Before he became the NFC offensive player of the month, back when he was a better story than player, many Vikings fans justified their infatuation with Case Keenum by comparing him to Trent Dilfer.
That’s the wrong argument based on the wrong example. Want to believe in Keenum’s ability to win a championship? Spin the dial on your time machine back another decade. The 1990 New York Giants, not the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, are the team the Vikings could and should emulate.
Dilfer, the Ravens’ quarterback when they won the Super Bowl in 2001, has become the patron saint of misguided comparisons. Because Dilfer was able to act as a service dog for a team with a historically good defense, power running game and excellent special teams, football fans have argued ever since that bad quarterbacks can win championships.
What Dilfer proved is that a bad quarterback wins a Super Bowl once every 51 years or so.
What is far more likely than another Dilfer winning a title is a good-but-uncelebrated quarterback winning one. Former Viking Brad Johnson took four different teams, and three different franchises, to the playoffs, and won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2002. But he’s not the ideal parallel to Keenum, because Johnson was an established, quality starter.
The ideal parallel for the ideal scenario regarding the Keenum-led Vikings belongs to the mentor of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, Bill Parcells.
In 1990, Parcells already had won a Super Bowl and taken four teams to the playoffs. During the ’90 season, Parcells was putting on one of his most impressive coaching displays. The Giants were 11-2 and playing the Buffalo Bills at Giants Stadium when star quarterback Phil Simms, the hero of Super Bowl XXI, suffered a broken foot.
What happened after that injury established Parcells as one of the greatest coaches in recent NFL history.
Simms’ backup was Jeff Hostetler, who had started two games in four years. Hostetler was tall and rangy, a better athlete than Simms but not as precise a passer.
Hostetler and the Giants won their last two regular-season games by three points each. They beat Chicago 31-3 in their first playoff game, then traveled to Candlestick Park to face the two-time defending Super Bowl champion 49ers, a dynastic team.
The Giants turned the game into a defensive slog, knocked Joe Montana out of the game, recovered a Roger Craig fumble with about two minutes remaining, then drove for a last-second field goal to win 15-13.
In the Super Bowl, the 49ers faced another prolific offense and Hall of Fame quarterback, in Jim Kelly and the Bills, who had beaten the Raiders 51-3 in the AFC title game.
The Giants turned another matchup with an offense stacked with Hall of Fame talents into another slog, winning, 20-19.
That was the second Super Bowl I ever covered, and remains one of the most remarkable underdog performances I’ve ever seen.
Compare that Giants team to this year’s Vikings. Parcells was a gruff former defensive coordinator, like Zimmer.
Those Giants relied on an aging running back who had lost a step or two from his prime. Ottis Anderson averaged 3.5 yards per carry. With Dalvin Cook injured, the Vikings’ starting back is Latavius Murray, averaging 3.8 yards per carry.
Hostetler was a career backup who relied on mobility. That describes Keenum.
The Giants defense featured a powerhouse pass rusher in Lawrence Taylor and a veteran cornerback signed away from the Cowboys in Everson Walls. The Vikings feature Everson Griffen and still rely on former Cowboy Terence Newman.
Keenum has played better this season than Dilfer ever did. He, like Hostetler, is turning his first shot to play with a good team into a season that will land him a large contract.
Hostetler/Keenum. Parcells/Zimmer. LT/Griffen. Anderson/Murray. Walls/Newman. You don’t need to mention Dilfer to argue that a Vikings Super Bowl victory would have a historic precedent.