A Head-to-Head History: Week 15 Vikings - Rams

Editors's Note -- here is Larry Schmitt with a look back at last week's Rams-Vikings matchup, due to errors on my part, it didn't get published right away:

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I'd like to open this morning with a "Namaste" to all my neighbor's in Sandy Hook and Newtown, Connecticut. This has been a profoundly sad 48 hours here in Western Connecticut. I live in nearby New Milford (where my son's high school was on lock-down for 2 1/2 hours Friday) and work in neighboring Bethel. I spent 11 weekends over 2010 completing my 200-hour yoga teacher training at the Graceful Planet studio in Sandy Hook, which is right down the hill from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, and adjacent to a day care facility. Among the many thoughts I've had as I process all the images and stories I've been absorbing since Friday morning are, how many of those children whose artwork I saw on display during that time were present Friday at that moment? I have many friends and co-workers who live in Sandy Hook and Newtown who have children that currently attend or have recently attended S.H.E.S. I know they recognize their good fortune, with their loved ones having been out of harms way, but the grief for those who were not is sincerely shared by the entire community.

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A forgotten rivalry.

This week's look back will be a little different than most. It's going to have a more narrowed focus on a specific period, but I believe there is good reason for it.

After looking at the NFC Playoff picture Monday the Week 15 schedule had a game that jumped right off the page at me: Minnesota at St. Louis. That might be puzzling at first, after all, both teams are probably long shots to qualify for the post season. However, there was a time when the Vikings and Rams dominated the NFC - along with Dallas - and had one of the fiercest non-divisional rivalries over the NFL's history. Between the years 1969 - 1979 Minnesota and the Los Angeles Rams competed for the NFL or NFC Title eight times, including twice against one another. There were three additional Divisional games between them as well. The Vikings had the upper hand most of the time, compiling a 4-1 win-loss record over Los Angeles, but the games were closely contested and bitterly fought. The teams had similar styles as well, ground oriented offenses and household names on defense like Merlin Olsen, Alan Page, Deacon Jones and Jim Marshall. Best of all, the Rams and Vikings played their games outdoors on grass fields in all kinds of weather, they were still a generation away from morphing into teams that filled domes with arcing spirals.

It all started in 1969, the final season before the AFL-NFL merger.

On Week 12 the "Purple People Eaters"  met the "Fearsome foursome" as 10-1 Minnesota (who hadn't lost since opening day) traveled to the Los Angeles Coliseum to visit the 11-0 Rams. The Vikings rode their rushing attack to build a 17-3 halftime lead, then held off the come back attempt by QB Roman Gabriel's offense. The 20-13 loss sent the Rams into a tailspin that saw George Allen's team finish 11-3. Bud Grant's squad was only marginally better, squeaking by San Francisco 10-7 before losing to Atlanta at home. Neither team was challenged for their respective division title however, so the stage was set for the NFL Divisional Playoff.

12/27/69 NFL Divisional Playoff: MIN 23 vs LAR 20
Late December in Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium was far from the ideal location for a southern California team, but early on the Rams did not seem affected by the 21-degree temperature. Ram QB Gabriel moved the ball well in the first half, leading three scoring drives and a fourth that ended with a 38-yard field goal attempt sailing wide in the wind chill. Joe Kapp could only lead his team to a touchdown, leaving the halftime score 17-7.

