By Mark Knudson @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
By now, all football fans know that in 51 tries, no NFL team has ever hosted the Super Bowl. A handful have come close, although none have come any closer than the 2017 (-’18) Minnesota Vikings. After their miraculous walk off “Miracle in Minneapolis” victory over the New Orleans Saints, the Vikings are one game away from playing in Super Bowl LII in their own building.
Over those first 51 seasons, there have been a few teams that reached the post season before bowing out just short of reaching the big game that happened to be scheduled for their home turf. The Miami Dolphins have done it twice, in 1994 and in 1998. Both times they won their first play-off game before losing in the divisional round. The 2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 10-6 and finished second in the NFC North, but lost in the wild card round of the NFC Play-offs to Philadelphia. Those Florida Super Bowls were played without a Florida rep. In 2014, the Arizona Cardinals began the season winning nine of their first 10 games before losing their top two quarterbacks to injury. They still went 11-5 before losing in the wild card play-off round to the Carolina Panthers. If they’d stayed healthy, those Cardinals could have hosted the 49th Super Bowl.
There have also been a few teams that have missed by a year. For example, the Atlanta Falcons played in Super Bowl XXXIV, losing to Denver in Miami. The city of Atlanta hosted the big game the following season but the Falcons went 5-11 and didn’t make the play-offs. Miami hosted the title game after the 1970 season, when the Dolphins went 10-4 but missed the play-offs. They won the Super Bowl the following season…in Los Angeles.
The actual “closest” so far? One of the many Super Bowls played on a neutral field was Super Bowl XVIV at the end of the 1984 season. It was “hosted” by the San Francisco 49’ers – but not at their home field of Candlestick Park. That game was played at Stanford University’s stadium in Palo Alto, California, roughly an hour south of the city. The Niners, after a spectacular 15-1 season, defeated Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.
The Vikings have a great chance to be the first team to charge out of their own home locker room and onto their home field to play the biggest game of their lives. It will be only fitting if they do.
After the way they advanced – a last-ditch 61- yard pass and catch as time expired, it would be totally appropriate if Minnesota became the first team to host the championship game. After all, the term “Hail Mary” originated in Minnesota at the old Metropolitan Stadium. In late December of 1975, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach launched a 50-yard bomb to wide receiver Drew Pearson with just 24 second left in the game that sent the Cowboys to Super Bowl and began a string of post season heartbreaks for the Vikings.
Since then, Minnesota fans have suffered through several more post season heartbreaks. Remember, this is a franchise that lost four of the first 11 Super Bowls and has to date, still never won one. Talk about being overdue.
There was the Vikes inexplicable overtime loss to Atlanta in the 1998 NFC title game when kicker Gary Anderson – who had been perfect all season while converting on 122 consecutive kicks – missed a chip shot field goal and the Falcons ended up in the Super Bowl instead of the heavily favored dudes in purple.
In the 2009 play-offs, quarterback Brett Favre – a year removed from his ugly departure from division rival Green Bay – led Minnesota to another NFC title game against the Saints. With time running out, Favre threw a terrible interception that allowed the Saints to run out the clock and advance to the Super Bowl.
Then there was “Kicker Fail Part II,” when normally reliable placekicker Blair Walsh missed what would have been an easy 27-yard game winner in the waning seconds against the Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card play-off round a the end of the 2015 season. Minnesota lost 10-9 and Seattle advanced.
So if you believe in sports karma or the so-called “football gods,” then you’re likely to understand that some things are just meant to be. If this isn’t Minnesota’s year, when will it arrive? Maybe never.
Karma rewards the diligent, and the Vikings and their hearty fans have certainly been that. If they’re seeking and example of what good comes to those who persist, look back a couple seasons for a good comparison.
The Denver Broncos, who had rolled through the AFC, suffered a devastating and soul crushing play-off loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 AFC Play-offs. It happened when Joe Flacco completed and 70-yard Hail Mary heave to Jacoby Jones at the end of regulation that propelled the underdog Ravens to a 38-35 double-overtime win and on to a Super Bowl title. That Denver team was the best in the league that season, and far better than the 2015 Broncos. But those football gods smiled on Peyton Manning and his Denver teammates that season and decided a reward was due. Even with Manning hurt much of the season and playing poorly, the Broncos somehow navigated their way past New England and into Super Bowl 50. Late in that 2015 season, everything began to break Denver’s way. Sports karma paying Denver back for the Flacco-to-Jones fluke in 2012. By outlasting the favored Carolina Panthers, those Broncos won Super Bowl 50 three seasons after they really should have.
So the Vikings and their fans can take heart. All that heartbreak and those close calls have not been for naught. Their time has arrived. Time to make history. Time for a Purple Reign.
It’s now or never.