Five times the Redskins and Vikings have clashed in the playoffs, twice in the 1970s and three times during the Joe Gibbs-1 glory era.
Only one time, though, did the winner earn a trip to the Super Bowl.
Rewind the clock to the NFC championship game on Jan. 17, 1988.
The Vikings had gone 8-7 in the strike-shortened 1987 season, the worst record among all playoff teams. But they’d gotten hot at the perfect time, having manhandled the Saints and 49ers to reach the conference championship.
The Redskins also had momentum. After recording a 27-24 overtime win over the Vikings in the regular season-finale to finish 11-4, they subdued the big, bad Bears, 21-17, in the divisional round at Soldier Field. Plus, they’d be hosting the championship game at RFK Stadium, a hostile place for opponents to visit during the Joe Gibbs-1 glory years.
The win punched the Redskins’ ticket to Super Bowl XXII in San Diego, where they destroyed Denver, 42-10. That Super Bowl team was honored on Sunday at the Redskins’ homecoming-alumni game against the Chargers.
Green’s health dominated the news in the days prior to the NFC championship game. The man with world-class speed had damaged rib cartilage while returning a punt 52 yards for a touchdown in the win over Chicago, one of the most iconic plays in Redskins history.
Green shook off the pain against Minnesota and produced another clutch performance. He bottled up wide receiver Anthony Carter, who led the NFL in 1987 with a 24.3-yard reception average and had 16 catches for 306 yards in the playoffs. The speedy Carter had seven receptions for 85 yards in the NFC championship but no game-breakers.
The Redskins also needed a big game out of Doug Williams. He’d alternated at quarterback with Jay Schroeder in 1987 before taking the mantle in the 27-24 win over the Vikings. Williams threw two touchdown passes in that game, including a 51-yarder to receiver Ricky Sanders that tied the score at the end of regulation.
In the NFC title game, Williams’ 42-yard scoring pass to running back Kelvin Bryant gave the Redskins a 7-0 first-quarter lead. But that was it for Washington’s first-half scoring. Kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh missed two field goals, while Williams completed only 4 of 14 passes. The Vikings tied the game at 7 just before halftime.
Williams continued to misfire in the second half on an offense that produced one three-and-out series after another. But the defense compensated for those struggles.
Linebacker Mel Kaufmann intercepted a pass to set up Haji-Sheikh’s 28-yard field goal for a 10-7 Redskins lead with 4:30 left in the third period. The Vikings responded by driving to a 1st and goal at the 3. But on third down from the 1, linebacker Neal Olkewicz stopped running back D.J. Dozier for no gain. A field goal tied the game at 10.
Williams then found his mark on an eight-play, 70-yard march. He hit receiver Gary Clark for 43 yards to set up his 7-yard scoring pass to Clark that created a 17-10 game with five minutes left.
Back came the Vikings, who drove 60 yards for a first down on the Redskins’ 6. As the Vikings approached the line on fourth down, the noise generated by the boisterous RFK crowd of 55,212 was deafening.
As far as the defense, “We weren’t doing a lot of talking,” Green said. “This was our season to go to the Super Bowl, and we didn’t want overtime. I expected the ball to go to Carter. I’m thinking, `You ride the horse that brought you here.’ ”
Instead, Wilson passed the ball to running back Darrin Nelson, an excellent receiver, on the far left around the goal line. The ball hit Nelson in the chest, but Green arrived simultaneously and pounded Nelson in the back. Nelson looked like he was losing control of the pass, but Green’s hit disrupted the ball enough to where it hit the ground.
An ecstatic Green bolted upfield holding his hand high in triumph. The Redskins’ bench and the crowd went into delirium.
The win assured that Williams would become the first black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl. But he felt dejected after completing 9 of 24 passes for 119 yards.
“I was sitting in the locker room with my head hung down, and (offensive assistant) Dan Henning came to me and said, `Remember, Doug, I’m up in the stands, I’m watching you,’ ” Williams said. “He said he saw how many balls I threw away and how many times I avoided a sack. He remarked that I had no interceptions and two touchdown passes, and we won.”
Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. His web site is redskinshistorian.com. Check out his Facebook Friend and Fan pages and follow him on Twitter.