Celebrating the Vikings biggest flops of all time
In celebration of their 50 seasons -- though the 50th season itself has not contained much cause for celebration -- the Minnesota Vikings unveiled their 50 all-time greatest players during a gala event at the Minneapolis Convention Center Sunday night.
The list contained all the names you'd expect -- Tarkenton, Page, Marshall, Grant, Carter, Peterson etc.
And while one could quibble with certain selections -- no place could be found for Joe Kapp, who quarterbacked the team to its first Super Bowl, for example -- the team seemed to do a pretty good job of covering the best of the best from its first half-century of existence.
But given this season has been a failure of monumental proportions for the Purple -- a year in which the roof caved in, literally -- it seems like another type of ceremony is in order.
Perhaps the Vikings should consider honoring their all-time biggest flops -- the players who failed to live up to the high expectations the team had for them. Make it a top 10 list in honor of the four Super Bowls the team lost from 1970-77 and the five NFC title games it has lost since, with a bonus pick thrown in for the Hail Mary loss to Dallas in the divisional playoffs in 1975.
They wouldn't have to book the Convention Center this time: A liquid brunch at some dive bar in Northeast Minneapolis would work just fine. But wherever the event takes place, here is my list of suggestions when it comes to which disappointments and buzz-kills should be honored.
No. 10 -- Darrin Nelson: Nelson does not make the list for lack of talent. After all, he had some solid seasons for the Vikings during the 1980s and was a reasonably productive running back. Nor does he make it for his failure to haul in that last-minute pass against Washington in the NFC Championship Game in January of 1988.
No, he makes it because of who he is not -- Marcus Allen. Picking seventh overall in the first round of the 1982 draft, the Vikings selected Nelson out of Stanford. Three picks later, the Raiders grabbed Allen out of USC at No. 10 and he went on to lead them to a Super Bowl title -- a feat that has continued to elude the Purple. It also gave my cousins from Los Angeles another reason to make fun of the Vikings for several years of my youth.
No. 9 -- D.J. Dozier: I don't want this list to only include running backs. But after leading Penn State to a national title, expectations for Dozier ran high when he was selected by the Vikings in the first round of the 1987 draft.
He ended up playing four unproductive seasons with the team, spent a year with the Lions, then tried his hand at baseball before fading into justified obscurity.
No. 8 -- Bryant McKinnie: Yes, I know, McKinnie made the Pro Bowl last season. But he was dismissed from the squad for unauthorized absences. Which is par for the course for the talented, but maddeningly inconsistent offensive tackle the team selected in the first round of the 2002 draft.
If McKinnie channeled the energy he's expended getting into trouble off the field into his play on it, he might be one of the game's top players at his position. But that doesn't seem likely to ever happen.
No. 7 -- First-round flops at defensive end: This is a multiplayer selection that includes Gerald Robinson (1986), Derrick Alexander (1995), Duane Clemens (1996), Kenechi Udeze (2004) and Erasmus James (2005). Those were all defensive ends the Vikings selected in the first round and, for various reasons, none of them ended up panning out.
Among the players the team missed out on included Warren Sapp (selected one pick after the Vikings took Alexander at No. 11), Ray Lewis (selected at No. 26 after the Vikings picked Clemons at No. 16), Vince Wilfork (selected one pick after the team took Udeze at No. 20) and Aaron Rodgers and Roddy White (selected at No. 24 and 27 respectively after the Vikings picked James at No. 18).
No. 6 -- Hugh McElhenny: When McElhenny landed with the Vikings during their first season in 1961, fans of the new franchise had reason to be excited. After all, he had been a five-time Pro Bowl pick with San Francisco. He rushed for a team-best 570 yards and three touchdowns in 1961, but his numbers dropped to 200 yards and no touchdowns in 1962.
He lasted two more seasons with the Lions and Giants before being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970 -- an honor most certainly not based on his time in Minnesota.
No. 5 -- Leo Hayden: The Vikings selected Hayden out of Ohio State with the 24th pick in the 1971 NFL Draft, presumably imagining him as a running back who could carry them through the 1970s. Instead, that job went to Chuck Foreman, whom the team selected in the first round two years later.
Hayden played just one season in Minnesota before moving on to the St. Louis Rams for two more years. He finished his NFL career with a grand total of eight rushing attempts.
No. 4 -- Randy Moss: Moss made the all-time greatest list and deservedly so. For all his faults, his efforts from 1998-2004 set the standard for a whole new generation of Vikings fans.
But he makes this list for his four-game return this season. Expectations soared when he arrived via trade from the New England Patriots. But he was largely unproductive on the field and made life miserable off it. Brad Childress jumped the gun, releasing him without clearing it with his bosses. But that doesn't make Moss any less of a failure during his second turn in Purple.
No. 3 -- Les Steckel: It's hard to replace a legend, and it's even harder when you run a team like a boot camp and alienate your players. That's what Steckel found out when he replaced Bud Grant as the team's coach in 1984.
The result was a 3-13 record in his lone season before being fired and a well-deserved place as a punch line among the team's fans.
No. 2 -- Dimitrius Underwood: The NFL Draft is not an exact science, and even the best scouts make mistakes now and then. But it's hard to blow a pick as badly as the Vikings did when they took Underwood late in the first round in 1999.
He lasted exactly one practice with the team before fleeing Mankato like a refugee. He was eventually released by the team and went on to attempt suicide and spend time in jail. His mental issues were apparently a concern for teams before the draft, just not for the Vikings.
No. 1 -- Herschel Walker: Can there really be any other pick for the top spot? The trade for Walker created a Super Bowl dynasty -- in Dallas.
Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, Walker -- who had made Pro Bowls in 1987 and '88 -- lasted two-and-a-half seasons and never really amounted to much. But to this day, mentioning the Walker trade to a Vikings fan may just be the quickest way to bring their blood to a boil.