It was January 3, 1983. The Vikings were finishing off their first season in the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome by hosting the mighty Dallas Cowboys on Monday night football. The 1982 season had been shortened because of a players’ strike, so the Vikings 4-4 record still gave them a chance at a playoff berth. Unfortunately, the Cowboys were not about to let Minnesota spoil their Monday night party.
The 1982 Cowboys were one of Tom Landry’s best teams. Danny White was the quarterback, Tony Dorsett was in his prime at the running back position, and the team’s “Doomsday Defense” wreaked havoc with the NFL’s best offenses. The Cowboys offensive scheme featured a bewildering combination of misdirection and motion. When Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford gave their pre-game comments they both agreed that the conservative, undermanned Vikings had little chance of competing with the Cowboys and virtually no chance of winning.
What happened next turned out to be one of the greatest nights in Vikings team history. Bud “The Old Trapper” Grant, knowing he was outmanned and outgunned, threw caution to the wind and gave Offensive Coordinator Jerry Burns carte blanche to create an offense designed specifically for the Cowboys on Monday Night Football. Burns had a hard time getting through a sentence without dropping the “F-Bomb,” and he looked like he combed his hair with a rake, but he was an offensive genius. Tommy Kramer and the Vikings came out with a motion offense that mimicked Dallas, and then tossed in every trick play in the book. The result? The Vikings won 31-27 to earn a playoff berth, despite allowing a record 99-yard run by Tony Dorsett that is an NFL record that stands to this day. Howard Cosell was apoplectic after the game, and not just because one of the Vikings players stole his toupee.
Fast forward to January 3, 2013. The Vikings, after a disastrous 3-13 season, are facing the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the playoffs at Lambeau Field. The team, already underdogs to the Packers going into the game, was dealt a devastating blow. Christian Ponder was ruled out of the contest, and Joe Webb, a backup quarterback who hadn’t thrown a pass all season long, was going to be the starter.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Joe Webb is a gifted athlete and talented runner. Pre-game analyst Tony Dungy was positively giddy about the possibilities of the Vikings running a zone option offense with the powerful one-two punch of Webb and all-world running back Adrian Peterson. The game’s first drive was promising. Minnesota used misdirection and explosive running to move down the field with ease until they stalled in the red zone and had to kick a field goal. Was it going to be 1983 all over again? Were the Vikings going to use creativity and the element of surprise to steal a game from a favored opponent?
You know how the story ends. The Vikings inexplicably abandoned the zone read option and tried to turn Joe Webb into a classic pocket passing quarterback. Game over. The Packers destroyed the Vikings’ playoff hopes with a 24-10 mercy killing. Viking fans who watched the Packers get torched in a record rushing day by the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick had to think about Joe Webb and wonder what would have happened if Minnesota had stuck with their original plan.
Bold moves. They can make an ordinary team extraordinary. Look at what Craig Leipold, owner of the Minnesota Wild accomplished. He shocked the world and signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, two of the best free agents in recent history. Instantly the Wild became the talk of the town and an NHL power.
Bold moves. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh goes against traditional NFL code and keeps Colin Kaepernick as his quarterback even after original starter Alex Smith recovered from his injuries. The result? An energized offensive juggernaut that has earned a spot in the Super Bowl.
Bold moves. Zygi Wilf can turn the Vikings into perennial Super Bowl contenders. Here’s all he has to do. First of all, don’t extend Leslie Frazier’s contract. Wilf is a great owner when it comes to opening up his wallet and letting the team get players. He is horrible at choosing coaches. Brad Childress was a disaster, and Leslie Frazier may be even worse. His inability to make adjustments during the game and think outside the box cost the team multiple games. It took a superhuman effort by Adrian Peterson to get Minnesota to the playoffs, and Frazier’s game plan didn’t do the Vikings’ back any favors. Get rid of Christian Ponder. Ponder’s lob passes and poor decisions made the Vikings passing offense a league joke. Open up the vault and hire Bill Cowher as head coach. Then sign Joe Flacco (if the Ravens don’t franchise him) and trade Percy Harvin to the Cardinals for Larry Fitzgerald. Let Rick Spielman run the draft and the Vikings will be the team to beat in the NFC North.