The Vikings had been in San Francisco one year earlier and shocked the 11-point favorite 49ers 36-24 in the second round of the playoffs on Jan. 9, 1988.

Sid Hartman, then 67 and not having lost a step, allowed his objectivity to slip when Vikings rookie Reggie Rutland intercepted a Joe Montana pass and took it to the end zone for a 20-3 lead late in the first half.

Sid bolted from his seat and cantered down the front row aisle of the press box while repeating, "Go, Reggie, go.''

A few years later, Rutland informed us his name was now Najee Mustafaa, but we must quote Sid accurately these 34 years later.

One season later, on Jan. 1, 1989, the Vikings were back in San Francisco for a second-rounder and this time they were blown out 34-9.

My lasting memory for that came late in the game while trudging behind an end zone, to get in line for locker room access.

George Latimer, the St. Paul mayor, had an awful, bottom-row seat and said, "Hey, Reusse.''

When I turned, the mayor did not speak, instead merely squeezing his nostrils together with his right thumb and forefinger.

Sid and I were teammates at the Star Tribune by then. We were in a hurry to be finished, needing to get to the airport for a flight to Phoenix.

Mr. Hartman was attempting to send copy to the office on a bulky Teleram computer. These large machines had an independent cover that clasped.

As if the Vikings' stinker had not put Sid in a dark enough mood, when he reached down for the cover, he discovered the plastic had bowed substantially from spending four hours nudged against a heat vent.

What a sight it had to be as we approached our airport gate, me embracing the two pieces of Sid's computer in my chubby arms, and Sid carrying the remainder of our gear.

The mission in Arizona was to cover the Fiesta Bowl, featuring Notre Dame and West Virginia. The unbeaten Irish had defeated No. 2 Southern Cal 27-10 in late November, and a win the next day would give Lou Holtz a national title in only his third season after leaving Minnesota.

Crushing though it was for Hartman when Holtz left for Notre Dame on Thanksgiving weekend 1985, Sid remained emotionally linked to Lou.

Thus, when we picked up a rental car after 10 p.m. at the Phoenix airport, Sid directed me not to our hotel but to the one where the Notre Dame team was housed.

Danged if Sid didn't charge in there near midnight, track down the coach of the No. 1 team in the nation, and spend a couple of minutes offering assurance to Lou that he wanted Notre Dame to win more than any O'Rourke, McDonough or O'Shaughnessy, any priest or nun, on the planet.

The game was a blowout — 34-21, with a late gimme TD for West Virginia — and Holtz had the 1988 national championship, which remains Notre Dame's last.

I had no reason to again watch West Virginia play a football game in the Phoenix area until Tuesday night, this being on ESPN in what's now called the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

The Mountaineers were 6-6 and quarterbacked by the unathletic Jarret Doege, not 11-0 and quarterbacked by the ultra-athletic Major Harris as was the case vs. Notre Dame, but the mismatch was equal:

The Gophers were never threatened, winning only 18-6 due to their own misdeeds and choosing to kneel rather than ram in another touchdown in the last two minutes.

This put coach P.J. Fleck at 3-0 in bowl games; a win not as impressive as beating Auburn in Tampa, and equal to beating Georgia Tech in Detroit.

Those of us who have relished taking shots at Fleck's over-the-top style are accused of putting him in the same class as Tim Brewster, the failed salesman from the past.

That comparison only works with the hard sell, not as a coach.

I'm thinking he's more like Holtz — also a hard sell, but with a plan.

Lou was 47, a veteran of four head coaching jobs (including a quick flameout with the Jets) and his own offensive genius, on arrival in Minnesota in 1984. He inherited a disaster, had the Gophers way better in Year 2 than his first, but Lou was a vagabond and Minnesota was going to be short-term.

Fleck had just turned 36 when hired in January 2017, inherited good defensive talent but not a quarterback, and made the mistake of calling it "Year Zero.''

He has a transfer portal to make up for the current slip to No. 42 in recruiting rankings, a 2022 schedule that includes neither Ohio State nor Michigan, and a cushy Big Ten West that sits there for the taking.

Philip John Jr. never was going to be Brewster. He could be closer to what Holtz might have become at Minnesota, if Lou hadn't broken Sid's heart (but not his loyalty) those many years ago and decided to take his shot at a national championship.