The Vikings will be playing, for the 10th time, in a game Sunday in Philadelphia that sends the winner to the Super Bowl. They won the first four of these games, after the seasons of 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1976, and have lost the past five, after the seasons of 1977, 1987, 1998, 2000 and 2009.
They had three victories at Met Stadium, and the 1973 Vikings put a 27-10 shellacking on the Cowboys in Dallas. I’ve long contended the best postseason baseball ever played by the Twins was in beating Detroit in five games in the 1987 ALCS, and for the Vikings, it was that 1973 thumping of Roger Staubach (four interceptions) and the Cowboys in Texas Stadium.
Four of the previous five losses in NFC Championship Games were on the road: 1977 at Dallas, 1987 at Washington, 2000 at New York Giants and 2009 at New Orleans. The home loss was after 1998 vs. Atlanta, as you might recall.
The Vikings will not be required to play nearly as well in Philly on Sunday as they did in Dallas way back in 1973 in order to attain their second road victory ever in an NFC Championship Game.
If they were to intercept Nick Foles four times, as was the case with Staubach, this would be closer to a 41-doughnut victory than the 27-10 win on Dec. 30, 1973, in Dallas.
The 2009 Vikings gave away the franchise’s last Super Bowl opportunity by turning the football over five times (to one lost fumble for the Saints) in New Orleans.
They might have to do that again to lose in Philadelphia, since the talent gap favors the Vikings to a much greater degree vs. the Eagles without Carson Wentz than it did vs. Drew Brees and the Saints eight years ago (or Brees and the Saints this past Sunday in the Taj Ma Zygi).
It has been humorous to hear people attempt to make a case for Mike Zimmer as the NFL’s Coach of the Year by adding this to his résumé: “And he’s done it with his third-string quarterback.”
Some Purpleheads have offered this tribute by comparing it to Green Bay going in the tank without Aaron Rodgers, or the Eagles offense going from dynamic to unimpressive without Wentz.
Teddy Bridgewater was not part of any realistic planning for the 2017 Vikings, so that moved up Case Keenum to second-string quarterback entering the season. And as great as Sam Bradford was in the season opener, there would have been much less praise being offered for the remade offensive line this season if Bradford had remained a stationary target for pass rushers, rather than the elusive Keenum.
That Keenum quality has given offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur a chance to make better use of some of the quick offense he absorbed working as Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator (2013-15) in Philadelphia.
More than moving Zimmer to the top of a Coach of the Year ballot, Keenum’s transformation from a 29-year-old journeyman to a winning quarterback has turned Shurmur into the next coach of the New York Giants.
Two decades earlier, when the Vikings suffered the improbable 30-27 overtime loss to Atlanta in the Metrodome, coach Denny Green’s small band of acolytes passed along the most gutless excuse that could be offered:
It wasn’t anything that Den-knee had done that contributed to the loss. It was the fact offensive coordinator Brian Billick did not have his normal investment in preparation, as he looked ahead to becoming coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
You won’t hear any cheap shots concerning Shurmur and the Giants after Sunday’s NFC title game. For one reason, Zimmer isn’t a head coach constantly in search of scapegoats when something goes wrong, as was Green.
Zimmer did run off Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator in the middle of the 2016 season, but it seemed to break Zim’s heart to do so, and he embraced the angle that it was Norv’s decision to walk away.
The crepe paper wall in front of Bradford made the Vikings offense largely nonfunctional in last season’s ongoing collapse. It took until this season for Zimmer to get the change he wanted with Shurmur — a well-conceived, fast-paced offense that has turned Keenum into every bit a first-string quarterback.
And, there’s another reason you won’t hear any whispers about a Vikings offensive coordinator having been distracted in his preparation by a pending new job as a head coach:
The Vikings are going to win in Philadelphia. We saw of the worst of them in the second half Sunday vs. the Saints, and they survived in astounding fashion. This time, it will be a less pressurized, more decisive performance:
Make it Vikings, 27-10 … a redux of Texas Stadium in 1973.