The Vikings, Lamar Hunt and the AFL Curse

Post date: Dec 20, 2020 6:25:41 PM

The curse of the Bambino. The Billy Goat curse. The S.I. cover jinx. The Madden cover curse. All of these superstitious beliefs are famous for potentially bringing misery to sports fans around the country.

I would argue that Minnesota sports fans have suffered more than any other fan base (Cleveland is a close second). The greatest source of our sports heartbreak? The Minnesota Vikings. With all the bad things that have happened in the past, and continue to happen, it begs the question, “Are the Vikings cursed?”

I get asked that question a lot. As a matter of fact, I was asked that question again in an interview this week. My usual answer is about the Vikings original owners passing over Bud Grant.

In January 1961, the Vikings were looking for their first coach. The decision came down to 2 candidates: Harry Peter Bud Grant Jr, a former Minnesota Gopher- 3 sport athlete, and current coach of the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Blue Bombers had won the Grey Cup (CFL Championship) twice under Grant’s leadership. Grant even played professional basketball with the Minneapolis Lakers (#OneOfUs)

The other candidate was Norm Van Brocklin. Van Brocklin was a former quarterback who had led the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFL championship the previous season. After the season, he retired and wanted to get into coaching.

News reports state that 3 of the 5 Vikings owners wanted Van Brocklin, and 2 wanted Grant. Grant apparently didn’t feel like playing second fiddle, and withdrew his name from consideration. Later that same day, the Vikings hired Norm Van Brocklin as their first coach. [1] [2] [3]

In November 1965, a frustrated Van Brocklin tried to resign saying he had taken the team as far as he could. But he would be talked into returning the next day. [4] [5]

Van Brocklin had a stormy relationship with quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Sir Francis was a scrambling quarterback and Van Brocklin (who was a pocket passer when he played) was very much against “scrambling”. A scrambling quarterback had never won a championship at that point. [6]

Van Brocklin went so far as to bench Tarkenton twice at the end of the 1966 season. The first time he started Ron Vander Kelen against the Rams. The second time he started Bob Berry against the Falcons in Atlanta, claiming he owed it to the backups to give them a chance. Tarkenton was originally from Georgia and had family and friends coming to the game. This didn’t sit well with Tarkenton. [7] [8] [9]

In the offseason rumors began to swirl that Tarkenton would be traded. He asked to have a meeting with Van Brocklin in January 1967. By all accounts the meeting went well and the two had mended the fences. [10][11]

A week and half after that meeting, on February 10, 1967, the Vikings received a letter from Tarkenton saying he would never play for them again and asked to be traded. The very next day, Van Brocklin resigned. This time nobody talked him into returning and the Vikings accepted his resignation. [12] [13]

Even though Van Brocklin was gone, Tarkenton never rescinded his trade demand and was traded to the Giants on March 7, 1967. [14]

If you’re looking for the origins of a “curse”, passing over one of the greatest coaches in NFL history is a decent candidate. The fact that decision ended up causing the Vikings to trade away one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, makes it even worse. But, the Vikings ownership would eventually “right the ship” so to speak.

3 days after trading Tarkenton, Bud Grant was hired as the 2nd coach in franchise history. And In 1972, the Vikings traded to get Tarkenton back. [15] [16]

From a superstitious perspective, the Vikings made amends for passing over Grant, and trading away their franchise quarterback. They recognized the mistake and fixed it. Therefore, the more I think about it, this cant be the source of all our pain.

I know you’ll find this hard to believe (sarcasm) but that wasn’t the only time in those early years the Vikings ownership made a decision that may have angered the football Gods. Let’s rewind to 1959.

The Lamar Hunt "AFL" Curse

On August 14, 1959, a group of Twin Cities businessmen, namely Max Winter and Bill Boyer, received a bid from the newly formed American Football league (AFL) as one of the league’s 6 charter franchises. The AFL was conceived as a competitor league to the NFL by Lamar Hunt and some other businessmen who were denied ownership of an NFL franchise as the NFL was opposed to expansion. [17]

This new league held its first draft on November 22, 1959, in Minneapolis at the Park Nicollet hotel. The Minnesota contingent drafted Wisconsin quarterback Dale Hackbart as their #1 overall choice. They also drafted future hall of fame center Jim Otto from the University of Miami with their 2nd pick. [18] [19]

Photo of owners at first AFL draft [19]

Even during that draft there were rumors the Minneapolis group might leave the AFL and join the NFL. The NFL wasn’t very happy about having to compete with another league. In response, they decided to reverse their decision on expansion and promised franchises to some of the AFL teams if they would leave the new league. Bears owner George Halas even wired Max Winter the morning of the AFL draft trying to lure Minnesota away. Lamar Hunt denied the rumors of Minnesota leaving saying they were “unfounded”. [20]

