When you look at teams that should’ve won championships but didn’t, I look at teams that were really the best at what they did in their league for that year. Teams that had everything on paper, the talent, the chemistry, the character, the coaching. Teams that stayed healthy and finally, but definitely not last, teams that lost their big game to a team they should’ve not only beat, but lost to a team they should’ve whipped, that’s the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.
They had the best offense in the NFL in 1998, running basically (what I call) the Spread Vertical Offense the offense that Sid Gilman invented in the 1950s with Sid Gilman with the Los Angeles Rams, with Norm Van Brocklin, Leroy Hirsch and company. That Al Davis adopted in the 1960s with the Oakland Raiders, where you have at least wide receiver if not two WR running a post-route on every play. You push the safety’s back to open up the rest of the field so you can also work passes to your slot-receivers, tight ends and even running backs. Basically forcing the defense to cover the whole field, it takes a great offensive line and quarterback to be successful in an offense like this.
You also need a great QB who can throw deep and accurately, but doesn’t get too greedy and who works the rest of the field. You need a solid running game as well to keep defenses honest. But again we are talking about the 98 Vikings here right, they had all of that. Randall Cunningham showing the world how great a QB he could be and not just a great talent. The OL with offensive guard Steve Hutchinson, center Matt Birk, tackle Corey Stringer,all Pro Bowlers, all big strong and mobile. Pro Bowler Robert Smith at RB and all-purpose RB, reminds me a little of Marcus Allen, had he not retired early would probably be in the Hall of Fame.
The 1998 Viking had really three deep threats who were all big and tall at WR that could all run. Randy Moss as a rookie Chris Carter the 2nd best WR of the 1990s behind only Jerry Rice and Jake Reed as your third WR. Moss and Reed running post-routes with Carter running the inside routes with a lot of room to run. The Vikings were a speed team playing in a dome stadium perhaps the loudest stadium in the league in the Metrodome.
The Vikings played on turf they had the perfect environment playing the two-gap cover-two defense with four pass rushers up front led by defensive tackle John Randle who’ll be in the Hall of Fame. Keeping your safety’s deep so even if you don’t get the pass rush, you prevent the big play. They didn’t have a great defense, but when you’re scoring 35 points a game and you give up 20 your defense is good enough. But it wasn’t good enough in the 1998 NFC Final to the Atlanta Falcons losing to a team that was 7-9 in 1997, they hadn’t made the playoffs since 1995 and went 9-7 that year to make the playoffs. The 98 Vikings were a team that had the total package, kinda like a fast break basketball team that would get some early stops and run you out of the building on offense.
Super Bowl 33 played in January 1999 (with the famous Ally Landry Tostitos Commercial is really the only thing I remember about that game. The best team in the AFC in the Denver Broncos that were I believe 13-3 in 1998 coached by Mike Shanahan with QB John Elway, TE Shannon Sharpe, RB Terrell Davis and company. Against a jump-start Atlanta Falcons team coached by Dan Reeves who was a big reason for their success and a lot of players that had career years and didn’t do much before or after that. With QB Chris Chandler, WR Tony Martin, TE OJ Santiago and others. When it should’ve been the Vikings and Broncos in Miami playing one of the best Super Bowls ever.