The Vikings spent the week describing this as a must-win game. If they couldn't win at home against the Cleveland Browns, it was almost a certainty that the season would be lost for the Purple.
The quarterback, in his second full season as a starter, had little to offer in the first half. There were boos for him and the Vikings as they left the field at halftime.
The Vikings increased the defensive intensity and the home team started to rally in the second half. Eventually, victory was there to be had, but it would take a well-arced heave to the end zone by the quarterback and maybe a lucky ricochet.
And there it was: the ball tipped perfectly into the hands of the veteran receiver, and he secured it, and the crowd responded madly, and the Must Win was just that for the Vikings.
Excuse me. You didn't think we were referring to Sunday's game vs. Cleveland Browns II at the Metrodome, where the Vikings came in 0-2 and would be dead in the water with a loss, did you?
This was a recollection of the game with the original Cleveland Browns on Dec. 14, 1980, at Met Stadium. The Vikings at 8-6 and in need of a win to squeeze into the NFC playoff field. A loss would've sent them to Houston in need of a win against Earl Campbell and the Oilers in the regular-season finale.
The Browns led 13-0 at halftime. There were boos for quarterback Tommy Kramer and his mates.
The Vikings scored to open the second half, on a 31-yard pass from Kramer to Joe Senser, but Cleveland came back to make it 23-9 in the fourth quarter. That was the score into the final five minutes, when Kramer threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Ted Brown, and then a 12-yard TD to Ahmad Rashad.
There was no two-point attempt in 1980, so Rick Danmeier's PAT made it 23-22. By the time the Vikings got the ball back, there were14 seconds left and they had the ball at the 20 ... their 20.
No chance? That was never the case with team coached by Bud Grant, who already had been dubbed "Horseshoe Harry'' by a smart-alecky St. Paul sports columnist, in honor of the luck that Bud's boys seemed to find.
On the first play, Bud ordered his favorite late-gamer -- the hook-and-ladder. Kramer made a quick throw to tight end Senser, halfback Brown came scooting past to take a pitch, and it went for 35 yards. That gave the Vikings one shot (4 seconds on the clock) from Cleveland's 45.
Kramer arced the ball toward the end zone, Cleveland safety Thom Darden and Vikings receiver Terry LeCount battled for it, and it went to Rashad on a rebound. Ahmad corraled the football and the Vikings had a 28-23 victory and a place in the playoffs.
They lost the regular-season finale in Houston 20-16, and then lost to Philadelphia's first Super Bowl team, 31-16, in a playoff opener.
On Sunday, Christian Ponder, in his second season as the starting quarterback, had one heave toward the end zone that could have reversed the Browns' 31-27 lead, and it was knocked down. On with the final gasp, Ponder was swallowed up by defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (a guy from Harvard) for a sack, and that was it.
No final play heave to the end zone. No fortunate ricochet. No "Miracle Catch.'' And a lost season with 81 percent of the schedule remaining.
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