There have been plenty of frustrating Vikings games and seasons during my lifetime. The proliferation of instant reaction accelerated by social media has only served to heighten those frustrations in recent years.
But I want to spend some time briefly going back to a time before Twitter — or even I — existed. This was spurred on by reader Bryan B., who wrote this morning:
I enjoyed your brief article on past Viking kickers in Wednesday’s paper. Granted, Blair Walsh is having an off-year, but no Viking kicker had a worst year than the legendary Fred Cox in 1972. Cox missed several late-game field goals that would have either won or tied games for the 7-7 Vikings — who were favored to win their fifth-straight Central Division title.
In a string of 10 playoff berths in 11 seasons from 1968 to 1978 — including four trips to the Super Bowl — 1972 was the only year the Vikings didn’t make the postseason.
There were plenty of factors, including a down year by the defense by its standards. The Vikings finished 11th in the NFL in scoring defense that season; every other year between 1969 and 1976 they were in the top three.
But there was also a litany of close losses, as evidenced by the Vikings outscoring opponents for the season by 49 points but finishing .500. In fact, five of their seven losses were by three points or fewer.
And Cox, as Bryan notes, played a role in that. Although he finished the season having made 21 of 33 field goals (63.6 percent, which was actually better than the league average of 61.1 percent that season and better than Cox’s career average of 62 percent), it appears his misses were significant.
In those five games in which the Vikings lost by three points or fewer, Cox was just 3 for 9 on field goal attempts.
Cox was 0-for-2 vs. Washington in an early 24-21 loss — including a 22-yard miss that he says would have been blocked had he not kicked it away from a rushing defender.
Contrary to what Bryan also wrote, Cox did not attempt a field goal in a 16-14 loss to the eventual undefeated Super Bowl champion Dolphins, at least according to Pro Football Reference.
But he was 1-for-2 in a 19-17 loss to the Cardinals and 1-for-2 in a 13-10 loss to the Bears (both of whom finished 4-9-1) … and 1-for-3 in a 20-17 loss to the 49ers.
This isn’t an exercise in blaming Cox, though, who consistently exceeded the league average for field goal percentage each year and made plenty of big kicks for the Vikings.
It would be fascinating, though, to bring a time machine — and Twitter — back to 1972 to see how fans would have reacted on social media to a team expected to challenge for a Super Bowl (indeed, the Vikings went to the Super Bowl each of the next two seasons) losing five games by narrow margins, with the kicker missing six times in the process.
I dare say Cox might have been treated even more harshly than Blair Walsh, and that’s saying something.