Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #8 1975 Minnesota Vikings

Much like the “dead ball” era in major league baseball when pitchers dominated the 1960’s, NFL defenses in the ’70’s were the equivalent in football. Up in Minnesota, the Vikings used a dominant front four to limit opponents to 225.2 yards per game. Far and away the best in the league that year. In fact the ’75 Steelers, #9 on this list, was ranked 4th allowing 261.5 yards for the season. They only gave up 180 points or 12.3 pts per game in the ’75 campaign.

Interestingly this team didn’t use it’s cold weather advantage to compile these statistics. They played 3 of their final 4 games on the road. One of those came in the temperature controlled Silverdome against the Lions. Within their statistics you can definitely see their dominance. They held 6 teams to 10 points or less while ranking #1 against the pass (115.8 yds / gm) and #1 against the run (109.4 yds/ gm).  This team threatened to go undefeated bolting out to a 10-0 start.

Hall of Fame DE Carl Eller warming up pregame.

Led by All Pro and Pro Bowl DT Alan Page, this group put significant pressure on the quarterback. Free Safety Paul Krause, the NFL’s all time leading interceptor had 10 on the season. He made the Pro Bowl in ’75 along with MLB Jeff Siemon who picked off 3 more passes and CB Bobby Bryant who snatched 6. They were 3rd in interceptions with 28.

NFL's All Time interception leader with 81. Paul Krause

NFL’s All Time interception leader with 81. Hall of Famer Paul Krause

The only knock on this group is they played just 2 top 10 offenses the entire year. However they did face the #1 ranked offense in the Buffalo Bills in the season finale. OJ was threatening for 2,000 again and playing at home, was held to 57 yards rushing to finish with 1,817. They held the Bills to just 13 points and forced them to miss the playoffs.

From this group, Alan Page, Paul Krause, and DE Carl Eller all made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are many who believe DE Jim Marshall should be in as well. This team went into the playoffs with a head of steam. They lost 17-10, when Roger Staubach hit Drew Pearson in the famous “Hail Mary” with :24 left in the NFC Divisonal Playoffs.

There stellar defensive season ranks 8th in The Chancellor of Football’s list.

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Best Finish To An NFL Game Ever: Hail Mary -1980 Vikings v. Browns

Metropolitan Stadium

Everyone loves a fantastic finish and we feel as though NFL Films and such focus too much on the glamour teams. They leave too many great moments on the cutting room floor if it’s not Dallas, Pittsburgh, or Green Bay. What if we were to tell you that a team actually completed a hook and lateral (not ladder) and a hail mary to finish a game?? Yes everyone remembers the hook and lateral in the ’81 AFC Divisional Playoff between San Diego and Miami, yet we’re going to take you to one that was even better. It was the last great moment in the 21 years Metropolitan Stadium served the Minnesota Vikings.

It was 1980 and the ink was just drying on the Nation’s newspapers of Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory over incumbent President Jimmy Carter. The Iran hostage situation was over 400 days old and we were completing the 1980 NFL Season. Teams were just now fully understanding the capabilities afforded them when the NFL loosened it’s rules on passing before the 1978 season. The ball was able to be thrown and touch multiple receivers without having to hit a defender in the interim giving birth to the Hail Mary.

Hall of Fame Viking Coach, Bud Grant

The Minnesota Vikings had just said goodbye to Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton, the league’s All Time yardage and touchdown passing leader. In stepped Tommy Kramer, who had none of the big game moxie of a Tarkenton. He was a poor man’s Danny White in that he followed the most revered quarterback in the team’s history.

After losing the fourth game to the 4-0 Detroit Lions, 27-20, it looked as though the Vikings had indeed passed the baton. However with a strong finishing kick they went into the penultimate game of the season with an 8-6 record. If they could win the 15th game, they would win Bud Grant his 11th NFC Central Division Tltle. Their opponent  going into that game was no slouch.

In came the 10-4 Cleveland Browns and Sam Rutigliano. He was in his third year and on his way to his second straight NFL Coach of the Year award for breathing life into a moribund franchise. In those years they were known for their ability to win a game in the final seconds and had performed that feat 14 times in the last two years with less than 2 minutes remaining. Moreover this was the Browns first winning season in nearly 10 years. What better chance to show that they had arrived than to go on the road and win in a tough NFC camp and finish off the Viking’s season.

So on a cold day the Browns took the field and roared to a 23-9 lead and the Vikings looked cold on their sideline as the 3rd quarter ended. Then the Browns started playing conservatively and played close to the vest as the Vikings roared back.

After the Vikings scored 2 touchdowns to trim the Browns lead to 23-22. The Browns had the ball and drove toward midfield yet the Vikings defense held and forced the Browns to punt and pin Minnesota at their own 20 yard line. There was less than :20 left in the game. Time for daring and time for one final drive to win the NFC Central Division championship for their coach. This is what took place…

Epilogue: The Vikings running a hook and lateral on the opposite of the three receivers look on a Hail Mary was beautiful and I can’t remember anyone running it like that since.  By the way, do you know who the Cleveland Browns linebacker #53, who was beaten on the play was?? Try former Pittsburgh Steeler Coach Bill Cowher.

Yet this team covered 80 yards in 2 plays to earn Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant his 11th and final NFC Central Division title. However they went down to the eventual NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles in the ’80 NFC Divisional round of the playoffs 31-16.

Mike Davis intercepts Brian Sipe’s pass for Ozzie Newsome to end the Brown’s season 14-12, in the 1980 playoffs.

