The greatest flop of a season in the 58-year history of the Vikings came to a bitter end with a home-field shellacking from a geographic and divisional rival. A season that started with gigantic expectations based on adding a high-profile quarterback to a tremendous defense ended in disgusting mediocrity.
And, dang, it was cold outside.
The Vikings had played magnificent defense in 1971, so much so that tackle Alan Page became the first defensive player to be voted as NFL MVP.
Yet, with eight starts for Gary Cuozzo, four for Bobby Lee and two for Norm Snead, the quarterback situation was chaotic. On Christmas Day, Dallas came to Met Stadium, starter Lee and reliever Cuozzo totaled four interceptions, and the Cowboys walked out with a 20-12 playoff victory.
Patchwork at quarterback … it had to change.
Fran Tarkenton’s five-year stay with the New York Giants had fallen into discord. He had held out briefly in a contract dispute, then the Giants went 4-10. Tarkenton passed for 11 touchdowns, threw 21 interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 65.4.
Francis said he wanted a chance to play for a winner. The Vikings wanted a starting quarterback. He came back to Minnesota in a trade with the Giants on Jan. 27, 1972.
He was greeted at the airport by emissaries from Twin City Federal and, within hours, there were TV ads with Tarkenton counseling Minnesotans to either save or borrow money from that institution.
That was the hysteria over bringing back Sir Francis. Put a productive quarterback with this destructive defense and staying on the pace of the previous three seasons — 12-2, 12-2 and 11-3 — was the minimum anticipated for the 1972 Vikings.
And then: The Vikings lost the opener 24-21 to Washington on a Monday night. They were 2-4 in late October, then won at Green Bay to start a run of five victories in six games.
There was a rematch with the Packers on Dec. 10. It was the second-coldest game ever played by the Packers by Fahrenheit — minus-2 at kickoff (with a 19-below windchill). It was also the second-coldest game played by the Vikings at Met Stadium.
So what? Put on the snowmobile suit, put a bottle of schnapps in one pocket and a bottle of Corby’s in the other, and go watch the Vikings reclaim what had become their rightful place at the top of the NFC Central.
Green Bay was 8-4 and the Vikings were 7-5. The quarterback matchup was Green Bay’s Scott Hunter vs. Tarkenton.
Fran’s going to lose a must-win game vs. Scott Hunter? Give me a break, and pass the schnapps.
The Vikings were ahead 7-0 at halftime. Yet, as had been a problem most of the season, the Vikings didn’t have a reliable running game, while the Packers had John Brockington and MacArthur Lane. They combined for 212 rushing yards in the cold; the Vikings managed only 42 plays, and 21 were runs totaling 54 yards.
The Packers punched the Vikings in the mouth on both sides of the ball. The second half belonged to them. The final was 23-7. Tarkenton threw three interceptions, two to rookie Willie Buchanon.
The lethal combination of the ’72 Vikings — Tarkenton and terrific defense — was dead. The Vikings lost again the next week to finish 7-7, allowing a New York TV publicist named Beano Cook to suggest “7-7” was what someday would be engraved on Tarkenton’s headstone.
The 1972 Vikings were the No. 1 flop in franchise history. And now we have witnessed No. 2 with what occurred on Sunday, when a geographic and divisional rival, the Chicago Bears, came into the spectacular, toasty-warm $1.15 billion edifice in downtown Minneapolis, and put an end to the 2018 Vikings with a 24-10 mugging.
The 1972 Vikings totaled 144 yards when they did their faceplant vs. Green Bay on a frozen December afternoon. It’s more embarrassing that the 2018 Vikings totaled 164 yards vs. the Bears while playing in a greenhouse, on artificial turf, in an era of huge advantages for offense.
The Packers’ incentive for pounding the ’72 Vikings was to win the division. The Bears already had done that. They just came into The Zygi and pounded Mike Zimmer’s Vikings for the giggles.
This past summer, it was Kirk Cousins, the top quarterback on the market, joining the NFL’s No. 1-rated defense. At the end of the 2018 calendar, they are failures. None of that famous heartbreak talk from Vikings fans for this team. This was 100 percent a flop.
Note: Tarkenton did redeem himself by taking the Vikings to three Super Bowls in the following four years. Go get ’em, Kirk.