McGinn: Memories of the mania in Minnesota
- The Packers were 11-9 at Metropolitan Stadium
- 0-1 at Memorial Stadium
- 15-16 at the Metrodome
- 2-0 at TCF Bank Stadium
MINNEAPOLIS - The NFL schedule-makers did right sending the Green Bay Packers on the road to play the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2.
Never before have the two teams played one of the first two games of a season in Minneapolis. The meeting Sunday night, the 55th overall in what is a 112-game series, comes four days earlier than the previous mark of Sept. 22 set in 1996, which was the fourth game for both teams.
The Packers and their fans might not admit it but just about everyone in Wisconsin is eager to see the $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium. With the cooperative schedule, they didn’t have to wait long.
Just how unfriendly will a venue this luxurious be for the Packers? After two seasons playing home games outdoors, will the Vikings make a smooth, immediate transition to playing them indoors?
Count me among those on the can’t-wait-to-see list. It will be my 35th year covering Packers at Vikings, and as vibrant as the memories are from the Vikings’ three previous stadiums, it’s time to see how Minnesotans react to having their pro football team in a venue all its own for the first time in its 56-year history.
Actually, the Vikings have played home games in four locations. In 1969, their game with the Packers was played at Memorial Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus because the Twins were playing playoff baseball at Metropolitan Stadium.
Just a high-school senior in 1969, at least I was fortunate to attend a game at the Gophers’ old “Brick House” in ’65.
As for the Met out in Bloomington, the lone football game that I covered there was in 1979. I covered all 31 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome downtown and the pair that were played the past two years at the U of M’s TCF Bank Stadium.
The Packers have a 28-26 record in Minnesota: 11-9 at the Met, 0-1 at Memorial Stadium, 15-16 at the Metrodome and 2-0 at TCF. In my years on the beat, the teams have played to a 17-17 draw.
Let’s usher in the new with a look back at the old after nearly a full day spent reading my filed newspaper accounts from those 34 games:
If memory serves, the old Thunderbird Inn in Bloomington was where I stayed in 1979. It turned out to be the strangest of games.
With the score tied, 21-21, and 1 minute, 41 seconds left, the Packers took over at their 25, ran three times and punted. In effect, coach Bart Starr was playing for a tie, or overtime.
The Vikings won the coin toss for overtime, and Ted Brown returned the kickoff 43 yards. On the sixth play, Ahmad Rashad made an acrobatic catch of a 20-yard pass from Tommy Kramer between safety Steve Luke and cornerback Mike McCoy, eluded cornerback Estus Hood and scored a 50-yard touchdown.
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“It’s a little bit unrealistic for our offense to take the ball and score in that situation,” Starr said. “If you get a circus catch you might be able to do it, but otherwise your chances are very slim.”
Coach Bud Grant, improving to 20-4-1 against Green Bay, said, “I’m sure they had a reason.” Starr’s record against the Vikings plummeted to 0-8-1.
James Lofton, the team’s second-year wide receiver and best player, was so irate that he threw down his shoulder pads in the shower room right after the team prayer.
Today, no reporter could get within earshot of a trainer’s room. That day at the Met, Rashad lay on a training table with ice bags strapped to his knee and ankle as he fielded questions from the press.
HUBERT H. HUMPHREY METRODOME
The Teflon-covered dome opened in 1982 but without a visit from the Packers. The 16-game season was shortened to nine because of the 57-day players strike, and Green Bay at Minnesota never was played.
In 1983, the ninth and final season for Starr, the Packers heard for the first time Krazy George thumping on his drum and the so-called Legendary Viking, Hub Meeds, a.k.a. “Ragnar,” doing his antics before and during the game.
Thirty-eight degrees outside but 66 inside on a mid-November afternoon, the Packers piled up 163 yards rushing and won, 29-21. Fullbacks Mike Meade and Jessie Clark together with running backs Gerry Ellis and Harlan Huckleby did the damage.
Starr’s successor, Forrest Gregg, completed an 8-8 season in 1984 with a 7-1 finish by thrashing Les Steckel’s only team in Minnesota, 38-14.
After Steckel’s 3-13 debacle, the 58-year-old Grant came back for one year. The 27-17 defeat in 1985 left Grant with a 22-12-1 record against Green Bay.
With the Packers being dominated, Gregg replaced Jim Zorn with Lynn Dickey, who had been benched for 1½ games. “He’s getting paid, what, $800,000 (actually $850,000)?” Grant said, referring to Dickey. “He’s not getting paid that much to sit on the bench.”
The 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by strong safety Mark Murphy sealed it for the Packers. “You don’t call it a (bleep) bad game because you threw the ball in the (bleep) flat and somebody intercepts it like that,” insisted Kramer.
The Packers never were more inept at the Dome than in 1986 after giving up three touchdowns in the first six minutes of a 42-7 setback.
Trainer Domenic Gentile waved an ammonia tablet under Randy Wright’s nose after the quarterback fainted outside the huddle early in the second quarter. Vince Ferragamo, the backup, started calling some of his old plays from the Rams as the beating continued.
When things went haywire, as they often did, Gregg frequently would try to wash his hands of the wreckage.
