Coming back better
When Vikings players returned to Winter Park, they found that the experience had brought them closer together. Their appreciation of what it meant to play for each other increased.
Studwell: “The strike, it could have very easily torn apart the locker room if we didn’t have enough people down there to help people understand what’s going on and why this is happening. It could have very easily gotten away from us, but there were just so many highs and lows during the course of that season with starting off strong and losing those three games and playing well in the middle of the season and maybe underachieving a little bit at the end.”
The Vikings won five of six to improve to 7-4.
Doleman: “The strike affected all of us differently. One of the things we kind of missed was each other. We missed the locker room, the camaraderie, knowing that ‘I’m playing for the man next to me.’ Those are some of the things you miss when you’re outside the game.
“We were all young, we all had plenty of football left in us, and we were all hungry, so to be able to bounce back and show the way we did, it’s a tribute to the guys who played well, the guys who were journeymen and stayed ready in case they were called back to play.”
Lee: “One of the most amazing things for me at that time was seeing a chemistry that I had never been part of. I had never been part of a team where your d-line is talking to you as a cornerback, saying, ‘Hey man, if you can just hold ’em a little longer, I can get a sack,’ and us as a secondary talking, ‘Man, keep putting that pressure on them. It makes it easier for us. We appreciated what everybody was doing, and that chemistry was so special. That’s what pushed that team.”
It doesn’t, however, mean that the rest of the way was smooth.
Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Randy Wright during an NFL game on Dec. 13, 1987.
Consecutive six-point losses against Chicago and at Green Bay were slightly remedied by a 17-14 win at Detroit heading into the final game of the season.
Minnesota’s defense was causing problems for Schroeder, who was 9-of-17 passing for 85 yards with two interceptions and a passer rating of 27.5 when he suffered an injury. Williams stepped in and threw a 46-yard pass to Ricky Sanders in the third quarter for a 14-7 lead.
The Vikings bounced back with 17 points, including 1-yard runs by Alfred Anderson and Wade Wilson for a 24-14 lead, but Williams rallied the Redskins for the three-point victory.
Minnesota finished the campaign with 336 points for and 335 points against.
Thomas: “I think we were our own worst enemy, playing Washington in the last game of the season and having a great game, inadvertently knocked out the quarterback. Doug Williams comes in, and the rest is history. They have a run through the playoffs that is just legendary, and he beat us again. We had a lead going in to that last game and he came in … and just lit us up.”
Jerry Burns served as the Head Coach of the Minnesota Vikings from 1986 through 1991.
The playoff push
Back then, only five teams — three division winners and two Wild Cards — made the playoffs, and Minnesota’s 8-7 mark was good enough for the final postseason berth. The Vikings had a chance, a slim one, but a fighter’s chance.
San Francisco earned the No. 1 seed and a bye in the NFC with a 13-2 mark. New Orleans finished 12-3, which was the second-best mark of any team in the NFC or AFC, but was the runner-up in the NFC West.
The NFC East Champion Redskins (11-4) and NFC Central Champion Bears (11-4) advanced to the Divisional round, with Chicago set to host Washington if the Vikings defeated the Saints.
The Saints, who began play in 1967, recorded their first winning season in franchise history, thanks to closing ’87 with a nine-game winning streak.
Studwell: “I don’t think anybody gave us a chance other than us. We went to New Orleans and kind of caught fire.”
Thomas, a native of Houston who played collegiately at LSU, loved everything about the opportunity, particularly the 44-10 score.
Thomas: “Being a rookie and going down there and New Orleans being a hot team, first time in the playoffs, nine wins in a row, the whole Mardi Gras behind it, and to go in there and destroy them was just phenomenal, especially for me, getting to go back home. I had guys from college at the game, coaches from college, family from Houston. It was just incredible.”
The Vikings started terribly, suffering a sack on their first play and a fumbled snap on their second play to give New Orleans the ball at the Minnesota 11. The Saints scored on their second offensive snap, but it was the only time they reached the end zone.
An 84-yard punt return by Anthony Carter late in the first quarter gave the Vikings the lead for good. Minnesota added a 5-yard touchdown pass from Wade Wilson, who relieved Tommy Kramer, to Steve Jordan, a 10-yard halfback pass from Allen Rice to Carter and a 44-yard Hail Mary pass from Wilson to Hassan Jones in the second quarter. The deep heave occurred on an untimed down after New Orleans was penalized for having 12 players on the field.
Wide receiver Anthony Carter returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings their first lead against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card playoff game.
The Vikings defense limited the Saints to 11 completions and intercepted Bobby Hebert and Dave Wilson twice each.
A San Francisco team with double-digit wins for a fifth consecutive season was next. The roster was so talented that it included two future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks.