Why 49ers facing underdog Vikings in playoffs brings back bad memories


Longtime followers of the 49ers still get a little queasy at the memory of the Minnesota Vikings traveling to the Bay Area as a significant playoff underdog.

Those feelings date back to Jan. 9, 1988, when the 49ers entered the divisional round of the NFC playoffs as an 11-point favorite against the Vikings at Candlestick Park. The 49ers were fully expected to cruise to a win, which would set up an NFC Championship showdown with Washington.

But the best wide receiver on the soggy field that day was Anthony Carter, who torched the 49ers for 10 catches for 227 yards. Carter accounted for the vast majority of Vikings quarterback Wade Wilson’s 298 passing yards.

The 49ers, who registered a league-best 13-2 record in the 1987 strike-shortened regular season, completely fell apart.

Coach Bill Walsh benched quarterback Joe Montana with 6:29 remaining in the third quarter with the 49ers trailing 27-10. Montana completed just 12 of 26 pass attempts for 109 yards and one interception.

Steve Young entered, beginning the full-on quarterback controversy that would rage for future seasons.

Young completed 12 of 17 passes for 158 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed six times for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Nothing went right for the 49ers. All-world wide receiver Jerry Rice worked out too hard during the 49ers’ bye week and tweaked his hamstring. He caught just three passes for 28 yards.

After the game, 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo stripped Walsh of his title as team president. Walsh would last only one more season as head coach.

There’s at least one similarity between what happened three decades ago and this year’s NFC playoffs. One week earlier in 1988, the Vikings traveled to New Orleans and upset the Saints, 44-10, in the wild-card round to set up the game against the 49ers.

The Vikings lost to Washington, 17-10, the following week in the NFC title game.

On Sunday, the Vikings upset the Saints in New Orleans, 26-20, in overtime to earn the right to meet the 49ers in the divisional round on Saturday at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers opened as a seven-point favorite over the Vikings after earning a first-round playoff bye with their Week 17 win against the Seattle Seahawks.

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As painful as the 49ers' loss to the Vikings in 1988 remains, perhaps, something good came from the demoralizing playoff loss to the Vikings: The 49ers rebounded to win the next two Super Bowls.

Walsh won the championship in his final season, then George Seifert took over and the 49ers again hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

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