Source: NFL Films: 1987 Minnesota Vikings- Making a Move
1987 was a big season for the Minnesota Vikings for several reasons. Their first playoff appearance since 1982 and they were stuck in mediocrity from 1983-86 with 7-9 and 8-8 records. Actually their 1987 8-7 record wasn’t much better, but they did finally get back to the NFC Playoffs. 1987 was also the Vikings first trip back to the NFC Championship since their last Super Bowl team which was 1976. The Vikings became winners again in 1987 and won a couple playoff games and one play away from getting back to the Super Bowl. The 87 Vikings, were good, but certainly not great. Perhaps could’ve won a few more games. But this is a team that got hot in the playoffs after struggling just to get there and came together at the right time.
If you look at the good Vikings teams from the 1970s on offense, they were very similar to the Vikings of the 1980s. A finesse possession passing pass first team that ran the ball off of their passing game and ran the ball by committee. But also threw the ball to several different receivers. Instead of having one or two great receivers they had several good receivers that they could throw the ball to. Anthony Carter, was a great big play receiver and you team him a Chris Carter, Jerry Rice, Art Monk, or another great possession go to receiver on the other side and he would’ve had a great career, because he never would have been double teamed. But he never had that great receiver on the other side that the quarterback could always go to. So the 87 Vikings instead spread the ball around to several different people. Like TE Steve Jordan and halfback Darin Nelson.
The 87 Vikings defense, again very similar to the Purple People Eaters of the 1970s. Not a big blitz team, because they didn’t have to. They could attack the quarterback with just their front four. With defensive end Chris Dolman, who should be in the Hall of Fame, defensive tackle Keith Millard, who was a Pro Bowler for them, defensive tackle Henry Thomas, who perhaps should be in the Hall of Fame as well. Defensive end Doug Martin, was a solid pass rusher for them. And when you can get to the quarterback with your defensive line, it allows for you to drop your linebackers and defensive backs back into coverage and knock passes down, break up big plays, attack receivers with big hits and pick off passes. Which the Vikings were good at with their coverage.
When you have an 8-7 team that barely makes the playoffs and you upset two teams on the road just to get to the conference championship, you by definition are not a great team. But a team that struggled through the season and then got hot in the playoffs. Which is what the 87 Minnesota Vikings were, but they had very good talent on both sides of the ball. That came together at the time and almost beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship. And then you look at where the Vikings were the previous four seasons before the 87 season where they would just miss the playoffs and finish 8-8, or 7-9, the Vikings did have a great year in 87, became winners again and very close to even getting back to the Super Bowl.