A 1964 Lowlight Perfectly Captures the Minnesota Vikings’ Dismal 2020 Season

Many consider the Minnesota Vikings the best NFL franchise never to win a Super Bowl. During the team’s 59 years in the league, the Vikings have gone after the Lombardi Trophy four times, losing to the Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Oakland Raiders in that order. That Raider loss was in 1976, making it more than 40 years since the most recent time Minnesota competed for the big prize.

Highlights have been few and far between for the Vikings in most recent seasons, save for one memorable game in 2018. With a winless start, the Vikings faithful are even harkening back to some memorable moments, including ones that make NFL highlights reels more than 50 years later.

The Minnesota Vikings’ past glories

Until head coach Mike Zimmer can come up with a scheme that suits his new roster of players, Vikings faithful have to dig into their memory books to feel the glory of the franchise that has featured such luminaries as Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Carl Eller.

The big standout among those memories is the 2018 playoff game dubbed the Minnesota Miracle.

In a divisional playoff game against New Orleans, the Vikings jumped out to a 17-point lead at halftime. Led by quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints came back to erase the deficit and go in front by a 25-24 score. With 25 seconds left in the game, Vikings QB Case Keenum threw a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs that covered 61 yards after a missed tackle by Saints DB Marcus Williams. The Vikings took the lead and the won the game as time expired.

Reliving the Vikings’ past blunders

Jim Marshall's wrong-way touchdown run in 1964 was a precursor to the Minnesota Vikings' dismal 2020 season.
Jim Marshall was a standout defensive player for the Minnesota Vikings whose wrong-way TD run was a precursor to the Vikings’ dismal 2020 season. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Most people forget that defensive end Jim Marshall, a fourth-round pick by the Vikings in the 1960 draft, was a two-time Pro Bowl player who is a member of the Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor. Marshall also was a member of Ohio State’s 1957 team that topped the season-ending United Press coaches poll.

What fans of the NFL and NFL Films blooper videos know is that Jim Marshall is responsible for one of the strangest plays in NFL history. Given the team’s current state of play, fans of the Vikings are reminded of the Marshall faux pas as a representation of the 2020 team.

In a 1964 game against the San Francisco 49ers, Niners running back Billy Kilmer caught a pass out of the backfield and tried to squeeze some extra yards on the play. Kilmer was hit and fumbled the ball, and Marshall was the closest player to the turnover. Marshall scooped up the ball and ran 66 yards for a touchdown. That resulted in a touchdown for the 49ers, given that Marshall ran the wrong way.

“It was tough when it happened,” Marshall said (per the St. Paul Pioneer Press). “I took my football career very seriously and to make a mistake, it’s something that you don’t want on your resume. But mistakes happen.”

Purple and gold fans are still living in the past, and the future looks as gloomy as a Minnesota winter. The team’s once-vaunted defense lost eight players to free agency in the offseason, including Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, and Everson Griffen. The biggest loss, however, was wide receiver Diggs whose 63 receptions amounted to 1,130 yards.

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Among the 12 teams that have never won a Super Bowl, the Vikings are tied with the Buffalo Bills with four appearances and no wins in the big game. Minnesota appeared in Super Bowls 4, 8, 9, and 11, all under head coach Bud Grant.

Super Bowls aside, the Minnesota Vikings have had a sterling record within the NFC since joining the league in 1961. The team has two league championships (one before the NFL-AFL merger), four conference championships, and 20 division championships. The Vikings also have 15 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Ron Yary, Chris Doleman, Alan Page, and head coach Bud Grant.

With a 2020 schedule including such tough opponents as the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers, things for the Vikings might get worse before they get better.