The rivalry between the New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings stems from a horrible trade in the 1960s, a trade to make everyone forget that trade, to a number of classic regular-season matchups and, most of all, three impactful playoff games over the past 30 years.
Before those playoff games, the relationship between the Giants and the Vikings mostly focused on the back-and-forth trades of Hall-of-Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton.
Between the 1966 and 1967 seasons, the Giants, desperate to stay relevant under Allie Sherman, traded their next two first-round picks, their next two second-round picks and a player to Minnesota for Tarkenton. Tarkenton miraculously led Big Blue to 7-7 records over the next two years, but the team crumbled after that, prompting the Giants to trade Tarkenton back to Minnesota in 1972. The scrambling passer led the Vikings to three Super Bowl losses while the Giants wallowed in obscurity in the 1970s.
Two decades late, the two franchises would square off in memorable NFC playoff battles.
Jan. 9, 1994
GIANTS 17, VIKINGS 10
The season: Coming off the disastrous Ray Handley era, the Giants were looking to get the most out of an aging roster led by legendary players Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms.
New coach Dan Reeves, after a successful run with the Broncos, accomplished just that, leading Big Blue to an 11-5 regular season that nearly resulted in an NFC East title, only to miss that title in a classic season finale against the Cowboys, a game remembered for Emmitt Smith gutting it out through a separated shoulder.
Simms had a solid season, throwing for 3,038 yards and 15 touchdowns. Rodney Hampton ran for 1,077 yards. Taylor finished with six sacks.Led by Jim McMahon, the Vikings won their last three games to finish 9-7 and just slip into the playoffs. Minnesota was coached by Dennis Green with Brian Billick as the offensive coordinator and Tony Dungy running the defense.
The game: On a blustery day at Giants Stadium where passing was difficult at best, the Giants took better advantage of the wind to take this first ever playoff meeting between the franchises. Reeves deemed the wind so important that he elected to kickoff to start the game, so that the Giants would have the wind at their back for the first and third quarters.
After taking a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, that almost came back to bite Big Blue as the Vikings used the wind and a Cris Carter touchdown to end the first half with a 10-3 lead.
It took the wind and two third-quarter touchdown runs by Hampton to regain the lead and the Giants never turned back.
The aftermath: The win earned the Giants a trip to San Francisco in the divisional round, a forgettable game the Giants lost, 44-3.
Taylor announced his retirement during the post-game press conference.
Simms underwent offseason shoulder surgery and was released before training camp, never to suit up again.
Dec. 27, 1997
VIKINGS 23, GIANTS 22
The season: Jim Fassel succeeded Reeves after the 1996 season following two straight losing campaigns.
Fassel inherited Simms’ successor Dave Brown. With the Giants sitting at 2-3, Brown injured his chest against the Cowboys. Danny Kanell replaced him and wouldn’t relinquish the job, leading Big Blue to a 10-5-1 record and an NFC East title. The running game was a mish-mash between Tyrone Wheatley, Charles Way and Tiki Barber. Fassel earned NFL Coach of the Year for the team’s drastic turnaround.
Michael Strahan spearheaded the defense with 14.5 sacks.
Green’s Vikings got off to a roaring start at 8-2 with Brad Johnson leading the charge. Johnson would eventually get hurt during the Vikings’ tailspin, but Minnesota fortunately had Randall Cunningham to fill in and help them avoid a total collapse and make the playoffs at 9-7.
The game: On a chilly and wet day at Giants Stadium, Big Blue jumped out to a solid lead and looked to be comfortable at 19-3 heading into halftime.
The Vikings began to chip away and pulled within 19-13 early in the fourth quarter. Cracks were beginning to show in the Giants as defensive backs Phillippi Sparks and Conrad Hamilton appeared to get into a near-fight on the field.
The Giants, however, looked to ice the game on Brad Daluiso’s playoff-record fifth field goal to make it 22-13 with 7:03 to play.
After the Giants stopped the Vikings with four minutes to play, Green inexplicably chose to punt down by two scores.
Yet after the Giants went three-and-out, a 25-yard punt into the wind by Brad Maynard gave the ball to Minnesota at midfield with 2:06 remaining.
Cunningham wasted little time hitting Jake Reed on a long touchdown with 1:30 left to make it 22-20. Minnesota kicked the extra point and then proceeded to recover an onside kick. Aided by a Sparks pass interference penalty, the Vikings marched into easy field-goal range for Eddie Murray as Minnesota stole a 23-22 result and Fassel’s amazing season fizzled in two minutes.
The aftermath: The Vikings lost to the 49ers in the next round. The Giants middled at 8-8 and 7-9 over the next two seasons, and Fassel’s seat began to heat up entering the 2000 season.
The Vikings used the momentum of that playoff success to have a monster 1998 season with Cunningham, Carter and newcomer Randy Moss to come within a missed field goal of going to the Super Bowl.
Jan. 14, 2001
GIANTS 41, VIKINGS 0
The season: Fassel’s seat was warm after going 15-17 over the previous two seasons, but the outlook for 2000 was promising.
The Giants had found their quarterback in Kerry Collins and they had established a Thunder – rookie Ron Dayne – and Lightning – Tiki Barber – rushing attack. Strahan, Hamilton, Jessie Armstead and Jason Sehorn led a strong defense.
The Giants opened the season with a 7-2 record, but consecutive home losses to the Rams and Lions made Giants fans – and pundits – get a little restless.
That’s when Fassel famously said, “We are going to the playoffs.” The Giants didn’t lose again until the Super Bowl, winning the final five regular-season games to win the division and earn the all-important No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
After a 20-10 win over the Eagles in the divisional round, they were set to play an offensive power in the Vikings with a young Daunte Culpepper slinging the ball to Carter and Moss while Robert Smith was busy rushing for 1,521 yards.
Luckily for the Giants, the Minnesota juggernaut hit a snag at the end of the regular season, losing three straight to allow the NFC Championship to be played at a raucous Giants Stadium.
The game: The Giants took the opening kickoff and began marching down the field. On the fourth play, Collins hit Ike Hilliard in stride for a 46-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, the Vikings fumbled and Lyle West recovered at the Minnesota 18. On the next play, Collins connected with fullback Greg Comella for a touchdown. Just 2:13 seconds into the game, the Giants led, 14-0, and the rout was on.
For the next three hours, Giants Stadium felt more like a rock concert than a football game, as Collins shredded the Vikings for 381 yards and five touchdowns on 28-of-39 passing.
The defense suffocated Culpepper, Carter, Moss and Smith. The game got so out of hand that when the Giants got the ball with 13:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Jason Garrett engineered a drive that ended the game without Minnesota receiving the ball again.
The aftermath: Two weeks later, the Giants put forth one of the more dismal Super Bowl performances in memory, getting shellacked, 34-7, by the Baltimore Ravens and one of the greatest defenses in the Super Bowl era. The only Giants touchdown came on Ron Dixon’s kickoff return to begin the second half.
After the Giants’ epic playoff collapse against the 49ers two years later, the shine on the Fassel era began to fade, leading to his departure after the 2003 season and the beginning of the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning era. We all know how that played out.
The Dennis Green Vikings’ brilliance also faded to some degree after the 2000 season, having never reached the Super Bowl. Moss would go on to historic feats with the New England Patriots and he and Carter eventually ended up in Canton.