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Scenario for Vikings 1st Division Title Involved Bears & Eagles in '68


As the current Vikings prepare for a win-and-in scenario at home Sunday against Chicago, Carl Eller was reminded of a similar situation that played out 50 years ago for the franchise.

It might have been the only time the Hall of Fame defensive end has ever pulled for the Packers.

The Vikings and Bears each entered the 1968 regular-season finale at 7-6 back when the league played just 14 regular-season games.

Chicago had swept the season series against Minnesota, meaning the Vikings needed a road win over Philadelphia coupled with a Bears home loss to the Packers.

"I remember that we played Philadelphia … I think it was in Philadelphia … and it was a must-win for us," Eller recalled. "We had to win."

The Vikings did their part, getting a 24-17 win over the Eagles at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Minnesota quarterback Joe Kapp threw a pair of touchdown passes and ran for another score.

But unlike this Sunday, when a handful of games with playoff implications will start at the same time, Chicago's Week 14 matchup against the Packers in 1968 kicked off 45 minutes after the 12:15 (CT) start for the Vikings-Eagles.

When the Vikings reached the locker room, about six minutes remained in the Chicago-Green Bay game, and Minnesota's players gathered to follow the action on the radio.

The final score from Wrigley Field? Green Bay 28, Chicago 27.The Vikings were in.

"Our game was done before the Bears were playing Green Bay," Eller said. "We were rooting for Green Bay, which was really kind of strange. I think it was the only time I can remember us rooting for Green Bay.

"The Packers beat the Bears, and we got into the playoffs. It was a very anxious time for us, and we were all excited about it," Eller added. "It was the first time that we had actually made the playoffs."

Minnesota's playoff run was short-lived as the Vikings lost 24-14 in Baltimore to the Colts, who would go on to represent the NFL in Super Bowl III but lost 16-7 to the New York Jets of the American Football League.

The Vikings secured their first-ever division title in 1968, but Eller bypassed the notion that was the most important part of that year.

Instead, he said, it was the start of a winning culture and the "beginning of our reign" under Bud Grant, as Minnesota won 11 division titles in a 13-season span under the Hall of Fame Head Coach.

"I was still a young player, and it was the beginning of something," Eller said. "It's hard to put that into words and in perspective of what that does for you and the motivation it creates in you.

"It gives you a ranking kind of above the ordinary. It's a level that you want to be at. You want to be a team that is playing the extra games at the end of the season," Eller added. "The '68 season in itself doesn't really stand out as much as the other seasons that came because it was just kind of a prelude, a launching point."

As the Vikings prepare for their own big game Sunday, does the Vikings Ring of Honor inductee (and one of the infamous Purple People Eaters) have any advice for the current Vikings?

"You have to focus just on what you have to do," Eller said. "They're going to face a tough team.

"They're going to need a mindset that they're playing one of the toughest teams that they could meet in the playoffs if they make it," the 76-year-old Eller added. "I certainly would not underestimate the Bears."