I’ve made a bold claim about Randy Moss enough times around the office that any time his name comes up certain co-workers know I am a virtual lock to dust it off again.
My contention: If Moss didn’t come along in 1998, the Vikings would no longer be in Minnesota.
There might be some hyperbole in here. Perhaps those enough who heard the constant threats of the Vikings leaving for Los Angeles or some other greener pasture if they didn’t get a new stadium started to believe it after a while regardless of plausibility. There is also a dose of convenience to the claim, since it can never be verified either way. We can’t change history, so I am free to believe what I believe. It might be true!
This much is fact, though: the Vikings were a good team before Moss — who will be inducted into the Vikings’ Ring of Honor when the purple open the season Monday against the Saints, hence my recent claims around the office yet again — was chosen No. 21 overall in 1998. They had made the playoffs in five of Dennis Green’s first six seasons and had even won a playoff game (improbably) the season before in New York.
But they were also playing in a quickly aging Metrodome before an increasingly apathetic fan base. Consider this: the 1997 Vikings started the season 8-2 but then lost five consecutive games to fall to 8-7. Still, they entered their final game of the season – at home against Indianapolis — with a playoff berth on the line.
And they failed to sell out the game, causing a television blackout under NFL rules. Blackouts were common for the Vikings of that era. Their home openers in both 1996 and 1997 failed to sell out and were blacked out as well. Plenty of other games either met the same fate or were rescued at the last minute by corporate bailouts (buying thousands of tickets), extensions or both.
The Vikings won that finale in 1997, by the way, and even won a playoff game that season. But the home opener in 1998 went down to the blackout wire, per Star Tribune archives. Two days before the sellout deadline, 1,300 tickets remained. Imagine that: Moss’ debut — four catches, 95 yards, two touchdowns in a 31-7 rout of Tampa Bay — was almost not televised locally.
But the tickets were snatched up. The Vikings caught fire, giving birth to a brand new generation of fans with Moss as the centerpiece. We all know how that season ended, but the 15-1 year and Moss’ continued brilliance and flair turned empty seats at the Dome into a thing of the past.From 1998-2011, every Vikings regular-season game was sold out. In May of 2012, funding for U.S. Bank Stadium was approved.
Prior to the 2012 season — and coming off a 3-11 season in 2011 – the Vikings took advantage of a new NFL rule that said teams only needed to sell 90 percent of tickets to avoid a blackout. That helped ensure Vikings fans would be able to see their team on TV in the last years of the Dome and the bridge seasons at TCF Bank Stadium.
Would the Vikings have made it to the stadium finish line without 14 seasons of sellouts sparked by Moss? And without a new stadium, would a Vikings ownership group finally have given up and moved the team somewhere else?
I have a hunch the answers are no and yes, in that order.
Moss never brought a Super Bowl to the Vikings, but he helped ensure Minnesota will host another one in February — and more important ensured that if the Vikings ever do finally win a Super Bowl, they will do it as a Minnesota franchise.