Gary Anderson's missed field goal in the 1998 NFC Championship Game
Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the site of the game
|Date||January 17, 1999|
|Stadium||Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|Favorite||Vikings by 11|
|Future Hall of Famers|
Vikings: Cris Carter, Randall McDaniel, John Randle
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||John Madden and Pat Summerall|
During the 1998 NFC Championship Game, Minnesota Vikings placekicker Gary Anderson missed a field goal with 2:07 remaining in the fourth quarter of regulation time in the game. Had the field goal try been converted, it would have given the Vikings a nearly insurmountable 10-point lead against the opposing Atlanta Falcons. Instead, the Falcons gained possession of the football and scored a touchdown to tie the game on the ensuing drive. The Falcons subsequently won by a field goal in sudden death overtime. As a result, the Vikings became the first team in National Football League (NFL) history to win at least 15 games in the regular season and not win the Super Bowl.
The circumstances surrounding the kick have made it notable in NFL lore. That season, Gary Anderson had become the first placekicker in NFL history to convert every field goal and extra point attempt, and his miss in the Championship Game was his first miss of the season. He was considered a reliable component of the team, and the miss from a relatively short distance had a demoralizing effect on the otherwise dominant Vikings squad. It shifted the momentum of the game to the upstart Falcons, who were able to clinch victory as a result.
Despite being the first franchise in NFL history to appear in the game four times, the Vikings have never won a Super Bowl, and the franchise has not reached the Super Bowl since the end of the 1976 NFL season. The 1998 Vikings team was the favorite to win the Super Bowl that year, and the loss in the NFC Championship eliminated the team from the NFL playoffs without reaching the league championship game. The missed kick has since become the focal point of the loss and has contributed to a series of devastating losses in the franchise's history.
Prior to the 1998 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings had accumulated a history of disappointing losses. Although they were the first franchise to appear in four Super Bowls, they lost each time and also became the first franchise to lose four Super Bowls as a result. They have not appeared in a Super Bowl since their fourth loss following the 1976 season. The NFL Network documentary series NFL Top 10 ranked the Vikings as the second most snake-bitten franchise of all-time, behind only the Cleveland Browns. In addition to the Super Bowl losses, the program highlights two other losses in the franchise's history as impactful: the loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1976 Divisional round in what would become known as the Hail Mary play, and the loss to the Washington Redskins in the 1988 NFC Championship Game, in which running back Darrin Nelson dropped a game-tying touchdown pass in the final seconds.
In 1998, the Minnesota Vikings had the top-rated offense in the league, scoring a then-record 556 points. Much of this output was attributable to the addition of wide receiver Randy Moss, who the Vikings had acquired earlier that year in the NFL Draft. Combined with future Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter and quarterback Randall Cunningham, they formed the basis for the Vikings' downfield passing attack. Robert Smith was the team's leading rusher, and the Vikings' defense, led by future Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle, ranked 6th overall in points allowed during the season. The Vikings finished the season with a record of 15–1; the two previous NFL teams to finish the regular season with 15 wins, the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the 1985 Chicago Bears, had each won the Super Bowl. Former player turned analyst Brian Baldinger claimed that "They were easily the best team in football." Pro Football Hall of Fame writer Ray Didinger stated that, "It seems like this is the unstoppable team," while Dan Barreiro, a radio broadcaster with KFAN, claimed that, "98 was the season. All the stars had aligned."
The Falcons had failed to reach the playoffs the previous two seasons and were not expected to contend in 1998. However, behind a career year by journeyman quarterback Chris Chandler and a conference-best 1846 rushing yards by running back Jamal Anderson, the Falcons won the NFC West and clinched the 2nd overall seed in the NFC playoffs, behind only the Vikings. Their defense finished fourth overall in points allowed, and the team finished with a record of 14–2. In the Divisional round of the playoffs, the Falcons beat division rival San Francisco 49ers to clinch a spot in the Conference Championship. Despite an impressive season, they were not expected to match up well against the Vikings, who had beaten teams by an average of 23.22 points at home that year and were installed as 11-point favorites for the Championship Game.
