If somebody asked me to name the toughest loss any Minnesota team suffered during my long newspaper career, no doubt it would be the Vikings' 17-14 loss to Dallas in a 1975 NFC divisional playoff game at Met Stadium. They lost on a "Hail Mary" 50-yard touchdown pass from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson with 24 seconds to play.

The game film clearly showed Pearson pushed cornerback Nate Wright before catching the winning touchdown, and Pearson should have been called for offensive pass interference.

The film also definitely showed that Pearson was out of bounds making a catch on a fourth-and-16 play before the touchdown, which would have turned the ball over to the Vikings and essentially ended the game. The officials ruled Pearson was forced out by Wright and allowed the completion.

"But he was actually out of bounds anyway," said Bud Grant, then coach of the Vikings. "So on that play, the game would have been over right there. That gave them the opportunity to throw the long pass to Pearson that was clearly a push-off. Those are things that happen in our business, and if you're in it long enough, you're the victim of it, but you're also the benefactor of it in a career."

Even more devastating was the news that Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton's father, named Dallas, had died from a heart attack during the third quarter while watching the game on television.

"I mean, that overshadowed everything that ever happened after the game," Grant recalled. "During the game, the thing everybody remembers, of course, is Pearson's [Hail Mary] catch."

What Grant likes to remember, rather than that catch, is the great drive the Vikings made to take a 14-10 lead with 5:56 left in the game. Grant said he believed Tarkenton was at his best, converting a number of third downs on the 11-play, 70-yard drive.

"I don't know how many third downs we had, but we converted them, we got a touchdown, we went ahead and that, I think, would have been remembered more if the [Hail Mary] reception hadn't been made," Grant said.

The game is also remembered for the infamous incident after Pearson's catch, when a whiskey bottle thrown by a fan hit referee Armen Terzian in the head and knocked him unconscious.

At least they have instant replay now, as the Vikings and Cowboys meet again in an NFC divisional playoff game Sunday at the Metrodome. If they had instant replay back in 1975, the outcome would have been a different story.

Harvin ready

Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin, who was named the Associated Press offensive rookie of the year, expects the Cowboys to be a challenge.

"They're pretty tough," Harvin said. "They've got a very good team, otherwise they wouldn't be in the position they're in right now. We've just got to execute and focus on our team.

"As far as the way I approach the game, I approach it the same. I study a little bit more so I know exactly what's going on and I won't have to guess on the field. Like I said, I hope for the best."

Harvin said great players perform at their best in big games.

"This is one coming up, so I'll prepare for this game better than I have in the previous games," he said. "This offense, we're looking to stay on track and pick up from the last game."

Harvin said the week off really helped the team.

"We came out the last two practices and we looked sharp," he said. "Everybody looked like they were refreshed running around there. So we'll hopefully just study. It's all mental at this point. We're in great shape, so as long as we get the mental part, we'll be fine."


Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams believes he and Kevin Williams "are the best two tandem [defensive tackles] in the NFL. I think he's the best three technique [a tackle lining up between the offensive guard and tackle] in the league and I'm the best nose, hands down, in the league. Yeah, Kevin makes the sacks and I'll tackle the running backs. In the league, I play off him and Kevin plays off me and we just feed off each other." Pat Williams was asked if the Vikings can stop the Cowboys' great running game. "We will find out Sunday," he said.

Vikings director of ticketing and hospitality Phil Huebner said the demand for tickets to Sunday's game with the Cowboys is the highest since the playoffs following the 2000 season. "We could have sold twice the capacity of the Metrodome," Huebner said. If the Vikings win Sunday and play host to the NFC Championship Game, tickets for that game likely would go on sale Monday.

Taylor Grant, the outstanding Eden Prairie quarterback/tight end and son of Eagles coach Mike Grant, has accepted a scholarship from the University of North Dakota. The Gophers recruited Grant but wanted him to walk on as a freshman, then try to earn a scholarship.

Jason Palermo -- son of former Gophers, Wisconsin and Notre Dame defensive line coach John Palermo, who was on the Washington Redskins staff this past season -- has joined Tim Brewster's Gophers football staff as a graduate assistant. Jason was the tight ends coach at Nebraska-Omaha this past season.

The Gophers baseball team posted a 3.21 grade-point average for the past quarter, one of the highest of any men's team on campus. Twenty-three of the 34 players on the team earned a 3.0 or better. Twenty-eight of 34 earned a 2.95 or better.

Before falling 1-0 to St. Louis on Thursday, the Wild had won four games in a row, defeating two division leaders (Chicago and Calgary) and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh. The Wild had outscored its opponents 9-1 in the third period during the streak.

Through Thursday's games, the Wild was four points behind eighth-place Los Angeles and three behind ninth-place Detroit in the Western Conference standings. The Wild, which opened the season with only three victories in its first 12 games, is attempting to become the first NHL team since 1996-97 to make the playoffs after registering six or fewer points in its first 12 games. Anaheim (1-9-2) and Pittsburgh (3-9-0) both accomplished the feat that year.

Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom earned his 114th victory with the franchise by beating Vancouver 5-2 on Wednesday, passing Manny Fernandez (2000-07) for most wins in Wild history. Backstrom reached the mark in his 209th game; it took Fernandez 260 to reach 113. ... Wild right winger Antti Miettinen had two goals and an assist Wednesday. He also scored his fourth game-winning goal of the season, a career high.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com