“I thought the opening game of the season (Houston, 31-3 loss) was the worst game I’d ever seen a team play,” Gregg, the Lombardi disciple, said. “But this one right here will have to live in my mind forever as the worst.”
Gregg was in his glory the following October when strike-replacement teams played before the 13,911 fans that crossed the union picket line to watch. The Vikings were driving for a tying touchdown when safety Jim Bob Morris returned an interception 73 yards to preserve the 23-16 victory.
“Scabs or whatever, when you play on national television, it means something,” Morris said.
The next year, a Packers team headed for 4-12 under Lindy Infante turned in the franchise’s finest performance since the Washington Monday night upset five years earlier with a 34-14 triumph. The Vikings finished 11-5.
“I’m sure there are greater things that have happened in the Green Bay Packers’ existence,” crowed Infante. “But to be able to win in a hostile stadium against a team that talented, I don’t know of any team you could be more proud of.”
By 1989, the Vikings had built a pack of small but speedy pass rushers that raised havoc on the fast artificial track at the Dome. They sacked Don Majkowski eight times in an easy win that year, then swallowed up Anthony Dilweg in a lopsided victory in ’90.
“I got my ass kicked,” Tony Mandarich, the Packers' right tackle, said after Al Noga beat him like a drum in ’90. “I sure in hell lost the game.”
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In 1991, Infante completed a 4-12 season with a stunning 27-7 win over the 8-8 Vikings before a crowd of just 52,860 at the 63,000-seat dome.
Jerry Burns, who already had announced his retirement from coaching, cracked, “If I had any concerns about missing this down the road, I think this eliminated that problem.”
Politicking to the bitter end, Infante said, “It would be a shame to see it come to an end.” Ron Wolf, the new general manager, canned him the next morning.
Mike Holmgren’s 1-6 career mark on the road against former 49ers colleague Dennis Green began to unfold in 1992 with a 27-7 season-ending defeat. Journeyman Sean Salisbury, with a playoff berth at stake for Green Bay, outplayed Brett Favre.
“I can’t believe what he did today,” Wolf said, referring to Salisbury. “This doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth … (but) we did restore some confidence to the Packer fans.”
The games in 1993, ’94 and ’95 all were decided on field goals by Fuad Reveiz in the final seconds or overtime: 15-13, 13-10 and 27-24.
In the first game, Terrell Buckley inexplicably allowed unknown Eric Guliford to run behind him for a 45-yard completion from ex-Bear Jim McMahon to the 6 on third and 10 with 14 seconds left. After “T-Buck” stood mute as I asked him several times what happened, he snarled and said, “You better get out of my face, man. I’m not talking.”
McMahon waved me into the bathroom for an interview as he shaved. “Buckley believed I couldn’t throw it that far. … I played like an old woman today,” he said.
This game was the first of many in which my colleagues and I wrote extensively about the noise. The Packers always felt the Vikings pumped in noise artificially but the Vikings never admitted it.
Minnesota’s overtime triumph in 1994 was led by 37-year-old Warren Moon, who said, “Hearing all the noise, I was like, ‘Where are we? Are we in Minnesota or are we in Green Bay?’ There were a lot of people wearing green out there. I understand this rivalry a little bit better now than I did the first time around.”
The Packers turned the ball over six times in 1995 and, by the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, were without Favre (ankle) and Ty Detmer (thumb). That left T.J. Rubley, who was playing in his first game since ’93.
Still, Green Bay was in great shape with third and 1 at the Minnesota 38 with a minute left and the score tied. Holmgren called a sneak. Rubley changed the play to a pass. Rubley flipped the ball back inside into traffic. The Vikings intercepted, and shortly thereafter Reveiz booked the winner.
Said Rubley: “It was not a real good decision.”
Said Wolf: “This is not as bad as the Guliford game. But, I can’t believe this. I think we’ve exhausted ways to lose here.”
In an electrifying setting in 1996, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Packers fans watched a team destined to win the Super Bowl fall, 30-21, with an abysmal performance.
Vikings middle linebacker Jeff Brady, a one-time Packer, rubbed it in, saying, “If you’re a man you just say you got your butt beat in the Metrodome, and that’s what happens every time Green Bay comes here. The bottom line is, Minnesota plays tough on turf.”
The streak ended on a Monday night in December 1997 with a dominating 27-11 victory as Green Bay fans jeered the early-exiting home crowd. “You can throw all that stuff out of the window now,” said safety Eugene Robinson.
Journal Sentinel columnist Mike Bauman described the din as “living hell” as Randall Cunningham outshone Favre and rookie Randy Moss ran wild (8-153) in a 28-14 win in 1998. Seven weeks away from taking the coach-GM job in Seattle, Holmgren said, “It’s a tough place to play.”
Ray Rhodes’ only trip to the dome ended with a 24-20 defeat in 1999. Dale Hofmann, another Journal Sentinel columnist, referred the Dome as the Packers’ “personal palace of purgatory.”
An eight-point underdog in 2000 under new coach Mike Sherman, the Packers got great games from Ahman Green, Bernardo Harris and Bill Schroeder to forge a 33-28 victory.