The NFL was the big dog at that time so the thought of bringing Major League football to Minnesota was very enticing. Especially with the uncertainty that the AFL league would even happen. Of all the AFL teams, only one group took the NFL up on their offer. Guess which one? In the first week of January, 1960 the Minnesota group withdrew their AFL bid. That bid, and all the draft picks would eventually be awarded to Oakland and that franchise would eventually become known as the Raiders. [21] [22]

On January 28, 1960 the Minnesota group was awarded an NFL franchise that would begin play in the 1961 season. [23]

As the AFL grew and began to compete with the NFL for players, it became more apparent that the two leagues would eventually merge. In June of 1966 they agreed on a plan. The merger would take place before the 1970 season. Until then, the two leagues stayed separate but agreed to play a game after the season ended. That game was called the AFL-NFL Championship game, and played by the winner of each league.[24]

The last AFL-NFL championship was played on January 11, 1970. By this time, the game had become known as the Super Bowl. Super Bowl IV featured the heavily favored NFL champion Minnesota Vikings facing off against the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs were owned by none other than Lamar Hunt. You know… the guy that started the AFL, the fledgling league that the Vikings had left behind.

As a glimpse of what was to come, a Vikings hot air balloon crashed in the bleachers and started on fire in the pregame ceremony. Talk about a bad omen.

The Chiefs won that game 23-7. It’s considered one of the greatest upsets in NFL/AFL history. Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp said after the game that the Chiefs defenders looked like a redwood forest. To add insult to injury, that “redwood forest” boasted some former Minnesota Gophers as members, most notably Bobby Bell. Interestingly, the Vikings drafted Bobby Bell in 1963, but he chose Kansas City instead.

Remember, the Super Bowl is played between the conference champions of the NFC and the AFC. The AFC is named for the AFL, and all the original AFL teams are members of the AFC. If the Vikings “curse” originated by turning their backs on the AFL and joining the NFL, it would explain a lot. It explains every Super Bowl loss because they were lost to AFL or AFC teams. As a matter of fact, the last Super Bowl the Vikings played in, Super Bowl XI, was played against…..the Oakland Raiders. And they didn’t just lose. They got destroyed. The 32-14 score is a bit deceiving. Oakland set 21 different records in that game including most yards gained on offense (429). Fran Tarkenton got benched near the end of the game. You heard that right - the greatest quarterback in Minnesota Vikings history was benched, in a Super Bowl.

This curse also explains all the NFC championship losses and any other playoff disasters. The only thing more heart breaking than losing a championship is getting your hopes up and tripping up just short of the finish line. And how many of those games are some of our worst memories? Gary Anderson, 41-donut. Blair Walsh, Darrin Nelson. Bounty Gate etc etc etc.

Other Strange Coincidences

Not only does the curse explain every stumble the Vikings have had in trying to win a Super Bowl. There are quite a few other coincidences that might make more sense when viewed through this lens. For the record, I am fully aware I am reaching on some of these, but I still thought it was interesting to see if there were any connections. Have you ever heard of “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon”? If not, Google it, and just go with it.

The Dallas Cowboys joined the NFL the same year the Vikings did. But they were never an AFL franchise. Because they didn’t scorn the AFL like the Vikings did, this could explain any event that Dallas has gotten one over on us - Drew Pearson’s push off, Herschel Walker, maybe even DAN BAILEY for crying out loud! #NormStillSucks [26] In addition, Lamar Hunt's Chiefs were originally in Dallas and named the Texans. When the Cowboys joined the NFL, it forced Hunt to move the team to Kansas City.

Early in the 1977 season Fran Tarkenton broke his leg against…Cincinnati (an AFC team). The Vikings would lose the NFC championship that season to the Dallas Cowboys. [27]

We all remember Darrin Nelson's dropped pass at the goal line at the end of 1987 NFC Championship game. Did you know that Darrin Nelson didn’t even want to play with the Vikings? He wrote the Vikings a letter before the draft, asking them NOT to draft him. Not only did they draft him anyway, they drafted him ahead of….Marcus Allen, the HOF running back for ….the Oakland Raiders. Oh, and Wade Wilson? He was from Dallas and played college football near Dallas in Commerce, TX.

Did you know that Gary Anderson played his first 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers? The Steelers were originally an NFL team, but were somewhat forced to join the AFC in its first season. After 13 season with the Steelers, Anderson wanted more money and asked for $750,000 per year. The Steelers reportedly offered somewhere between $525,000 to 550,000. Anderson turned them down, and signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia (an NFC team) for $700,000. [28] [29]

In the 2000 NFC championship game (AKA, 41-donut) the Giants led 34-0 at half. A nightmare scenario for both the Viking's offense and defense. Both our Offensive Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator started their careers with AFC teams. Our DC, Emmitt Thomas, played for the Kansas City Chiefs. Our OC, Sherm Lewis, played for the New York Jets.

