The Biggest One-Hit Wonders in Minnesota Vikings History

Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen

Since 1992, the Green Bay Packers have been led by one current and one future Hall of Fame quarterback. Other than Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley is the only other player to lead the Packers in passing for a season in that time. That came in 2017, as you probably recall when Rodgers missed nine games with a broken collarbone suffered at the hands of Anthony Barr and the Minnesota Vikings.

In that same timeframe (since 1992) the Detroit Lions have had 10 different quarterbacks lead them in passing for at least one season despite the fact that Matthew Stafford has done so in 10 of the past 11. The Chicago Bears, who have a long history of sketchy quarterback play, have had 15 different quarterbacks lead the team in passing since 1992.

So have the Minnesota Vikings.

Yep, I counted and recounted: 15 different players have led the Vikings in passing for at least one season since 1992 – including guys like Jim McMahon (1993), Jeff George (1999), Gus Frerotte (2008) and Matt Cassel (2013).

That puts the current stability of the Kirk Cousins Era in some perspective. Barring injury, Cousins will lead the Vikings in passing again for a third consecutive season. That would situate him in select company. Only six previous Vikings quarterbacks have led the team in passing at least three seasons in a row: Fran Tarkenton, Joe Kapp, Tommy Kramer, Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon and Daunte Culpepper.

Reminiscing about the Vikings’ patchwork approach at quarterback is admittedly a rather long-winded way of introducing the fact that they’ve also been the beneficiaries of some of the best one-hit wonders at quarterback in recent NFL history. We’re talking about quarterbacks who stepped in and did a chart-topping job for one season – specifically not McMahon, George, Frerotte or Cassel.

Case Keenum (2017)

Who could possibly forget Cousins’ predecessor in purple? The Minneapolis Miracle put an exclamation point on what was a terrific one-hit wonder for Keenum. He attained a career-high 98.3 quarterback rating in his 14 regular-season starts, finishing with 3,547 yards and 22 touchdown passes against only seven interceptions. ESPN’s QBR for him was 74.3, good for second in the NFL in 2017, his only season with the Vikings.

Sam Bradford (2016)

Bradford, who immediately preceded Keenum, was obtained in an emergency trade in the wake of the horrific Teddy Bridgewater knee injury. In his one full season with the Vikings, he recorded a one-hit wonder of his own before succumbing to more knee problems that all but ended his career (he went on to limp through three games for the Cardinals in 2018). However, Bradford went out with a bang in 2016, posting career-highs in yards (3,877) and quarterback rating (99.3) while setting a Vikings record with 395 completions. Cousins then shattered Bradford’s team record for completions in 2018 with 425. Bradford’s 71.6% completion percentage in 2016 established a new single-season NFL record – one that stood for one season, much like his tenure as the Vikings’ quarterback. Drew Brees reclaimed his completion percentage record with a 72.0% mark in 2017.

Brett Favre (2009)

Before falling one game short of the Super Bowl in New Orleans (we won’t talk about that), Favre posted a brilliant 107.2 quarterback rating in 2009, the best of his career, to go with 4,202 yards, 33 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. All at the age of 40. It was glorious while it lasted. Yeah, Favre spent two seasons with the Vikings, but that second season in 2010 — that started with a group of the Vikings’ best players hopping on a plane to Hattiesburg and begging him to return and ended with Favre face down on the rock-hard frozen surface of TCF Bank Stadium — failed to recapture the magic of 2009.

Randall Cunningham (1998)

Cunningham spent three seasons in a Vikings uniform, but he only started one of them. And that was because of an ankle injury to Brad Johnson in Week 2 in 1998. Cunningham came on in relief of Johnson and kept the job the rest of the way, leading the Vikings to a 15-1 record as the offense smashed the NFL single-season record for points (556). Cunningham threw for 3,704 yards, 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, earning his only first-team All-Pro honor. It definitely helped to have Cris Carter and some rookie wide receiver named Randy Moss. As with Favre’s 2009 campaign, however, we won’t discuss what transpired in the playoffs.

One-hit wonders have not been limited to the quarterback position in Vikings lore. Since 2000, several non-quarterbacks have also recorded one-hit wonders for the Vikes.

Blair Walsh (2012)

In case you missed it, I opined about Walsh earlier this week. His legacy in Minnesota will as the guy who missed wide left and cost them a playoff game against Seattle. However, he’s also responsible for the best rookie season by a kicker in Vikings history – one of the best in league history, actually. In 2012, he drilled 35 of 38 field-goal attempts, including 10 of 10 from 50-plus yards. He also made all 36 of his extra-point attempts. He made the All-Rookie Team, Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro. He didn’t release any other hits after 2012.

