The surest way to make fans of the Philadelphia Eagles cringe, to make them look as if they downed a handful of ghost peppers and chased it with hydrochloric acid, is to mention Ronde Barber, Ricky Manning Jr. or a Branch — Cliff or Deion, take your pick.
Go ahead and say Drew Pearson, Gary Anderson and Blair Walsh to hardened Minnesota Vikings supporters — we dare you.
Those names are synonymous with playoff misery for two franchises well acquainted with it.
No team, according to Pro Football Reference, has won more games in the Super Bowl era without capturing a championship than Minnesota (20). Second? The Eagles (16).
The Vikings and Eagles are the winningest playoff teams in the Super Bowl Era who have no won a Super Bowl pic.twitter.com/4VqaouhbIX— ProFootballReference (@pfref) January 15, 2018
The Vikings are 0-4 in Super Bowls, losing all by double-digit margins, an average of 15.3 points. Since appearing in its last Super Bowl, in 1977, Minnesota has lost five N.F.C. championship games, two in overtime, including one when Anderson, who had not missed a field-goal attempt all season, pulled a 38-yarder in the fourth quarter that would have given the Vikings, who were 15-1 in the regular season, a 10-point lead against the Atlanta Falcons with two minutes left and oh the pain.
The Eagles, aside from going 24 years between their only Super Bowl appearances, played in five conference championship games from 2001 to 2007 and won only one. They also lost a game in Chicago played in fog so thick that the teams could hardly see each other, which was fun.
Since postseason games cannot end in ties, either Philadelphia or Minnesota will advance to the Super Bowl with a victory on Sunday — at least we think so. But how will the other team lose?
In a way, perhaps, that rivals some of these excruciating playoff defeats:
■ 1975 season, N.F.C. divisional round vs. Dallas: Until Stefon Diggs’s last-second 61-yard touchdown last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the term “Hail Mary” had a far more sinister connotation to Vikings fans. Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach helped introduce the term into the football vernacular by admitting that he said a Hail Mary, the Catholic prayer, after throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with 24 seconds left at frozen Metropolitan Stadium. Pearson was contested by cornerback Nate Wright near the goal line but caught the ball anyway. To this day, Vikings fans contend that Pearson pushed off, because of course they do.
■ 1987 season, N.F.C. championship at Washington: In a strike-shortened season, the Vikings lost three games with replacement players but rebounded to finish 8-7. They swiped a playoff berth, then upset New Orleans and San Francisco on the road before playing the eventual champion, Washington, tough into the fourth quarter. Two fourth-quarter series inside the Washington 10-yard-line produced only a field goal, though what lingers is Darrin Nelson’s inability to catch what would have been, in all likelihood, a game-tying touchdown pass on fourth down with less than a minute left.
■ 1998 season, N.F.C. championship vs. Atlanta: Imagine having one of the best offenses in N.F.L. history, one that set a record for points scored, and a kicker who had made all 35 of his field-goal attempts in the regular season — and then watching those two advantages slip away. It happened in Minneapolis, in the second half against Atlanta, when the Vikings, on the way to blowing a 13-point lead, scored 7 points after halftime, then watched Gary Anderson shank a 38-yarder. Naturally, the Falcons rallied, scoring a touchdown with 57 seconds left and winning in overtime when their own foreign-born kicker with a similar surname — Morten Andersen — drilled a field goal from, you guessed it, 38 yards.
■ 2009 season, N.F.C. championship at New Orleans: Ah, the game that Brett Favre nearly won but lost but could have won but lost but should have won but lost, with what he thought was a broken ankle. Driving late, with the score tied, 28-28, the Vikings were penalized on third-and-10 at the New Orleans 33 for having too many men on the field, pushing them to the fringe of field-goal range. On the next play, Favre, who had led two second-half comebacks, threw an interception, denying Minnesota a chance to kick the winning field goal. He never touched the ball again. The Saints won the coin toss, then the game, on a 40-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley, and then, two weeks later, the Super Bowl.
■ 2015 season, N.F.C. divisional round vs. Seattle: The temperature was minus-6 at game time, with a wind chill of minus-25, and somehow it felt colder afterward. Trailing, 10-9, late in the fourth quarter, Minnesota drove to the Seattle 9, setting up a 27-yard field-goal attempt with 22 seconds left by Blair Walsh, who had led the N.F.L. with 34 field goals — and had made all three attempts earlier in the game. When the ball was set on the ground by the holder, its lacing faced in — suboptimal for kicking — Walsh missed it left, same as Anderson 17 years earlier.
■ 1988 season, divisional round at Chicago: Just before halftime, a dense fog rolled in off Lake Michigan, rendering conditions somewhere between miserable and unplayable. The game went on, anyway, unfortunately for the Eagles, whose star quarterback, Randall Cunningham, couldn’t throw deep because he couldn’t see the receivers, who couldn’t see him — and the Bears knew it. Of course, they also dropped one sure touchdown and had two others wiped out by penalties by Anthony Toney — and that was before the fog enveloped Soldier Field.
■ 1990 season, wild-card round vs. Washington: The Eagles had beaten Washington two months earlier by two touchdowns and were favored by 4.5 points. But after scoring the first 6 points, they gave up the last 20, their futility compounded by Ben Smith’s 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown, which was nullified by instant replay. This defeat was painful enough, but the accumulation of playoff losses — Philadelphia’s third in three postseasons, wasting an excellent defense under Buddy Ryan, and to hated Washington, no less — felt crippling.
■ 2002 season, N.F.C. championship vs. Tampa Bay: Veterans Stadium, that beloved dump, was hosting its final game, and there was no way the Eagles could lose, not in the cold to the Buccaneers, who were 1-21 in games held in temperatures below 40 degrees, and especially not after Duce Staley scored on a 20-yard run 52 seconds in. Except they did lose, misplaying Joe Jurevicius’s short slant into a 71-yard pass play and watching he who shall not be named (Ronde Barber) return an interception 92 yards for a touchdown, the final points in a 27-10 win. The worst loss in Eagles history, and this is not up for debate.
■ 2003 season, N.F.C. championship vs. Carolina: Lincoln Financial Field, that sparkling new stadium, was hosting its first N.F.C. championship, and there was no way the Eagles could lose, not after dropping the previous two conference title games, and certainly not to the Panthers. Except they did lose, as Donovan McNabb threw three interceptions in four possessions, all to a rookie cornerback named Ricky Manning Jr., and missed the final two drives of a 14-3 loss with a rib injury. Not that it would have mattered.
■ 1980 and 2004 seasons, Super Bowls vs. Oakland and New England: Lumping these defeats into one category isn’t cheating — it’s inventive. The Eagles lost their first Super Bowl, to Oakland, in no small part because of Cliff Branch, who caught two touchdowns. The Eagles lost their next Super Bowl, to New England, in no small part because of Deion Branch (no relation), who was selected as the game’s most valuable player. He caught 11 passes — five on a critical third-quarter touchdown drive — for 133 yards. The Eagles also lost because of horrible fourth-quarter clock management, eschewing a no-huddle offense on a 13-play touchdown drive while trailing by 24-14, and Eagles fans are not bitter about that, no way, not at all.
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