The 1998 Minnesota Vikings season was the 38th for the Minnesota Vikings and the 79th regular season of the National Football League.
The Vikings became only the third team in NFL history to win 15 games during the regular season. That year, the Vikings, known for a high-powered offense, scored a then-NFL record 556 points, the most points scored by any team in the 1990s.
The team cruised to the NFC Central title and held home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. They defeated the Arizona Cardinals in the Divisional round, but were defeated in overtime by the 14–2 Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game in one of the most disappointing losses in franchise history. The Vikings thus became the first team to win at least 15 games in the regular season and not win the Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers became the second in 2004, the New England Patriots became the 3rd in 2007 (they were a perfect 16–0 in the regular season but lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants), the Green Bay Packers became the 4th in 2011, and the Carolina Panthers became the 5th in 2015.
The 2006 edition of Pro Football Prospectus, listed the Vikings' 1998 season as one of their "Heartbreak Seasons", in which teams "dominated the entire regular season only to falter in the playoffs, unable to close the deal", as well as miss their window of opportunity. Said Pro Football Prospectus, [t]he pairing of the strong armed [quarterback] Randall Cunningham and [rookie wide receiver] Randy Moss was perfect—they connected 69 times for 1,313 yards and an amazing 17 touchdowns. The defense held its own, ranking sixth in points allowed.
"All that stood between the Vikings and a Super Bowl appearance", Pro Football Prospectus continued, were the upstart Atlanta Falcons, an 11-point underdog. The Falcons stayed close while the Vikings offense sputtered. With two minutes left, Gary Anderson, who had missed no kicks all season, missed a 38-yarder that would have given the Vikings an insurmountable 10-point lead. The Falcons scored a game-tying touchdown and won in overtime. The next season, though they would return to the playoffs, the magic was gone as constant double teams of Moss left Cunningham ineffective and eventually benched.
The 1998 Vikings team was chosen to be one of five teams profiled in the second series of NFL Network's America's Game, focusing on teams that failed to live up to their Super Bowl promise and titled America's Game: The Missing Rings. The Vikings joined the Buffalo Bills' first Super Bowl team, one of Don Coryell's San Diego Chargers teams, the Cincinnati Bengals' second Super Bowl team, and the Vikings' first Super Bowl team.
The NFL Network named the 1998 Minnesota Vikings as the 4th greatest team in NFL history to not win the Super Bowl.
Prior to the start of the 1998 season, the Vikings were sold to Red McCombs. The NFL had not been happy with the Vikings' ownership arrangement of ten owners with none owning 30%. The ownership decided to sell the club. At first it appeared that Tom Clancy would become the new owner. However, his attempt to buy the team fell through. So in July 1998, the team was sold to McCombs who was from San Antonio, Texas.
1998 was a year to remember for the Minnesota Vikings. With a spectacular offense led by quarterback Randall Cunningham, who had the best year of his NFL career, running back Robert Smith, veteran wide receiver Cris Carter, and explosive rookie Randy Moss, the Vikings set a then-NFL record by scoring a total of 556 points, never scoring fewer than 24 in a game. The Vikings finished the season 15–1, their only loss by three points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week nine. 12 of their 15 wins came by a margin of at least 10 points.
According to Football Outsiders, "The Vikings led the league with 52 plays of 25+ yards. They had 22 offensive plays of 40+ yards; no other team had more than 16 plays of that length."
In the playoffs, the Vikings rolled past the Arizona Cardinals 41–21, and came into the Metrodome heavily favored for their NFC title showdown with the Atlanta Falcons, who had finished 14–2. Leading 20–7 just before halftime, some would argue that the Vikings got greedy with their playcalling, as they called a deep pass play on 3rd down, which led to a Cunningham fumble deep in Minnesota territory. Shortly thereafter, the Falcons scored to cut the lead to 20–14. The Vikings were again leading 27–20 with two minutes left in the 4th quarter and had a chance to potentially put the game out of reach with a field goal. However, kicker Gary Anderson, who had gone 35 for 35 in the regular season, missed a 38-yard attempt. With multiple defensive injuries for the Vikings the Falcons subsequently marched downfield and scored the game-tying touchdown several plays later.
