The history of the Minnesota Vikings is littered with journeymen quarterbacks. While some lists of the greatest quarterbacks in their respective franchise’s history stops at two or three (San Francisco and Green Bay can attest to this), the Vikings have seen some great quarterbacks put on the purple and gold while also wanting to rip their eyes out watching Spergon Wynn.
While it would be nice to have a list of Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre‘s individual seasons to lean on, Vikings fans have seen a variety of quarterbacks pop out of nowhere and lead the team on the verge of glory. Because of this, we took a look at some of the best seasons from a quarterback in team history and tried to decide which one earns the title of the greatest individual season in Minnesota.
6. 1994 Warren Moon
Following in the tradition of being a retirement home for aging quarterbacks, the Vikings took a flier on Moon prior to the 1993 season. While his initial season with the Vikings was less than ideal (4,264 yards, 18 TD, 19 INT), the veteran went full Moon in 1994 by finding the form he showed with the Houston Oilers.
Moon put up monster stats that year, throwing for 4,228 yards, 33 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, but it was what his presence did for others on the team. Cris Carter had the best season of his career with 1,371 yards and 17 touchdowns, and Jake Reed burst onto the scene as a secondary option with 1,167 yards and nine touchdowns. With Robert Smith in the backfield, the Vikings offense ranked fourth in the league in total offense but limped to an 8-8 finish.
The future Hall of Famer would return for one more season with the Vikings in 1995, but would suffer an injury midway and pave the way for Brad Johnson to take over.
5. 1975 Fran Tarkenton
I was initially going to go with five seasons on this list, but I figured I would get killed if I didn’t mention one of Tarkenton’s years with the Purple People Eaters. Out of the 13 seasons he spent with the team, the 1975 campaign was his best that also took home an MVP award and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award.
A glimpse at Tarkenton’s numbers isn’t impressive by today’s standards as he threw for 2,994 yards with 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but the game was dominated by teams that ruled the ground-and-pound strategy and dealt with a 14-game schedule. A lot of Tarkenton’s production came on the back of Chuck Foreman, who ran for 1,070 yards and 13 touchdowns but also was a major contributor in the passing game with 73 receptions, 691 yards and nine receiving touchdowns.
There are some Vikings fans who believe this was the best season for the Purple People Eaters, but Tarkenton’s career year ran into some bad luck as Drew Pearson pushed off on Ahmad Rashad in the Dallas Cowboys’ Hail Mary play that ended their season.
4. 2017 Case Keenum
Vikings franchise history is littered with backups that came out of nowhere, and Keenum is the latest example in that lineage. Signed as an afterthought prior to the 2017 season, Keenum was slated to back up Sam Bradford before he went down with a knee injury in Week 1. Keenum took the ball and ran with it even as Teddy Bridgewater returned to health, leading the Vikings to an 11-3 record as a starter to go with 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
There are many things that are miraculous about Keenum’s year in Minnesota, but perhaps the biggest was his ability to make the offensive line look good. Keenum had the seventh-most dropbacks under pressure in the NFL during the 2017 season but still managed to rank seventh in passer rating under pressure (78.5). In addition, his mobility was key, helping the line rank ninth in the NFL with 2.63 seconds to attempt a pass, according to Pro Football Focus.
Keenum’s stint as the Vikings’ QB was certainly magical and although it ended roughly with a 38-7 drubbing in Philadelphia, he stands as one of the authors of the greatest play in franchise history, the Minneapolis Miracle.
3. 2004 Daunte Culpepper
Built like a create-a-player from Madden, the 6’4″, 260-pound Culpepper was a breakout star for the Vikings in 2000, but had his ups and downs as the last remnants of the late-90s offense went elsewhere. Despite being benched for Todd Bouman at times, Culpepper signed a 10-year, $102 million contract with the Vikings, and during the 2004 season it looked like it was about to pay off.
Culpepper put up video game numbers that year, throwing for 4,717 yards, 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and running for 406 yards and a pair of touchdowns. More impressive was this was done for a long period without the help of Randy Moss, who played in 13 games but was limited to decoy duty in several thanks to a hamstring injury.
While carrying the likes of Nate Burleson, Jermaine Wiggins, Michael Bennett and Kelly Campbell, Culpepper could have won an MVP award if it weren’t for a 49-touchdown season from Peyton Manning and willed the Vikings to an 8-8 record. To cap everything off, Culpepper authored a great play of his own, rolling out for a “cold blooded connection” to Moss that helped lead the Vikings’ upset victory over the Packers on Wild Card Weekend.
2. 2009 Brett Favre
For years, Vikings fans wanted to see Favre get flattened, but when he arrived in Minnesota those same fans believed he was the missing piece for a Super Bowl run. Of course, that didn’t come without concern as Favre spent the final weeks of the 2008 season nursing a torn bicep with the Jets, but that changed with one 32-yard laser to Greg Lewis.
That throw seemed to wake up the version of Favre that tormented the Vikings over the course of two decades as he put together one of the best seasons of his career. Favre threw for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions and coaxed a career season out of Sidney Rice, introduced the NFL world to Percy Harvin and took defenders out of the box for Adrian Peterson to run wild.
Although it ended with an interception to Tracy Porter in the NFC Championship Game, Favre’s presence on the Vikings created one of the most fun seasons in team history. (That is if you skip the ending…).
1. 1998 Randall Cunningham
I went back and forth between Favre and Cunningham, but the latter’s story is too good to pass up. Cunningham was installing marble countertops and floors during the back half of the 1997 season but came off the street to lead a comeback playoff victory over the New York Giants. Even though he began the following season behind Brad Johnson, a neck injury would thrust Cunningham into the starting job.
With Cunningham at the helm, the Vikings transformed into the top offense in the NFL. His arm was a perfect match for Moss, who took the league by storm with 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. As Moss took the top off the defense, Cunningham enjoyed a bevy of weapons that included Carter, Reed and Smith and claimed the title of the highest-scoring offense in NFL history (a feat that would later be eclipsed by the 2007 New England Patriots).
We’re not going to talk about the ending, but Cunningham’s story is one that has been replicated throughout history. Although he wound up losing his job to Jeff George the following year, Cunningham’s sudden rise to stardom tops the list of the franchise’s best quarterback performances.