The Vikings have played in four Super Bowls, losing them all against what might be four of the best teams that ever played in the big game.
They play the Washington Redskins on Sunday, reminding me of one of the great Vikings teams that narrowly missed playing in the Super Bowl. A collision of Darrin Nelson and Anthony Carter near the end zone, late in the NFC Championship Game following the 1987 season, caused a perfectly thrown ball by quarterback Wade Wilson to not be caught. The Redskins held on to stop the Vikings 17-10 and deprived the Jerry Burns-coached team from playing the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.
Nelson, now the senior associate athletic director at Cal-Irvine, talked Thursday about that team. The Vikings had trounced a strong New Orleans team 44-10 in the wild-card round of the playoffs, then scored the upset of the season with a 36-24 victory over the 49ers, led by quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young. Carter had 10 catches for 227 yards in that game, helping beat a 49ers squad that was in the midst of winning three Super Bowls in six years.
But the Vikings’ last offensive play of the Washington game, a fourth-down pass to the goal line with 52 seconds left, was the lasting memory from that season.
“It was Anthony Carter, I think,” Nelson recalled. “He was running an out route, and I was running a fast route. We looked at each other and I don’t know if he was breaking off his route or something, but that was what screwed up the ball. Wade Wilson threw the ball, he was the QB.
“We got our routes screwed up. He was supposed to do an out route and I was doing an option route, which means I could go either direction. I think he did an end route into me and he had to jump out [of the way]. I’d have to watch it again. That was such a long time ago.”
That painful play was only amplified when the Redskins routed the Broncos 42-10 in the Super Bowl.
“We had already beaten [Denver] during the season, and Washington beat them bad,” Nelson said. “We went to New Orleans first, then went to San Francisco, and we beat San Francisco pretty good. Then Washington won the Super Bowl. I guess our game was really the Super Bowl.”
So how close was Nelson from catching the pass?
“Oh, I definitely touched it,” he said. “It was pretty close.”
The Washington Post game story from that Vikings loss documented how tense the moment was.
“Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs went to his knees as the Minnesota Vikings’ final play unfolded yesterday afternoon at raucous RFK Stadium,” the story read. “As he knelt, Gibbs said a little prayer, uncertain whether his team was headed to the Super Bowl — or simply to overtime.”
Gibbs went on to win his second Super Bowl, and the Vikings once again came up a little short.
The Vikings and Redskins have played 24 times and their series is tied at 12 wins apiece, including five postseason games.
One of the great regular-season games between the two teams took place in 1975, when Bud Grant was coaching and the Vikings were 10-0. I sat with Grant in his office before games. Officials would come in and Grant would never shake hands. “Get to the point,” Grant would say.
The Vikings were facing the Redskins in Washington. Pat Harder, a former Wisconsin fullback, was officiating the game, and the two knew each other well. Both were raised in Wisconsin and had served in World War II.
At the time Harder was probably in his late 50s. Grant walked up to him and said, “Hey, Harder, why don’t you retire? You’re too old to officiate.”
To make a long story short, the Vikings lost the game 31-30. Harder made a crucial call that went against Grant and the Vikings late in the game when they were marching toward a go-ahead touchdown. Instead, a last-second field goal was blocked and the chance for a perfect season was lost.
That ’75 squad would suffer a much greater loss later that season when Drew Pearson caught the “Hail Mary” pass in Dallas’ 17-14 playoff victory over the Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium.
U stars in minors
Gophers assistant baseball coach Rob Fornasiere, who should have been hired as a head baseball coach at the collegiate level some time ago, reports that three of the four Gophers drafted last year made their league’s all-star team.
Catcher Austin Athmann hit .276 with two homers and 17 RBI for the Connecticut Tigers. Pitcher Dalton Sawyer played for the Vermont Lake Monsters of the Oakland system and had a 3.38 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 18⅔ innings. Both made the New York-Penn League All-Star Game.
Jordan Jess, a pitcher with the Bristol (Va.) Pirates, had a 2-2 record with a 2.55 ERA, with 27 strikeouts in 24⅔ innings. He made the Appalachian League All-Star Game.
Fornasiere also talked about Eli Wilson, new Gophers catcher who is the son of former Gophers and major league catcher Dan Wilson.
“Eli is a freshman catcher from Garfield High School in Seattle,” Fornasiere said. “He’s 6-1, about 185 pounds, a righthanded hitter. He was drafted by the Mariners in the 38th round last summer. He’s a really interesting prospect and a chip off the old block. He’s going to be a really good player for us.”
• Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys was asked how he viewed No. 10 Nebraska’s 62-3 loss at No. 6 Ohio State last Saturday, and what it means for this Saturday’s Gophers-Cornhuskers game: “That’s a big stadium and an awfully talented team [at Ohio State] and you know, you get things rolling and obviously [Nebraska] ran into some problems. I’m a big believer that whatever happens one week has no influence on what happens the next.”
• Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner has been invited to the postseason NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, a showcase for the NFL draft.
• This Gophers senior class has won 29 games as a group, the most since the 2006 senior class, which won 30. … The Gophers are 7-2 for the third time in four seasons and 4-2 in the Big Ten. They have now won at least seven games 32 times in school history. The last time they won seven games in three out of four seasons was from 2003-05. … The Gophers lead the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-12. They have eight interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries, which is the most in the nation. They have scored 90 points off turnovers, and allowed only 23.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org