The Minnesota Vikings in the 1970s: A Trip Down Memory Lane

The Vikings began the 1970 season by getting a small measure of revenge for their Superbowl loss to the KC Chiefs eight months earlier, beating them 27–10 in the home opener. In a week five game against the Cowboys, the Vikings showed the world that they were every bit as good as they were in 1969 by whipping Dallas 54–13.

They finished the season with twelve wins and only two losses, and most people saw them as the heavy favorite to win the NFC title. But the SF 49ers had other ideas and beat the Purple gang in the playoffs 17–14. Most Vikings fans thought the difference between the 1969 team and the 1970 team was at quarterback. Management failed to resign their fiery quarterback Joe Kapp during the offseason.

Kicker Fred Cox, running back Dave Osborn, receiver Gene Washington, defensive end Carl Eller, strong safety Karl Kussulke, and defensive tackles Alan Page and Gary Larsen made the Pro Bowl. Page and Eller also made All-Pro.

Jim Marshall (Defensive End) and Dave Osborn (Running Back) of the Minnesota Vikings football cards
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Jim Marshall (Defensive End) and Dave Osborn (Running Back) of the Minnesota Vikings football cards

1971 - 1975 Minnesota Vikings

The 1971 Vikings finished the season 11–3. While their offense was not overpowering, scoring over 20 points in only five games, their defense was, pitching three shutouts and allowing more than ten points in only five games. The Vikings faced the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs and lost 20–12.

It was clear that they needed a top-notch quarterback if they were going to get back to the Superbowl. Receiver Bob Grim, offensive tackle Ron Yary, Eller, Page, and free safety Paul Krause made the Pro Bowl. Page, Yary, and Eller made All-Pro. Page also won the NFL MVP award.

One month after losing to Dallas in the playoffs, the Vikings worked out a trade with the NY Giants for quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who had played for Minnesota from 1961–1966. But the trade didn’t pay off, or at least it didn’t seem it did, as the Vikings finished the season an extremely disappointing 7–7.

Tarkenton didn’t play poorly, but the team seemed to be lacking the same fire they had when Joe Kapp was there. Four players made it to the Pro Bowl. Ron Yary, Paul Krause, Alan Page, and receiver John Gilliam. Yary also made All-Pro.

Alan Page (Defensive Tackle) and Carl Eller (Defensive End) of the Minnesota Vikings football cards
The 1970s had some outstanding defenses, such as the Vikings “Purple People Eaters”. These football cards are from Mark’s private collection.

The team got some bad news right before training camp started. Defensive back Karl Kassulke had a motorcycle accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. Whatever was lacking on the 1972 team was not lacking on the 1973 team.

After a week nine win over the Lions, the Vikings were the only undefeated team in the NFL. They finished the regular season at 12–2 and then beat the defending NFC Champion Washington Redskins in the playoffs. They traveled to Dallas for the NFC Championship and beat the Cowboys 27–10. Next, it was on to the Superbowl to face the defending NFL Champion Miami Dolphins. It was no contest as the Dolphins ran all over the ‘Purple People Eaters Defense” for a 24–7 victory.

John Gilliam, Paul Krause, middle linebacker Jeff Siemon, Ron Yary, running back Chuck Foreman, Alan Page, and Carl Eller made the Pro Bowl. Yary, Page, and Eller also made All-Pro, and Chuck Foreman won Rookie of the Year.

Chuck Foreman (running back) Minnesota Vikings
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Chuck Foreman (Minnesota Vikings running back) football card
Karl Kassulke (Safety) Minnesota Vikings
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Karl Kassulke (Safety) for the Minnesota Vikings football card

The 1974 Vikings got off to a fast start winning their first five games, then lost four of their next nine to finish at 10–4. They had no trouble with the Cardinals in the playoffs, winning easily 30–14. Next up were the Rams, whom they had lost to in a week eleven matchup. Minnesota won this time, 14–10, and were on their way to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. But the Vince Lombardi trophy slipped through their grasp for the third time in six years, losing to the Steelers 16-6.

Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, John Gilliam, Ron Yary, Paul Krause, Carl Eller, and Alan Page made the Pro Bowl. Yary and Page made All-Pro again.

After ten weeks, the 1975 Vikings were undefeated. Many were predicting this would finally be their year. But their 10–0 record was somewhat misleading, as not one of those ten opponents ended the season with a winning record. The Vikings lost three of their next five games, including a playoff loss to Dallas. There would be no trip to the Super Bowl this year.

Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, John Gilliam, cornerback Bobby Bryant, Paul Krause, Ron Yary, Guard Ed White, Jeff Siemon, and Alan Page made the Pro Bowl. Page, Krause, Foreman, Yary, and Tarkenton also made All-Pro, and Tarkenton won the NFL MVP award.

2nd Half of the Decade

The Vikings were an aging team, and if they were ever going to win a Superbowl, 1976 might be their last chance. At the midway point of the season, they had yet to lose a game, and they finished the regular season with an 11–2–1 record.

They easily defeated the Redskins 35–20 in the playoff game and then beat up on the Rams 24–13. Vikings fans had high hopes that this would finally be the year they would win the Superbowl. But their fourth trip to the big game was no different than the other three. Minnesota was never in the game and suffered a humiliating 32–14 beating to the Raiders.

Tarkenton and Foreman made the Pro Bowl again, along with receiver Sammy White, Bobby Bryant, Jeff Siemon, Alan Page, Ed White, and Ron Yary, who also made All-Pro. Sammy White won Rookie of the Year.

Ron Yary Pro Fooball Hall of Fame
Photo Courtesy Mark Morthier of his son with Pro Football Hall of Famer Ron Yary (2003)

A 42–10 win over the Bengals in week nine of the 1977 season gave Minnesota a 6–3 record, but Tarkenton went down with an injury and was lost for the rest of the season. Backup Bob Lee took over, and the Vikings’ 9–5 record was good enough for another division title and a trip to L.A. for the playoffs.

The Rams beat the Vikings 35–3 in a week six matchup, but the Purple Gang got their revenge on a rain-soaked field, winning 14–7. Now it was on to Dallas to face the Cowboys. It would be their fourth trip to the NFC Championship in the last five years. But the eventual Superbowl Champion Cowboys were too strong for the Vikings, winning 23–6. Chuck Foreman, Sammy White, Jeff Siemon, Ed White, Ron Yary, and linebacker Matt Blair made the Pro Bowl.

The 1978 Vikings struggled all season long, but thanks to playing in an extremely weak division, their 8–7–1 record was good enough for first place and a trip to the playoffs. But the Rams defeated them easily 34–10, and it was obvious that the Vikings were no longer among the NFL’s elite teams. Receiver Ahmad Rashad and linebacker Matt Blair were the only players selected for the Pro Bowl.

Age finally caught up with Minnesota as many of their star players had either retired or been traded, including Tarkenton, Page, and Eller. The 1979 Vikings suffered their first losing season since 1967, finishing the season at 7–9. Rashad and Blair made the Pro Bowl again.

The bottom line. Regular season record — 99–43–2. Post-season record — 7–8 or 8–9 (if you include the two post-season games from January 1970). Division titles — eight. NFC titles — three. Superbowl titles — zero.

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Books By Author - Mark Morthier

Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network

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