Vikings placekicker Gary Anderson had joined the team that off-season after playing for three different teams in his 16-year NFL career. In 1998, he became the first placekicker in NFL history to convert every field goal and extra point attempted. He finished the regular season 35/35 on field goals, with a long of 53 yards, and 59/59 on extra points. As a result, he was voted to the 1998 NFC Pro Bowl team, the fourth Pro Bowl invitation of his career, and was voted to the AP All-Pro team for the first time. He also converted every field goal and extra point attempt in a Divisional playoff round victory against the Arizona Cardinals the week prior to the NFC Championship. Entering the NFC Championship Game, his last miss was on December 15, 1997, against the Denver Broncos, when he was a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
The Falcons won the coin toss before the game and elected to receive the opening kickoff. They drove down the field and scored first on a five-yard touchdown pass to Jamal Anderson. On the next drive, the Vikings answered the score with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Randall Cunningham to Randy Moss. Neither team scored in the remainder of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Gary Anderson kicked a field goal after the Vikings recovered an Atlanta fumble. After forcing Atlanta to punt on the next drive, the Vikings scored another touchdown on a one-yard run by Randall Cunningham, increasing the lead to 17–7 with five minutes remaining in the first half. Atlanta then lost another fumble, which gave possession back to Minnesota. On the ensuing drive, Randy Moss dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the end zone, leaving Anderson to kick another field goal to make the score 20–7. After forcing another Atlanta punt, the Vikings attempted to increase their lead before halftime, but Falcons lineman Chuck Smith forced a fumble on Cunningham, and Atlanta recovered the ball deep in Vikings territory. The Falcons subsequently scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Chris Chandler to Terance Mathis to cut their deficit to 20–14 by the end of the half.
Atlanta forced the Vikings to punt on the opening drive of the second half, and two long plays by wide receiver Tim Dwight set up a 27-yard field goal by Morten Andersen, which cut the Falcons' deficit to three points. The Vikings answered the score on their ensuing possession, driving 82 yards in 15 plays to score a touchdown on a five-yard Matthew Hatchette reception, which made the score 27–17 with just over 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Atlanta responded with a 70-yard completion to Tony Martin, which set up a 24-yard field goal by Morten Andersen. Minnesota took the ensuing kickoff and drove down to the Falcons 30-yard line, but they lost their scoring opportunity when Cunningham fumbled a snap and Atlanta recovered the ball. The Falcons subsequently drove deep into Vikings territory, but they also failed to score after an incomplete pass turned the ball over on downs with six minutes left in the game. The Vikings then drove down to Atlanta's 22 yard line, where an incomplete pass on 3rd down set up a field goal attempt by Gary Anderson.
|“||39-yard attempt. The spot, the kick by Anderson on the way ... is no good! Gary Anderson has missed a field goal for the first time in two years!||”|
|— Radio broadcast of the NFC Championship Game|
The incompletion on 3rd down stopped the clock with 2:11 left in the game. According to Pro Football Prospectus, a converted field goal that late in the game "would have given the Vikings an insurmountable 10-point lead." The NFL Network documentary The Missing Rings claimed, "An all but guaranteed Gary Anderson field goal would give them a 10-point lead and certain victory." Sideline audio captured by NFL Films captured Vikings head coach Dennis Green state that, "A field goal wins it." Had the try been converted, The New York Post gave the Vikings a 95.23% chance of winning the game.
The field goal attempt was placed from 39 yards away, which is not considered a particularly difficult field goal distance by NFL standards. Because the game was played indoors at the Metrodome, there were no adverse weather conditions that may have affected the kick. Immediately before the kick, Fox Sports broadcaster Pat Summerall noted that Anderson had yet to miss a kick that season, to which John Madden responded, "Now that's a pretty good bet if you say, 'Do you think Gary Anderson will make this field goal?' The answer should probably be yes."
The ball was snapped on 4th down with punter Mitch Berger holding the kick. The Vikings faced a heavy rush from cornerback Michael Booker on the left side of the line of scrimmage and cornerbacks Ronnie Bradford and Ray Buchanan on the right, who ran into Anderson and knocked him to the ground after the kick. The ball sailed about a foot wide left of the upright with 2:07 left on the game clock. Afterward, Anderson stood akimbo on the field momentarily before heading to the sideline, as Falcons players celebrated around him.
The Falcons took possession of the football at their own 29 yard line and quickly drove down the field. With just over a minute left in the game, Minnesota Vikings safety Robert Griffith dropped an interception off of a deflected pass, which would have also almost certainly clinched victory. Instead, Chris Chandler threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Terance Mathis on the next play, tying the game with 49 seconds remaining in regulation. On the ensuing possession, the Vikings managed only seven yards and then kneeled on third down, which ran out the clock and forced overtime.
