Two of the greatest teams of all time never to win a Super Bowl, both the 1998 Minnesota Vikings and the 1990 Buffalo Bills were both victimized by missed field goals in crucial situations, robbing them of their chance at glory.
The ’98 Vikings went 15-1 in the regular season, cruised to the NFC Championship Game, and were a Gary Anderson field goal away from putting the NFC title game out of reach for the visiting Atlanta Falcons. Instead, Anderson, who up until then had made an NFL-record 39 straight field goals, missed a 38 yard try with only minutes to. The score remained 27-20, and the Falcons drove down the field, tied the game, and won it in overtime.
The 1990 Buffalo Bills, innovators of the no-huddle “K-gun” offense, trampled opponents on their way to an AFC Championship. Down 19-17 with a few scant seconds remaining in Super Bowl XXV, kicker Scott Norwood took the field for a 47 yard field goal try. He makes it, and the Bills win their first-ever Super Bowl. Instead, what happened next is simply known as “Wide Right” in Buffalo sports lore. Norwood pushed the kick, well, wide to the right, and the Bills went on to lose to the underdog New York Giants, the first of four consecutive Super Bowl losses for Buffalo.
But, what if these two teams were resurrected for one last shot at glory? Two of the greatest non-champion teams of the 1990’s, who would win in a hypothetical Super Bowl between the only two NFL franchises to ever lose four Super Bowls?
’98 Minnesota Vikings offense vs. ’90 Buffalo Bills defense
The ‘98 Vikings boasted an incredible offense, fielding a unit that scored a then-NFL record 556 points. They had a great running back in Robert Smith, a receiving corps that featured the sure-handed Cris Carter as well as explosive rookie Randy Moss, and of course leading the offense was the rejuvenated Randall Cunningham, a strong-armed, dual-threat quarterback who could make every throw in the book but could also beat a defense with his running ability. Their offensive line, led by future Hall-of-Fame guard Randall McDaniel was no sham either; they were a strong unit, opening the way for almost 2,000 yards rushing while allowing only 25 sacks during the course of the 1998 season.
Of course, the Bills defense wasn’t exactly a pushover. They fielded a unit that ranked in the top ten in terms of scoring (6th ranked), pass defense (7th) and total defense (8th). They were led by the all-time NFL sack leader, Bruce Smith, and featured playmakers like safety Mark Kelso and linebacker Darryl Talley.
Still, the fact that the Vikings offense put up 556 points, a mark that stands as the second best of all time, as well as the presence of playmakers Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter and Randy Moss, is what gives them an edge over the 1990 Bills defense.
Advantage: ’98 Minnesota Vikings
’90 Buffalo Bills offense vs. ’98 Minnesota Vikings defense
As mentioned before, what made the Buffalo offense so dangerous was their innovation of the “no-huddle” playcalling technique, lining up right away and calling the play at the line, so the defense would be kept on its heels and wouldn’t be able to substitute tired players efficiently. Leading the offense was quarterback Jim Kelly, a future Hall-of-Famer, who tossed 24 touchdown passes while throwing a mere nine interceptions in 1990. Also featured was dual-threat running back Thurman Thomas, who was as adept at catching passes as he was taking a handoff and running the ball. Wide receivers Andre Reed and Don Beebe, as well as tight end Jay Riemersma, rounded out the rest of the Bills’ offensive playmakers. Their balanced, yet fast paced attack allowed the 1990 Bills to eviscerate opposing defenses, as they put up a league-high 428 points that year.
Minnesota’s defense was often overlooked during the 1998 season, given the torrid pace of their offense, but that didn’t make them any less of a unit. They ranked 6th in yards allowed and scoring defense, and gave up only 17 passing touchdowns all year. The unit was led by intimidating defensive tackle John Randall, and featured standout linebacker Ed McDaniel (9th in tackles that year) and ballhawking defensive back Jimmy Hitchcock (seven interceptions in 1998).
Again, this matchup slightly favors the offense. The Bills were a team that could often score at will, and keep teams off-balance with their no-huddle attack. Jim Kelly’s ability to take care of the football was an important boon to the 1990 Buffalo Bills.
Advantage: ‘90 Buffalo Bills
Special teams follies maybe be remembered as being what doomed both of these teams, since both teams’ kickers missed game-winning or game-sealing field goals, but it would be unfair to look over the body of work each teams kicking and return units put in during their respective seasons just because of two bad plays. The 1990 Buffalo Bills’ Scott Norwood was an efficient kicker, making a pedestrian 69% of his field goals while making 50 of his 52 extra point attempts that year. The 1998 Minnesota Vikings’ kicker, Gary Anderson, was another story. He, incredibly enough, make every kick he attempted during the ’98 season; all 59 extra points, and all 35 field goal attempts.
Advantage: ’98 Minnesota Vikings
This argument is a short one. Marv Levy made the Bills who they were. He innovated their offensive attack, and did get them to four consecutive Super Bowls. Vikings coach Dennis Green managed a team that was brimming with talent, and didn’t need much coaching, just someone who could keep the team from getting too egotistical while destroying opponents on the field. And of course, we can never forget that Dennis Green isn’t the most level-headed individual:
Advantage: ’90 Buffalo Bills
This would be a high-scoring affair, as both teams’ offenses were the class of their era. The Vikings and the Bills would probably put up anywhere from 25-40 points in this game. The Bills’ no-huddle offense would keep the Vikings’ defense on their toes, but the Vikings offense would be able to strike just as quickly with their menagerie of playmakers. In the end, the Vikings’ sheer offensive prowess (they were the ones who put up 556 points in the regular season) would be the prevailing force in this game. Their ability to score on the ground with RB Robert Smith or even fleet-footed quarterback Randall Cunningham, through the air with either Cris Carter or a long bomb to the speedy Randy Moss, too much for the Bills to keep up with. While the ’90 Bills’ no-huddle offense was incredibly difficult to defend, the ’98 Vikings would had seen the no-huddle attack for eight years and would have had a way to at least slow it down. The Bills would stay in the game until a fourth-quarter turnover, likely an interception by Vikings DB Jimmy Hitchcock, but would be unable to overcome the Vikings’ offensive assault.
Final Score: 1998 Minnesota Vikings 42, 1990 Buffalo Bills 34