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On This Date in Sports January 9, 1977: Battle of the Bridesmaids

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Led by John Madden, the Oakland Raiders claim their first Lombardi Trophy, beating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The Raiders and Vikings had been contenders for nearly a decade, with the Raiders losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion six times in the AFL or AFC Championship Game, while the Vikings lost the Super Bowl three times. Fred Biletnikoff is named Super Bowl MVP, with 79 yards on four receptions. It is the earliest date that a Super Bowl was played. 

The Oakland Raiders reached Super Bowl II but lost to the Green Bay Packers 33-14. They would not return to the big game for nine years. However, they were often one tantalizing step away. They lost in the AFL Championship Game in 1968 and 1969. They lost in the AFC Championship Game in 1970. All three teams that beat the Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl. After missing the playoffs in 1971, the Raiders lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Immaculate Reception Game in 1972. The next three years, they lost the AFC Championship, including twice to Pittsburgh. In 1976, the Raiders had their finest season to date, going 13-1. They avenged their only loss by rallying to beat the New England Patriots in the Divisional Playoffs and finally knocked off the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game to reach Super Bowl XI. 

The Minnesota Vikings, coached by Bud Grant, made their first Super Bowl in 1969, losing to the Chiefs in the final Super Bowl before the merger. Four years later, they were knocked off by the Miami Dolphins. A year later, it was the Steelers that bested the Vikings in Super Bowl IX. The Vikings had a Super Bowl caliber team in 1975 but lost in the Divisional Round to the Dallas Cowboys on the first Hail Mary. The Vikings posted a record of 11-2-1 in 1976. In the Divisional Playoffs, the Vikings upended the Washington Redskins while beating the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship. 

The Vikings had a chance to take control as Ray Guy had a punt blocked and recovered at the Oakland three-yard line. It was the only punt that Guy had that was blocked in his Hall of Fame career. Two plays later, the Vikings gave the ball back as Brett McLanahan fumbled at the three. Oakland would drive the ball deep into Vikings' territory, with Errol Mann hitting a 24-yard field goal early in the second quarter. After a three and out, the Raiders got the ball and went down the field again, scoring a touchdown as Dave Casper caught a one-yard pass from Ken Stabler. A holding penalty on Ron Yary stalled the next Minnesota drive as the Raiders began to pull away on a one-yard score by Pete Banaszak.

Down 16-0 at the half, the Vikings still could not get anything going in the third quarter, as the Raiders were dominating on both sides of the ball. Errol Mann atoned for a missed PAT in the second quarter by nailing a 40-yard field goal to add three more points to the Raiders' cushion. Later in the third quarter, the Vikings finally got their offense on track as Sammy White caught an eight-yard touchdown pass from Fran Tarkenton. 

The Vikings had some momentum as the Raiders were forced to punt as the fourth quarter began. They drove the ball into Oakland territory before Willie Hall picked off Tarkenton, squelching the last chance for the Vikings to win the game. Ken Stabler hit Fred Biletnikoff on a 48-yard pass to set up a second touchdown run by Pete Banaszek. Down 26-7, the Vikings tried to get back in the game as Ahmad Rashad caught a 25-yard pass into Raiders territory. However, Willie Brown sealed the game with a 75-yard pick-six, the longest return in Super Bowl history. In the game's final minute, the Vikings got a late score in garbage time as Bob Lee connected with Stu Voight on a 13-yard touchdown pass. The Raiders had the win as John Madden was lifted by his players for a victory ride off the field.