Sports Illustrated has a wonderful piece this week about “The Worst Game in NFL History,” played during the NFL strike year of 1987 between woeful replacement players for the Bills and Giants. Both teams had already lost their first two games filled with replacement players; the third was a bizarre 6-3 overtime win for the Bills in which Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor played for the Giants after crossing the picket line. He had two sacks and drew seven holding penalties. It was the last of the three weeks of NFL replacement games, before the strike ended and the regulars returned. Really, you should read the rest of it.
The piece also serves to remind us about the 1987 Vikings, whose season was almost wholly undone by the strike. Minnesota started the year 2-0 with its regular roster. Then the strike hit, and the Vikings’ replacement players went 0-3, losing by a combined score of 70-33 to Green Bay, Chicago and Tampa Bay — all division foes at the time.
The strike ended, and the Vikings rallied to win five of their next six. But they lost three of their final four to finish the year 8-7 (one week was just flat-out missed in the labor squabble). Five teams in each conference made the playoffs back then. Four NFC teams qualified with records of at least 11-4. The Vikings squeaked in as the fifth, finishing one game ahead of three teams tied at 7-8.
But they were also better than that record indicated, having gone 8-4 with their regular players. They dispatched 12-3 New Orleans in the first round in a 44-10 rout, then defeated 13-2 San Francisco by a final of 36-24 to reach the NFC title game against 11-4 Washington. The Redskins that year won all their replacement games, so really it was a meeting of 8-4 teams — with Washington at home.
And of course you probably know the rest. The score was tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter. Washington took the lead on a late touchdown to go up 17-10. The Vikings drove down inside Washington’s 10, where they faced fourth down. Wade Wilson was quarterbacking, and Darrin Nelson worked his way open near the goal line.
Wilson delivered the pass, with two Washington defensive players in the area as well as Vikings WR Anthony Carter (in talking last week to Tommy Kramer, who was on the sideline, he still wasn’t sure who the pass was really intended for). Nelson had two hands on what could have been a game-tying touchdown, but the ball bounced to the ground.
There are plenty of fresher “woulda coulda shoulda” moments for Vikings fans, but the way that whole season played out from the 0-3 replacement players to the ending is right up there.