Sid Hartman: Worst Vikings team ever? It has to be 1984

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 26, 2011 - 11:55 PM

The Les Steckel-led team not only lost regularly, but it lost big regularly.

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Minnesota Vikings head coach Les Steckel and quarterback Tommy Kramer survey the damage from the sidelines as they watch the San Diego Chargers ruin Steckel's coaching debut with a 42-13 rout in Minneapolis, Sept. 3, 1984.

Photo: Larry Salzman, Associated Press

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Yes, the Vikings are 2-8, a 10-game record that the Purple has compiled only twice in the history of the franchise. Those two seasons were the first two years of the team's existence, 1961 (when the Vikings finished 3-11) and 1962 (2-11-1).

So now some of the various experts are trying to decide which team ranks as the worst in the Vikings' 51 seasons. Some have already decided on this 2011 edition.

Well, I have covered this Vikings franchise from the day it was born. And the worst team without a doubt was the 1984 squad. That team was a little better through 10 games, going 3-7, but finished 3-13, and it was worse than this year's team for a number of reasons.

That season, the Purple lost its last six games by an average of 27 points per game. Included in that was a 51-7 loss at San Francisco that remains the Vikings' worst loss of all time. I am confident this Vikings team won't go winless the rest of the way.

Bud Grant had resigned as coach after the 1983 season, when the Vikings went 8-8. For an unknown reason, General Manager Mike Lynn selected young wide receivers coach Les Steckel to be Grant's successor instead of longtime offensive coordinator Jerry Burns. Lynn made a lot of good decisions, but this was a bad one.

Scott Studwell, Vikings director of college scouting, was a linebacker on that 1984 team, and he and his many teammates found when they reported for the first practice session a number of exercise machines used only by the Marines. That didn't sit well with players, who revolted and did all but strike against Steckel that season.

"Bud Grant and his coaches were on the same page and we knew what to expect, but Les Steckel tried to change all that, do it his own way, and I think it kind of blew up in his face, to be honest with you," Studwell recalled.

"It was very difficult. You know, we had some injuries, certainly that hurt us, and you know we were competitive early on in the season, then things kind of just fell apart for us. We had a lot of guys get hurt. Quite honestly, we had some players that kind of laid down and quit on him and quit on their teammates. So I mean, we were not competitive late in the year. Our talent had dropped off. But it was a tough year, I think there was a lot of transition, a lot of new coaches, a lot of new players. I think everything kind of just fell apart."

For the season, the 1984 team was outscored 484-276. There was one loss at Chicago's Soldier Field on Nov. 25 when a Vikings offensive line that was changed the Friday before the game allowed quarterback Archie Manning to be sacked 11 times. The Bears won that game 34-3.

Steckel was fired after the season, and Lynn persuaded Grant to come back the next year.

With essentially the same roster, the 1985 Vikings went 3-1 in the preseason and 7-9 in the regular season. Of those nine losses, five were by a touchdown or less, including four by a field goal or less.

"It was basically the same personnel," Studwell said. "He brought the stability back that we lost in that transition. You can't just blame coaches; you can't just blame players. I think it was everybody involved with the football team that particular year had a part in it."

This year's Vikings have lost six games by a touchdown or less -- including last week's loss to the Raiders, where the team once again had the ball late with a chance to tie or win. The Vikings have been outscored by 271-200, a 71-point differential that is the fifth worst in the NFL. But it's by no means as drastic as that 208-point gap the Vikings had in 1984.

One thing about the 2011 team is that the players haven't quit or lost respect for the coach like they did in 1984. They have given 100 percent in every game.

And rest assured, when the season is over, they will have a better record than the worst team in Vikings history.

Gophers end on dominant high note

Those who have followed Gophers football forever like me can't recall having seen anything like what I saw in the halftime statistics of Jerry Kill and Co.'s 27-7 victory over Illinois on Saturday.

The Illini had 23 plays for 18 yards, compared to 40 plays for 217 yards for the Gophers. Illinois had 15 passing yards and 3 rushing yards.

The final stats were similarly dominant for the home team. MarQueis Gray alone had 27 rushes for 174 yards; Illinois finished with 32 carries for 82 yards as a team. The Gophers more than doubled Illinois' offense, with 333 yards to the losers' 160. You don't often see numbers like that.

"He made some awful good decisions today," Kill said of his quarterback. "He ran the ball and made good decisions."

As Kill noted during the week, the Gophers learned a lot over the final few weeks of the season, having fully adjusted to the system of their new coach.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the great job Kill and his staff have done working with the seniors. They lose many players who will be hard to replace next year, such as Da'Jon McKnight and Duane Bennett on offense and Anthony Jacobs, Brandon Kirksey, Gary Tinsley, Christyn Lewis, Kim Royston and Kyle Henderson on defense.

Like Kill said Saturday, he and his coaches didn't know what to expect when they got here, and it took them a while to do the type of work they were used to doing at the other places they have been.

And it has started to pay off. The Gophers will be more competitive next year because of this great staff.

Jottings

Asked to explain the Vikings' 2-8 record, Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson said: "I think talent is not an issue. It's more of a combination of untimely mistakes and us shooting ourselves in the foot, a lot. It's hard to play the opponent and overcome our own mistakes, and, in a sense, play ourselves each Sunday."

• Chris Kluwe, the Vikings punter whose mistake on a hold for Ryan Longwell last week cost the team a shot at three points, hadn't dropped a snap since the first game of his career. "I dropped the very first one of my career against the Redskins," he said. "Ever since then I've been perfect. ... It's just the law of averages." Incidentally, Kluwe's band, Tripping Icarus, will be playing Thursday at First Avenue.

• It's going to be more difficult for the Twins to re-sign Michael Cuddyer now that the new collective bargaining agreement is in place. Cuddyer was a Type A free agent in the old system, meaning a team signing him would have given up its 2012 first-round draft pick to the Twins. Now, a team can sign him penalty-free. The Twins would still receive two picks if he were to leave, though.

• Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith said it is impossible to compete recruitingwise with the other Big Ten schools who have a basketball building for practice while Minnesota doesn't.

• Fundraising for a new Siebert Field is approaching the $7.5 million needed to start work on the Gophers baseball stadium, so watch for an announcement soon.

• It will be season No. 60 when John Gagliardi returns next year to coach St. John's football.

 Forest Lake's Griffin Lentsch, who scored 89 points for Grinnell in a 145-97 victory over Principia on Nov. 20, didn't record an assist in the game. "Basically, whenever I got the ball I was so wide open that I just shot it," Lentsch said last Sunday.

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