Randall McDaniel said the 1998 Minnesota Vikings always knew they were going to win. They turned out to be one of the greatest teams in NFL history but still fell one step short of reaching the Super Bowl.
They looked more like champions every week. Ultimately, they will be remembered as one of the greatest teams never to play in a Super Bowl.
The 1998 season was truly bittersweet for Randall McDaniel and the Minnesota Vikings.
Minnesota’s explosive offense scored a league-record 556 points, a mark that stood until New England’s bid for a perfect season in 2007. The defense held four opponents to a touchdown or less.
The day after Christmas, the Vikings became only the third NFL team to finish a regular season 15-1. Twelve wins came by at least 10 points.
“It was like we could do no wrong,” McDaniel said. “We always knew we were going to win the game. For some reason, we knew we could pull it out.”
The offense was loaded with stars.
Randall Cunningham replaced injured quarterback Brad Johnson and threw for a career-best 3,704 yards and 34 touchdowns. Randy Moss caught a rookie record 17 touchdowns as part of a formidable receiver trio with Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Robert Smith rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the second straight year.
McDaniel, the starting left guard, allowed only 1 1/2 sacks all season and was named to the Pro Bowl for the 10th straight time. Minnesota running backs averaged 5.4 yards a carry on his side of the line.
“We were having fun. We were enjoying it,” McDaniel said. “If we got down, there was never any panic. It was always, ‘Run the next play. We’re going to make something happen.’ ”
A 41-21 win over Arizona in the divisional playoffs set up an NFC championship game matchup with Atlanta at the Metrodome.
The Vikings converted three third downs on an 82-yard scoring drive and took a 27-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Falcons cut it to 27-20 but saw their hopes slipping away with just more than two minutes left when Minnesota’s Gary Anderson attempted a 38-yard field goal.
Anderson’s kick was wide left — his first miss all season.
It was the opening Atlanta needed. The Falcons tied the game on Cris Chandler’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Terance Mathis and won it in overtime when Morten Andersen made his 38-yard field goal attempt.
The loss stung McDaniel longer than most defeats. Today, he tries to put the 1998 season in perspective.
“Even with the loss, that was a fun team to be on,” McDaniel said. “We had just a great year.”