Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Minnesota Vikings vs. Los Angeles Rams, NFC Playoff Game, December 26, 1977

With the Minnesota Vikings playing so poorly tonight against the Chicago Bears in the outdoors, it got me in the frame of mind to watch another football game where the elements played a role. So I went online and watched the 1977 playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Rams, in a game that would later be dubbed "The Mud Bowl". The Rams had lost to Minnesota in both the 1974 and 1976 playoffs in Minnesota, and most experts figured that since the Rams had home field advantage this time around, that the Rams would finally dispose of their tormentors. But a torrential rainstorm made the L.A. Coliseum field a quagmire of slop, and as it turns out, actually gave the tough-minded Vikings the advantage, as they had more experience in rough conditions from playing their home games at Exhibition Stadium. Of course, the Vikings did the dumbest thing they could have done and moved to an indoor stadium five years later, taking away whatever homefield advantage that playing in the cold in Minnesota would have given them, but that's another topic for another time. Anyway, the Rams also had a huge advantage in that Minnesota QB Fran Tarkenton was injured and unable to play, so 32 year old journeyman Bob Lee had to take the snaps for the Vikings. All of that added up to a hill of beans for the Rams, as once again they found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard against the Vikings, losing by a 14-7 margin. A few notes about this game.

- The Vikings head coach, Bud Grant, seemed to have the right game plan in place for this type of game. With the field as bad as it was, Grant decided to have Lee throw often early in the game, although Lee didn't throw anything deep. It worked on the first drive, as Lee was 5 for 5 and the Vikings scored after a five yard run by Chuck Foreman. After that, Lee didn't complete any of the six passes he attempted, as by that point the Vikings switch exclusively to the running game, finishing the game with 28 straight running plays (the last three were really kneeldowns, but they count as run all the same).

- Both teams' featured running backs, Foreman and the Rams Lawrence McCutheon, actually did pretty well, as each player got over 100 yards. McCutheon broke off a couple of big runs to end up with 102 yards on 16 carries, while Foreman ran tough on 31 carries for 101 yards. The difference between the two teams became the fullbacks, as Robert Miller of the Vikings gained 66 yards on the ground and through the air, while the Rams' fullback, John Cappelletti, gained only 15 yards and missed large portions of the game due to being 'bone-weary', at least according to the announcers.

- Kudos goes to the Vikings, whom in spite of the muddy conditions, only fumbled the ball once early in the game, and didn't turn the ball over one time. This in spite of being -18 in turnovers during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Rams QB, Pat Haden, threw only six interceptions during the regular season, but threw three in this game against the Vikings (one was a desperation heave on the game's last play). That included a pick in the end zone by the Vikings Nate Allen, and another pick deep in Vikings territory on a wobbler by Paul Krause. Actually, I thought the Krause pick might have been tipped, but no, Haden's pass came out side to side instead of spiraling, and Krause was easily able to get under the ball and snatch it.

- Also, DT Alan Page of the Vikings was quite impressive in this game. After McCutheon broke off a 27 yard run early in the game, it was Page, a lineman, that chased down the speedy running back and prevented an even bigger gain. Page also got a sack when he sped by C Rich Saul in the third quarter, and also pressured Haden a few times and made some key plays stopping the run for the Vikings. Not bad for a 240 pound defensive tackle, which was small for that position even back in 1977. If Page came around today, he'd either be moved to linebacker or maybe defensive end. Quite frankly, you won't find many lineman in history that were as quick as Alan Page. Also, you won't find many as durable as Vikings DE Jim Marshall, as the 39 year old Marshall was playing in his 284th straight game. Not only that, but Marshall also made a few big plays for the Vikings, tipping a pass and making a big tackle for loss in the second half of the game. After the game, the network interviewed Page and Marshall, who both spent two minutes complaining about the officiating. If they did that today, chances are both men would be fined heavily, but that's just how things were back then.

- As for the announcers, it was a treat listening to Vin Scully. Yes, he's more known for baseball, but Scully's just as skilled at announcing football games. As for his partner, Alex Hawkins, well let's just say that he's at least better than Jon Gruden and Tony Siragusa.

