Herald Journal Columns
May 22, 2006 Herald Journal

The Van Brocklin code: when the Vikings won it all


Depending what the legislature does, the Vikings might be in line for another new stadium.

Coupled with getting a new coach and getting rid of a fumbling quarterback, this could spark memories of the past – like last time there was a new stadium (the Metrodome) and the little-remembered, asterisked championship the Vikings did win.

The Vikings’ four Super Bowl losses in the ‘70s are what easily comes to mind.

But in 1982, after moving into the Dome, the Vikings had their moment of glory – it just wasn’t in the spotlight.

That was the year the players went on strike for seven games and the NFL chose to carry on with replacement players.

When the regular players returned and the season was completed, the NFL counted the records of both the “scab” games and the “real” games in advancing teams to the playoffs and the Super Bowl.

By the way, that was the year of the greatest comeback in NFL history as Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers trailed the Buffalo Bills 35-3 at halftime, only to come roaring back and seize a 41-38 victory at the end.

The Oilers dropped out of the playoffs in the next round, though, and the Raiders, then based in Los Angeles, topped the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl in New Orleans’ Superdome.

Many people don’t remember that shortly after the strike was settled, the players’ union was so upset with the “scab” games being counted, that it agreed to play an additional round of playoffs in February.

These games were played after the Pro Bowl, with eight teams qualifying based on records of games with only the regular players.

The NFL went along with the extra playoffs, but didn’t allow any of those games to be televised.

This was mostly due to not wanting to risk offending any of the sponsors who paid millions of dollars to advertise during the official Super Bowl; it wouldn’t look good to turn around and have another “championship” a month later.

Anyway, when counting only “real” games, the Vikings made the final cut for the second playoffs, which were played at home sites of the higher-seeded teams and broadcast only on radio.

First, they defeated division rival Detroit, in one of the Lions’ rare playoffs appearances.

Next, Moon and the Oilers almost did it again. This time, the Vikings led 21-0 at half, but hung on desperately to win 24-21. Houston was just a “Hail Mary” pass away from another big comeback.

A few years later, of course, Moon became the Vikings’ quarterback when Tommy Kramer retired.

Hanging on against the Oilers put the Vikings in the championship game at San Diego where they knocked off the Chargers 27-13 on the strength of three TD passes from Kramer to Anthony Carter.

Thus, the four-time Super Bowl losers finally won what should be recognized as an NFL championship. It’s too bad that not many people knew it – or cared.

Breaking the code

When you read the Da Vinci Code book or see the movie, it’s important to keep in mind how facts, partial truths, and outright fabrications can be used to turn history upside down.

The above story about the Vikings was inspired by James Emery White, who used a similar but much shorter football analogy in his booklet, The Da Vinci Question.

My story includes:

1. Facts.

2. References that are twisted or out of place.

3. Statements that may or may not be true because I didn’t bother to look them up.

4. Things I made up to “enhance” the story.

So just like the Da Vinci Code, it makes a good story.

White points out that those who witnessed these events will be able to spot the errors in my story, but 100 years from now, when someone reads this on our web site, it sounds completely believable if you don’t know any better.

So while you’re watching or reading the Da Vinci Code and you get the sensation of “I didn’t know that,” pause and remember that it probably isn’t true anyway – it’s just a fictional story!

Oh, one more thing: what does Norm Van Brocklin, the first-ever Vikings coach from the early ‘60s have to do with this?

Answer: nothing. It’s a recognizable name – just like Da Vinci – to help sell the story.

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