Bounty Gate was masterminded by Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams started his career in Houston with the Oilers (AFC Team, AND Texas Team).

In the 2018 NFC Championship, the tide turned for the Eagles in the 2nd quarter. The Vikings were down 14-7 and were driving. It was 3rd and 5 from the Philadelphia 16-yard line. Rookie Defensive End Derek Barnett strip sacked Vikings quarterback Case Keenum. The Eagles recovered the fumble, took momentum and never looked back.

The Eagles drafted Barnett with Minnesota’s pick. When Teddy Bridgewater suffered a near life threatening leg injury at the beginning of the 2016 season, the Vikings traded for Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford. The Eagles used the first round pick they received from the Vikings on Derek Barnett. Talk about things coming back to haunt you. Who was in charge of that decision for the Vikings? Rick Spielman. Spielman started his NFL career playing for the San Diego Chargers and worked for the Miami Dolphins before coming to Minnesota.

Breaking the curse?

So what now? If the “Lamar Hunt Curse” is legit, what do we do? How do we break it? Lamar Hunt died in 2006. Maybe we need to make some sort of sacrifice? We could sprinkle the ashes of each original Vikings owner on Hunt's grave? Might be a bit extreme, and gross, and illegal. Somehow, we have to find a way to pay penance for our offense to Mr. Hunt and the football Gods. I also think that breaking the curse might have something to do with the Raiders. Maybe we need to sprinkle some of those ashes on the 50 yard line of Kezar stadium too.

Anyway, I'm open to ideas and look forward to your suggestions. Get creative WHENESOTANS! Just like I tell my students, there are no wrong answers when you're brainstorming.

UPDATE: Ive been thinking a lot about what would break the curse. When the Vikings played the Steelers in Super Bowl IX, the Steelers had only made the playoffs 4 times in their 40 year history and that was their first Super Bowl. Winning that game was the beginning of their dynasty. As a matter of fact, that was Terry Bradshaw's 5th season and they weren't all that impressed with him. After that season he went on to become the HOF quarterback we all know. So what broke the Steelers curse? It was playing the Vikings, who had scorned the AFL. Remember, the Steelers were originally an NFL team and when the leagues merged, they agreed to join the AFC.

Therefore, maybe the solution to breaking our curse lies not only with making amends to the AFL/AFC, but somehow playing and beating a team who has scorned the NFL/NFC? Who could that be?

Side Note:

At one time there were reports of a Viking's curse called “The Curse of the Ed Thorpe Trophy”. The Ed Thorpe Trophy was given to the winner of the NFL championship before the NFL/AFL merger. According to legend, the Vikings were the last team to win the trophy in 1969 when they beat the Cleveland Browns and advanced to the AFL/NFL championship game (aka Super Bowl IV). The Vikings then lost the trophy and it has cursed them ever since.

That story has been debunked. Apparently, the league stopped passing the trophy from team to team in the early 60’s. It isn't clear why. Maybe it was by choice. Maybe the teams were forgetful, or maybe they just lost interest sensing the merger was coming. The last team to be presented the trophy was the Green Bay Packers. It currently sits in their trophy case at Lambeau Field where it has stayed since 1962. Meaning, it was never lost, and the Vikings never even received it. Neither did a few other teams (Bears, Browns and Colts) [30] [31]


Thanks to frequent contributor Keith Grinde for assisting on this one.

1. St. Cloud Times 1-18-61

2. Minneapolis Star 1-18-61

3. Minneapolis Star 1-19-61

4. Minneapolis Star 11-15-65

5. Minneapolis Tribune 11-17-65

6. Minneapolis Tribune 5-5-64

7. The Times Recorder 11-21-66

8. Minneapolis Tribune 12-5-66

9. Minneapolis Tribune 12-6-66

10. Minneapolis Tribune 1-29-67

11. Minneapolis Tribune 2-1-67

12. Minneapolis Tribune 2-11-67

13. Minneapolis Tribune 2-12-67

14. Minneapolis Tribune 3-8-67

15. Minneapolis Tribune 3-12-67

16. Minneapolis Tribune 1-28-72

17. Minneapolis Tribune 8-15-59

18. Minneapolis Tribune 11-23-59

19. Minneapolis Tribune 11-24-59

20. Minneapolis Tribune 11-23-59

21. Minneapolis Tribune 1-3-60

22. Minneapolis Tribune 1-31-60

23. Minneapolis Tribune 1-29-60

24. Minneapolis Tribune 6-8-66


26. The Manhattan Mercury 5-23-63

27. Minneapolis Tribune 11-14-77

28. Indiana Gazette 6-8-95

29. Philadelphia Enquirer 7-23-95

30. Green Bay Press-Gazette 9-15-62