After the Vikings won the Central Division title we had to play Los Angeles for the Western championship, and our team really did a job. That was the game where we were behind 17-7 at the half after I assisted in a crucial fumble. Then I managed to throw two interceptions. But in the second half our defense held—as it had been holding all year—and we put together two of the prettiest touchdown drives you've ever seen to beat one of the finest teams in football 23-20. They tell me that Ram Coach George Allen is still going around shaking his head and saying, "I can't believe it. I can't believe it!" I don't blame him. He had the game won, but somebody forgot to tell the Vikings.
Now we had to face Cleveland for the NFL championship. We had beaten them 51-3 in a league game earlier—one of those games where we could do nothing wrong and the opponents could do nothing right—but we knew that they had some horses. At this stage of the season we were running on sheer momentum; we had come too far to blow it all now, and Cleveland couldn't stop us. Early in the game I called a hand-off to Billy Brown, but he slipped on the ice and I had nobody to hand off to, so I barged through the left side of our line and went in for a touchdown. They told me I left Walter Johnson and Mike Howell sprawled behind me. I don't even remember hitting them. I gave it the old Bill Brown-Dave Osborn technique. Their idea is that you take the ball to the goal line by whatever means necessary. Those two guys would go through a brick wall if you painted a goal line on the other side. You have to club them with a stick to stop them.
Later on I made a play that everybody talked about, but it really wasn't as sensational as it looked. To begin with, you have to understand that it's against my principles to run the ball out of bounds. Football is just as much a game of inches as baseball or any other game, and you've got to get every inch you can. Frankly, I'd be embarrassed to run out of bounds just to avoid getting hit. J.J. might be watching the game on television, and I wouldn't want him to think that his old man lacked machismo. Well, in the NFL championship game against Cleveland I called a quick-out pattern to Gene Washington, but he was double covered. I looked to John Henderson on the other side, and there was nothing there, so I took off around right end, straight at Jim Houston, the Browns' All-Pro linebacker. I could have gone out of bounds, but instead I put all my moves on Houston, and when neither of them worked I put my head down and crashed into him. The next thing I knew I had done a complete flip through the air and Houston was down and out. My leg hurt like hell, but I didn't rub it. I didn't know what really happened until several weeks later when I ran into Houston on the Coast.
"You know what you did to me that time?" Houston said.
"Yeah," I said. "I hit you with my purse."
Houston said, "You caught me right on the point of the jaw with your knee."
"Well," I said, "that's one of our plays. We practiced it all year."
"Better practice some more next year," Houston said. "I'll be looking for that play." I hope not.
After our 27-7 win in that championship game, I got into a little bit of trouble with Pete Rozelle, but it was all innocent. Without consulting the NFL rules, Dale Hackbart and I had put a case of champagne in the dressing room before the game. I said, "You know, Hack, the front four has been getting all the newspaper space and they deserve it, but we also have a fine offensive line and nobody's writing about them," so we went out and got another case of champagne strictly for our offensive linemen. When the game was over and the television cameras focused on our locker room, all you could see was champagne spurting all over the place—and that's against the rules. We just didn't know, and Rozelle was nice about it. Personally, I'd have rather had tequila anyway, but he probably wouldn't have approved of that either.
In my opinion, what the Vikings needed after that Cleveland win was more partying, not less. But a strange change set in. After we'd spurted a few quarts of champagne on each other, everybody started looking ahead to the Super Bowl. This big bunch of happy-go-lucky warriors, this team of crazy, enthusiastic guys, suddenly changed its personality, and you could almost see it happening. Right there in the dressing room we began acting like it would be bad luck if we celebrated the NFL championship anymore. We should have. We were wrong! We should have had a party, but we didn't. That was mistake No. 1!