The Mount Rushmore of Vikings Villains

Photo Credit: John David Mercer (USA TODAY Sports)

You thought the tired Mount Rushmore construct was all played out, didn’t you?

Admittedly, we all kind of did. I would submit “The Mount Rushmore of (insert your favorite topic here)” hit its stride way back in the early days of social media when arguing online about lists of all-time great things was a relatively novel concept. In fact, I’ve done one or two “Minnesota Vikings Mount Rushmore” articles over the years for other outlets. For the record, if memory serves correctly, I believe I most recently settled on Bud Grant, Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, and Randy Moss as my Vikings Mount Rushmore. That’s the thing about the Mount Rushmore theme, though – four spots is so limiting. The Vikings (like most teams) could use a small mountain range to properly recognize their all-time greats, as anyone campaigning for the inclusion of Cris Carter, John Randle, Jim Marshall, Randall McDaniel, Adrian Peterson, Carl Eller, et al. might argue.

It’s easier to do a Mount Rushmore, for instance, of Vikings running backs. That position is simple: Peterson, Dalvin Cook, Chuck Foreman, Robert Smith. Done. But again, I’ve moved on from this approach of concocting an article from a list of four great players/coaches. That is until I heard a broadcaster during one of the NBA playoff games over the weekend refer to a certain player as belonging on “the Mount Rushmore of young NBA players that have a complete understanding of the game of basketball.” What?!

Nobody told me the Mount Rushmore rules had changed so much. I mean, that’s a very specific (albeit ridiculous) Mount Rushmore. By the way, while perhaps not 100% verbatim, an announcer in one of the games actually did utter that Mount Rushmore-ism. While I didn’t catch the player or the announcer in question, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one struck by the randomness. Somebody back me up on this.

Anyway, hearing this uber precise Mount Rushmore opened up a whole new world of possibilities. The statistical sports analyst region of my brain began to race at the various splits and filters I could apply to the Mount Rushmore approach. Totally level-headed Vikings fans could really have a field day. Think about it: the Mount Rushmore of times the refs screwed the Vikings, the Mount Rushmore of announcers who clearly hate the Vikings and obviously pull for the other team when working their games, the Mount Rushmore of draft mistakes, the Mount Rushmore of times they choked, laid an egg, underachieved, etc.

The Mount Rushmore of Vikings Super Bowl Losses is an easy one.

Huh? Too soon?

We could devote an entire website to such lists and articles… or we could at least endeavor to write a few more articles on it from time to time. Hence, this particular topic was born — the Mount Rushmore of Vikings Villains. Because, as every objective Vikings fan knows, their favorite team is always the victim of some fiend or hoodlum doing them wrong.

So, after a great deal of research, two whiteboard sessions, and a few focus groups, here’s my Mount Rushmore of Vikings Villains:

Les Steckel

First up is coach Steckel, who took over for the legendary Harold Peter Grant Jr. in 1984 and promptly led his troops to a 3-13 record. It wasn’t just the awful record; it was how his team was so completely and thoroughly embarrassed. Steckel’s team was outscored by 208 points – still the Vikings’ record for all-time worst point differential in a single season. For perspective, the next closest unit was the 1962 Vikings at minus-156. The former Marine deserves respect for his service to our country, but his militaristic approach to training camp drills didn’t work at all. His head coaching career didn’t work out either. Steckel was done after one season and holds a special place of disdain among Vikings fans of a certain generation.

Herschel Walker

The only Vikings player on our Mount Rushmore of Vikings Villains, Walker not only symbolizes the worst trade in franchise history but arguably the worst trade in the history of all things played with a ball. On Oct. 13, 1989, the Dallas Cowboys swindled the Vikings by sending them Walker along with three draft choices (a third-rounder and 10th-round pick in 1990 and another third-rounder in 1991) in return for the moon. Specifically, the Cowboys received the Vikings’ first, second, and sixth-round picks in 1990, first and second-round picks in 1991, and first, second, and third-round picks in 1992. Oh, and Darrin Nelson was sent to Dallas in the deal, but they flipped him to the San Diego Chargers for a 1990 fifth-rounder, which was sent to the Vikings. Got all that? Those Cowboys draft picks were turned into, among others, Russell Maryland, Kevin Smith, Darren Woodson as well as NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith.

Drew Pearson

Speaking of the Cowboys, Pearson is the original villain in Vikings lore. In an unscientific poll that was never actually conducted but rather dreamed up by yours truly, 99% of Vikings fans swear that Pearson pushed off on Vikings’ cornerback Nate Wright before reeling in the Hail Mary pass from Roger Staubach to win their NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Met Stadium on Dec. 28, 1975. The other 1% are contrarians who simply refuse to look at the play through the prescribed purple-tinted glasses they should have received upon birth within the Minnesota state borders. Those who know, know: Pearson pushed off. No penalty was called. Dallas went on to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X. The larger tragedy is that the 1975 Vikings squad was possibly their best team ever. It should have been them in their third-straight Super Bowl that winter. Would they have defeated the mighty Steel Curtain? Maybe not, but they deserved the opportunity. Alas, said the opportunity was swindled from them on the most controversial play in Vikings history.

Sean Payton

The Saints head coach rounds out our Mount Rushmore as a unanimous pick by the selection committee. Speaking of stealing a trip to the Super Bowl, Payton and his evil co-conspirators cheated their way past the Vikings in the 2009 NFC Championship Game by deliberately attempting to injure Vikings players. Their primary targets were stars like Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre. We know all of this because the allegations put forth by the Vikings and many other teams the Saints had faced over the years were found to have merit in an investigation by the NFL. The disgrace was dubbed “Bountygate” because players were offered monetary incentives for injuring players on the other team. It resulted in the suspension of several players and coaches; however, Payton was the head coach and, as such, bears the brunt of the blame. He returned after his one-year suspension, of course, but Vikings fans will never forget. A small measure of retribution was exacted in the 2017 NFC Divisional Game – the so-called “Minneapolis Miracle” took place mere moments after Payton, thinking the game was over, mocked the Vikings fans’ Skol Chant on the sideline. The vanquishing of the villain only added to the Hollywood ending.

So, there you have it. It should be noted that many other villains were considered for faces on our mountain, including Fred Smoot for his role as something of a ringleader in possibly the biggest scandal in the Vikings’ history, the infamous “Love Boat” incident. I won’t go into any more specifics on this. You’ve heard the stories.

Blair Walsh was a strong contender for missing the chip-shot field goal in the Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks following the 2015 season and subsequently turning heel when he later kicked for Seattle in 2017.

The entire Philadelphia Eagles fan base was given lengthy, serious consideration for their bullying and over-the-top stupidity when interacting with other fanbases (including Vikings fans) who dare to visit Philly to watch their team play. However, giving them such attention might embolden them to turn the violence and lawlessness up a notch. Besides, how were we going to pick just one Eagles fan’s face to put on our Mount Rushmore?

So, who did I miss?

Is there a great Vikings Villain I overlooked who should have made this particular Mount Rushmore?

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