By Tom West, For Vikings.com
3-24-MIN 41 (:12) (Shotgun) D. Culpepper pass to R. Moss to DEN 15 for 44 yards. Lateral to M. Williams for 15 yards, TOUCHDOWN
Play Challenged by Review Assistant and Upheld
This clinical description is the way the play will forever stand in NFL history as chronicled in the official play-by-play book of the contest. The play, the Moss-to-Moe lateral, one of the most exciting in the Vikings rich history, still lives burned into the memories of Vikings fans.
The emotion, athletic ability and creativity of the play can't be reflected in the wording, but the people who were there, who made it happen and rode the emotion of the play that swung the game and gave the Vikings their sixth straight win to open the 2003 season can bring it to life.
The Vikings were hitting their stride coming into the Denver game on Oct. 19, 2003, having scored 35 and 39 points respectively in wins vs. San Francisco and at Atlanta in the previous two weeks. The Broncos came into the game on a roll as well, having notched a 5-1 mark before the big inter-conference matchup. The teams traded touchdowns in the first and second quarter, and the Vikings took the kickoff after a Clinton Portis TD that tied the game at 7 with 1:51 left to go in the half, hoping to get another score on the board and go into the half. The Vikes started at their 19-yard line and ran Moe Williams for 3 yards before Daunte Culpepper hit Randy Moss for a 10-yard gain. Culpepper then found Williams for a 23-yard pass to get the ball to the Denver 45 and called a time out. Denver's defense pinned their ears back and sacked Culpepper on consecutive plays for minus-2 and minus-7 yards sandwiched around a Vikings false start. The plays and penalties moved the Vikings back to their own 41 and facing a third-and-24 with 12 seconds left before halftime.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Broncos.
Culpepper took over at that point and rolled out of the pocket to the right. The Vikings third QB that day was Shaun Hill, who stood on the sideline dressed but inactive, serving as the emergency QB.
"I can't say what Daunte and Randy said in the huddle on that one I'm sure Daunte figured he could reach the end zone from 70 yards out or so," Hill laughed. "You're hoping for a big play on something like that — a tipped ball, a pass interference, just something."
Not short on confidence or arm, Culpepper knew Moss could make something out of nothing and heaved it his way, regardless of double coverage. Moss made the catch and was being wrestled down by the Broncos defenders when he glimpsed a trailing Williams and reverted to his legendary basketball vision and flipped the ball over his shoulder to Williams.
"We used to mess around in practice doing crazy plays that just absolutely never worked," Williams said this week from his Florida home. "I just always tried to play every play to the end. When I saw Pep throw the ball it was just part of how I was always taught to play football, you run down there and maybe you can make a big block or maybe there's going to be a fumble and you could pick it up and be able to score. It was just one of those things that happened. You're just hustlin' and I trailed it yelling, yelling, yelling and I don't know if he heard me or saw me or it was just Randy being Randy but either way he was able to get it to me and it was free sailing from there."
Williams' free sailing over the final 15 yards of what would be a 59-yard play demoralized the Broncos and propelled the Vikings into the intermission. "Absolutely, it's just kind of taking the wind out of their sails," Williams said. "A play like that, where they had backed everybody back knowing you were going to go for it and then to still get it, that's bad for the defense because you know you gave 7 up with zero time left on the clock."
With an eye in the sky look at it, radio voice Paul Allen still couldn't believe what was playing out in front of him.
"The way Culpepper was able to get away from pressure and roll out, any time you have Culpepper and Moss you know something cool can happen. When he caught it deep in their territory it was cool, but when he flipped it to Moe, it was one of the greatest plays I've ever been a part of. Momentum had to change because it was the ultimate gut punch to the Denver Broncos. There's no way to prepare for that, you just try to let it develop in front of you, knowing it's not just another regular old play."
The capacity crowd at the Dome went into overdrive.
"That play kind of summed up the season at that point," Hill said. "We were rolling, putting up points, just everything was falling our way. The place went nuts, the crowd was into it, we were undefeated. Everything was looking up."
The momentum of the moment and the 14-7 halftime lead paid off in the third quarter of the game as the Vikings scored two more TDs, a rushing score to cap a 10-play, 5:36 drive after taking the second half kickoff and a 33-yard INT return score by
DE Lance Johnstone off Broncos starting QB Steve Beuerlein. Denver came back with too little too late in the fourth quarter to make the final count 28-20. Denver lost only four more games the rest of the season and went 10-6. The Vikings ended the campaign 9-7 and were on the other end of an emotional, gut-wrenching, miracle play by Arizona to get bounced from the playoffs on what would be the final play of the 2003 season.