On that exact same weekend the “Cardiac Kids” Cleveland Browns lost in the ’80 AFC Divisional Round to the Oakland Raiders 14-12. This game was made famous for “Red Right 88”. The tail end of a play’s assignment that had the Browns throw to the tight end in -42* weather rather than kick the obvious field goal. It was 3rd down and Coach Rutigliano opted to go for the endzone one more time. Only to have Raider Safety Mike Davis step in for a game clinching interception to end the Browns season. However the Browns had two kicks blocked in that game which was one of the coldest in NFL history.

However for one  magnificent drive, Tommy Kramer, Ted Brown, and Ahmad Rashad gave Viking fans the last great moment in Metropolitan Stadium. Within 2 years they would move indoors and the Viking franchise hasn’t been the same since. Hopefully they can get a new stadium deal and go back outside where the Vikings should be.

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Hail Mary: Dallas Cowboys 1975 Miracle Finish

Roger Staubach lets fly against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1975 Hail Mary Game

There are some NFL games that last in the memory longer than others, especially when it comes to playoff games.  None holds true more than the miracle finish that won the 1975 NFC Playoff game for the Dallas Cowboys over the Minnesota Vikings 17-14. Minnesota was trying to equal the feat of the Dolphins in terms of reaching their 3rd straight Super Bowl. Yet they had to get by the rebuilding Cinderella Cowboys who were in the midst of a rebuilding year. The window was closing for this great team to win that elusive Super Bowl.

After the upset loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV, the Purple People Eater defense had stayed among the league’s best while the offense had to be revamped. After going a few seasons without having adequately replaced Joe Kapp, the Vikings reacquired Fran Tarkenton in 1972 to add leadership and a grade A quarterback to the offense.  Also in 1972, they acquired John Gilliam who became the first deep threat ever for the Vikings. In that first year, Gilliam teamed with Tarkenton to become the first Viking in team history to top 1000 yards in receiving.

They finally had some offense but needed one more element and got that boost in the 1973 draft.  Chuck Foreman gave the Vikings their first great running back. Combining his skills with Gilliam and Tarkenton and the Vikings made it to the top of the NFC.  However back to back Super Bowl losses to Miami and Pittsburgh dulled some of the luster to the 1973 and ’74 seasons. Yet they were seasoned and primed to win it all in 1975. Just have to get past a youthful Dallas Cowboys team that made the playoffs as a wildcard. Easy money….right??

After missing the playoffs in 1974 while transitioning in 14 new players, the Cowboys had said goodbye to familiar faces like Bob Lilly, George Andrie, Chuck Howley, Calvin Hill, and Walt Garrison.  Players that had epitomized the era of the “Next Year’s Champion” Cowboys through their ultimate triumph in Super Bowl VI.  From 1966-1972 this team was among the league’s elite playing for multiple championships. Yet as we make it into the mid 70s, those aging great players started to retire and a new breed of Cowboys started to infuse the roster. An Ed “Too Tall” Jones in place of a George Andrie, a D.D. Lewis to replace a Chuck Howley. Understand this team had plenty of veterans to lead this young team into this playoff game. MLB Lee Roy Jordan, OLB Dave Edwards, DT Jethro Pugh, and CB Mel Renfro were among the mainstays on defense.

On offense Roger Staubach had developed into a complete NFL quarterback. His ability to move within the pocket was enhanced with the installation of the “Shotgun” formation. Coach Landry had re-introduced a formation that was the birth-child of the early 1960s San Francisco 49ers and Coach “Red” Hickey.  This hodge podge set of Cowboys made the pilgrimmage to Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium for an NFC Playoff Game.  The ’75 Cowboys didn’t even win their division, they came in with a 10-4 record and seemed to go as far as their talent could take them…right??

To borrow a line from Chris Berman “That’s why they play the games!!”

Drew Pearson scoring on the “Hail Mary” with :18

Epilogue: It was this game that launched the mid to late 70’s Dallas Cowboys. Roger Staubach had already performed a great come from behind playoff game against the 49ers in the 30-28 epic1973 NFC Divisional Game out in Candlestick. Yet it was this second one that spread the belief in his team psychologically that they were never out of a ball game with Roger at the controls.

This was also the game that ushered in Drew Pearson as a playmaker that would be a scourge for many a Cowboy foe over the next decade or so in the playoffs. They would go on to win the NFC Championship in an upset blowout of the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum 37-7 before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-17,  in Super Bowl X.

As for the Minnesota Vikings a window was narrowing shut on their championship chances.  The great line of Hall of Famer Carl Eller, Hall of Famer Alan Page, Jim Marshall, and Doug Sutherland was aging and wasn’t as dominant as in years past. In the 1976 season, Buddy Ryan was hired to coax one more good year out of this group. They got it even though they wore down toward the end of the season. They made it to their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, and 4th  Super Bowl in 8 years total yet they lost to the Oakland Raiders 32-14 in the 11th edition.

The latter part of the 1970s saw the great play of the Vikings diminish as their stars retired or were phased out. Fran Tarkenton would go on to retire with more passing yards than any quarterback in  NFL history with 47,003 yards. The day of the “Hail Mary” game dealt Tarkenton a more severe blow when he learned his father had died of a heart attack while watching the game in Georgia.  He was standing in a CBS truck when he learned of his father’s passing.

Yet there is one lingering question from the “Hail Mary” game… Did Drew Pearson interfere with CB Nate Wright or did Nate Wright simply overrun the play?? While it can be noted that if you look at the play before the touchdown, you can see Preston Pearson lose his footing. So it doesn’t seem implausible…. Did he push off??