The Vikings, Lamar Hunt and the AFL Curse
Post date: Dec 20, 2020 6:25:41 PM
The curse of the Bambino. The Billy Goat curse. The S.I. cover jinx. The Madden cover curse. All of these are famous superstitions that have been blamed for bringing sports fans misery and heartbreak over the years.
Minnesota sports fans have suffered similar misery and heartbreak, quite possibly more than any other fan base. The greatest source of that heartbreak?
The Minnesota Vikings.
With all the bad things that have happened in the past, and continue to happen, it begs the question, “Are the Vikings cursed?”
I get asked that question a lot. As a matter of fact, I was asked it again in an interview recently. In the past, My go-to answer was usually about Bud Grant being passed over by the Vikings original owners.
Passing on Bud Grant
In January 1961, the Vikings were looking to hire their first head coach. The decision came down to 2 candidates. One of those candidates was Bud Grant. Grant was a former Minnesota Gopher- 3 sport athlete, and current coach of the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Blue Bombers had won the Grey Cup (CFL Championship) twice under Grant’s leadership. Grant also played professional basketball with the Minneapolis Lakers, and is reportedly the only person to ever play in both the NBA and NFL.
The other candidate being considering was Norm Van Brocklin. Van Brocklin was a former quarterback who had led the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFL championship the previous season. After the season, he retired and wanted to get into coaching.
News reports state that 3 of the 5 Vikings owners wanted Van Brocklin, and 2 wanted Grant. Grant apparently didn’t feel like playing second fiddle, and withdrew his name from consideration. Later that same day, the Vikings hired Norm Van Brocklin as their first head coach.   
Van Brocklin had a stormy relationship with quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Tarkenton was a scrambling quarterback and Van Brocklin (who was a pocket passer during his playing years) was very much against “scrambling”. At that point in time, a scrambling quarterback had never won a championship. 
Van Brocklin went so far as to bench Tarkenton twice at the end of the 1966 season. The first time, Van Brocklin started Ron Vander Kelen against the Rams. The second time he started Bob Berry against the Falcons in Atlanta. Van Brocklin felt he owed it to the backups to give them a chance. Tarkenton was originally from Georgia and had family and friends coming to the game in Atlanta and the benching didn’t sit well with him.   
In the off season rumors began to swirl that Tarkenton would be traded. He asked to have a meeting with Van Brocklin in January 1967. By all accounts the meeting went well and the two had mended the fences. 
A week and half after that meeting, on February 10, 1967, the Vikings received a letter from Tarkenton saying he would never play for them again and asking to be traded. The very next day, Van Brocklin resigned for the second time. This time he wasn't talked into returning and the Vikings accepted his resignation.  
Even though Van Brocklin was now gone, Tarkenton never rescinded his trade demand and was traded to the Giants on March 7, 1967. 
If you’re looking for the origins of a “curse”, passing over one of the greatest coaches in NFL history is a decent candidate. The fact that the decision ended up causing the Vikings to trade away one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, makes it even worse.
However, the Vikings ownership would eventually “right the ship”.
From a superstitious perspective, the Vikings made amends for passing over Grant, and trading away their franchise quarterback. As I think about this more, this cant be the source of a Viking's curse.
Digging back a little further in franchise history reveals a more likely candidate. Let’s rewind to 1959.
The Lamar Hunt "AFL" Curse
Passing on Bud Grant wasn’t the only time in those early years the Vikings ownership made a decision that may have angered the football Gods.
On August 14, 1959, a group of Twin Cities businessmen, namely Max Winter and Bill Boyer, received a bid from the newly formed American Football League (AFL) as one of the circuit's 6 charter franchises. The AFL was conceived as a competitor to the NFL by Lamar Hunt and some other businessmen who had been denied ownership of NFL franchises. At that time the NFL was opposed to expansion. 
This new league held its first draft on November 22, 1959, in Minneapolis at the Park Nicollet hotel. The Minnesota contingent drafted Wisconsin quarterback Dale Hackbart as their #1 overall choice. They also drafted future hall of fame center Jim Otto from the University of Miami with their 2nd pick.  
Photo of owners at first AFL draft 
During that draft there were rumors the Minneapolis group might leave the AFL and join the NFL. The NFL wasn’t very happy about having to compete with this new league. In response, they decided to reverse their decision on expansion and promised franchises to some of the AFL teams if they would leave the AFL. Bears owner George Halas even wired Max Winter the morning of the AFL draft trying to lure Minnesota away. Lamar Hunt denied that Minnesota would leave saying the rumors were “unfounded”. 
