The agony of defeat was so vivid on the faces of these Vikings fans that this Star Tribune photo wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Heidi Clapp was walking into the Metrodome late on the Sunday morning of Jan. 17, 1999. She was handed a yellow towel to wave in support of the Vikings, as were others in the festive crowd getting ready for the first NFC title game to be played in Minnesota since December 1976.
"The fans were already celebrating before the kickoff," she said. "We were playing the Falcons! No one looked at them as a challenge."
The Atlanta Falcons were 14-2 during the 1998 season, second only to the Vikings' 15-1 in the NFC.
"We should have realized a 14-2 team wasn't a slouch, but even that wouldn't have changed our attitude," Heidi said. "Randall Cunningham was having a great year. We had Randy Moss, when we all liked him. Robert [Smith] was tremendous running the ball. And our kicker, Gary Anderson ... his year was magic.
"We had a team full of stars. We knew they were going to bring it home for us."
Heidi paused and then said: "That's what made it so heartbreaking."
On that Sunday, Heidi was sitting with her friend Kindra Egge and another close friend of Kindra's, Jennifer Huffman. Everything was going as planned for the Dome audience for most of the first half.
"We gave up that touchdown at the end of the half, when Randall was sacked and fumbled, but everyone around us was saying, 'We're going to be OK,' " Heidi said. "And we were, until Gary missed the field goal.
"I remember thinking, 'Oh, no, it's the Minnesota curse.' I felt sick."
The Vikings lost 30-27 in overtime -- when Atlanta's Morten Andersen kicked a field goal from 38 yards, the exact distance at which the previously perfect Gary Anderson had missed late in regulation.
The crowd headed for the Dome's revolving doors. Brian Peterson was among the Star Tribune photographers shooting the action. He was after a crowd shot and spotted several women looking very glum.
Through his lens, Clapp was on the left, Egge was in the middle and another woman, Melissa Morissette, was standing on the right. Morissette had been sitting elsewhere.
"Melissa's a friend of mine," Kindra said. "She knew I would be devastated, so she came down to sympathize."
In the process, Morissette blocked out Huffman in Peterson's shot. The photo appeared on page A1 of the next morning's Star Tribune. It became such a famous photo that the three women pictured earned a nickname in local folklore:
"The Weeping Blondes."
Ten seasons later, the Falcons are back in the Dome today for an important game. In honor of the occasion, the blondes were persuaded to return to the Dome last week for a re-creation of the photo, with this disclaimer:
Morissette is married and living in Massachusetts with her husband and three children. This allowed Jennifer Huffman-Skoglund to get her just due on the right side of the reunion photo.
"Jennifer was the actress among us -- the one who would've most wanted to be a Weeping Blonde," Kindra said. "She was so disappointed the next morning when she wasn't in the photo."
Last week, Jennifer said: "If I was around somebody looking at the photo, I'd say, 'See, there on the right. That's my hair.' "
Jennifer is a Pilates instructor and is married to Todd Skoglund, a corporate pilot. Kindra is married to Jamie Spencer, the vice president of sales for the Wild. Heidi makes her living as Christy Love, then the lead singer of Boogie Wonderland, now at the front of two groups -- Christy Love and You Know Who, and Saving Graceland.
"The reaction to the photo? Oh, my God," Heidi said. "I actually had built a new home, but I hadn't moved in yet. I had a phone with an answering machine. The next day, I stopped at the house and there were 45 messages from all around the country, people saying, 'We felt sorry for you in that photo. We hope you're doing OK.'
"Plus, after the photo, the band went from playing in front of 300, 400 people on Thursday nights at the Fine Line to 700, 800."
Kindra wasn't as fond of the photo as her friend. "I looked like I hadn't slept in two days," she said. "But the reaction was amazing. I received a call out of the blue from someone saying, 'You're in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.'
"I asked what they were talking about and they said, 'The photo is on display in the Hall of Fame.' "
Heidi remains an ardent Vikings fan, finding a TV to watch games no matter where she might have been singing on a Saturday night. Kindra and Jennifer are more casual about the Purple these days.
"It hasn't been the same for me since that Sunday, when Denny [coach Green] had us take a knee," Jennifer said. "That still makes me mad."
Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • email@example.com