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Do the Bills or Vikings deserve the record for most crushing NFL playoff losses?

Two Sisyphean franchises. Only one can be the saddest.

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings have combined to play in eight Super Bowls. Never against each other, though; that would ensure one of them could win.

Those eight Super Bowl appearances have resulted in zero wins, leaving the duo tied atop the NFL’s “what if?” ranks. No other franchise has ever played in more than two without winning a league title at least once. Bills and Vikings fans have experienced the dizzying heights and hype of multiple Super Bowls but never earned the chance to watch their team hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the finish.

Both Buffalo and Minnesota have suffered through tortured gridiron existences, climbing to a base camp reserved for champions before plummeting back to Earth once the summit was within reach. The Bills’ rise was followed by a long trek through the desert and a 17-year postseason drought that finally ended in 2017. The Vikings have had better fortunes — only to see league MVPs and record-setting offenses fall apart in the playoffs time and time again.

And it leads to a logical follow-up question:

Which fanbase holds the record for most painful playoff losses: the Bills or the Vikings?

The Bills had to deal with the ignominy of four straight Super Bowl defeats. The Vikings spaced theirs out, but had to deal with way more recent postseason heartbreak. They’ve seen regular season heroes like Gary Anderson and Brett Favre fall apart in the fourth quarter of NFC Championship Games. They’ve had to watch their city play host to a Super Bowl that Minnesota fell one victory away from playing in their home stadium.

So who’s had it worse?

The case for: the Buffalo Bills

No team has ever been paralyzed by its postseason success like the Bills. Since falling short in the Super Bowl four straight seasons from 1990 to 1993, Buffalo has won exactly one playoff game, and that was back in 1995. In the 22 intervening years, there have been four Wild Card losses and ... that’s it.

The second-most recent loss came on Jan. 8, 2000, and a 17-year playoff drought allowed it time to linger. The Bills were primed to cruise to a 16-15 upset victory over the Titans in Nashville after Steve Christie kicked a 41-yard field goal with 16 seconds left on the clock. Instead, they became the team on the other side of the Music City Miracle:

Tennessee rolled the momentum of that win to a place in Super Bowl XXXIV. Buffalo took the opportunity to use the loss to break in a revolving door of quarterbacks that peaked with a post-Patriots Drew Bledsoe (31 TDs, 28 INTs his final two years with the club) and included starts from Alex Van Pelt, J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Brian Brohm, Thad Lewis, and Jeff Tuel.

But the Titans couldn’t do much more damage than back-to-back-to-back-to-back Super Bowl losses could. The Jim Kelly-Thurman Thomas-Andre Reed-Bruce Smith-Cornelius Bennett Bills ruled the AFC for four straight seasons, then fell apart like crumbling limestone in the biggest game of the year. It started brutally, with Scott Norwood’s wide right kick in a 20-19 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV.

That gave way to regular defeat (37-24 vs. Washington), then absolutely crushing defeat (52-17 vs. Dallas), and finally numbed-out nothingness (30-13 in a repeat loss to the Cowboys). The franchise never recovered, and a loyal fanbase turned to alcohol to fill the void. With Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman, and AJ McCarron battling for the team’s starting quarterback spot, the most entertaining part of the Bills’ 2018 could take place in the tailgating lots.

Here’s what Matt Warren from Buffalo Rumblings had to say on the matter.

The Bills have the most heartbreaking playoff losses, for sure. It goes way beyond just “Wide Right,” but that’s where every conversation starts. On a personal level, one guy (Scott Norwood) has felt this massive weight for missing what was a pretty long kick for him. On a team level, they came so close but lost. Then they worked their butts off to get back to the Super Bowl not once, not twice, but three more times in a row only to fall each time. Missed opportunities haunt each of those guys. They completely imploded once, but each of the other Super Bowls were winnable and all four are heartbreaking in their own way and as a collective.

Obviously, the Bills were also on the losing side of the Music City Miracle. The team took the lead late against the Tennessee Titans in the closing seconds only to have a once-in-a-lifetime play unfold on the ensuing kickoff. Was it a forward pass or was it a lateral? Most Bills fans would say it went forward based on the positioning of the players in relation to the hash marks on the field.

Looking further back, Buffalo running back Ronnie Harmon dropped a touchdown catch in the final seconds of the divisional round of the 1989 season. For a team that’s been to the playoffs only 18 times in 58 seasons, having a third of those playoff games be memorable, heartbreaking losses is simply horrifying. Any other team attempting to lay claim to the title of Worst Playoff Losses is just fooling themselves. (Hey, Buffalo won two AFL Championships, though.)

