This is the 60th season of Vikings football, a winding historical path of extraordinary highs and unbelievable lows.
But even if this franchise has taught us to expect the unexpected — and despite my skepticism about their prospects for this year before any games had been played — I did not imagine that two games in I would be writing a headline comparing this year to some of the darkest in Vikings history.
But here we are, as discussed in detail on the latest Access Vikings podcast. After losses to the Packers and Colts — neither of them particularly competitive, even if the score against Green Bay (43-34) was more flattering than the on-field product — I was sent scurrying into Pro Football Reference in search of an answer to this question:
Would a lopsided loss Sunday make this the worst three-game start in Vikings history?
The short answer: No.
But let us rephrase the question: Would a lopsided loss Sunday make this the worst Vikings three-game start in at least a half-century?
The short answer: Yes.
*To be eligible for worst start ever, I only considered seasons in which the Vikings were winless after three games. That’s only happened six times in their history — 1962, 1966, 1967, 2002, 2011 and 2013.
Those three seasons in the last two decades might feel worse by comparison to this year — particularly the 2011 Vikings, who finished 3-13 — but one could easily argue that all three of those teams were at least somewhat unlucky to start 0-3.
The 2002 team had an overtime loss to the Bills after Buffalo tied it with a 54-yard FG at end of regulation (and Doug Brien missed 2 extra points). Another loss was 27-23 at Chicago when the Bears scored two late touchdowns.
Similarly, the 2013 team had two losses that came on a touchdown allowed in final minute of game.
And the 2011 Vikings? Sometimes it’s easy to forget how competitive they were early on with Donovan McNabb at quarterback before rookie Christian Ponder took over. In the first three games: They had halftime leads of 17-7, 17-0 and 20-0 … and still managed to lose all three.
This year’s Vikings could only dream of blowing big leads. I think that if they lose a non-competitive game to the Titans on Sunday, this will qualify as their worst three-game start since at least the 1960s.
*Of those three long-ago teams: The 1966 squad at least had a tie, so throw them out.
The 1962 Vikings were truly bad, though. They lost their first three games by a combined margin of 89-21. And the 1967 Vikings started 0-3, losing by a combined score of 83-31. All 31 points came in the 4th quarters of games they were losing big.
It would take a lot for this year’s Vikings to match that. So let’s say they probably ONLY have the potential to have the worst start in 53 years.
*But what about The Les Steckel Year (TM) of 1984?
Yes, that team was truly awful. But they were at least competitive early on. That squad started 1-2, and one of the losses came on a late touchdown by Philadelphia.
*That said, I think by the end of this season we will judge these Vikings less harshly. I don’t *think* they are Steckel-esque. It would be an awfully long way to fall from 10-6 last year and the general stability they have enjoyed under Mike Zimmer to a conversation about the worst teams in franchise history over a full season.
A win over the Titans would go a long way toward getting back on that track. But a loss? At least through three games, it would put the 2020 Vikings in some very unflattering company.