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The Purple People Eaters

The Purple People Eaters

The 1969 Minnesota Vikings were really good on defense. It began with the defensive line, as that Minnesota squad was the only team in NFL history to send all four defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl. Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, and Gary Larsen may have been the greatest combination of defensive linemen playing together in their primes in NFL history. The Vikings also had Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause playing in the prime of his career.

Minnesota was quarterback by Joe Kapp, but propped up by the defense: after the season, Kapp was traded to the Patriots, and proceeded to suffer the second worst decline in passer rating in NFL history. The Vikings went 12-2 that season, losing on opening day and in a meaningless game at the end of the year.

Minnesota allowed just 133 points, or 9.5 points per game, in 1969. That’s the 2nd fewest in a season since World War II, trailing only the Gritz Blitz 1977 Falcons. The Vikings allowed 16 touchdowns in 1969, but four came on returns (two on interceptions, one fumble, one interception)! Exclude those, and the Vikings allowed just 84 points on touchdowns and 21 points on field goals, for a total of 105 points allowed to the opposing offense.

Now, how many drives did the Vikings defense face? There are, as before, two ways of measuring this. The first is by measuring the end of drives.

  • 8 opponent drives ended in passing touchdowns;
  • 30 ended in interceptions;
  • 4 ended with rushing touchdowns;
  • 18 ended with field goal attempts;
  • 100 ended with punts;
  • 12 ended due to a lost fumble; and
  • 0 safeties

That’s a total of 172 estimated drives. What are we missing here? Drives that ended because the half or game expired, and drives that ended due to a failed fourth down conversion.

The other method is to look at the start of drives. Minnesota:

  • sacramento gold miners

    The funny part about the 1969 Vikings was how they struggled with Kansas City’s shifting offense and short passing game in Super Bowl 4. This wasn’t something Minnesota had seen in the NFL, and even with two weeks of preparation, the Vikes were confused. There are many inexplicable events in football, and why the Purple People Eaters didn’t play better in those four Super bowls is one of them.

    Oddly enough, Minnesota handled the Chiefs easily at home in the 1970 regular season opener.

  • Ange Coniglio

    But the Vikings, the so-called ‘greatest team in Pro Football history’, couldn’t cut it against the Chiefs from that ‘no-defense’ league. Hmmmmm . . .?

  • Tom

    Man…didn’t know they were so dominant. Here’s their SRS ratings and where they rank since 1950:

    1969: 17.6, 4th! Yep,only three teams are ahead of them – ’07 Pats (20.1), ’62 Packers (19.7), ’68 Colts (17.9)
    1970: 15.1, 13th
    1971: 6.5, 270th

    1971 was a “down” year, but you can put that on the offense (-3.4 OSRS). The 9.9 DSRS that year is tied for #10 on the all-time list for DSRS. Kind of a shame they didn’t get at least one Super Bowl…

  • Tom

    Not surprised to see the 1976 Steelers up there…they had that 9-game stretch where they held teams to an average of 3 points/game and had 5 shutouts.

    On another note, when/if you adjust for era (and SOS), I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 2009 Jets in the top 20, maybe top 10.

    And another note – look at the 2000 Ravens at #14! Surrounded by all these ’60’s and ’70’s teams. Gotta be thinking when/if (again) you adjust for era, they move up a few…maybe to the top?

  • I’m hoping this picture comes through big enough to read. Here is an era adjustment (LgAvPPED – TeamDPPED). It really puts those 70s teams into context for their era, and it makes teams like the 2002 Bucs, 2000 Ravens, and 2009 Jets look much better.

    • Tom

      Bryan – awesome, thanks for posting…it’s pretty small, but readable when zoomed in! I thought the Jets might be up there…and if you do SOS adjustment, the Jets might even be higher, due to playing the Pats twice (no I’m not a Jets homer, for some reason that team always sticks out to me as being somewhat underrated). Cool to see that even with era adjustments, those Vikings teams are still in the Top 10.

  • Tim Truemper

    To follow-up on Sacramento Gold Miners comment, it is instructive to watch the youtube video replay of the Viking-Chief game. Interesting to watch the flow of the game and how it steadily slipped away from the Vikes. Plus, Alan Page was really tearing it up in the first half. But the misdirection the Chiefs employed out of different sets worked just well enough to keep the Vikes defense off balance at critical times. And, yep, the Vikes handled the Chiefs really well the following season.

  • Tim Truemper

    I might add that while someone posted that the AFL was the “no defense” league, that was not the reputation by the late 1960’s. Pat Summerall’s announcing during the SB IV game makes that plane and pre-game analysis also indicated that the Chief’s defense was going to be a tall order for the Vikes.

    • The 69 Chiefs in particular were rife with defensive talent. They fielded 5 Hall of Famers and 2 more guys with legitimate arguments for consideration. Their eleven starters combined for 53 career Pro Bowls and 24 All Pros.

      Think about how terrifying this defense must have been, with all stars at every level:
      HOFers Buchanan and Culp on the inside with borderline HOFer Mays at end.
      HOFer Lanier at MLB, HOFer Bell at DE/OLB (Bell was also likely the best athlete in pro football during his career), Pro Bowler Lynch at OLB.
      HOFer Thomas and All Pro Marsalis at CB, and huge HOF snub Robinson at FS.

      I think Jerry Mays and Johnny Robinson (Robinson especially) may suffer from the HOF already electing too many of their teammates, similar to Jerry Kramer’s and L.C. Greenwood’s issue.

      • sacramento gold miners

        After slipping in 1970, the Chiefs seemed primed for another SB appearance in 1971. Unfortunately, they lost to Miami in that Christmas day playoff game, and the Dolphins would go on to throttle Baltimore, 21-0 in the AFC TB.

        A Chiefs-Cowboys Super Bowl 6 would have been very interesting, but is only something we can speculate about.

  • mrh

    ’69 Chiefs were 18th on the list, so as noted by others they had a heck of a defense. And they got on a great run in the postseason, allowing 20 total points to three opponents (on the road no less, or at least a neutral SB field) who had averaged 27, 25, and 27 ppg in the regular season. I wonder if that is the best opponent-adjusted defensive performance?

    They also scored more points against the Vikings D than they did against either of their AFL foes.