(Morten Andersen celebrates his game-winner. Photo by Andy Lyons, Allsport)
With 2:07 left in the fourth quarter, the Minnesota Vikings were leading the Atlanta Falcons 27-20 in the NFC Championship Game. The 15-1 Vikings, who joined the '85 Bears and '84 Niners as the sport's only 15-game winners, had assembled the greatest offense in NFL history. Hall of Fame receivers Chris Carter and Randy Moss, along with quarterback Randall Cunningham and running back Robert Smith, gave the Vikings a juggernaut unit that broke the single-season scoring record.
The Vikings were looking at a 38-yard field goal to secure their ticket to the Super Bowl. Coming on to attempt the kick was Gary Anderson, who was at that moment the most qualified man to ever attempt a field goal. Anderson completed all 35 field goal attempts and 59 extra points in 1998, making him the first kicker to ever accomplish a perfect season. He had made 122 straight kicks and hadn't missed since December 1997.
But on this Sunday, Anderson's kick curved to the left and was off-line by a few feet. The Metrodome crowd of 64,060 was stunned; a made field goal would've given the Vikings an insurmountable 10-point lead. The miss opened the door for the Falcons, who tied the game less than 80 seconds later on a Terance Mathis touchdown reception.
The game went to overtime, and though they had another chance to seize victory, the Vikings' composure appeared to have been rattled. Cunningham completed just two of seven passes in the OT, giving the Falcons four opportunities to score. Atlanta quarterback Chris Chandler finally led the Falcons on a 70-yard drive that set up Morten Andersen (no relation) with an identical 38-yarder to win the game. Unlike his counterpart, Andersen accurately launched the ball through the uprights, giving his team a Super Bowl berth.
The Falcons' win was as uplifting as the Vikings' loss was disappointing. Under second-year coach Dan Reeves, Atlanta was just two years removed from a 3-13 season. Since becoming an NFL team in 1966, the Falcons had been one of the most stagnant franchises in sports, having won only two playoff games. They had never even produced back-to-back seasons with a winning record.
Though the Falcons entered with a stellar 15-2 record, they were eight-point underdogs to the Vikings, who seemed poised to become one of the most decorated teams of all time.
''There's no words to describe how bitterly disappointing that is, with the season we've had,'' Anderson said. ''We had a lot of chances out there today, and we didn't get it done. This team had very high expectations, and that's what makes it ten times more disappointing.''
It was appropriate that the kicker to best Gary Anderson was Morten Andersen. Besides having nearly-identical last names, being nearly the same age, and having a 38-yard field goal to win the NFC Championship Game, both kickers had over 20-year careers that lasted well into their 40's. They would finish their careers No. 1 and 2 in total points scored, games played, field goals made and field goals attempted, with Morten leading Gary in each category. The longevity of Morten Andersen was particularly remarkable. He was 38 when he sent Atlanta to the Super Bowl on his kick; he was still the Falcons' primary kicker a decade later, and was coming off a season where he made 89% of his attempts.
Thanks to Morten's boot, the Falcons advanced to Super Bowl XXXIII, where John Elway's last hurrah turned into a 34-19 Broncos win. Atlanta's miracle season turned out to be just that; they went 9-23 over their next two seasons and missed the postseason both times.
In 2007, the New England Patriots put together a perfect season that destroyed Minnesota's scoring record in only ten games. That team also featured Randy Moss, who went on to set the single-season touchdown record for wide receivers. But like the Vikings -- like Gary Anderson -- the Pats failed to win it all, rendering their regular season success, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant.