When I worked for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970’s, two of the best teams in the National Football League were the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers.
During my time in Oakland, the Steelers twice beat us in AFC Championship Games, to complete the 1974 and 1975 seasons. The Minnesota Vikings, under Bud Grant, had been to the Super Bowl four times before meeting the Raiders in the final game of the 1976 season. In that contest, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Raiders won their first Super Bowl in their second attempt; they had lost to Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II.
The Vikings lost four trips to the Super Bowl, and haven’t been back since that defeat to the Raiders In Super Bowl XI.
The Steelers had followed up both their wins over the Raiders with Vince Lombardi Trophy clinching victories over the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys.
Suffice it to say, in the 1970’s the Steelers and Vikings were among the best in football.
The Steelers have maintained a rather lofty standard in the ensuing 40 years, winning four more Super Bowls and becoming as common in the playoffs as Santa Claus on Christmas. After the great tenure of Hall of Fame member Chuck Noll, the Steelers have followed it up with two more head coaches that have added Vince Lombardi Trophies to the Steelers display; Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. Cowher is already honored with a bust in Canton, Tomlin is not far behind.
The Vikings have had a more difficult time finding a coach to fill the shoes of Grant. Remaining in the search for the one trophy Grant never won, a Super Bowl. Their first attempt at replacing Grant was with Les Steckel, who led a miserable campaign in 1984, only three wins in sixteen decisions. The disappointing season actually had Grant return to the Vikings sideline for one year, a campaign that improved by four games from the previous season, but still ended Grant’s coaching career with an uncharacteristic losing mark.
Most of the coaches hired since Steckel have had winning years in Minnesota. Jerry Burns was 55-46 during his six seasons at the helm. Dennis Green had a Vikings team on the precipet of a Super Bowl appearance in 1998, only to have kicker Gary Anderson miss his only field goal attempt of the season. The 39-yard wide left kick, opened the door for the Atlanta Falcons to tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime.
Mike Tice followed Green in 2001, and while he was both respected and liked, he ended his coaching career with the Vikings with one more loss than win. After Tice was dismissed, the Vikings banked on Brad Childress, who started better than he finished and left the post midway through the 2013 season.
Leslie Frazier was 12 games under .500 in seven seasons, and current head coach Mike Zimmer is 14 games over .500 during his eight plus years on the job. In other words, the Vikings are good enough to win now and then, but not in the league with the consistent success generated by teams such as the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh is in action tonight, meeting that Minnesota team. The Vikings are favored at home, currently by a field goal with the real possibility of closing up a half point looming.
Why are the Vikings favored, and why is the line poised to go up?
Is it because the public is backing a Vikings team missing their best receiver, Adam Thielen, to an ankle injury?
The public is on the Steelers, by a narrow margin, 53.8%. So what are the factors that the people most in the know are leaning on to point to tonight’s winner?
I suggest this.
Three weeks ago, the Minnesota Vikings won at home over the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay came into that game and absorbed the loss while still holding a commanding lead in the NFC North Division. Since then, Minnesota has lost twice on the road. Two weeks ago, they suffered a defeat in San Francisco and last Sunday were the first team this year to fall prey to the Detroit Lions.
The thrill of beating Green Bay is long gone, the sting of being the first team to lose to the Lions is the prevailing motivation governing Vikings preparation during this short work week.
Last Sunday, the Steelers beat the leader’s in their division, the Baltimore Ravens, and could easily have the same euphoric response to their victory that tripped up the Vikings two weeks ago.
Sometimes it’s just not that tough.
Qoxhi Picks: Minnesota Vikings (-3½) over Pittsburgh Steelers