With their win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings have clinched the NFC North division championship. It’s Minnesota’s 20th division championship and 29th postseason appearance in franchise history, but the Vikes still haven’t captured that elusive Lombardi Trophy.
The playoff history of the Vikings is up there as one of the most torturous ones in the NFL, from losing three Super Bowls in four seasons in the 1970s to Blair Walsh’s botched field goal in a frozen Wild Card game two seasons ago. Sorry for the painful trip down memory lane, Minnesota fans.
All of that can be erased with a Super Bowl triumph this February. The big game will be held at shiny new US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on February 4th, and Mike Zimmer’s squad is trying to do something that has never been done in NFL history; play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
How close have teams come in the past been from achieving what would surely be the biggest party in NFL history? It’s time to dive into the history books.
Right off the bat, there are a few of the 51 Super Bowls all-time we can eliminate. There have been seven Super Bowls that were not played at the home stadium of an NFL team, five of them being the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, one at Rice Stadium in Houston, and another at Stanford Stadium in the Bay Area. It is of note that the latter of those venues saw the nearby San Francisco 49ers win the Super Bowl when it hosted Super Bowl XIX in 1985.
Joe Montana’s 49ers made the 30-mile journey from Candlestick Park to breeze by the Miami Dolphins 38-16 for their second championship. That’s the closest a team has been to winning the Super Bowl at home… at least for now.
That leaves 44 Super Bowls, and there has been a lot of futility from Super Bowl host teams in the season building up to the showcase event of the NFL season. A lot of the struggles have come from the New Orleans Saints, whose home stadia have hosted the Super Bowl ten times. The first three were at the now extinct Tulane Stadium, and the last seven at their current home of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
They came up with some of the worst seasons in NFL history in years they were set to host the Super Bowl, including their 1-15 clip leading up to Super Bowl XV and a 3-13 year before the Superdome held the Super Bowl in February of 1997. The Saints are 49-101-2 (.322) in Super Bowl hosting seasons.
The Saints are the most prominent example, but there are other individual franchises contributing to this record. Two of their NFC South rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, have hosted six Super Bowls collectively. Their records in those seasons are a combined 38-58 (.396), with just one playoff appearance in there from the 2000 Bucs.
45 teams have been host teams for a Super Bowl – as there have been 44 Super Bowls in NFL stadia, but the Giants and Jets share MetLife Stadium, the host site of Super Bowl XLVIII.
A staggering 38 have missed the playoffs. Twenty-seven ended up with a losing record, and the overall combined record of those 38 teams was 224-361-4 (.380). That’s a dismal accumulation of losses over the years, averaging out close to a 6-10 season. There have been a few heartbreaks in there though, notably from the (then) San Diego Chargers.
The Super Bowl has been held at Qualcomm Stadium three times, and two of those seasons saw the Bolts get out to a blistering start. In 1987, the season was only 15 games, but the Chargers started 8-1 before losing their final six games to miss the playoffs. They were comfortably in a playoff spot at 8-4 through the first 12 games in 2002, but once again collapsed in December, finishing back at square one with an 8-8 mark.
Perhaps the most notable omission from the postseason over the years is the 1975 Dolphins. Unbelievably, their 10-4 season wasn’t enough to get into January, as the Baltimore Colts also finished 10-4, but owned the tiebreaker based off a sweep of the head-to-head season series. To this day, their .714 winning percentage is tied for the highest in NFL history to miss the postseason since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
The seven teams to reach a postseason that would culminate at their stadium are the 1970, 1978, 1994, and 1998 Miami Dolphins, 2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2014 Arizona Cardinals, and 2016 Houston Texans. The Dolphins have benefited hugely from their prime warm-weather location in South Florida helping them regularly host Super Bowls, ten in total.
Two of those Miami campaigns ended in them losing their first playoff contest, 21-14 against the Raiders in 1970 and 17-9 at home to the Houston Oilers in 1978. The latter game was the first time in NFL history a postseason game was held at the same site the Super Bowl was held. The Pittsburgh Steelers ended up winning that Lombardi Trophy in Miami.
The 2000 Bucs and 2014 Cards suffered the same fate of losing their playoff curtain raisers, both wild card games on the road.
The biggest heartbreak came in January of 1995, after the Dolphins went 10-6 and dusted the Kansas City Chiefs 27-17 in the Wild Card round, keeping up hopes of reaching Super Bowl XXIX at their own Joe Robbie Stadium (now Hard Rock Stadium). The Dolphins went to San Diego and stormed out to a 21-6 halftime lead behind a masterclass from Dan Marino.
But Miami’s offense fell apart, and the Chargers scored just enough points to squeak out a 22-21 victory. Quarterback Stan Humphries hit receiver Mark Seay for the game-winning touchdown in the final minute, and the Chargers made it to Miami before dropping 49-26 to the 49ers in their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
Four years later, the Dolphins were battered 38-3 in the divisional round in Denver, and just last season the Houston Texans failed to reach Super Bowl LI at home when they lost 34-16 to Tom Brady’s Patriots in the divisional round.
And with that, we’re up to date. Not only has no Super Bowl host team in NFL history ever played for the Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium, none of them have ever even played in their respective conference championship game. Only three have won a playoff game in 51 seasons, and just one of those played within one possession in the divisional round.
It’s been pretty bleak.
Can the Vikings change it?