Vikings

Minnesota's Kicker Curse Isn't Real

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It was a moment synonymous with the Minnesota Vikings’ draft history. Vikings fans were glued to their TVs, desperate to know what would happen next. There was a lot of excitement early, a lull in the middle, and a flurry at the end. Nobody knew who the Vikings would take in the sixth round of the NFL Draft.

Then, the name flashed on the screen: Will Reichard, Kicker, Alabama.

It was a bold selection for a position that is one of the most mundane in the NFL. Still, it caused many to lose their minds.

A kicker? With this team? Have they not heard of Gary Anderson? Blair Walsh? Dan Bailey?

Not even Reichard’s status as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer and – in the words of his college teammate Dallas Turner – “a cold-blooded sniper” could assuage fans’ concerns. But as Reichard prepares for his first training camp, we should ask ourselves: Are the Vikings really cursed at kicker? Or is it just tremendous bad luck for a position that seemingly has one of the highest turnover rates in sports?

The truth is that the Vikings weren’t always cursed at kicker. When Minnesota was making its run to four Super Bowls with the Purple People Eaters in the 1970s, they did so with the same kicker, Fred Cox.

Any Vikings fan will immediately mention that they didn’t win any of those Super Bowls. However, Cox was a mainstay as one of 11 players to play in all four games. He spent 15 seasons in Minnesota and is still the franchise’s all-time leader in scoring, with 1,365 points and 282 field goals.

Of course, being a kicker was different than it was today. Cox only knocked down 62% of his field goals during his career, although he nailed 96.3% of his extra points. There was no social media to post GIFs with every miss; the stoic Bud Grant wasn’t throwing out veiled shots to the media when Cox had a bad game.

Cox was one of the best kickers in the NFL for his time, leading the league in field goals three times (1965, 1969, 1970) and field goal percentage (70.3%) in 1969. When Cox retired in 1977, the Vikings remained steady at kicker with Rick Danmeier, Benny Ricardo, Jan Stenerud, Chuck Nelson, Rich Karlis, and Fuad Reveiz.

None of these guys put up eye-popping numbers. However, Stenerud was a future Hall of Famer, leading the league by converting 87% (20 of 23) of his field goals in 1984. While he dropped off the following year, he was 43 years old playing in his final season before retirement.

Reveiz was also notable during his five-year stretch with the Vikings. He made 77.8% of his field goals and went to the Pro Bowl after making 34 of 39 field goals (87.2%) and all 30 PATs in 1994.

However, things began to change after Reveiz’s departure after the 1995 season. Scott Sisson, Greg Davis, and Eddie Murray made cameos in 1996 and 1997, and they signed Anderson for the 1998 season.

At first glance, Anderson’s inaugural year in Minnesota couldn’t have gone better. He became the first kicker in NFL history not to miss a field goal during the regular season, making all 35 of his attempts and all 59 extra points. He was the first kicker in Vikings history to make the All-Pro team. It would go down as the best year ever by a Minnesota kicker — if the Vikings had gone on to win the Super Bowl.

But Vikings fans know how this ended. Anderson missed a field goal that would have put the Vikings up by 10 in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game. The Atlanta Falcons tied the game on the following drive and won in overtime to deliver the most devastating loss in franchise history.

When Vikings fans think of kickers, they think of Anderson missing that kick. While it’s mind-boggling that he missed, it’s also not surprising. No kicker had ever made all their kicks at that point of the season. Even the good ones miss.

Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens has missed 11 field goals over the past two years and is still considered one of the best kickers in league history. Even in his four All-Pro seasons (2013, 2016, 2019, 2021), Tucker missed a combined total of seven field goal attempts. It happens. But for the Vikings, it happened in the NFC Championship game for the greatest squad the franchise has fielded in 63 years.

It led to the next traumatic event in the 2015 NFC Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings and Seahawks battled on the frozen turf of what is now Huntington Bank Stadium. Walsh lined up for a 27-yard field goal that would have put the Vikings ahead late in the fourth quarter. The kick sailed so far right that it had a chance to land in the Mississippi River. Richard Sherman was caught on camera thanking the football gods for this gift from the heavens.

Once again, Vikings fans were devastated. The stadium went silent. All you could hear was the ruffling of snow pants and the occasional F-bomb during the grim walk to the bars on the University of Minnesota campus. Walsh was four years removed from making the All-Pro team in his rookie season and led the NFL with 34 field goal attempts that year. However, he was never the same kicker after that game.

Walsh’s downfall could be attributed to several factors. One is a case of the yips that happen in sports. Minnesota Twins fans remember All-Star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch forgetting how to throw to first base after the Twins traded him to the New York Yankees, and Hayden Hurst dealt with the yips as a pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

The traumatic event may have affected Walsh’s confidence. But so did Mike Zimmer, the one constant in Minnesota’s most recent kicking failures.

Molded in the Bill Parcells coaching tree, Zimmer’s lack of patience with kickers was well documented. When Walsh missed the kick against the Seahawks, Zimmer was willing to have open competitions any time he missed during the regular season.

A few years later, Zimmer went for two points after rookie Daniel Carlson missed a PAT during a preseason game and ripped him in the media in his postgame press conference. Carlson missed three kicks against the Green Bay Packers a month later, and the Vikings released him.

Dan Bailey came to Minnesota as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. However, he melted in Zimmer’s crucible, missing four kicks in a 2020 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Greg Joseph was next in line and knocked down several field goals to save Zimmer’s job in the 2021 season. Still, even he felt like he was on a tightrope with each missed kick.

Some of this was the pressure on Zimmer to capture the magic of the 2017 season. However, his style left a trail of kickers in his wake. That history has Vikings fans skittish about kickers but also ignores some of the good they’ve encountered along the way.

They signed Ryan Longwell as a free agent in 2006, and he became one of the best kickers in franchise history, making 86% of his field goals and 97.9% of his extra points in six seasons. His story could have been different if he had the opportunity for a game-winning field goal in the 2009 NFC Championship game. Still, many believe he could have sent them to the Super Bowl if Brett Favre hadn’t thrown across his body.

Kai Forbath was far from perfect in Minnesota. Still, he had his moments, including a 53-yard field goal with 1:29 left in the 2017 NFC Divisional game against the New Orleans Saints. If it weren’t for Zimmer’s defense allowing a 43-yard field goal to Wil Lutz with 25 seconds left, perhaps Forbath is the hero instead of Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs.

And even a little patience could go a long way. Carlson has become one of the best kickers in the league with the Las Vegas Raiders.

It brings us back to Reichard, who is walking into an unenviable position. Some traumatized Vikings fans believe his resumé will only leave them sardonically laughing over his inevitably broken psyche. However, it’s not like he can’t succeed once he puts on a purple jersey.

Kevin O’Connell has a kinder approach toward kickers, and Minnesota is building more than contending. Therefore, Reichard could have the time to settle in and become the franchise kicker Vikings fans wish they had.

It may not help him avoid the moment that has bitten former Vikings, but it could go a long way in defeating what many believe is a curse.

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Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

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