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The 1998 NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons is one of the most hotly contested games in NFL history. The game, which ended 30-27 was decided on a highly unlikely miss on a field goal attempt by Gary Anderson and saw the Falcons make it to their first ever Super Bowl.
The gravity of the miss was intensified by the fact that Anderson had scored all his field goal and extra point attempts in regular season, the first player ever to achieve that feat. The Falcons would rally to tie the points and then win the game in extra time ironically through a field goal of their own.
Buildup to Gary Anderson’s Miss
Before the 1998 season, the Falcons were one of the weakest teams in the league. They had failed to make the postseason the previous two seasons, but they surprised everyone with a 14-2 record, only behind the Vikings in the NFC. In the division playoffs, the Falcons defeated the San Francisco 49ers to see them through to the conference finals.
The Vikings had finished with a conference-best record of 15-1 in the regular season thanks to a terrifying offense, which scored a record 556 points. In the divisional playoffs, they beat the Arizona Cardinals to help them set up a meeting with the Falcons in the conference Finals. In their ranks, the Vikings had place kicker Gary Anderson as one of the most interesting players. He had scored from all his 35 field goal attempts as well as all 59 of his extra-point kicks.
The last time he had missed a field goal was in the 1997 season, when he was playing for the 49ers. Coming into the game, the Vikings were the overwhelming favorites to win the championship as well as the Super Bowl. They had made four appearances in the Super Bowl but had lost all of them. If they managed to get past the Falcons, it would be their first Super Bowl appearance since 1976.
The Championship Game Unfolds
The game was played on January 17, 1999 at the Vikings’ Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The teams finished the first quarter tied at 7 apiece thanks to a touchdown by Jamal Anderson for the falcons and a Randy Moss touchdown for the Vikings. The Vikings went ahead in the second quarter through a Gary Anderson field goal before Randal Cunningham added a touchdown to push the scores to 17-7.
The Falcons who were having a torrid time in defense, gave up another fumble that led to another Anderson field goal. The Falcons pulled back a touchdown through Terance Mathis to cut the Vikings lead to 6. In the third quarter, the Falcons forced the Vikings to give up possession on the opening drive and then worked the ball for a 27-yard field goal by Morten Andersen.
The Vikings added to their lead with a Mathew Hatchette touchdown with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter. A 24-yard field goal for the Falcons by Morten Andersen to leave the game poised at 27-20. The two teams wasted precious opportunities to score and with just over two minute to play an incomplete Falcons attempt on 3rd down allowed Gary Anderson to make a field goal attempt.
Anderson’s Miss Happens
If Anderson made the kick, he would give the Vikings a 10-point lead that was practically unassailable. Everything from distance to weather conditions seemed to be just right for Anderson, and by his lofty standards this seemed like a routine three points for him. Anderson snapped the ball on the 4th down and immediately the Falcons defense rushed forward and tacked him to ground.
Meanwhile, the ball sailed towards the upright and went about one foot wide of the left post with 2:07 left in the game. the Falcons celebrated as if they had made a touchdown, while a stunned Anderson stood hands akimbo for a while before returning to join the play.
Aftermath of the Missed Kick
The Vikings were sloppy in defense and turned over possession, allowing the Falcons’ Chris Chandler to throw a touchdown pass to Mathis for a game-tying touchdown with 49 seconds left in the game. The Vikings barely managed 7 yards on the ensuing possession and then took a knee on the third down to force overtime.
The Vikings kicked off but again their sloppy play cost them dearly as they turned over possession twice, with the latter instance helping the Falcons to set up a 39-yard field goal for Andersen. In the Super Bowl, the Falcons lost 34-19 to the Denver Broncos.