The Viking defense held the Rams to a punt on their first possession of the third quarter, and Kapp capitalized with a deep completion to Gene Washington. Dave Osborne finished the drive with a one-yard plunge, cutting the lead to 17-14. Two Kapp interceptions thereafter proved costly for Minnesota. The first occurred deep in Los Angeles territory and kept the Vikings off the scoreboard. The second was on his own side of the 50 and lead to a Ram field goal, extending the Ram lead to 20-14. He made up for it in the fourth quarter. Kapp put together a 65-yard drive that started with three pass completions and ended with a two-yard keeper for a touchdown to give the vikings their first lead 21-20 with just over eight minutes to play. The Peuple People eaters lived up to their billing as soon as they took the field. Carl Eller sacked Gabriel in the end zone for a safety, extending the lead to 23-20. the Fearsome foursome held Minnesota's offense though, and got the ball back to NFL MVP Gabriel one more time. He valiantly advanced his team into Minnesota territory, but was intercepted by Alan Page with 31 seconds remaining. Minnesota defeated Cleveland the following week for the NFL Title, but lost to Kansas City in Super Bowl IV.
Minnesota won three more from the Rams between 1970 - 1973. The following season would see the next post seaosn meeting, which also had a regular season prelude.

12/29/74 NFC Championship: MIN 14 vs LAR 10
The Rams, now coached by Chuck Knox and quarterbacked by James Harris, hosted the Vikings in Week 11 of the 1974 season. Fran Takenton passed and scrambled his team to a 17-6 lead after three quarters. The Los Angeles defense, lead by  Fred Dryer and Jack Youngblood, asserted itself in the final quarter. Harris lead two touchdown drives, scoring on a rush first, then passing to WR Jack snow for the second. the Rams come-from-behind win was their first against Minnesota since 1968. Both teams won the their divisions with 10-4 records and won their divisional round playoff games, setting up their first NFC Championship clash.

The game took place once again at frigid Metropolitan Stadium. The first quarter was a defensive stalemates. In the second period Tarkenton hit Jim lash for a 29-yard touchdown strike and the Rams responded with a field goal. The second half was a tense battle, with dramatic swings in momentum and fortune. A Viking punt pinned the Rams on their own one-yard line. After moving up-field, Harris hit WR Harold Jackson for a 73-yard gain to the Viking two, but the opportunity to go ahead was lost when a third down pass was intercepted in the end zone for a touch back. The Los Angeles drive covered 98 yards but yielded zero points.

The Vikings did not squander their opportunity however. A 15-play drive that consumed almost half the 4th quarter was completed by a Dave Osborn 4-yard touchdown run for a 14-3 lead. Harris brought the Rams back quickly however, hitting Jackson on another deep play, this time for 44-yards and the touchdown, making the score 14-10. Following an exchange of punts, Minnesota moved the chains with their rushing attack and expired the remaining 5:37 on the clock. The Vikings would then lose Super Bowl IX to Pittsburgh two weeks later.

The teams did not meet in the regular or post seasons in 1975, but 1976 saw another season where the NFC powers would battle twice. The Week 2 game in the LA Coliseum finished in a 10-10 tie, where the Vikings let a 10-0 4th quarter lead slip away. Niether team scored in the extra sudden-death period. Both teams went on to easily win their divisions - Minnesota at 11-2-1 and Los Angeles at 10-3-1. After winning their Divisional Round contests, the Vikings and Rams would meet again in the NFC Championship Game.

12/26/76 NFC Championship: MIN 24 vs LAR 13
 A frozen Metropolitan Stadium was again the setting for the Vikings - Rams showdown. Despite the 19-degree kickoff temperature, the Rams again started off well. QB Pat Haden drove his team deep into Minnesota territory, mostly by handing off to HB Lawrence McClutcheon, before disaster struck. The Vikings defense was stout on their goal line, stuffing the Rams offense. On second down a reverse was stopped inches short of the end zone. On third down Haden was stopped on a sneak attempt. On fourth-and-goal Tom Dempsey's 17-yard FG attempt was blocked by Nate Allen and the ball bounced right to Bobby Bryant who sprinted 90 yards for a 7-0 lead. Los Angeles seemed deflated and fell behind 17-0 in the third quarter, but climbed back into the contest with back-to-back touchdowns that cut the lead to 17-13 (one extra point failed) entering the fourth quarter. Both defenses clamped down until Haden started a drive late in the game. On a fourth-and-ten at the Minnesota 39, Haden launched a deep pass toward WR Ron Jessie who was initially open near the end zone, but S Bryant came across the field and made a spectacular interception, practically taking the ball from Jessie's hands with only 2:40 left. Tarkenton quickly lead the Vikings to a touchdown to ice the game and send the Vikings to their fourth Super Bowl. Unfortunately they again lost, this time to Oakland.
Nobody can blame the Rams for feeling confident heading into their 1977 Division Playoff against their tormentors from Minnesota. In the regular season they flexed their muscles in a 35-3 whipping, star QB Fran Tarkenton was out with a broken leg and the game would be played in sunny Southern California instead of frigid Minnesota. The sun didn't shine on the Rams, figuratively and literally.