The case for: the Minnesota Vikings

It’s been four decades since the Vikings have lost a Super Bowl. It’s been five months since they’ve lost an NFC Championship Game — but the good news is the most recent one may have been the most painless. Minnesota has a rich history of crushing conference title game defeats, including four in the last two decades.

Those have been feast-or-famine results. The Vikings’ two blowout NFC title game losses in that span came at a combined score of 79-7. That seems awful ... until you realize how much worse their overtime defeats were.

In both the 1998 and 2009 seasons, the franchise took a flamethrower to the hearts of fans across the nation with overtime losses wrenched from the hands of victory. Gary Anderson had made 122 straight kicks — field goals and extra points — to earn All-Pro honors in ‘98 and push his team to the precipice of its first Super Bowl appearance since 1976. The Vikings led the Falcons 27-20 with just over two minutes to play when he lined up a 38-yard attempt, indoors, at home.

But since this was the Vikings, his straight-as-a-string kick failed to sneak inside the uprights. Atlanta ran its ensuing possession into Minnesota territory with haste, but a wounded-duck pass over the middle landed right in the hands of safety Robert Griffith. He dropped it. Three plays later, another Chris Chandler pass was tipped into the outstretched hands of a diving Griffith. He dropped it. One play later, Chandler snuck a 16-yard pass in to Terence Mathis, who did not drop it. Tie game.

The Vikings got the ball back with 49 seconds left on the clock, three timeouts, and the league’s top-ranked scoring offense. They attempted two actual plays for seven yards before kneeling out the clock and going to overtime. They’d have two more possessions to win the game with a field goal, but instead were forced to watch Morten Andersen end their season with, what else, a 38-yard field goal.

Minnesota was in great position to exorcise those demons, and had even pulled its biggest rival’s former quarterback to get there. Brett Favre dropped his interception rate to a career-low 1.3 percent to lead the league’s second-best scoring offense to 12 wins and an NFC North title. It seemed he’d put the freewheeling tendencies that marred the latter stage of his career behind him — until the 2010 NFC Championship Game.

Favre had led the Vikings from their own 21-yard line to the New Orleans Saints 33 with 19 seconds left to play in a tied game. Then, Minnesota took aim at its own foot and shot. First came a 12 men in the huddle penalty to push the team to the outer limit of field goal range. Then Favre tried to get it all back when he rolled right on third down, ignored enough open field to scramble his team back into the boundaries of a makeable kick, and threw across his body to ... Saints cornerback Tracy Porter.

Favre’s pick was one of five turnovers for a team that hadn’t had more than two in a single game all season. Four of them came in Saints’ territory. Every one came inside the NO 30-yard line.

New Orleans won the overtime coin flip, kicked a game-winning field goal, and earned the first NFL title in franchise history.

That’s two tremendously brutal losses, and we haven’t even gotten to the team’s Super Bowl losses, which all came within an eight-year period.

Don’t take my word for it, though. From the Daily Norseman’s Christopher Gates:

The reason that the Vikings have had the most gut-wrenching, heartrending playoff losses in the NFL is because they’ve come in all sorts of different and creative ways. There have been blowouts and there have been close games. They’ve lost as an underdog and they’ve lost as a favorite. They’ve lost at home and they’ve lost on the road. They’ve lost on missed field goals, last-minute interceptions, and they’ve even lost in overtime. For fans of the Minnesota Vikings, watching this team in the playoffs is an exercise in finding new and creative ways for this team to kick you in the face.

Worst of all, at least in my lifetime, all of the most awful losses have stopped the Vikings short of the ultimate stage and a shot at Super Bowl glory. The last time the Vikings were even in the Super Bowl, yours truly wasn’t quite four months old. And every time it feels like the Vikings are in the best possible position to get there and finally give their fans a chance to see them bring home the big silver trophy, something happens and they give it away.

By just about any measure, the Vikings have got to be on the short list of the most successful franchises in North American professional sports that haven’t won their respective league’s championship. In order to make that happen, they actually have to reach the big game, and their losses over the past four decades-plus have prevented them from even getting there. Vikings fans are the best and most deserving fan base in the National Football League, and it makes the fact that they don’t have a championship that much worse. Of course, that just means when it does come, it’s going to be that much sweeter. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to happen.

So which team do you think deserves the record for most crushing losses in the playoffs?

Poll

Which team holds the record for most devastating playoff losses?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    The 0-4 in the Super Bowl Buffalo Bills
    (797 votes)
  • 63%
    The 0-4 in the Super Bowl Minnesota Vikings
    (1409 votes)
2206 votes total Vote Now