The quotes are just as powerful out of context as they are slotted in their correct sequence.
“You gotta be able to live with losing,” former Minnesota Vikings Coach Bud Grant said. “That’s the hardest thing — to get over it. You can’t let it eat you up.”
Grant said that during in the latest installment of “America’s Game: Missing Rings,” which profiles the 1969 Minnesota Vikings. That team won 12 straight games during the season — an accomplishment no team had done in the previous 35 years. It led the NFL in points scored, points allowed and was the least penalized.
The Vikings’ episode appears at 9 p.m. (CST) Thursday on NFL Network.
Only the Vikings’ records and statistics fail to matter on the NFL’s scrap heap of history. The Vikings lost Super Bowl IV to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7 and are forgotten along with the rest of history’s losers. It’s a familiar tone with the Vikings, who lost three more Super Bowls over the next seven seasons. The Vikings’ best team in 1998, which finished 15-1 in the regular season, will appear on a future episode as well.
“America’s Game: Missing Rings” features five of the NFL’s best teams to never win the Super Bowl. Along with the 1969 and 1998 Vikings, the five-episode series features the 1990 Buffalo Bills and the 1988 Cincinnati Bengals. The first installment, which debuted Sept. 18, showed the 1981 San Diego Chargers.
The “America’s Game” series ranks at the top of all sports documentaries, featuring every Super Bowl champion. If it’s possible, from the first two episodes, the “Missing Rings” might be better. These losing teams were even more colorful than most of the Super Bowl winners and their deficiencies were more pronounced. By the end of the episode you know the team is going to lose, but you kind of hope it doesn’t. You ask the same ”what-if” questions as the team’s fans.
The 1969 Vikings episode begins with the Vikings’ transition from expansion franchise to NFL superpower. It focuses on the perpetual arguments between first coach Norm Van Brocklin and first (and future) quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Then both left, and Grant took over in 1967. He then brought in Joe Kapp, a Mexican-American, from Canada to play quarterback.
Kapp was all bravado at QB. He and his teammates joked about his throwing style, which Kapp said didn’t include using the laces. “He threw some passes that looked like ducks but they made it into the hands of the receivers,” Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall said.
The episode deals with race issues from the era, which seemed to avoid Minnesota. It included a fight between Kapp and linebacker Lonnie Warwick — “That’s what Tequilla can do to you,” Grant said. The episode documents Kapp’s seven-touchdown performance against NFL defending champion Baltimore and the ferocity of the Vikings’ defense, known as the “Purple People Eaters.”
The fierce Minnesota weather and Grant’s disciplinary style of coaching also was highlighted. But what everyone remembers is the season’s end, a loss to Kansas City. Narrator Tom Selleck appropriately describes the day for the Minnesota faithful:
“A Viking hot air balloon lost its way, and careened off course. In the first half, the same could be said of the team.”
Grant and Kapp opened critiqued the loss with pointed remarks on the passing game.
“We didn’t really have a sophisticated passing attack,” Grant said. “We were ahead in most of our games and we really didn’t have to come back.
“Our passing game wasn’t good at that point.”
Kapp said: “I don’t think we were quite as smart as we needed to be as play callers in that game. I didn’t go to the pass on first down … I could critique it to death.”
The loss hurt the Vikings’ Marshall as much as anyone. He started in all four Super Bowl losses, and despite efforts from former coaches and teammates touting him as one of the NFL’s best-ever, those losses tarnished his — and the Vikings’ — legacy.
“Those were four opportunities that we had to prove that we were the best in the world, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “We got beat and in some games we got beat soundly. You never get over things like that. It haunts me every day.”
This series has possibilities for future episodes. Copy editor Sam Paxton, who follows NFL Films as closely as I do, and I looked into other installments of “Missing Rings” that could be just as rich as the first two episodes. They include:
1979 Houston Oilers, which lost two consecutive AFC title games to the Pittsburgh Steelers
1999 Tennessee Titans, the former Oilers that lost on the game’s final play to St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXIV
1991 Detroit Lions, a losing franchise that sneaked past everyone to the NFC title game
1980 Cleveland Browns, the best-known “Kardiac Kids” that lost on the infamous “Red Right 88″ pass
1986/87 Cleveland Browns, a team that lost AFC title games in heartbreaking fashion to John Elway’s Denver Broncos
2003 Carolina Panthers, a team that went from 1-15 to the Super Bowl in two seasons and nearly knocked off an NFL dynasty.
This series leaves you wanting more at the end of every episode. It’s the very best of NFL Films.