Matt Kalil (2012)
Photo Credit: Bo Mitchell

There’s a dearth of easily digestible stats to talk about when it comes to offensive linemen, and we generally leave all the in-depth breakdowns of the big fellas to John Tuvey. Nevertheless, I would be remiss if I didn’t make note of Kalil’s one-hit wonder status. The fourth overall selection in the 2012 draft, Kalil made the Pro Bowl in his first season and then immediately went downhill… fast. In a weird omen, I believe 2012 was also the year that the obscure band False Start released their one-hit wonder, “Holding You.”

Sidney Rice (2009)

Rice was Favre’s go-to receiver for their one-hit wonder seasons in 2009. He finished with 83 receptions for 1,312 yards – both of which are more than any two of his other NFL seasons combined. He suffered a hip injury in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints that he didn’t get repaired surgically until the third week of training camp. That led to him only appearing in six games in 2010, his last with the Vikings. It was a short run atop the charts.

Nate Burleson (2004)

Some of you youngsters only know Burleson as the affable commentator for Good Morning Football on the NFL Network. What you may not remember is that he played some good football for the Vikings, with whom he started his 11-year career in 2003. Of his 127 receptions, 1,789 yards and 12 touchdowns as a Viking, 68 of the receptions, 1,006 of the yards and nine of the touchdowns all came in his one-hit wonder season of 2004. It was his best season as a pro and by far the best of his three with the Vikings.

Brian Russell (2003)

Remember this guy? Russell was a safety who signed with the Vikings in 2001 as an undrafted free agent. Two years later, all he did was tie for the NFL lead with nine interceptions including one in each of the first six games. And that was about it in terms of his NFL impact. Over parts of seven other NFL seasons – with five total teams — he recorded seven picks.

Michael Bennett (2002)

In his second season, Bennett rushed for 1,296 yards and made the Pro Bowl. His NFL career spanned 10 seasons, but that remained his only campaign with north of 700 yards, the only one in which he played 16 games, and the only one in which he went to the Pro Bowl without a ticket. For his efforts, Bennett gets the Dexys Midnight Runners award for best one-hit wonder by a runner in Vikings history. See what I did there? Don’t know who Dexys Midnight Runners are? Ok, Generation Z.

Once we go back in the record books much further than the turn of the century, it gets harder to uncover many one-hit wonders for the Vikings. But the one-hit wonders of the music world were much more memorable. Those Vikings players that did have big seasons, seemed to always have more than one – disqualifying them from one-hit wonder status. In addition, we just didn’t have the stats to measure defensive performance as we do now. We could count interceptions, but tackle statistics – which are still unreliable – didn’t start getting widely tracked until the mid-1990s. Sacks weren’t tracked until 1982.

That didn’t stop me from dusting off a few one-hit wonders among defensive players from the 1990s: one defensive back, one lineman and one linebacker:

Jimmy Hitchcock (1998)

More people recall Chumbawamba’s 1998 one-hit wonder “Tub-Thumping” than remember Hitchcock’s NFL career. One thing about Jimmy, though: you could knock him down, but he’d get back up again. And in 1998, when the Vikings’ offense was piling up points at a record clip, Hitchcock returned three of his seven interceptions for touchdowns of his own.

Fernando Smith (1996)

Man, 1996 had a bunch of one-hit wonders, perhaps none more simultaneously memorable and irritating than “Macarena” by Los Del Mar. In honor of 1996, we’ll honor two Vikings one-hit wonders from that year. First off is Smith, who had 9.5 of his career 20 sacks that year.

Jeff Brady (1996)

Our other 1996 honoree is Brady, who led the Vikings in tackles while also recording three interceptions and three fumble recoveries in what was easily his best season. Not to be outdone, Joan Osborne released her megahit, “One of Us” in 1996, so they have that in common, which is pretty neat.

Searching for one-hit wonders any further back than the 1990s gets dicey, but just for fun, I found one from each of the other three decades of Vikings history.

Al Noga (1989)

Representing the 1980s, back when MTV still played videos, our one-hit wonder is Noga, who recorded a career-best 11.5 sacks in 1989. As you undoubtedly know, that was the same year The Belle Stars released “Iko Iko” and Was (Not Was) released “Walk the Dinosaur.”

Charlie West (1971)

Back in 1971, the Five Man Electrical Band took their turn as a one-hit wonder with their release of “Signs.” That same year, West, who played 12 NFL seasons as a kick returner and defensive back, recorded seven of his 15 career interceptions.

Jerry Reichow (1961)

Hardly a one-hit wonder when you consider his long career as a Vikings executive, Reichow’s playing career was highlighted by one big year – the first in franchise history. He starred as Tarkenton’s top receiver in 1961, catching 50 passes for 859 yards and 11 touchdowns (all easily career highs) and earning his only Pro Bowl honor. That was the same year, of course, that Bobby Lewis released his one hit, “Tossin’ and Turnin’” to the music world.

Did I miss any Vikings one-hit wonders? Be sure to comment via Twitter with your submissions.

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