Sports history can often give us false clues about the future because, really, what transpired 50 years ago or a decade ago or last year or even Monday night has no direct bearing on what will happen next. The Vikings can and should take some comfort in that idea after their disheartening 20-3 opening loss to the 49ers. The notion is rooted in the “one game at a time” cliché, but it has merit nonetheless.
All that said, history can still tell us one thing definitively: what has happened. And in that case, we find that Monday’s game is rooted in some unfortunate Vikings history in a couple of different ways:
AMONG THE WORST
The 17-point defeat at the hands of San Francisco was tied for the fourth-most lopsided opening season loss in Vikings history. Here are those games and how the seasons played out:
• 1984: 42-13 (29 points) vs. San Diego: Ah, the Les Steckel year. If you’ve rooted for the Vikings for any amount of time, not much more explanation is needed. The Vikings finished 3-13 and gave up an average of 40 points over their final six games.
• 1962: 34-7 (27 points) at Packers: Understandable in part because it was the Vikings’ second year as a franchise, but still a rough season nonetheless with a 2-11-1 finish.
• 1965: 35-16 (19 points) at Baltimore: The Vikings lost the first two games, rallied to get their record to 5-3 and ultimately landed at a respectable but playoff-free 7-7.
• 1993: 24-7 (17 points) at Raiders: In Dennis Green’s second year, the Vikings quickly rebounded from a 0-1 start to win four of their next five. They wound up 9-7 and made the playoffs, losing in the first round.
• 1995: 31-14 (17 points) at Bears: Minnesota rallied to get back to 8-6 before losing its final two games and missing the playoffs at 8-8.
• 2015: 20-3 (17 points) at 49ers: TBA, though home games against the Lions and Chargers could get the Vikings back on track.
Over the past quarter-century for the NFL’s vast middle class — those teams that finish between 5-11 and 11-5 — winning the season opener has made teams more than twice as likely to make the playoffs as those who lose the opener.
For the Vikings, too, the season opener also has often been an indicator of how the year will play out. In their history, the Vikings are 30-24-1 in season openers. In the 54 seasons not counting this one, they made the playoffs 20 out of 30 times (67 percent) when they won their opener. In the 24 years they lost or tied the opener, they made the playoffs just seven times (29 percent).
Two notable seasons in which the Vikings were able to overcome an opening loss: 1969 when they rebounded to make it to the Super Bowl and, more recently in 2008 when they dropped their first two games but still won the NFC North.
So I’m telling you there’s a chance, even if history says Monday was a bad sign.