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Looking Back at the Vikings Game That Changed Football in New England Forever

It’s not often that I’ll post something about a regular season game from almost a quarter of a century ago. But today I’m making an exception. First, because it’s a slow news day in the NFL. Second, because the Patriots are playing the Vikings this weekend for only the 12th time in the history of the franchises, which makes Sunday’s kind special. Third, and most of all, because there have been very few games like the one played on November 13, 1994.

It was nothing short of historic. And remains so to this day. It was like a vision of the future. A precursor to 2018 football like there was a tear in the space-time continuum.

By way of background, this was the second season in New England for both Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe. And the first for Mr. Kraft, who had bought the team back in the spring for $172 million, to that point the most money ever paid for a football team. One that just happened to be the worst franchise in the sport. Prior to that, they were always threatening to move. As a matter of fact, Will McDonough – the Bronze Age Adam Schefter – went on Don Imus’ radio show and said a move had been finalized. That Pats owner James Busch Orthwein was taking the teamto St.  Louis. Later that very day, the Krafts bought the team from Orthwein. They then immediately sold out their old, concrete toilet seat of a stadium for the entire 1994 season and haven’t had an unsold seat since.

It was with that as a backdrop that the 7-2 Vikings came to Foxboro, and they were a goddamned wagon. Warren Moon. Cris Carter finished the year with 1,200 yards. Jake Reed with 1,175. Qadry Ismail was a 3rd option. Terry Allen as their 1,000 yard rusher. Jack Del Rio at middle linebacker. John Randle off the edge with 13.5 sacks. Stacked on both sides of the ball.

Parcells came to New England expecting to build the Patriots in the same mold as his Giants championship teams. And he was pretty much the man who invented the term Smashmouth Football. So he signed Marion Butts, a pure between-the-tackles inside power runner from San Diego. Before the season I remember saying that if nothing else happened, I could guarantee you Butts would rush for 1,000 yards. And to justify my faith, he produced the single worst season for a running back I’ve ever seen, before or since. I remember they were running an anti-smoking PSA where they had him run over a lit cigarette sticking out of the turf (A  butt! Get it?!) I decided it was the phoniest ad on TV because any cigarette would’ve stopped him in his tracks.

So the Pats came into the game struggling at 3-6, making them 6-17 in the Parcells Era. Things looked even grimmer when the Vikings jumped out to a 20-0 lead before Matt Bahr put the Patriots on the scoreboard at the end of the half. And at some point in the middle of that 1st half, Parcells completely threw out his game plan. He went against everything he’d ever believed in as a coach, abandoned the run altogether, put the game in his second year quarterback’s hands and let him go try to win it through the air.

In all, Bledsoe had 70 pass attempts, which is still a record. He completed 45, also still a record. (Note: The second most completions ever is 43, by Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI. But I digress.) The Patriots N0-Huddled Minnesota’s defense to the moon. Check out that video above, which I’m pretty sure is Kevin Harland and Jerry Glanville. Skip to the 4:30 mark and listen to Glanville giggle with delight, “Whoo-hoo! Let’s go a whole half without a huddle!”

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In a low def, 4:3 aspect ratio world of Seinfeld, Boyz II Men and Starter jackets, the Patriots ran a 1080p offense and used it to come roaring back. That second Tweet got me right in the feels because that is linebacker Vincent “The Undertaker” Brown doing the “Gotta have it, Drew!” as Bledsoe marched them down for the tying field goal at the end of regulation. I had his #59 jersey then and one of my few regrets in life is that at some point it went to the Salvation Army.

Even the overtime coin flip was memorable, as you see in that video when Cris Carter froze in the moment and didn’t call it and Brown flips out.. Just a weird, wild, unforgettable day. It ended with a touchdown pass to Kevin Turner, a fullback who nevertheless put up 470 receiving yards. He ended up with the Eagles where he had two more seasons of 400+ yards, which has to be an all time record for white guys with neckrolls. Anyway, the final was 26-20, New England.

From there, the Patriots went on a roll, won their last 7 in a row and went to the Wild Card, at Cleveland. Where they lost to one of Parcells old assistants, but that’s a story for another time. After having the worst record in football two years earlier, they’d finished 10-6. And that game against Minnesota was a turning point in franchise history. Where they transformed from a team that had won a total of 19 games over the previous five seasons to making the playoffs four times over the next five, with one Super Bowl appearance.

OK, that’s enough of grandpa’s stories about the old days. But I regret nothing. Life is so much better now you can’t even compare the eras. But that was still pretty fricking special.