and Gene Upshaw. Those two were a long day of work.
“We weren’t as dominant as we had been,” Marshall said. “We had a couple of chances early, but Oakland took it to us.
“Bud Grant came in here in 1967 and what he told us, and then showed us, was that winning would become a habit. By the time we played Oakland, losing in the Super Bowl had become a bad habit.”
Then again, those AFL/AFC opponents: Kansas City, seven Hall of Famers on the field; Miami, six; Pittsburgh, nine; and Oakland, eight.
“Great teams, but we would’ve won a couple if we played our best,” Marshall said. “We never did.”
And then the ultimate Vikings warrior, with six back surgeries, shoulder surgeries, new hips, new knees, hands that ache from 302 consecutive games (counting playoffs) of combat, leaned back in his comfortable chair and that was the end of it.
We talked for another hour without mention of 0-4 or 65 toss power trap.