The NFL was the big dog at that time. The thought of bringing major league football to Minnesota was very enticing. Especially with the possibility that the fledgling AFL league might not get off the ground. Of all the AFL teams, only one group took the NFL up on their offer. Guess which one? On January 3, 1960, the Minnesota group withdrew their AFL bid. That bid, and all the players they had drafted would eventually be given to Oakland. That franchise would become known as the Raiders.  
Less than a month later, on January 28, 1960, the Minnesota group was awarded an NFL franchise. The team was named the Minnesota Vikings and would begin play in the 1961 season. 
As the AFL grew and began to compete with the NFL for players, it became likely that the two leagues would merge. In June of 1966 they agreed on a plan. The merger would take place before the 1970 season. Until then, the two leagues stayed separate but agreed to play a game after the season ended. That game was called the AFL-NFL Championship, and played by the winner of each league. 
The last AFL-NFL championship was played on January 11, 1970. By this time, the game had been given a new name - the Super Bowl. Super Bowl IV featured the heavily favored NFL champion Minnesota Vikings facing off against the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs were owned by none other than Lamar Hunt. (The guy that started the AFL - the league that the Vikings had left behind.)
When talking about superstitions and curses, there are often omens of bad things about to occur. For Vikings fans, these omens are quite common today. Often while watching a game, we get that feeling in the pit of our stomach that impending doom is near. Historically, the first of these omens may have occurred prior to Super Bowl IV. During the opening ceremony, a Vikings hot air balloon crashed in the bleachers and started on fire.
Video of the Super Bowl IV balloon crash
The Chiefs won Super Bowl IV, 23-7. It’s considered one of the greatest upsets in NFL/AFL history. Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp said after the game that the Chiefs defenders looked like a redwood forest. To add insult to injury, that “redwood forest” boasted some former Minnesota Gophers as members, most notably Bobby Bell. Interestingly, the Vikings had drafted Bobby Bell in 1963, but he chose to sign with Kansas City instead.
The Super Bowl is played between the conference champions of the NFC and the AFC. The AFC is named for the AFL, and all the original AFL teams are members of the AFC. If the Vikings “curse” originated by turning their backs on the AFL and joining the NFL, it would explain a lot. It explains every Super Bowl loss because they were lost to AFL or AFC teams. As a matter of fact, the last Super Bowl the Vikings played in, Super Bowl XI, was played against…..the Oakland Raiders. And they didn’t just lose. They got destroyed. The 32-14 score makes it appear the game was closer than it actually was. Oakland set 21 different records in that game including most yards gained on offense (429). Fran Tarkenton got benched near the end of the game. Read that last sentence again. The greatest quarterback in Minnesota Vikings history was benched, in a Super Bowl.
This curse also explains all the NFC championship losses and any other playoff disasters. The only thing more heart breaking than losing a championship is getting your hopes up and tripping up just short of the finish line. How many of those NFC championship games are some of our worst memories? Gary Anderson's missed FG, 41-donut vs the Giants. Darrin Nelson's dropped pass at the goal line. Bounty Gate in New Orleans etc etc etc.
Other Strange Coincidences
The Lamar Hunt curse explains every stumble the Vikings have had in trying to win a Super Bowl. However, there are quite a few other coincidences that might make more sense when viewed through this lens. For the record, I'm fully aware that I'm reaching at straws on some of these, but I still thought it was fun and interesting to see if there were any connections. Just go with me on this....
The Dallas Cowboys joined the NFL the same year the Vikings did. But they were never an AFL franchise. Because Dallas didn’t scorn the AFL like the Vikings did, that could explain any event that Dallas has gotten the better of Minnesota. - Drew Pearson’s push off, the Herschel Walker trade, maybe even DAN BAILEY for crying out loud! 
Lamar Hunt's Chiefs were originally in Dallas and named the Texans. When the Cowboys joined the NFL, it forced Hunt to move the team to Kansas City. The Vikings taking the NFL bid, led to Dallas also getting an NFL franchise and forcing Hunt to move his team.
Early in the 1977 season Fran Tarkenton broke his leg against Cincinnati (an AFC team). The Vikings would lose the NFC championship that season to the Dallas Cowboys. 
We all remember Darrin Nelson's dropped Wade Wilson's pass at the goal line at the end of 1987 NFC Championship game. Did you know that Darrin Nelson didn’t even want to play with the Vikings? He wrote the Vikings a letter before the draft, asking them NOT to draft him. Not only did they draft him anyway, they drafted him ahead of….Marcus Allen, the HOF running back for ….the Oakland Raiders. Oh, and Wade Wilson? He was from Dallas and played college football near Dallas in Commerce, TX.
Side note: I can't write about Dallas without making it clear that Norm Green still sucks. Doesn't really fit in a football story, but in a way it does.