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The wind chill outside read minus-34 when the stadium announcer opened with, “This is the noisiest stadium in the National Football League.”
Ragnar, roaring onto the field on his Harley, stood atop his seat making menacing gestures toward the Packers bench. Whenever the Vikings made a play, the horn would be blown.
“Everyone told me how tired they’d get of hearing that horn go off,” said Green.
For Wolf, it was his 10th and final trip to the dome. He retired with a 3-7 record.
“To win a game here is just a remarkable feeling,” he said. “We’ve had some horrible things happen here. It’s been a house of horrors for me, personally, since I’ve been with the Packers.”
The tables turned in 2001 when the Vikings rolled, 35-13, and it was Daunte Culpepper getting the best of Favre. “I don’t think people understand when you have a big rivalry how much emotion comes into play,” Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter said.
Favre’s record crashed to 2-9 in the Dome after a 31-21 in 2002 shellacking administered by a Mike Tice-coached team headed for 6-10. More than once, defensive tackle Chris Hovan jawed helmet-to-helmet with the frustrated quarterback.
“I’m not scared of the place,” Favre said. “You can’t play all your games at home. But, at some point before I retire, I’d like to win in this building.”
The Packers’ breakthrough came in 2003 before a record crowd of 64,482. A 4½-point underdog, they rushed for 261 yards in a 30-27 triumph.
“After the first series we said, ‘Let’s line up and run that football at them because we can do it,’” offensive line coach Larry Beightol said.
On Christmas Eve 2004, the Packers won the NFC North title, 34-31, on Ryan Longwell’s 29-yard field goal as time expired. Jubilation reigned.
“You couldn’t hear anything, especially in the fourth quarter,” said Chad Clifton, the fifth-year tackle. “I think it was the hardest-fought game that I’ve ever played in.”
The crowd in 2005 was surreally silent as Green Bay bolted to a 17-0 half-time lead. “It was like we were by ourselves,” defensive end Aaron Kampman said.
The entire second half became one wall of noise as the Vikings came back and, on Paul Edinger’s 56-yard field goal as time expired, won, 23-20.
Enter Mike McCarthy in 2006 who, receiving phenomenal performances from Favre and Donald Driver (6-191), captured his series debut, 23-17.
After a 23-16 win on another deafening afternoon in 2007, in which Favre surpassed Dan Marino's NFL mark for career touchdown passes, Packers GM Ted Thompson said, “Great victory. People can’t appreciate how hard it is to win here.”
McCarthy took heat for playing it safe at the end in 2008. When Mason Crosby’s 52-yard attempt in the final minute missed, the Vikings prevailed, 28-27.
Coach Brad Childress elected to shake McCarthy’s hand after failing to do so after the opener. “Great to beat those people,” said Childress, who brashly went on to second-guess his opponent’s strategy.
The Vikings took another, 30-23, in 2009 when Favre, now in purple, was barely touched by Dom Capers’ defense. “Our fans were awesome tonight,” said Favre, whose passer rating was 135.3. “And I know what it’s like to be on the other side.”
Aaron Rodgers posted the first of his five victories in six years as the Packers’ title drive of 2010 shifted into high gear. “Fire Childress” was the cry of thousands during the 31-3 rout, and owner Zygi Wilf did exactly that a day later.
“None of us, I don’t believe, ever saw something like this happening,” Childress said.
Rodgers was unreal (146.5 rating) in 2011 but Adrian Peterson’s 175 yards in 24 carries kept it competitive, with Green Bay winning 33-27. In 2012, amid another cauldron of noise, Rodgers and Peterson dueled again before the Vikings won, 37-34.
“The noise in the dome becomes, for the squeamish, more like a hallucinogen than a sound,” Jim Souhan wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
On a Sunday night in October 2013, the Packers won their last trip to the Dome, 44-31, behind Rodgers (130.6 rating) and 182 yards rushing.
TCF BANK STADIUM
Hop on the light rail downtown, head toward the “U” and the doors open just outside the welcoming brick façade of the Vikings’ 52,200-seat home for two seasons.
It was a balmy 49 degrees in late December 2014 when the Eddie Lacy-powered Packers killed the final 3:23 to win, 24-21.
The Vikings’ fight under new coach Mike Zimmer, having to make do without the suspended Peterson, was acknowledged by Rodgers, who said, “Mike is a great football mind. I think the team has a real bright future.”
Continuing his control of the series, McCarthy said, “This is a great stadium. We prefer to play outside. I think Minnesota should stay outside. Save some money on the new stadium. Take the roof off it.”
A year later, the Vikings lined up for one of their more eagerly anticipated games in years. They had won five in a row and the Packers had lost three in a row.
Lacy out-rushed Peterson, 100-45, and Green Bay took the lead in the NFC North with a 30-13 victory.
The elegance if not opulence of the new stadium might dull the pure passion that has been so much a part of this rivalry since its inception. There were no amenities at the Met or the Dome, just football.
Here’s hoping people yell until they’re hoarse and no one can hear himself think Sunday night. It’s Packers-Vikings in Minneapolis. Make it manic, as usual.