A controversial decision in the game is that Viking Head Coach Dennis Green opted to take a knee on a third-down deep in Viking territory with about 30 seconds remaining rather than risk having to punt back to Atlanta following their game-tying touchdown. Minnesota won the coin-toss in overtime but failed to score in two overtime possessions. Atlanta eventually won 30–27 in overtime on Morten Andersen's field goal, which was, coincidentally, also a 38-yarder on the same uprights.September 6 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cris Carter and rookie Randy Moss caught two touchdowns apiece as the Vikings routed the Bucs 31–7 despite being outgained in yards 319 to 298.September 13 @ St. Louis Rams
Brad Johnson was intercepted twice and eventually knocked out of the game; his replacement Randall Cunningham threw a late touchdown to Cris Carter. Robert Smith rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns as the Rams stayed within a touchdown despite four Tony Banks interceptions. A last-minute goalline stand by the Vikings sealed a 38–31 win.September 20 vs. Detroit Lions
Cunningham made his first start of the season and threw for 220 yards and a five-yard score to Randy Moss. The game was mostly a Gary Anderson field goal exhibition as he booted five field goals plus two PATs, the second on Leroy Hoard's 11-yard rushing touchdown in the Vikes' 29–6 win.September 27 @ Chicago Bears
Cunningham and Erik Kramer of the Bears squared off in a spirited duel. Cunningham's four touchdowns (to Smith, Andrew Glover, Carter, and Moss) were answered by Kramer's four scores (to Bobby Engram, Chris Penn, and Ryan Wetnight). The Vikings got the better of the duel as they intercepted Kramer once and won 31–28.Monday Night Football October 5 @ Green Bay Packers
Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss unleashed a passing clinic on Monday Night at Lambeau Field as Cunningham tossed for 422 yards and Moss caught five passes for 190 yards and two scores. Cris Carter added eight for 119 yards as the Vikings also intercepted Brett Favre three times; backup Doug Pederson took over and threw two scores in the fourth quarter; they did nothing to assauge a 37–24 Vikings win.November 1 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Vikings quest for perfection ended as Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott erupted to 243 rushing yards and two scores. Two Cunningham touchdown throws put the Vikings up 24–17 until Alstott's score in the fourth proved the key to Tampa's 27–24 upset of the Vikings.November 8 vs. New Orleans Saints
Cunningham threw only two passes against New Orleans and Brad Johnson came off the bench to throw for 316 yards and a touchdown despite two picks; Sammy Knight ran back one pick for a 91-yard touchdown in the fourth. Robert Smith surged to 137 rushing yards; he and Leroy Hoard accounted for three touchdowns in Minnesota's 31–24 win.Thanksgiving November 26 @ Dallas Cowboys
Cunningham and Moss led a wild 46–36 win at Dallas as Moss caught just three passes – for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Cris Carter snagged seven passes for 135 yards and a score and Leroy Hoard ran in two more touchdowns. Troy Aikman threw for a career-high 455 yards and a score to Patrick Jeffers while Emmitt Smith ran in three scores; despite 513 total yards the Cowboys could not keep pace with the Vikings. The game was also a penalty-laden affair with a combined 23 fouls eating 230 yards.December 6 vs. Chicago Bears
Four years after Warren Moon's overtime win over the Bears on Sunday Night Football, the Vikings clinched the NFC Central title by once again hosting the Bears on Sunday Night Football. Randall Cunningham unleashed four more touchdowns, three of them to Randy Moss. Leroy Hoard added a rushing score while the Bears fumbled at the Vikings six-yard line and Dwayne Rudd scored with the turnover. The Vikings won 48–14.December 13 @ Baltimore Ravens
Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick faced his employer for the following season as the two teams combined for just 143 rushing yards. This unusual game featured three kick-off returns for TDs and four fumbles (all in their own half by the Ravens) in just the first 21 minutes of play. Overall, the Ravens coughed up five fumbles but the Vikings offense was largely held in check, with Gary Anderson booting six field goals and Randall Cunningham held to two touchdowns, one to Randy Moss. Future 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh threw a 42-yard touchdown to his former Colts teammate Floyd Turner while Corey Haris, David Palmer on kick returns and Priest Holmes on a two-yard run gave the Ravens the rest of their points scored in a 38–28 Vikings win.December 20 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Despite 108 penalty yards the Vikings reached 50 points in a 50–10 slaughter of the AFC Central champion Jaguars. Randall Cunningham threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns, then gave way to Brad Johnson who added a touchdown of his own. Cunningham was one of three Vikings players who rushed for 161 yards and a Chuck Evans touchdown while Jimmy Hitchcock intercepted Jonathan Quinn and scored from 30 yards out.December 27 @ Tennessee Oilers
The Vikings became the final club to play against Tennessee before they officially became the Titans. The Oilers clawed to a 13–8 halftime lead despite an intentional grounding penalty against Steve McNair that led to a safety. Two Randall Cunningham touchdowns in the third quarter put the game away to a 26–16 Vikings win, the 15th of the season.