The Steelers were originally an NFL team, but in 1970 were forced to join the AFC in the conference's first season. In their 5th season as an AFC team, the Steelers faced the Vikings in Super Bowl IX. Prior to that, the Steelers had only made the playoffs 4 times in their 40 year history and that was their first Super Bowl appearance. They beat the Vikings that day 16-6. Winning that game was the beginning of their dynasty. As a matter of fact, that was Terry Bradshaw's 5th season. At that point in time, Steelers fans weren't all that impressed with him. After that season he went on to become the HOF quarterback we all know today. So what broke the Steelers curse? Playing the Vikings, who had scorned the AFL.
Did you know that Gary Anderson played his first 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers? After 13 season with Pittsburgh, Anderson wanted more money. The Steelers reportedly offered less than he was asking for. Anderson turned them down, and signed a one-year deal with the NFC's Philadelphia Eagles. If you believe in the superstitious, you have to consider the possibility that Anderson leaving the AFC to join the NFC could have followed him to the 1998 NFC championship.  
"And Anderson hasn't missed in two years" -Pat Summerall
41 - Donut
I know I'm really starting to reach here, but humor me anyway.
In the 2000 NFC championship game, the Giants led 34-0 at half. A nightmare scenario for both the Viking's offense and defense. Both our Offensive Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator started their careers with AFC teams. Our defensive coordinator, Emmitt Thomas, played for the Kansas City Chiefs. Our offensive coordinator, Sherm Lewis, played for the New York Jets.
The scandal of paying Saints players to injure Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC championship game was masterminded by Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams started his career in Houston with the Oilers (AFC Team, AND Texas Team).
On January 10, 2016, during the NFC Wildcard game at TCF Bank Stadium, Blair Walsh lined up for for a potential 27 yard game winning field goal with 26 seconds left. He missed WIDE left. How does that fit into the curse? The opponent was the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahwaks were originally an AFC team, but moved to the NFC after re-alignment in 2002.
The Philadelphia Fail
When Teddy Bridgewater suffered a near life threatening leg injury at the beginning of the 2016 season, the Vikings traded for Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford. The Eagles used the first round pick they received from the Vikings on Derek Barnett. In the 2018 NFC Championship, the tide turned for the Eagles in the 2nd quarter. The Vikings were down 14-7 and were driving. It was 3rd and 5 from the Philadelphia 16-yard line. Rookie Defensive End Derek Barnett strip sacked Vikings quarterback Case Keenum. The Eagles recovered the fumble, took momentum and never looked back. Talk about things coming back to haunt you.
Who was in charge of that decision to trade that pick for Bradford? Rick Spielman. Spielman started his NFL career playing for the San Diego Chargers and worked for the Miami Dolphins (both AFC teams) before coming to Minnesota.
Breaking the curse?
Have I taken it too far? Probably. But what else could explain all this misery? 4 super bowl losses, 6 conference championship losses (most of which have ended in some spectacularly calamitous fashion) and countless other disastrous moments. Do we just write it off 62 years of bad luck?
It's clear that most of the Viking's heartbreaking moments, (specifically the ones on the biggest stages) have a connection to the AFC.
So what now? If the “Lamar Hunt Curse” is real, what do we do? How do we break it? Lamar Hunt died in 2006. Maybe we need to make some sort of sacrifice? We could sprinkle the ashes of each original Vikings owner on Hunt's grave? Might be a bit extreme, and gross, and probably illegal. Somehow, we have to find a way to pay penance for our offense to Mr. Hunt and the football Gods. I also think that breaking the curse might have something to do with the Raiders. Maybe we need to sprinkle some of those ashes on the 50 yard line of Kezar stadium too. Maybe the Vikings need to join the AFC in some sort of realignment?
Anyway, I'm open to ideas and encourage suggestions. Get creative WHENESOTANS! Just like I tell my students, there are no wrong answers when you're brainstorming.
At one time there were reports of a Viking's curse called “The Curse of the Ed Thorpe Trophy”. The Ed Thorpe Trophy was given to the winner of the NFL championship before the NFL/AFL merger. According to legend, the Vikings were the last team to win the trophy in 1969 when they beat the Cleveland Browns and advanced to the AFL/NFL championship game (aka Super Bowl IV). The Vikings then lost the trophy and it has cursed them ever since.
That story has been debunked. Apparently, the league stopped passing the trophy from team to team in the early 60’s. It isn't clear why. Maybe it was by choice. Maybe the teams were forgetful, or maybe they just lost interest sensing the merger was coming. The last team to be presented the trophy was the Green Bay Packers. It currently sits in their trophy case at Lambeau Field where it has stayed since 1962. Meaning, it was never lost, and the Vikings never even received it. Neither did a few other teams (Bears, Browns and Colts)  
Photo of the Ed Thorpe Tophy (below)
Thanks to frequent contributor Keith Grinde for assisting on this one.
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