by Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro & @NFLFANINENGLAND)
With just hours to go before the first of four fascinating NFL Divisional Playoff games its time to turn back the clock and take a visit to Candlestick Park and a truly memorable contest between the two teams that open up this weekend’s four game slate……
January 9, 1988.
The 1987 NFL season was a strange one, a player strike meant one game (Week 3) was lost from the 16 game regular season schedule, and Weeks 4-6 were played by a vast majority of unknowns and ‘scabs’ – starters who crossed the picket lines.
One of the biggest names to cross the picket line was San Francisco 49ers QB Joe Montana, who played in and won two strike games.
The 49ers finished the regular season with the NFLs best record winning 13 of 15 contests, earning the NFC #1 seed and a home Divisional Playoff game.
Their playoff opponent the Minnesota Vikings limped into the post-season as the #5 seed Wild Card team with an 8-7 record, having lost three of their last four regular season contests.
The Vikings travelled to New Orleans for their Wild Card game, facing a team that finished 12-3 courtesy of Coach of the Year Jim Mora. Heavy underdogs the Vikings came away with an epic 44-10 upset win, in what was the first Saints playoff game in their 21 year history.
The win set up a second road playoff game for the 50-1 outsiders all the way across the country, in California, against a team that featured four All Pro’s (QB Joe Montana, WR Jerry Rice, DT Michael Carter and S Ronnie Lott).
The game started slowly as both teams exchanged first quarter field goals. Both teams defences were enjoying the soggy conditions as drives stalled.
It was the Vikings who scored the first touchdown, set up by a huge Wade Wilson scramble that put Minnesota at the 49ers 7 yard line. On first and goal Wilson found TE Carl Hilton a yard outside the end zone as he beat Ronnie Lott to get the score. Hilton was double happy as he dropped a potential score on the opening drive of the game for Minnesota.
The Vikings extended the lead to 10 with a second Chuck Nelson FG, having had a first and goal drive stall after three consecutive runs.
Just under a minute later the relentless Vikings pass rush was rewarded when Joe Montana was intercepted on a medium depth pass to WR Dwight Clark by Georgia Tech rookie safety Reggie Rutland (who subsequently changed his name to Najee Mustafaa), who took the ball 45 yards to pay-dirt and a 20-3 half-time lead.
Roger Craig dropped a late first half touchdown catch and 49ers K Ray Wersching missed a 26 yard field goal as momentum had completely disappeared from the heavily favoured home team.
The 49ers did manage to exact some early revenge in the second minute of the second half, defensive back Jeff Fuller picking off Wade Wilson and returning it 48 yards for San Francisco’s first TD of the game. Fuller would go on to suffer a career ending spinal injury in 1989, after picking up his second Super Bowl winners ring.
Any thoughts of a comeback were quickly quashed as Wade Wilson recovered his composure to lead a touchdown scoring drive to #84 WR Hassan Jones, completing a 5 yard pass on 3rd and goal in the red painted end zone. The TD was the first that 49ers CB Don Griffin had allowed all season.
Down by 17 49ers head coach Bill Walsh made the bold decision to bench Montana and bring in backup Steve Young to try and find a spark.
With excellent starting field position Young hit RB Roger Craig on his first pass for 30 yards. On second and goal Young’s 10 yard rushing score was called back for holding. Following a 7 yard completion Young scrambled left on a deliberate run play and dived into the left corner of the end zone for the score.
The Vikings were clearly unfazed as they extended their lead late in the 3rd and early in the fourth with two additional field goals.
Young gave hope to the 49ers fans with a drive that ended in a hair-raising 16 yard touchdown pass to TE John Frank. (Frank went on to become an otolaryngologist, a head and neck surgery specialist. Frank has performed over 2,000 hair transplant operations and opened a hair clinic in New York in 2006.)
In the final minute Nelson kicked his fifth successful field goal and that was it, an earth shattering 36-24 upset win for the Minnesota Vikings.
Minnesota travelled to Washington, their third consecutive road playoff game, for the NFC Championship. Redskins CB Darrell Green broke up a Vikings pass in the end zone on the final play of the game to prevent the Vikings from tying up the game, as Minnesota fell 17-10.
Fast forward to 2020 and we have history repeating itself as the lowest seeded NFC team the Minnesota Vikings, fresh off an upset Wild Card win against none other than the New Orleans Saints, face the #1 NFC seed San Francisco 49ers.
For Kirk Cousins and the Vikings fans they will certainly ‘like that’ history is clearly on their side.
Enjoy the game tonight – and if the Vikings get the upset victory you read it here first on the Full 10 Yards.