The Vikings won the coin toss and started overtime with possession of the football on their own 29 yard line. However, they managed to convert only one first down and punted the ball to Atlanta. The Falcons drove to their own 41 yard line before being stopped on 3rd down, and they punted the ball back to Minnesota. On the ensuing drive, Randall Cunningham attempted a deep pass to Randy Moss that was narrowly broken up by Eugene Robinson; had the pass been completed, it most likely would have resulted in a touchdown and victory for the Vikings. Instead, the Vikings had to punt on 4th down again. The Falcons then drove to the Vikings' 22 yard line, where Morten Andersen converted a 39-yard field goal for the win. The Falcons went on to lose 34–19 to the Denver Broncos two weeks later in Super Bowl XXXIII.
After the game, Anderson was described as "inconsolable." Although the Vikings still led by seven points at the time, his missed kick had a demoralizing effect on the team. ESPN contributor Ben Goessling noted "how swiftly it pulled the bottom out from under a team that had an air of inevitability about it to that point," and that, "the Vikings seemed too stunned to recover after that point." Writing for the website Sporting News, Jeff Diamond, the Vikings' general manager in 1998, stated, "Our team played the rest of the game as if it was in shock that our automatic kicker had missed at the most critical time." John Randle said of his reaction, "I was standing there like someone just punched me in my stomach, and was like, 'Oh my God, oh my God.'"
- Referee: Walt Coleman (#65)
- Umpire: Ron Botchan (#110)
- Head Linesman: Mark Baltz (#26)
- Line Judge: Byron Boston (#18)
- Field Judge: Bill Lovett (#98)
- Side Judge: Neely Dunn (#89)
- Back Judge: Billy Smith (#2)
|“||He will always be known as the guy who was a part of screwing up the Vikings' trip to the Super Bowl even though he had this magnificent season.||”|
|— Chad Hartman, former KFAN radio broadcaster|
The Vikings' loss in the Championship Game contributed to the franchise's history of devastating moments, and Anderson's missed field goal has been highlighted by the NFL Network as the main contributing factor. In naming the Vikings as the second most snake-bitten franchise of all-time, the television program NFL Top 10 made the missed kick the primary focus of the loss. The same program also ranked the miss as the sixth biggest foul-up in NFL history, and in another episode, the 1998 Vikings were ranked as the fourth greatest team in NFL history not to win the Super Bowl. In the episode "Top 10 Devastating Losses," the Vikings' loss was not included in the top 10 list but was given an honorable mention in the episode's "Best of the Rest" segment. The exclusion of the loss on the final list was criticized on the program by sportswriters Damon Amendolara of CBS Radio, Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, and Eddie White, an executive for the Indiana Pacers. All three made note of Anderson's missed field goal as a factor in the loss. The 1998 Vikings were also the subject of an episode of the NFL Network documentary series called The Missing Rings, which follows the story of the entire 1998 Vikings season, including Anderson's perfect season and his miss in the NFC Championship.
Anderson's miss has been referenced by sportswriters, former players, and in popular culture as a heartbreaking moment. ESPN's Ben Goessling, in conjunction with ESPN.com readers, voted the miss as the most memorable play in Vikings history, concluding, "The fact is it all could have been so different, if not for a miss from a heretofore perfect kicker." ESPN's Len Pasquarelli points to the miss as the beginning of a half a decade of turmoil for the franchise. Randall Cunningham concurred by stating, "With that kick, it just seemed like the whole franchise went wide left," while his teammate Cris Carter stated that, "Losing that game, I didn't know if I wanted to play football anymore. I felt like I would never win after that." Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith addressed Anderson by saying, "You fucked up, Gary. You fucking blew history, Gary." The miss became a recurring plot point in the episode "Little Minnesota" of the television show How I Met Your Mother when a Canadian character asks of the significance of a banner in a Minnesota-themed bar which reads, "I'm drinking till I forget the 1999 NFC Championship." In the 2016 Wild Card playoff round, Minnesota Vikings placekicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal that would have won the game in the final seconds, which drew comparisons to Anderson's kick by several publications.
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- Pasquarelli, Len (16 November 2002). "Vikings demise began with Anderson miss". ESPN. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
- "Little Minnesota". How I Met Your Mother. 15 December 2008. CBS.
- Bieler, Des (10 January 2016). "Was Vikings kicker's missed field goal the worst in NFL playoff history?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
- Hoffman, Benjamin (10 January 2016). "Walsh's Missed Field Goal Brings Back Bad Memories". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
- Chase, Chris (10 January 2016). "Was Blair Walsh's missed field goal the worst choke in playoff history?". USA Today. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
- Video of Anderson's miss from NFL.com
- Segment of The Missing Rings that focuses on the 1999 NFC Championship Game from Vikings.com