Two decades had passed since former wide receiver Matthew Hatchette last saw most of his old teammates, but they picked up right where they left off in the Vikings locker room.
Hatchette was one of 29 members of the 1998 Vikings team that returned to Minneapolis for a weekend honoring the 20th anniversary of that historic 15-1 season.
"Some of these guys, I haven't seen them in 20 years, but as soon as I see them, they're instantly my teammates all over again," Hatchette said. "I think at the time we didn't know how close we were. Now looking back at it, we were a pretty tight-knit team.
"All the memories are coming back, [we're] having a great time," Hatchette added. "The biggest piece, I think, is just seeing the guys. In all the stories we're telling, I don't think we've said one thing about a play – 'Remember this play?' – It's just about the times, the locker room."
The former teammates attended the Vikings-49ers matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium. The venue was constructed on the site of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which served as the Vikings home from 1982-2013 and when the team advanced to the 1998 NFC Championship Game.
During halftime Sunday, the Legends were introduced to a warm reception by 66,673 fans, and an in-memoriam video honored nine individuals who were part of the 1998 Vikings and have since passed away, including Head Coach Dennis Green.
Pro Bowl running back Robert Smith, who rushed for 1,187 yards that season, spoke on behalf of the team.
"Thank you for this honor, one that I don't deserve. I feel a little bit embarrassed following a great man like Denny, speaking on behalf of Hall of Famers here, guys who won Super Bowl rings," Smith said. "But I'm glad they asked me because I get a chance to tell you what it felt like from [the perspective of someone] who was a part of greatness and just realizes that he was around so many people who could do so many great things.
"You know, they say that people may forget what you say and they might forget what you do, but you never forget how people made you feel. Being around these guys was an incredible feeling," Smith continued. "But being in front of you fans – and I hope we were able to convert some of you here today because of that '98 team – I just want you to know that we as former players not wearing the jerseys anymore, as fans of the game and of the team, we want to see greatness from this team, and we want to see them accomplish something that we weren't able to do. We want to see them do it for you. SKOL!"
The Vikings 24-16 defeat of the 49ers wrapped up a weekend of festivities honoring the 1998 team.
Many of the Vikings Legends arrived Friday, and several took the opportunity to attend a Celebration of Life event for longtime Vikings athletic trainer Fred Zamberletti, who passed away on Sept. 2, at the Vikings Museum.
Saturday featured tours of the Vikings Museum and Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, to which the alumni returned that evening for a "Chalk Talk" presentation. Fans who purchased tickets to the event were treated to a night of panel discussions about the 1998 season.
KSTP reporter Joe Schmit, who covered the '98 Vikings, moderated the Chalk Talk. The program opened with a discussion by former Vikings General Manager Jeff Diamond and former Offensive Coordinator Brian Billick, now serving as an analyst with NFL Network.
Former defensive tackle Jason Fisk, who participated in the evening's final panel, emphasized how great it was to reconnect with former teammates over the weekend.
"It's really cool to see these guys again. It's been, I think, the season ends and you're out of there," said Fisk, who signed with Tennessee as a free agent following the 1998 season. "It's really cool to come back. We had a special camaraderie that year."
Below is a full list of the 1998 Vikings Legends who were recognized at Sunday's game:
GM Jeff Diamond
OC Brian Billick
DB Antonio Banks
DB Anthony Bass
DB Duane Butler
DB Greg Briggs
Pro Bowl S Robert Griffith
LB Pete Bercich
LB Dwayne Rudd
DE Ben Williams
DE Duane Clemons
DT Jason Fisk
HOF DT John Randle
OFFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
Pro Bowl P Mitch Berger
QB Todd Bouman
WR Tony Bland
WR Robert Tate
WR Matthew Hatchette
WR Chris Walsh
TE Hunter Goodwin
TE Greg DeLong
RB/PR/KR David Palmer
RB Femi Ayanbadejo
Pro Bowl RB Robert Smith
G Dave Dixon
OL Chris Liwienski
OL Todd Steussie
Pro Bowl C Matt Birk
HOF G Randall McDaniel
Orlando Bobo (1974-2007) – Offensive Line
Chip Myers (1945-1999) – Assistant Coach/Offensive Coordinator
Orlando Thomas (1972-2014) – Defensive Back
Charles Evans (1967-2008) – Fullback
Hubbard Alexander (1939-2016) – Wide Receivers Coach
Foge Fazio (1938-2009) Defensive Coordinator
Korey Stringer (1974-2001) Offensive Line
Fred Zamberletti (1932-2018) Athletic Trainer
Dennis Green (1949-2016) Head Coach
John Randle, Matt Birk, Randall McDaniel, Todd Steussie and several other Vikings legends shared stories of the most successful team in franchise history with 98 lucky fans at the TCO Performance Center.