Monday, June 4, 2012

Throwbacks: 1990 Week 6 Monday Night Football, Minnesota at Philadelphia

I discovered the other day that some guy uploaded this gem to YouTube: a Monday Night Football game from 1990 featuring your Minnesota Vikings playing at the wretched Veterans Stadium to face the Philadelphia Eagles. It's been a while since I've done a running diary sort of a thing to a game, so what the hell. It's smack dab in the Herschel Walker era so I figured it would at least be a bit insightful.

The intro profiles Walker and Randall Cunningham. Kind of funny how it was Cunningham who became the difference maker the Vikes desperately needed, only years later.

Dig those graphics! “On ABC's Mon-deeeee Night Football!”

Your broadcast team is Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf. Brief aside: considering Michaels and Dierdorf have been around seemingly forever, you don't notice the changes in their voices in real-time over the years. But going back and listening to them in 1990 is strange. They both sound spritely and energetic. You know, like they're younger or something. It's a bit jarring.

Gifford begins by detailing the Vikings' problems so far this season: starting quarterback Wade Wilson out with a torn ligament in his thumb, last year's Defensive Player of the Year Keith Millard is out for the year (didn't say the injury) and Vikings GM Mike Lynn (BOOOOOO!!!) had just left the team to become... of all things... the president of the prestigious World League of American Football (WLAF, which would no doubt be referred to as WLOL had it happened today), a position in which he lasted exactly 10 months. But hey, he got his own football card.

Now if that's not the most punchable face you've ever seen, I don't know what to tell you.

Anyway, the point is the Vikings are 1-3 and not very good right now. But the Eagles are also 1-3, losing their three games by a combined 9 points. Meanwhile, Al Michaels is gracious enough to point out that the Vikings are 8-9 since the Herschel trade including last year's playoff loss to the Niners. Thanks, Al.

Speaking of Herschel, he returns the opening kickoff to the 16. Wade's replacement, a very young Rich Gannon, starts things off by overthrowing a wide open tight end Steve Jordan off playaction. Yikes.

That's followed by a RB Rick Fenney run of 4 yards and a Gannon sack-fumble recovered by the Eagles. It should be noted that the Eagles defensive line is monsterous, featuring Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons. RT Tim Irwin just got dominated by Reggie leading to the fumble. Godawful start to say the least.

Gifford notes that WR Anthony Carter, by far the Vikings best skill position player, has been bothered by a pulled hamstring and is questionable to play. He's being replaced by some guy named Cris Carter. Hmmmm...

The Eagles take over at the Vikings 20, but thankfully the Vikings defense is also pretty effing good. Cunningham scrambles for 7, then throws the ball away after getting decked by LB Mike Merriweather, followed by a botched option play by RB Keith Byars disrupted by DE Chris Doleman. Eagles kick a quick FG to make it 3-0.

Kickoff to Herschel again who runs straight into a defender. Not just any defender. A big slow lineman wearing #95.

Good God man, what the hell? You can't even kind of fake out a guy in the open field? Cut back? Break a tackle? Anything? Just awful.

The Vikings take advantage of that scintilating return by having Gannon overthrow Fenney in the flat and running Fenney up the middle for 3 yards. Now, just in case you're younger and weren't around for this era, you might be wondering: Why are they bothering with Rick freaking Fenney's consistent mediocrity when they gave up so much to get Herschel Walker? The answer: I don't know. Nobody knows. There is no answer.

WR Hassan Jones drops a wide open 3rd down pass (in fairness, it was a lousy throw) and the Vikings punt. Eagles ball at their own 42, where CB Carl Lee is flagged for a completely bogus pass interference call on 3rd down.

Dierdorf: “That's a tight call...” Gifford: “Pro-Bowl coverage by Carl Lee.”

Eagles ball at the 25, earning a 1st down on a 15 yard scramble by Cunningham before getting handed a touchdown by the refs. WR Calvin Williams caught an over-the-shoulder fade over Lee (who had perfect coverage) and came down out of bounds.

They had instant replay back then, but the call for some reason was not overturned. Michaels: “It what? A horrible call by the replay booth.” Man, you don't hear that kind of candor these days. Vikings block the extra point after a fumbled snap to make the score 9-0.

The officials contend that Lee pushed Williams out of bounds as he was catching it. The rules back then dictated that would've been scored a touchdown. Two problems with that: 1, Lee barely touched him and 2, Williams didn't have possession as he was getting his feet down. Dierdorf: “I think we'll just catagorize that as a pretty good break for the Eagles.” What a pile of horseshit.