12/26/77 NFC Divisional Playoff: MIN 14 @ LAR 7

Three consecutive days of heavy rain turned the grass field of the LA Coliseum into a quagmire. Five minutes into the first quarter any spectator would have no idea the Vikings were wearing their road white jerseys or the Rams their home royal blue. Both were heavily caked with turf and smeared with mud making number identification almost impossible.

Viking coach Grant surprised the Rams with a pass heavy opening drive. Stand-in Bob Lee completed five in a row. A five yard rush by Foreman finished the drive and just like the Minnesota was ahead 7-0.  

It comes as no surprise that both teams struggled to move the ball in those bog-like conditions. They each had only 14 first downs, and Lee finished the day 0-5 passing after that first drive. The best thing that went Minnesota's was was ball security. They did not turn the ball over while their defense had three interceptions of Haden. 

After extending the lead to 14-0 early in the fourth quarter, Minnisota called 28 consecutive rushing plays, keeping the clock moving and the Ram offense on the sideline. Los Angeles did score late to make the score 14-7 but Lee ran out the clock with three kneel-downs after Haden's final desperation pass was intercepted. Foreman had a 101-yard effort int eh win for the Vikings and DE Alan Page was a force on defense with a sack and many pressures forcing Haden into errant throws. Minnesota lost the NFC Championship Game in Dallas the following week.

12/31/78 NFC Divisional Playoff: MIN 10 @ LAR  34

The Rams revenge was thorough in 1978, sweeping Minnesota handily in both games that year.
The Week 6 game in 45 degree Minnesota actually saw the Vikings carry a 17-13 lead intot he 4th quarter, but the visitors erupted into a 21 poitn barrage for the runaway 34-17 win. 

That momentum seemed to carry through the rest of the regular season. The Rams took the West title with a he Vikings sputtered to an 8-7-1 Central Division tie with Chicago. The Vikings battled the Rams to a 10-10 halftime tie, but Grant's aging squad wore down the second half, gaining only 59 yards of offense, as the Rams cruised to a 34-10 win. The Rams were foiled at home in the NFC Championship game 28-0 at the hands of Dallas.

In 1979 Los Angeles would not meet the Vikings, who slumped to the third place 7-9 record, but did finally reach their first Super Bowl, but lost a competitive game to Pittsburgh.

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The Vikings and Rams would renew their post season rivalry after the 1988 and 1999 season, but in far different environs - the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and the TWA Dome respectively and with teams that relied heavily on the passing game. The 1988 Vikings won their Divisional contest  28-17 but lost the NFC Championship in Washington.  The St. Louis Rams defeated the Vikings in the Divisional round 49-37 (what would George Allen or Chuck Knox think of a score like that?) on their way to the franchise's first Super Bowl Title. 

Well, Sunday the Rams and Vikings faced off again, and it looked nothing like those classic battles of the 1970s.  The Rams wearing a monochrome blue, and the Vikings wearing road whites in the new post-2006 style.  Both teams are still alive for the postseason, although the Rams are an extreme long shot at best, now at 6-7-1 after losing 36 to 22.  The Vikings are right in the thick of the Wild Card battle at 8-6, and with Adrian Peterson (a Viking) trying to break the single season rushing record of Eric Dickerson (a Ram), the season still has some excitement left in store for Vikings fans.

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