Sports fans tend to cling to long-held beliefs about their teams, for better or worse. This week, we are exploring five of them to determine whether fact or fiction rules the day. Today: Vikings taking a knee.
Was Denny Green right to take a knee?
For the few Vikings fans who need reminding: Minnesota and Atlanta were tied 27-27 late in the NFC Championship Game following the 1998 season. Facing a third-and-3 at the Vikings’ own 27-yard line with 30 seconds remaining, Green ordered quarterback Randall Cunningham to kneel, run out the clock and head to overtime. Atlanta won 30-27.
The second-guessing never has ceased. How dare Green stifle the offense which set a record (at the time) for point scored? Why not attempt a couple deep balls and give kicker Gary Anderson a chance to win the game?
Legitimate questions. But analysis in the days and years following the game add up to an unsatisfying truth. It was not the Vikings’ day. An otherwise magical team was rendered ordinary by a strong opponent.
Consider: The aggressive approach fans demanded in the final minute backfired earlier in the game. Leading 20-7, the Vikings took possession at their 18-yard line with 1:17 to play before halftime. Two incompletions brought up third-and-10 and Cunningham got sacked and fumbled. The Falcons recovered the ball and scored a touchdown on the next play.
The question of where to throw the ball deep comes next. A 31-yard Randy Moss touchdown catch represented the usually explosive Vikings’ only pass play of 20 yards or more. Moss caught one ball for 4 yards after halftime.
Even if Moss or Cris Carter got free for a big gainer and put the Vikings in field-goal range, what of Anderson’s psyche? With 2:07 left in regulation he missed a 38-yard field goal that likely would have iced the victory. He had gone a perfect 35-for-35 to that point in the season.
Should Green have been in a hurry to risk a couple low percentage deep balls? Or was he right to try and slow Atlanta’s momentum and allow his team a chance to regroup by going to overtime? The gamble in the latter was not getting the ball — but the Vikings did get it in overtime. Twice.
And so “take a knee” has lived on as a punch line or gut punch depending on your purple persuasion. For fans, lambasting Green became a coping mechanism the way conspiracy theories help some balance the scales of unfathomable tragedies. While a lost football game is no tragedy, the emotional letdown for Vikings fans was real.
In the years since, Anderson and others who failed to make plays have been forgiven or forgotten because at least they tried. Taking a knee meant Green would not, a hard decision for fans to accept after believing all season that anything was possible.
David La Vaque