Another kickoff to Herschel and he miraculously manages to get by the first couple guys to get all the way to the 37. Vikings get their first big play – 15 yard catch by Jordan with a 15 yard facemask penalty tacked on. Then comes a flea-flicker to Herschel (who hadn't had a touch in the game yet) and a bomb to a wide open Cris Carter for the touchdown. Woo hoo!

Fantastic call and two huge plays to stay in this thing. Weird to see Carter with sleeves, by the way. The immortal Donald Igwebuike kicks the extra point to cut the lead to 9-7, 5:22 left in the 1st quarter.

The Vikings' defensive line, mainly Doleman, Al Noga and Henry Thomas, harrass Cunningham into a three-and-out. We get a get a funny/interesting graphic on punt returner Leo Lewis:

“[Lewis] delivers with one of his specialties,” Michaels snidely remarks as Lewis calls for another fair catch. That's why I love watching this old stuff.

More referee bullshit: Gannon scrambles to the sideline on 2nd down, SS Ben Smith drags him down with a facemask and drives him into the ground a good 5 yards out of bounds. The call: 5 yard facemask at the end of the run. Uhhhhh, okay. There have been about 10 penalties between both teams, by the way.

The drive ends in another Gannon sack. Three possessions and Herschel Walker does not have a carry or a catch yet. Rick Fenney has 6 touches. Whyyyyy????

Enusing drive for Philly – third down pass is tipped and picked off by Merriweather! Unfortunately he steps out of bounds on the return at the 10 yard line. Herschel gets his first carry here.... and he promptly fumbles, recovered by Jerome Brown. Oh for fuck's sake. That is finally the end of a looonng 1st quarter.

SS Joey Browner levels TE Keith Jackson on a 1st down catch, and I have to point out how badass Browner's facemask is:

Vikings D forces a punt. Their secondary was really, really good back then. Every single pass is contested, nobody is open, everyone is super aggressive and playing up at the line of scrimmage. Not something you were likely to see in the days of Asher Allen, Cedric Griffin and Bennie Sapp.

Next Vikings possession: someone needs to tell Jerry Burns the trap play doesn't work anymore. This Eagles D-line is just way too quick. Rick Fenney is still getting most of the carries, which is pretty funny considering the broadcast team is going on and on about Herschel. He finally does haul in a catch on 3rd and 1 for a first down.

The Vikes dink and dunk their way down the field, the highlight being an 11 yard catch by Steve Jordan who levels SS Andre Waters on his way to the 9 yard line. Fenney plows in for the touchdown on 3rd and goal. Vikings rally back from down 9-0 to take a 14-9 lead, with negligible impact from Herschel. Good stuff.

Eagles punt on their next drive thanks to the killer Vikings secondary blanketing everybody. First play for the Vikings' next drive: dump off pass to Herschel who scampers for 8 more yards... and fumbles. But wait! The refs say he was down by contact. Um....

As you can see, the ball was in the air before he hit the ground. Break for the Vikings but the officiating has been horrendous so far for both teams. Big “bullshit” chant from the crowd and rightfully so.

Two plays later, Gannon goes deep and Cris Carter is alone! 78 yards for the touchdown!! 21-9 Vikings! A huuuuuge coming out party for Carter on the national stage against his former team.

Quick look at how the Vikings D has taken control after giving up the early TD:

Eagles punt again after three straight penalties totaling 25 yards. The fans are not pleased:

The next few plays feature three fumbles and three more penalties. “This looks like a game in July,” Michaels says. “Go to the locker room, guys. Seriously,” adds Dierdorf. Sure glad I picked this one to recap. Mercifully we've reached halftime. 21-9 Vikings.

Eagles receive to start the 2nd half and roll right down the field led by two 10+ yard Cunningham scrambles on 3rd down. The drive stalls out (again thanks to fantastic downfield coverage), Eagles kick a field goal to make it 21-12.

Ensuing kickoff to Herschel Walker, and he wastes no time in coughing up fumble number three (two officially) by muffing the kick. Who the hell even does that?!? When's the last time you saw someone muff a freaking kickoff? Eagles recover at the 15.

Thankfully the Vikings defense comes to the rescue again. Three plays and the Eagles kick another field goal to make it 21-15.

Herschel somehow returns the kickoff to the 20, and two plays later takes a toss left for a whopping two yards. He looks slow and goes down after the first defender even breathes on him. Meanwhile on 3rd and long, Gannon scrambles around and heaves a prayer to Cris Carter between three Eagles defenders. It's picked off by Wes Hopkins.

