The death of former Vikings coach Dennis Green at age 67, which the world learned about on Friday, seemed to catch a lot of Minnesotans by surprise — both from the suddenness of a passing from cardiac arrest but also from the standpoint that Green hadn’t been “front-brain” for a number of years here.
Given the weekend to think a little more about Green, these thoughts emerged: He left us with an undoubtedly complicated football legacy, and his era in retrospect feels both quite long and quite long ago.
From a personal standpoint: Green started coaching the Vikings in 1992, the fall of my junior year in high school in Grand Forks, N.D.
By the winter of 1994, I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota but was back in North Dakota for Christmas break. Green’s team, with Warren Moon at QB, had generated enough enthusiasm that my friend and I made a last-minute decision to drive back to Minneapolis overnight on New Year’s Eve/Day for a playoff game at the Dome against the Bears — only to see Minnesota lose 35-18.
By 1998, the magical 15-1 year, I was at the Star Tribune on a temporary basis. And by 2000, I had helped cover enough Vikings stories in a supporting role that I was on the travel roster to go to the Super Bowl — if only the Vikings hadn’t suffered that narrow, 41-point defeat.
A year later, Green was finished. But he endured from high school to the start of a professional career — coaching the Vikings through scandals, through consistent success, through playoff heartbreak.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe he lasted that long. Right now, it’s very hard to believe that he last coached the Vikings 15 years ago.
By virtue of going to the playoffs eight times in his 10 seasons and compiling a 97-62 regular-season record, Green earned the right to be described as having coached in the second-most successful era of Vikings football (with Bud Grant, of course, being first).
He also, by virtue of drafting Randy Moss and giving us the gift of 1998, spawned an entirely new generation of rabid Vikings fans — while also opening them up to the subsequent heartbreak of that season’s end (and 2000 … and 2009 … and if you stuck with it, 2015).
The Star Tribune’s Kent Youngblood, who covered the later years of the Green era, described Green as “the ultimate Minnesota coach.”
You could argue there are plenty of other coaches who might make more sense to earn that distinction (like Grant or Flip Saunders), but my colleague also was not wrong.
Green gave us a decade of consistently good results, often punctuated by disappointing finishes. Outside of the generation-ago Twins and the modern Lynx, that sure sounds like the quintessential Minnesota pro team.
And it sounds like a coach who won’t and shouldn’t be forgotten.