Heartbreaking finishes are one of the best parts of being a sports fan. The highs and lows of the game all culminating in one final play, or series of plays, where the game is won or lost by either team.
But when your favorite team is always coming out as the loser at the end of the game, it becomes a lot less enjoyable. In fact, it’ll start to drive any fan mad.
I’m a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, and I’ve been one since I can remember.
Watching Daunte Culpepper light up defenses with bombs to Randy Moss, a few years later seeing Adrian Peterson throw opponents to the side and run them over while gaining 2,097 yards and falling just eight yards shy of the single season record.
Those moments will always be unforgettable for me.
But being a fan of the Vikings means Sundays in the fall can be disappointing, head-scratching and often infuriating.
Heartbreaking losses didn’t just begin for the Vikings. These gut-wrenching end-of-game fiascos stretch back decades, and continue to happen, becoming all too common for us Vikings fans.
However, there’s still been a lot of success. Minnesota’s been one of the cornerstone franchises of the NFL, to go along with being one of the most successful. The team’s 54.6 winning percentage is the sixth highest all-time in the NFL.
But losing when it matters most has become more than a recurring theme for the team. It’s become a tradition.
Before the present troubles for Minnesota started here in 2020, there’s the thrilling, yet painful past.
The Vikings marched into Sun Devil Stadium for the last game of their 2003 season. The week before, I had watched in awe while Culpepper and Moss completely dismantled the Kansas City Chiefs.
A win was all the team needed. A win and Minnesota was playoff bound, or so I thought.
An 11-point Minnesota lead with six minutes left in the game seemed like playoff chances were over for Arizona. But their quarterback, Josh McCown, led a drive that resulted in a wild scramble and touchdown throw, which cut the lead to 17-12.
Arizona then recovered an improbable onside kick attempt and took the ball down to the Minnesota 18 yard line. After a sack and fumble, which Minnesota didn’t recover, it was fourth down for Arizona, from the Vikings’ 27-yard line.
A heave from McCown with five seconds remaining and a catch by Nate Poole in the end zone resulted in game over, 18-17 final score.
Then came 2009. Brett Favre signed with the Vikings after leaving the arch-rival Packers and playing a forgettable year with the Jets. I couldn’t have been more excited.
The 2009 season unfolded into the best season of Vikings football I have ever witnessed.
The old gunslinger himself, Favre, led the Vikings during a magical season that saw the team set franchise records and reach the doorstep of football glory. The NFC Championship game, in the Superdome, was against the New Orleans Saints.
After a back-and-forth game, which saw three Peterson touchdown runs, the score was tied 28-28. Vikings’ ball at the Saints’ 38-yard line with nineteen seconds left. Favre rolled to the right and with room to run, he threw it. Interception.
Minnesota lost after the Saints hit a field goal in overtime.
Devastating is the only word.
Minnesota found themselves back in the playoffs in January of 2016, against the reigning NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings were led by the steady quarterback play of Teddy Bridgewater and the season’s leading-rusher Adrian Peterson.
A negative six degree temperature at kickoff, with a negative 30 degree wind chill, made this the third-coldest game ever played in NFL history, but it was about to get much colder at TCF Bank Stadium.
After a defensive slugfest of a game resulted in a score of 10–9, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was warming up for the game-winning kick from the 17-yard line after Peterson drove the ball down into the red zone through the frigid air.
Nobody can convince me Walsh wasn’t nervously sweating in the frigid temperatures when he was shown on the Fox telecast practice kicking into the net on the sideline with the clock ran down to 26 seconds. I could sense it, feel it in the air — disaster was about to strike.
Walsh trotted out onto the field and kicked the field goal wide left — very wide left — leaving fans in utter horror while the Seahawks’ coaches and players laughed in celebration and disbelief at their victory.
The pain of having to watch your team’s kicker shank away an entire season from the 17-yard line is a different kind of misery, and this wasn’t even the first time this happened in Vikings history.
There’s a long history of kicking woes for the Vikings. A memory lane which, when traveled, is paved with agony, tears and sleepless nights for fans in purple.
This kick brought back memories for fans of Gary Anderson’s infamous missed field goal in the Metrodome during the 1998 NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Unfortunately, the problems with this year’s team run much deeper than kicker.
Minnesota started 0–2 before the Tennessee Titans arrived in Minneapolis. Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson torched the Titans. Jefferson had 175 receiving yards to go with two touchdown grabs.
In short order, Tennessee came back from a 12-point deficit and won after kicking a field goal to go up one; then, they intercepted Cousins to end the game.
The team’s start to this season has been a disaster, and that’s putting it mildly. They are 1–5 through their first six games. Even worse is the amount of talent is on the team: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Eric Kendricks are all fantastic players.
The Vikings’ last two losses this season were in completely different fashion but horrific all the same.
On Oct. 11, the Seattle Seahawks were 4–0 and the hottest team in the NFL with Minnesota headed to the Emerald City. Minnesota got off to a great start behind the running of Dalvin Cook and took a 13–0 lead into the half.
But after a fumble and interception, they fell behind, 14–13. They retook the lead 26–21 with seven minutes left in the game.
Then came fourth and one at the Seattle six-yard line. With Cook out of the game with an injury, Alexander Mattison was left running for Minnesota.
He had a gaping hole to his right but ran straight up the middle. Turnover on downs. A Seahawk march down the field and it was game over with a Wilson-to-Metcalf fourth down touchdown. How can this happen?
It’s unbelievable, mind boggling and nothing short of extraordinary the way they find ways to lose games.
Nonetheless, it appeared all hope wasn’t lost with the 0–5 Atlanta Falcons up next on the schedule.
An easy win to get back on track, right? Nope. In typical Viking fashion, they were down 20–0 at halftime to the winless Falcons.
The final score came to 40-23. It seems only the Vikings can go from almost beating one of the NFL’s best to losing to its worst.
The Vikings have sailed into too deep of water, with the team’s start to this season being a complete disaster.
Quarterback Cousins, with an offense loaded with talent, was supposed to bring a Lombardi Trophy closer into view this season, but at the moment it seems farther away than ever.
Ultimately, the Minnesota Vikings will always be the greatest NFL franchise in my eyes, and I’ll be saying “Skol Vikings!” for as long as there’s pro football to be watched, while wearing purple every Sunday.
But maybe, just maybe one of these days, the torturous finishes will cease to happen so frequently, and with such regularity that it’s become normal for Vikings fans to have to endure these hope-stealing tragic endings and worse — come to expect them.