MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings honored their 1969 NFL championship team Sunday, Sept. 22, during halftime of their game against the Oakland Raiders, and it was impossible not to wax nostalgic.
That team was led by tough-guy quarterback Joe Kapp — he of the single-bar helmet, the same quarterback who once knocked out Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl linebacker Jim Houston (if you don’t believe me, look it up).
Kapp will never be confused with current Vikings signal caller Kirk Cousins, both in grit and accuracy (Kapp’s best pass was the jump pass, and he made the wounded duck appear fashionable), but he helped the Vikings average an NFL best 27.1 points per game that season.
But as good as the offense was, the defense was even better, almost ridiculously so. They were led by the original Purple People Eaters, Carl Eller, Gary Larsen, Alan Page and Jim Marshall, all of whom were in attendance Sunday and even sat next to each other for a while, in order, by the way (how cool is that?). That squad only allowed 133 points in 14 games, or 9.5 points per game, numbers unfathomable in this day and age in which breathing on the quarterback draws a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, especially if the defensive player didn’t use mouthwash.
To put those 1969 numbers in perspective, the Chicago Bears led the league in scoring defense last season at 17.7 points per game, with Minnesota slipping to ninth at 21.3 per game.
Rather than make a big splash in free agency or load up on defense during the draft, the Vikings erred on the side of familiarity, figuring last year’s dip was mostly an aberration and and not a downward trend. This year’s defense is almost exactly the same in terms of personnel and so far, so good based on Sunday’s 34-14 pummeling of the hapless Raiders before 66,738 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Minnesota is allowing only 15.7 points per game so far this season, and other than the first 16 minutes of last week’s 21-16 loss at Green Bay, when the Vikings didn’t appear to have gotten off the bus, the defense has been outstanding with most of the other points yielded during mop-up duty.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is an old-school kind of guy, and Minnesota’s two victories this season, both at home, have followed the blueprint he wants to follow for success: get off to a good start, play tough defense and run the ball. Check, check, check.
The Vikings led 21-7 at the half, outgaining the Raiders 205 yards to 139. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook finished with 16 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first Vikings player to top 100 rushing yards in the first three games of a season since Chuck Foreman in 1975, an amazing stat considering the Vikings had Adrian Peterson during his prime.
And Cook became only the fifth player in NFL history to rush for at least 110 yards and a touchdown in each of the first three games, with the other four all being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. How’s that for good company?
The first quarter was even more telling, with Minnesota (2-1) holding a 140-17 edge in yards as Oakland (1-2) was as anemic on offense as a couple of teams you’d expect to find on the other coast (see the Dolphins, see the Jets).
Coaches are often critical, even after wins. Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns, offensive coordinator of that ’69 team, was also on hand Sunday for the 50th anniversary ceremony. For the record, in case you were wondering, Burnsie is a spry 92 and is much more mellow than the time he lit up after a Vikings game, dropping more “f” sounds than a Philadelphia Flyers broadcast. Hey hey, Burnsie, relax, you won (that’s another awesome clip to look up).
But after Minnesota sacked Oakland quarterback Derek Carr four times and intercepted him once, turning this one into the team's second-straight home snoozer, even the oft-critical Zimmer loosened up and had reasons to smile. He could been seen doing the Skol chant to fans, clasping his hands in the air as he walked off the field.
Carr and Co. topped 300 total yards, 302 to be exact. Carr even threw two touchdown passes, connecting for a meaningless score with 1:23 to play. Pride points and a participation ribbon you can tack up next to another big fat L in the standings.
An old friend of mine always used to say, “Prevent defense. Yeah, prevents you from winning,” to the point it got so annoying that to this day I rank it right up there with nails on a chalkboard and the Wendy’s on 21st Ave. East closing.
If you’re in a prevent defense, like the Vikings were in the second half on Sunday, sitting back in the secondary, keeping all plays in front of them, that means you’re leading, and probably by a pretty healthy margin.
And anyone from Kapp to Cousins will tell you that’s a really good thing.