Posted at 8:00 AM on January 17, 2009
by David Zingler
If you're a Vikings fan, you woke up 10 years ago today thinking your team was about to secure its first Super Bowl birth in 20 years. Later that night, you went to bed sick to your stomach with anguish, anger and despair. And you probably didn't sleep much.
On January 17, 1999 the Vikings lost the NFC Championship Game to the Atlanta Falcons 30-27 in overtime. Their 15-1 dream season came to an unceremonious end leaving a new generation of Vikings fans with a reference point equivalent to the four Super Bowl losses the previous generation had witnessed. They told us the Vikings would never do it, they always choked, they always let you down. For years we didn't believe them and then as suddenly as Morten Andersen's field goal sailed through the uprights, we did.
I remember that day vividly. I woke up filled anticipation and excitement. This was going to be a great day! My brother Brian, my friend Jason and I put on our purple jerseys, jumped into his Chevy Blazer and made our way to the Dome.
We saw our team race out to a 20-7 first half lead, scoring at will on the Atlanta defense. Never had a 14-2 team ever been held with so little regard. They didn't stand a chance.
I don't need to rehash how the game fell apart - Randall Cunningham's fumble, Gary Anderson's missed field goal, the easy interception Robert Griffith dropped in the end zone, taking a knee, etc. - if you care enough to read this post, you know the story well.
Here are a few things I experienced that day that remain etched into my memory:
In the 4th quarter with the Vikings leading 27-20 and in the middle of the fateful drive that ended with Anderson's miss, nature called and I rushed to the bathroom during a time out. As I walked down row 8 of section 201, I was greeted with an aisle of high fives and shouts of "Super Bowl". A celebration seemed imminent.
When I got back my seat I noticed workers putting purple skirting on the staging area in the southeast corner of the Metrodome on which the post-game trophy presentation would be held. I remember thinking "I don't like this" before pushing the thought aside. When Anderson missed, those same workers began removing the skirting. I felt like I had just been hit in the gut with a Randall Cunningham spiral. Less than an hour later of course, the stage was surrounded in black skirting.
After the game ended we met up with some friends outside of Gate C. My friend Andy blurted out, "It was a good season." I told him to "shut up", adding a word or two I can't repeat in this forum. As we began the grim march back to our parking ramp, a roadside vendor holding up "Minnesota Vikings, 1998 NFC Champions" t-shirts was screaming "five dollars, only five dollars!" I still regret not buying one.
Unfortunately for Jason, January 17 also happened to be his birthday. When we arrived at his grandparent's house for dinner, his grandmother Sally had a Vikings themed birthday cake sitting on the table. She felt horrible.
I don't think I'll ever fully get over that game. It is about as traumatic as something as non-consequential as a sporting event can be. I still remember how bitter and angry the Metrodome crowd was when the Vikings limped out to 2-4 start in 1999. We had been deprived of our moment and we weren't getting it back. The Packers had theirs in 1996, the Bears in 1985, 1998 was supposed to our year.
Of course, that same group of Vikings reached the verge of glory again in 2000 before falling 41-0 to the Giants in the NFC title game. It didn't hurt nearly as much - the game was a blowout and we were all more jaded that time around.
Since then, the Vikings have moved on; changing coaches twice and owners once. The only player still with the organization from '98 is Matt Birk and he is currently an unrestricted free agent. I've grown up in the past decade too; getting married, a real job, a house and paying off my student loans. And still, I can't help but wonder what might have been had Gary Anderson made that kick.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)