Some good news: next two plays, Doleman shows off how scary fast he is by chasing down Cunningham for two straight sacks. What a beast.

Eagles punt so the INT doesn't hurt the Vikes too badly. On 1st down Carter catches a slant across the middle for 12. Here's his numbers so far:

Vikings then go incomplete to Fenney, 3 yard pass to Jordan, 6 yard pass to Hassan Jones to come up one yard short of the first, but a break for the Vikings: the idiot Eagles returner tries to field the punt on a bounce and it careems off his chest into a Viking. 1st and goal at the 8.

Next three plays: 7 step drop sack, handoff to Fenney for 2 yards, false start (end of the 3rd quarter), and another prayer to Carter that he just baaaaarely misses. Um, this might be pass interference considering the defender didn't bother turning around to look for the ball...

“Is that not pass interference?” asks Dierdorf. “It was in the first quarter,” replies Gifford. Vikings get three out of it and still lead 24-15.

Eagles take over and immediately go three-and-out, much to the crowd's disdain. Vikings ball at their own 36. 13 minutes left in the 4th. Vikings get a couple first downs, including a painfully unathletic dive by Rich Gannon...

Wow, he might be a whole 2-3 inches off the ground there. Meanwhile, Al Michaels marvels over the fact that this guy has been on the sidelines the last two series...

Yes that's right, trade 5 players and practically 3 entire drafts so this guy can stand around on the sideline when the Vikings should be pounding the ball and running the clock right now. 3 carries for 3 yards so far. A Gannon sack on 3rd down forces the Vikings to punt with just under 10 minutes left. Impressively, Gannon has outplayed Cunningham thus far...

A Cunningham scramble leads to a 3rd and 1... and the Vikings D holds! Vikings ball at their own 39 with just under 8 minutes left, leading by 9. Things are looking up, right?

Not for long. That's when things get weird. Three straight pass calls lead to two scrambles out of bounds by Gannon (including one where Andre Waters dives at his knees, setting off Dierdorf: “He is the biggest cheap shot artist in the league.”) and one overthrow of a wide open Leo Lewis. Um, okay. Eagles ball at the 21.

Vikings force a 4th and 2. Ballgame right here.... but Joey Browner is called for holding TE Keith Jackson. Oh for fuck's sake. Eagles take advantage by dinking and dunking their way downfield led by Keith Byars, before a completely insane Cunningham pass bounces off three different players landing softly in WR Fred Barnett's hands for an easy walk-in TD. Unreal. 24-22 Vikings. 4 minutes to go.

This exchange is incredible:
Michaels: “This is the type of situation where you want a Herschel Walker to use up the clock and keep the ball on the ground.”
Dierdorf: “Is Walker headed to the huddle or the sidelines?”
Gifford: “He's headed to the sidelines.”

Two plays later, Gannon is stripped of the ball going back to pass (?!?!?) and the Clyde Simmons recovers. 1st and goal Philly. That's the fifth Vikings turnover. Are the Vikings seriously about to lose this game? 20 years later I can hear Vikings fans screaming at offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker. What the hell are they doing passing there? Why is Herschel not in the game? Cue Jerry Burns...

RB Andrew Toney goes straight up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown. 29-24 Eagles.

Two plays later, Gannon telegraphs a pass that's picked off easily by CB William Frazell. Eagles kick another FG to make it 32-24.

Herschel receives the kickoff and runs into the back of his own guy and falls over. Seriously, that's what happened.

Hard to tell from that screenshot, but there are literally no other defenders even near him. And he runs into his own guy. That picture sums up the Herschel Walker Era in Minnesota.

The Vikings meekly turn the ball over on downs, the Eagles take a knee, and suddenly that's it. Eagles win.

A true Vikings loss through and through that leaves you feeling gutted and a vague sense of, “What in the blue hell just happened?” That was one of the most strange out-of-nowhere turnarounds I can ever remember seeing. What a collapse.

Still, this was an interesting look at actual evidence of the Herschel Walker trade coming apart at the seams. It's kind of shocking to watch everything unravel in real-time. Watching him play as badly as he did knowing what the Vikings gave up for him was almost like watching a snuff film or something. Then for him to not even see the field when they need to grind the clock... I mean, that's exactly why they gave up so much to get him... and he's not even in the game... I don't... I... what... who... where am I...

Until next time, when hopefully I'll be recapping a more fun game...

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