Sansevere: Vikings’ long-time lack of killer instinct

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers lost Sunday because they had less killer instinct than the Vikings, and that’s saying something.

The Vikings were devoid of killer instinct in all five of their losses, when they blew leads of seven, 10 and 14 points.

Nobody should get too whipped up about the Vikings finally putting on an exhibition of killer instinct in the second half of Sunday’s 27-20 win. They really didn’t. They blew a 10-point lead and, though they rallied, the Chargers were as inefficient as the Vikings in their quintet of losses.

A team with killer instinct would have turned a 10-point lead into a 17-point lead, then a 24-point lead and then continued to scald their opponent.

The Vikings have struggled with killer instinct for many, many years. I know that as well as anyone. I have covered this team since 1984 and I popularized the killer instinct term as it relates to the Vikings way back in 1987.

I was the Vikings’ beat writer for the Star Tribune in 1987. I had asked players about the lack of killer instinct during that strike-shortened season, but the term really took root two days after the Vikings’ regular season ended.

The VIkings lost to the Washington Redskins 27-24 in overtime on Saturday, Dec. 26, closing the season with losses in three of their last four games. Their record was 8-7 and it looked like they would miss the playoffs.

If the St. Louis Cardinals had beaten the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday the 27th, the Vikings would be out. The Cardinals crapped the bed and lost 21-16, allowing the Vikings to back into the playoffs.

That term — backed into the playoffs — angered VIkings coach Jerry Burns that Monday. He hated hearing his team backed into the playoffs and let me know it when I brought it up.

He hated it even more when I asked if his team, losers of three of their last four games, lacked killer instinct.

Burnsie, which is what everyone called him, was having none of it. If you think he was irate during his Bob Schnelker screed after a win over the Rams a few years later, you should have heard him that Monday.

Unfortunately, no audio exists from that news conference in a tiny room located just outside the Vikings’ locker room at Winter Park. It was far more entertaining than the Schnelker audio.

Anyway, Burnsie got so torqued up, he said in that cranky voice of his, “Killer instinct, killer instinct … whoever started killer instinct?”

I said, “I think it was Charles Manson.”

“Yeah, Manson,” he said, clearly not having a clue who Manson was.

It was priceless, a memory that will stick with me until that final breath.

And then what happened? Well, you might recall the Vikings destroyed New Orleans in the wild-card round of the playoffs and then dismantled the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round.

The Vikings showed plenty of killer instinct in those games.

They faced the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game. The Vikings played a helluva game and might have won if Darren Nelson hadn’t tried catching a pass intended for Anthony Carter late in the game.

Had the Vikings beaten the Redskins, they would have won the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos. Something the Redskins did with ease.

I mention all this because it is possible for a team to suddenly develop killer instinct. The ‘87 Vikings did it after losing three of four.

It can go the other way as well. The 1998 Vikings set a record for being the most prolific scoring offense in NFL history. That team went 15-1 in the regular season and had kick-ass levels of killer instinct right up until the final moments of the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Instead of going for the jugular and trying to win the game in regulation, Vikings coach Denny Green had quarterback Randall Cunningham take a knee and play for overtime with 30 seconds still on the clock. Back then, it was sudden-death OT. First team to score wins. The Falcons kicked a field goal in overtime and went to the Super Bowl.

Killer instinct can come and killer instinct can go.

The Vikings are more than halfway through this season, and killer instinct hasn’t shown up in anything close to full force. And it might not until there’s a new head coach.

Bob Sansevere hosts “The BS Show,” a daily podcast that also is broadcast on radio stations in Duluth (WDSM), Hibbing (WNMT), St. Cloud (WBHR) and Worthington (The RadioWorks Network).