- As you might expect for a game called the Mud Bowl, the field was a giant mess. Even at the beginning of the game, the whole middle of the field was nothing but mud. This resulted in everybody being covered in mud to the point where it was hard to tell who was who for the Vikings because their white jerseys were completely covered in mud. All except for Vikings' receivers Ahmad Rashad and Sammy White, who stood on the outside of the field and didn't have much to do as the Vikings ran every play right up the middle. Rashad caught a couple of passes early, while White wasn't even thrown the ball, as I can recall. As for the Rams, you could kind of see their numbers through the mud, as they were painted in yellow, but each team's offensive line was just coated in mud. The Vikings even changed jerseys at halftime, but about five plays in, they were just as dirty as they were before the change.

- I was struck mostly by how conservative each team was. Yes, the game was somewhat played in difficult conditions, but I was still surprised when the Vikings began to take a knee on first down with three minutes to play in the game. Also, when the Rams were driving during the last play of the game, they still kept two backs in the backfield and even ran a draw play with 30 seconds to go and no timeouts. I guarantee you won't see a team do that in the game nowadays. However, Bud Grant wasn't all conservative, as after his team scored in the fourth quarter, the Vikings pulled off an onside kick and kept the ball a little longer, which was great because nobody expected it, especially the guy trying to catch the ball.

- While Fran Tarkenton didn't play due to injury, another Hall of Fame quarterback was also on the sidelines. Yep, the Rams had Joe Namath on the bench, as he had lost the job to Haden early in the season. That didn't stop Hawkins and Scully from speculating whether we would see Namath come in at some point, but Broadway Joe never got into action in what would be his final game in uniform.

- The video I watched also showed the postgame show, and during it, Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder declared that Chuck Knox had coached his last game in Los Angeles, and that George Allen would replace him. While Allen did not come to coach the Rams, Snyder was at least right about Knox, as he resigned before he could get fired, in spite of five straight division titles. It would not be the last game Knox coached for the Rams, as he came back in 1992 in an ill-fated move to coach the Rams through three straight losing seasons. While the Rams never reached the Super Bowl under Knox, they would reach the Superbowl in 1979 under Ray Malavasi. As for the Vikings, they got the privilege of being decimated by the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game, losing to the 'Boys 26-13 in what proved to be Bud Grant's only loss in the NFC Championship game.

Well, thanks for reading. Remember, if you have any ideas for future reviews, or comments about this or previous reviews, then send them to me either by e-mail at KtheC2001@gmail.com or by leaving a comment on the blog.


  1. Not bad, but a few comments. The NFC Championship game was actually 20-6 in favor of Dallas. The "onside" kick, for which Bud Grant was always given credit, was actually the result of kicker Fred Cox slipping and kicking a low line drive which hit a surprised Ram lineman in the chest. What made this game even more surprising was that on Halloween night of that same year, the Rams defeated Minnesota--with Tarkenton--on the same (albeit dry) field, 35-3! Finally, George Allen was hired to succeed Knox as Ram coach. Two games into the 1978 preseason, Carol Rosenbloom, believing that the hiring of Allen was a mistake, fired him and promoted Ray Malavasi. In 1978 The Rams would finally defeat Minnesota in the playoffs, beating them handily in what would be Fran Tarkenton's final game on New Year's Eve of that year.

  2. I was at this game. My Dad took my brother and I. Great memory but boy did we get wet!

  3. I went too. Me and my buddy took Quaaludes and sat in the end zone seats. I remember Terry Nelson running a tight end reverse. We were hoping for a Joe Namath appearance. Did not think Joe wanted any part of that mess. We had a great time. It rained so hard that afternoon. Remember, game was blacked out on CBS. No local TV.

  4. Lots of errors and omissions. The Vikings played at Metropolitan Stadium, not Exhibition Stadium. Dallas beat Minnesota 23-6 in the NFC Championship, not 26-13. The Vikings had also beaten the Rams 23-20 in the 1969 NFL playoffs in Minnesota. Lee completed 5 of 10 passes, not 5 of 11. Page was closer to 220 pounds at that time, not 240, as he had taken up long-distance running.