The Vikings have had some tough times on Dec. 28, starting in 1975 with Drew Pearson and continuing with Nate Poole in 2003. Will that end today?
Dallas wide receiver Drew Pearson made the winning 50-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter despite the attempts of Vikings defensive backs Nate Wright (43) and Paul Krause (22) in 1975. It wouldn't be the last time the Vikings lost a playoff game to the Cowboys on the date of Dec. 28.
On Dec. 28, 1975, Drew Pearson mysteriously separated himself from Vikings cornerback Nate Wright, scored the touchdown at Met Stadium that eliminated what might have been Bud Grant's best team, and prompted a cretin to toss a bottle at Armen Terzian's skull.
On Dec. 28, 1996, the Vikings traveled to Dallas to take on the proud but fading Cowboys in a wild-card playoff game, and lost 40-15.
On Dec. 28, 2003, Mike Tice required only a victory over the lowly Cardinals in Phoenix to qualify for the playoffs, and he thought he had one until the Cardinals scored two touchdowns in the last two minutes, with Nate Poole making the winning catch as time expired.
On Dec. 28, 2008, the Vikings needed a victory over the Giants at the Metrodome to make the playoffs. "Thanks for bringing up all those great memories,'' Vikings center Matt Birk said Friday afternoon. "It's a good thing I'm not superstitious.''
Historical blinders are recommended for the Vikings and their fans today. Dec. 28 is a date that lives in franchise infamy, and while the Pearson catch might represent the most dramatic moment in Vikings history, the memory of Poole's catch remains an open wound.
"I think of that day and that play a bunch,'' Tice said in an e-mail from Jacksonville, where he is the Jaguars assistant head coach. "It's the old 'What if?' I wouldn't say we were jinxed. I would just call a timeout next time and make sure we were as good as can be with our call and our execution.''
With time running out and the ball on the Vikings' 28-yard line, Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown rushed the offense to the line and took the snap just before the clock hit zero. He scrambled -- "went serpentine,'' as Birk put it -- and finally launched a pass toward the end zone.
"It was just disbelief,'' Birk said. "It was fourth down, they had no timeouts, they ran up and snapped it real quick and the guy was running around and I remember when he threw the ball ..."
Birk paused, conjuring up details and feelings he had probably repressed. "Normally you can't see anything from the sideline,'' Birk said. "He threw that ball, and it was like, 'Oh, no.' You saw the guy standing there in the end zone and you had one of those feelings -- this isn't good.
"And when he caught it, it was disbelief.
"Like I said, they barely got the ball off, barely got it snapped in time. Normally when you're rushing like that, the offense doesn't get lined up legally, and then he serpentined around on the scramble and let it go ... oh, man.''
At least in 1975, the Vikings lost to a great team on a pass from Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach to star receiver Drew Pearson. In 2003, they lost on a pass from Josh McCown to Nate Poole.
"The Pearson game was on the NFL Network, maybe two months ago on a Saturday,'' Birk said. "I didn't know that was the game when it started, but I love watching those old games in Met Stadium, because I never got to go there.
"I'm watching it, and it ended, and I said, 'Oh, that was that game. That's why they're showing it 33 years later.''
Despite growing up in Minnesota, Birk insists he has never been tainted by the fatalism of Vikings fans, fans who have witnessed four Super Bowl losses and wrenching losses in their past three NFC title games (the Darrin Nelson drop, the Take-A-Knee loss, and 41-0.)
"Being a Vikings fan for so long, I just look at all the great teams and great players,'' Birk said. "I look at it as a positive, like we're earning the right to be champions. You go through hardships and disappointments, and that will make it that much more sweeter when the Vikings win it all.
"I don't look at it as being a cursed franchise. I look at people like Bud Grant, Jim Marshall, Alan Page, Fran Tarkenton -- those are the greatest players to ever play the game. I look at the entire history, rather than not winning a Super Bowl championship.''
It takes a lot of history to wipe out memories of Pearson and Poole.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. firstname.lastname@example.org