The 2019 Vikings had an 8-2 stretch from early October through mid-December, then lost the last two games at U.S. Bank Stadium to Green Bay and Chicago to finish 10-6. They already were stuck with the No. 6 seed in the NFC before Sunday’s loss to the Bears, and now will have the task of winning three road games — starting with No. 3 seed New Orleans and No. 1 seed San Francisco — to reach the Super Bowl.
The 1987 Vikings were 7-1 in games with their actual players in late November, then lost three out of four and needed a Sunday loss at Dallas by the St. Louis Cardinals (in their last game before moving to Phoenix) to claim the NFL’s second wild card.
This was the season when the players went on strike after Week 2, Week 3 was canceled and the strikebreakers played three games before the actual NFLers returned. Mike Lynn, the Vikings CEO and football boss, put little effort into finding a strike team, seeing it as bad long-term PR with his players, and the Vikings were 0-3.
This was also the era of three divisions and two wild-card teams per league. The other NFC wild card was New Orleans, 12-3 (2-1 with strikebreakers) and the home team on Jan. 3, 1988. It was supposed to be a Superdome celebration:
The Saints had started as an expansion franchise in 1967 and had not made the playoffs previously in their 20 seasons. They also had not had a winning season, with two 8-8s as the peak.
Led by quarterback Bobby Hebert, as Cajun as his high school teammate Ed Orgeron, the ’87 Saints closed the regular season with a nine-game winning streak. They were in the wild-card game because the No. 1-seeded 49ers, with Joe Montana at quarterback and a 13-2 record, had finished one game ahead of New Orleans to win the NFC West.
The “Who Dat?” crowd’s reactions was “Who cares?” Their Saints, finally, were ready to take on the world.
Randy Bush, 78 days removed from the Game 2 slide in the World Series that lives in Twins infamy, both for creativity and the Metrodome roar it produced, came to the front of the Superdome press box, beaded up, beered up and fired up for his hometown Saints.
“Tell me my Saints are going to win,” Bush said.
The St. Paul sports columnist to whom Bush was talking had put himself in that camp with a pregame column that carried the headline: “Minnesota’s Back Door Gang is a joke.”
The Vikings’ inability to clinch during the last month of the schedule had become a source of ridicule. They had faded late in an overtime loss on Saturday to Washington, and needed a bad Cowboys team to beat St. Louis the next day to crawl into the NFC’s final five.
On Monday, after the Vikings were in, coach Jerry Burns was surrounded in a tiny media work room by a half-dozen sportswriters. Bob Sansevere, then the Vikings reporter for the Star Tribune, asked Burnsie about his team’s lack of a “killer instinct.”
Burnsie repeatedly bellowed “killer instinct, killer instinct” as part of a tutorial in the art of profanity. When he asked who started all this “killer instinct” stuff, Sansevere replied: “I think it was Charles Manson.”
“Yeah, Manson,” barked Burnsie, who very well might have been mixing him up with another L.A. guy, Bill Munson, a former Rams and Lions quarterback.
“Nobody got the ‘killer instinct’ rant on tape,” Sansevere said last week. “That’s sad. I think it was better than Burnsie’s Schnelker rant.”
What we all soon came to agree on was Burnsie’s outfit indeed had a killer instinct. Anthony Carter triggered a 44-10 rout of the Saints with an 84-yard punt return, Wade Wilson replaced Tommy Kramer early on and delivered a Hail Mary TD pass to Hassan Jones at the end of the first half and a fierce pass rush drove Hebert from the game.
A week later, the Vikings went to San Francisco and did the same to Montana. Yes, on Jan. 9, 1988, the gang of Keith Millard, Chris Doleman and Hardware Hank Thomas, of Joey Browner, Carl Lee and Jesse Solomon, became the first defense to get Montana hooked from a game for a noninjury reason.
The final was 36-24. Carter’s 10 catches for 227 yards gave Anthony the most explosive two-game stretch in the postseason we have ever seen from the Purple. And the Vikings of January 1988 remain only team in franchise history with two playoff road wins.
A week later, the Vikings lost 17-10 in the NFC title game at Washington, when Wilson’s fourth-down pass got away from Darrin Nelson at the goal line, an instant before he would be drilled by all-world cornerback Darrell Green.
Another stout effort ended an amazing underdog run for Burnsie’s killers.
And now a better road run (3-0) is needed, if another crusty old football man known as “Zim’’ is the coach to put an end to a Vikings’ Super Bowl snag in its 43rd season.
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing email@example.com and including his name in the subject line.