What is the worst loss in Vikings history?

The Minnesota Vikings missed the playoffs this year after making it last year.

The fans right now are not just wishing their team was still in the playoffs, but also looking back at some playoff moments in franchise history (mostly bad).

No doubt the Vikings have had many heartbreaking playoff losses in their history, including the 1998 and 2009 NFC Championship Games.

The question though is, which was the worst in franchise history?

You can make a great case for the Drew Pearson pushoff on the Hail Mary in 1975, the four Super Bowl losses, or the two title game losses mentioned above.

One game that may get overlooked the most may be the 1987 NFC Championship Game loss to the Washington Redskins. That game should be considered the worst in team history.

Why? Because if they win that game, they not only would have had a great shot against the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl (they lost 42-10 to Washington), they also very likely would not have made the infamous Herschel Walker trade two years later had they won it all that year. Not making that trade could have allowed them to win another ring or two.

The trade helped the Dallas Cowboys plenty (Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson were among the players they drafted from the trade), but really hurt the Vikings. Not only did Walker not live up to expectations in Minnesota, but how much they gave up to get him really hurt them as well. You can make the case that he was not used properly while in purple, but nonetheless they still gave up way too much. It was a very huge gamble that did not workout in the end.

Vikings originally gave up five players and three draft picks in 1990. They later gave up five more draft picks (two firsts) as conditional picks since the Cowboys did not keep either of those five players. Made the trade that much worse.

In return the Vikings only received a third and 10th round pick in 1990 and a third-rounder in 1991. They later got fifth round pick in 1990 from the San Diego Chargers due to Darrin Nelson not reporting to the Cowboys.

That move by general manager Mike Lynn may very well be considered as the worst move in sports history. Dallas head coach Jimmy Johnson called the move “The Great Train Robbery.” It really was indeed and still is.

The Cowboys won three Super Bowls after the trade. The Vikings have not made it back there since 1976 and did not win a playoff again after the trade until 1997.

Vikings lost 17-10 to the Redskins in that 1987 game. Nelson dropped a pass with under a minute left in the game on fourth-and-four, which would have given them a first down at the one-yard line or a touchdown. Even if they scored and went to overtime, there is no guarantee they would have won, but they certainly would have had a chance.

That team went 8-7 in the regular and definitely overachieved in the playoffs by upsetting both the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers on the road, but that loss at Washington was a huge letdown both then and going forward. The trade made it look even worse.

The 1998 team is still considered as one of the best teams in NFL history to never win a Super Bowl. That team was very good and exciting. They scored a then record 556 points led by Randall Cunningham, Robert Smith, Cris Carter and rookie sensation Randy Moss. They went 15-1 and lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Atlanta Falcons 30-27 in overtime. Vikings were ahead 27-17 and later had a shot to make it 30-20, but Gary Anderson missed his only kick of the entire season (preseason included). That was not the only reason for the loss, but the most memorable one.

They could have beaten the Broncos in the Super Bowl, but it would have been tough. The Broncos at 14-2 were also very good with John Elway, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey and Shannon Shape. As good as the Vikings were on offense, their defense was not very good. Linebacker Ed McDaniel tore his ACL against the Falcons and John Randle reinjured his knee late in the game. With Randle later out, the Falcons had no problem driving down the field.

Very good chance Randle would have played, but could have been limited. The game was also on grass in Miami. Remember the “Vikings going to Miami” song?

The 2009 team was not as good as the 1998 team, but likely would have had a better shot due to the opponent. The Colts were more beatable no doubt than the 1998 Broncos team.

Their four Super Bowl losses were by 16 points, 17, 10 and 18. You can make the case that losing in the biggest game is always the worst, but neither of those four were very close. The 1987, 1998 and 2009 title games were all by one score. The 2000 NFC title game loss was by 41 points and the 2017 one was by 31 points. Close games are much more entertaining, but losing close ones are harder to swallow.

Once again though, the 1987 loss should be considered the worst in team history. Not only because how close it was, but also because of who they would have played in the Super Bowl and that they likely would not have mortgaged their future two years later for Walker.

By the way, the Minnesota Twins won their first World Series three months earlier. Imagine if the Vikings also won their first Super Bowl the very same year. That really would have been something for Minnesota sports fans.

This franchise is still stuck at zero Super Bowl wins. They should have won one or two by now, but have not. That has been very tough pill for Vikings fans to swallow, especially the older fans who have supported them since the 1970’s or earlier.

One day this franchise could very well achieve that ultimate goal. When? Nobody knows. Could be within the next two or three years, or maybe 20 years.

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Ali Siddiqui

Ali Siddiqui joined Vikings Territory right before the start of the 2020 season. He also has been writing for The Viking Age since 2018. You can follow him on twitter @asiddiqui15.

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Ed Lindquist
Ed Lindquist
1 month ago

Good article and totally agree. I can still picture Joe Gibbs kneeling and ? praying during the dropped pass at the end. Ahhhhhh!

Ali Siddiqui
Ali Siddiqui
Reply to  Ed Lindquist
1 month ago

Thanks for reading Ed!