Patrick Reusse: What could have been if we'd picked AFL instead

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2011 - 11:20 AM

More than a half-century ago, the Minneapolis pro football group backed out of the AFL to get an NFL team. The AFL went to Oakland instead.


Raiders safety Jack Tatum (32) sent Sammy White’s helmet flying during Super Bowl XI in January 1977, the most recent of the Vikings’ four Super Bowl losses.

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There was an organizational meeting for the American Football League held at the Pick-Nicollet Hotel in downtown Minneapolis in November 1959. Minnesota was scheduled to receive one of the eight franchises in the new league.

At the last moment, the Minneapolis group pulled out in order to pursue an expansion franchise in the National Football League.

The AFL then awarded the eighth franchise to Oakland. That team took the name "Raiders" and started play in 1960. A year later, the Minnesota Vikings became the NFL's 14th team.

The merger of the AFL and the NFL was completed in 1970. Since then, the Raiders and the Vikings have played 13 games -- with No. 14 scheduled for Sunday at the Metrodome.

The second of those games was played on Jan. 9, 1977, and it holds a monumental place in Vikings history. It was the 11th Super Bowl and the first pro football game to be played in the Rose Bowl.

On that morning, the Minneapolis Tribune's Sid Hartman passed along some optimistic words from Grady Alderman. He was a starting tackle on Vikings teams that had lost Super Bowls after the 1969, 1973 and 1974 seasons.

Alderman was retired and serving as the analyst on Vikings radio. Certainly, his words made for sweet prose to Sid's readers.

"The attitude of the Vikings is much different now than in the first three Super Bowls," Alderman said. "They believe to a man they can beat Oakland. They are sure they are a better team. This wasn't the situation in the previous Super Bowls.

"I'm sure too they are going to win. I look for the Vikings offense to have a big day against Oakland."

Years later, I had a conversation with tight end Stu Voigt that carried a different message:

"We weren't the same team in 1976 as we were even a couple of years earlier. We were getting old in a lot of spots. The defense wasn't the same. It was actually a great accomplishment for that team to get to another Super Bowl."

We had watched the Vikings go to four Super Bowls in eight seasons. We had convinced ourselves that the 1975 team was the Vikings' best ever -- deprived from winning a Super Bowl only because of a playoff push-off from Dallas receiver Drew Pearson.

Any Purple follower suggesting the window-is-closing angle before kickoff on Jan. 9, 1977, would have been dismissed not only as a traitor but as a dimwitted traitor.

There might have been an exception to this, in the coach himself. Bud Grant had a great ability to read people and also to calculate how much time remained for a football player to be productive.

Maybe Bud was trying to tell us something in the hours before that Super Bowl with the Raiders when he said: "I'd like to win this Super Bowl for [team President] Max Winter. You never know when you're going to get back here again."

The Vikings had been shocked by Kansas City, they had been bludgeoned by Miami and they had caught Pittsburgh at the start of its run as the best team ever in their previous Super Bowls.

This time, the Vikings had nothing to offer against the Raiders. The final was 32-14. Snake Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff and Co. put up 429 yards. In days of yore, the Purple People Eaters might go a month without giving up 429 yards.

A year later, the Vikings upset the Rams in the "Mud Bowl" in Los Angeles to reach the NFC title game. There they were outclassed by Dallas 23-6, and by then everyone could see the long run of near-glory was over for Bud's Vikings.

Max Winter died in 1996, without ever seeing that Super Bowl victory that Grant wanted to give him.

And the Vikings ... well, as the Purple loyalists know too well, there hasn't been a Super Bowl appearance since that whipping delivered by the Raiders in the Rose Bowl.

Thirty-five seasons and counting.

That's so long in NFL time that only three of the 28 franchises that existed in the 1976 season have waited longer for a Super Bowl than the Vikings: Kansas City (1969), New York Jets (1968) and Detroit (eternity).

Thanks for nothing, Raiders. This is your fault.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-noon Saturdays on 1500ESPN.

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NY Yankees 1
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