The Vikings improve their record to 16-1 with a one-sided win over the Arizona Cardinals 41-21 and move on to the NFC Championship Game.
The 16–1 Vikings, boasting the league's first post-merger 500-point offense since the 1983 Washington Redskins, were heavy favorites at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and raced to a 20–7 lead in the second quarter off two Randall Cunningham touchdowns (one rushing and a throw to Randy Moss), but at the end of the first half Chris Chandler found Terance Mathis for a 14-yard score. After a Morten Andersen field goal made it 20–17 in the third, the Vikings surged to a 27–17 lead on another Cunningham TD throw (this one to Matthew Hatchette). In the frantic final ten minutes of regulation the Falcons were forced to turn the ball over on downs, but the Vikings fumbled it right back and Andersen kicked another field goal for a 27–20 score. In the final four minutes Gary Anderson, who hadn't missed a field goal all season, shanked a 38-yarder, and suddenly the surging Falcons had a chance, and nailed it when Chandler led the Falcons downfield and connected with Mathis in the end zone with 49 seconds remaining. The Vikings got the ball in overtime but Eugene Robinson stopped a deep pass to Moss and the Falcons got it back on a punt. Chandler led the Falcons downfield again and Andersen nailed a 38-yard field goal at 11:52 of the extra quarter; the 30–27 final sent the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII.Vikings single season record.
Randall Cunningham, 442 passing yards vs. Green Bay (October 5)
Randy Moss, 3 receptions, 163 yards, 3 TD at Dallas (November 26)
Randall Cunningham, Bert Bell Award
Randy Moss, led rookies in receiving yards, (1,313 yards) Moss also set the record for most receiving touchdowns for a rookie, 17, a record that still stands today.
The Vikings became just the third team to post a 15–1 win-loss record since the implementation of the 16-game schedule in 1978. They joined the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the 1985 Chicago Bears, but became the first of those teams to fail to win the Super Bowl.
Currently, the only teams to complete a 15–1 season (or better) are the 1984 San Francisco 49ers, the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2007 New England Patriots, the 2011 Green Bay Packers, and the 2015 Carolina Panthers. Both the 49ers and Bears completed their seasons with a Super Bowl Victory as the Vikings, Packers, Steelers, Patriots, and Panthers failed to do so. The Packers being the only team of the group to not win a playoff game.
The Vikings' high-powered offense set a record, which stood until the 2007 season, for most points scored in a season with 556. They eclipsed the 1983 Washington Redskins, who scored 541. The 2007 New England Patriots beat the record by scoring 589 points. The 1998 Vikings now rank fifth all time, behind the 606 points scored by the 2013 Denver Broncos. It's worth noting that the 1998 Vikings followed in the footsteps of the 1983 Redskins and set a mark the 2007 Patriots and 2013 Broncos matched: none of these teams won the Super Bowl.