Baltmore returned to the NFL with the Ravens in 1996. The Vikings have now made four trips to America's second-best eating town (behind New Orleans) and all have been eventful.
The Ravens were in the new stadium that lured Art Modell away from Cleveland for a first season in 1998. The Vikings brought Brian Billick's record-setting offense into the city where Billick would later win a Super Bowl with a mighty defense.
Randall Cunningham threw for 345 yards, Cris Carter had 11 catches and the Vikings won 38-28. There were three kick returns for touchdowns: one for 88 yards by the Vikings' David Palmer, and two by Ravens that covered 95 and 97 yards.
The Vikings were back to end the 2001 season, and it was eventful because Dennis Green had been fired earlier in the week. Mike Tice was coaching as the interim, and sent out the redoubtable Spergon Wynn as his quarterback.
Even then, I recall a few of us media types talking with Tice in the hotel lobby the night before the game. Tice's jauntiness said he expected to get the job as Green's replacement.
Wynn passed for 86 yards and the Vikings lost 19-3 to finish the season at 5-11. And a week later, owner Red McCombs did give the job -- to rebuild on a tight budget -- to Tice.
When the Vikings returned in 2005, Tice had managed to turn a budding disaster of a season into a playoff push. They went through the Love Boat scandal, and Tice's ticket scalping mess, and were 2-5 after Daunte Culpepper blew out a knee in a blowout loss at Carolina.
Brad Johnson took over at quarterback and the Vikings won six in a row, before losing to Pittsburgh in the Metrodome. One week later, the Vikings had a Christmas night game in Baltimore.
I have two clear memories: A couple of hours before the game, a few Twin Cities reporters were in a mostly empty press box and a guy I know said, "That nickname, Ravens ... I think it has something to do with literature. I'm going to check on that.''
I also recall the Vikings' defense making Kyle Boller look like an NFL quarterback for one of the few times in his career. Boller went 24 for 34 for 289 yards in a 30-23 victory.
The loss eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs. A week later, the Vikings closed with a win over the Bears, and 20 minutes later, Tice was fired by Zygi Wilf.
None of the previous trips to play the Ravens will live in the infamy as will Sunday's affair. It started with two teams slogging in a snowstorm, and wound up with a shootout that wouldn't have been believable if it had been dramatized on what ... Friday Night Lights?
At 11:55 a.m. on Sunday, I couldn't have had less interest if it was five minutes to the start of the MLS title game. Still, I turned it on for a peek, and it was snowing, which made things intriguing for a few minutes.
That got old quick, and I made a couple of stops, and came into the Strib office. Time passed and there there were a couple of minutes left, and the Vikings were going to win. And then they were going to lose. And then they were going to win on Toby Gerhart's 41-yard rumble, and then they were going to lose on Jacoby Jones' 77-yard kickoff return, and then they were going to win on Cordarelle Patterson's 79-yard streak across the turf after a flip of a pass from Matt Cassel, and then they lost 29-26 on Marlon Brown's acrobatic catch in the back of the end zone with four seconds left.
Baltimore 7-6 going into the fourth. Vikings 12-7 after Jerome Simpson's TD catch in the first minute of the fourth.
And it stays that way, and it stays that way, until the Vikings and the Ravens exchange 36 points in the final 124 seconds.
That's the magical pull of the NFL: It has a product that can turn indifference into fascination in an instant.
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