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On This Date in Sports January 9, 1988: AC Freezes Niners

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The Minnesota Vikings shock the San Francisco 49ers 36-24 in the Divisional Playoffs at Candlestick Park. It is the only home playoff loss suffered by the Niners during the 1980s. Anthony Carter sets an NFL Playoff record by gaining 227 yards on ten receptions for Minnesota. Meanwhile, a quarterback controversy in stocked in San Francisco when Joe Montana was benched in favor of Steve Young in the second half.

The 1987 season was best remembered for a player’s strike that led to replacement players being used for three weeks in the regular season. Before the strike, the Niners got a dramatic last-second win in Cincinnati. This seemed to propel San Francisco on to a magical season, as they posted a 13-2 record for Bill Walsh as Jerry Rice set a record with 22 receiving touchdowns, despite playing in just 12 games due to the strike.

While the strike did not affect the 49ers, the Minnesota Vikings, coached by Jerry Burns, nearly saw their season derailed, as their replacement team went winless in the three scab games. Despite the struggles of their replacement players and a December slump, the Vikings squeezed into the postseason with an 8-7, ending a four-year playoff drought. In the NFC Wild Card Game, the Vikings marched through the New Orleans Saints 44-10 in the Superdome, spoiling the Saints’ first trip to the playoffs.

The San Francisco 49ers were an overwhelming 11-point favorite hosting the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings showed early that the game would not be as easy as the experts thought, as the teams traded field goals in the first quarter. The second quarter belonged to Minnesota, as the Vikings scored 17 unanswered points, much of it coming on the play of Antony Carter, whose highlights, included a 63-yard catch and run from Wade Wilson. Carter would not get in the end zone, but his play set up a seven-yard touchdown catch for Carl Hilton and a 23-yard field goal by Chuck Nelson. The Vikings rounded out the half with a 45-yard interception return by Najee Mustafaa. The Niners had a shot to stop the bleeding, but Ray Wersching missed a 26-yard field goal at the end of the half.

Down 20-3 at the half, San Francisco got the crowd back in the game with a 48-yard pick-six by Jeff Fuller. The Vikings quickly responded as Anthony Carter continued to slice up the 49ers' secondary, setting a five-yard pass from Wilson to Hassan Jones. Looking to change momentum, Bill Walsh did the unthinkable and benched Joe Montana in favor of Steve Young. Young provided a little spark as he led a drive down the field and had a five-yard run for a touchdown. Still, it was not enough as Antony Carter continued accumulating the yards, setting a playoff record for 227 receiving yards to set up a pair of Nelson field goals. Young would lead a second scoring drive, connecting with John Frank on a 16-yard touchdown pass. Chuck Nelson meanwhile hit his fifth field goal to close out the scoring as the Vikings advanced to the NFC Championship with a stunning 36-24 win in San Francisco.

The Vikings would see their playoff run ended a week later, as they were beaten by the Washington Redskins 17-10 in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers meanwhile saw the seeds of a quarterback controversy planted between Steve Young and Joe Montana. The Niners acquired Young from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 1987 season as an insurance policy for Montana, who missed half of the 1986 season after back surgery. Resentment would hover over both quarterbacks through 1988, as the relationship with Montana and coach Bill Walsh became strained. Despite the turmoil, the 49ers recovered to win Super Bowl XXIII, beating the Vikings along the way. Following the Super Bowl, due in part to the tension, Walsh announced his resignation.

The Niners would again beat the Vikings in the Divisional Round in 1989 and won a second straight Super Bowl under coach George Seifert. Steve Young, meanwhile, waited patiently and became widely viewed as the best backup in the league. In 1991, with Joe Montana sidelined, he finally got his chance and embarked on his own Hall of Fame career. However, his feud with Montana seemed to cloud Young’s career until he led the Niners to victory in Super Bowl XXIX.