For your final halftime stunt, ladies and gentlemen in the stands for Super Bowl XI, write down on your cards what you think of the Minnesota Vikings so far. Now hold the cards up.
Nah, it would never clear the censors. The football game was essentially over by then, as so many Super Bowls have been concluded prematurely by the Vikings, who somehow seem to save their worst for Pete Rozelle's answer to urban strife set to music and pigeons. The only fascinating part was how ingeniously easy Minnesota made it for the Oakland Raiders this time. It was perfectly evident that the Raiders came to play a superb game; it was just that no one realized they wouldn't have to.
Before the final score becomes a question for trivia experts, let it be stated that the bearded, brawling Raiders won the "World Championship Game" 32 to 14 last Sunday afternoon. They did it by lavishing on themselves all kinds of luxuries seldom seen in clashes that are supposed to be close and hard-fought and nervously contested. They played throw-and-catch as if they were in a game of two-below touch. They made a running star out of a former USC halfback who isn't known by his initials. They had a punt blocked for the first time since Ray Guy was in diapers. They missed a field goal and two extra points when Errol Mann kept aiming at the Ventura Freeway instead of the Rose Bowl uprights. They got a 75-yard touchdown dash with an interception out of a fellow who can't outrun anybody but John Madden and Fran Tarkenton. And what it all meant was that these Raiders were so ready and so talented, they succeeded in turning the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza into something people seriously watched.
This, of course, was well after the Vikings had gotten the two big breaks in the early part of the proceedings—a missed Oakland field goal and a blocked Oakland punt—and wound up with a 16-0 halftime score. Oakland's favor. After that it was perfectly clear to the 100,421 Pasadena witnesses that the Vikings were going to do for the Raiders what they had done for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1970 Super Bowl (they lost 23-7), what they had done for the Miami Dolphins in the 1974 Super Bowl (they lost 24-7), and what they had done for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1975 Super Bowl (they lost 16-6).
And when it was over, poor Fran Tarkenton repeated what he had said after two of those wonderful exhibitions: "They played extremely well. We played lousy."
Before the Vikings started making a 137-yard runner out of Clarence Davis, and letting Ken Stabler find Fred Biletnikoff and Dave Casper open all over the field, there was this bizarre turnaround in the first quarter which may have had something to do with the destiny of both teams. What it did was so discourage the Vikings that they looked forever after as if they would rather have been somewhere else—like icefishing, perhaps—on Jan. 9, 1977.
When Viking Linebacker Fred McNeill flew in from the left side to block Guy's punt—something no sane person thought could happen—and then covered the football on Oakland's three-yard line, and when he did it 10 minutes into the first period with the score still 0-0, there was reason to suspect that these old men of the North were finally going to overcome their bad Super Bowl habits. That feeling didn't last long.
After Chuck Foreman made one yard, Tarkenton decided to give the ball to Brent McClanahan for another stab into the middle of Oakland's line. Somewhere in there McClanahan lost the ball—either because Otis Sistrunk growled at him or Phil Villapiano bit him. McClanahan later explained the fumble by saying, "No comment, no comment, no comment, no comment." Eight of those, in fact. In any case, Willie Hall came up with the ball for the Raiders. And after that it was just a question of whether Stabler wanted to pass for more yardage than Davis ran for.
How the Vikings managed to block the punt without Nate Allen doing it from the right side was interesting. McNeill jumped to the outside of his blocker just before the snap and had a clear path to Guy from the left. Actually, the blocked ball bounced over Bobby Bryant's head at the seven-yard line, or Bryant no doubt would have duplicated his feat in the NFC title game against the Rams, when he dashed 90 yards with a kick that Allen had blocked—the play that probably sent Minnesota to Pasadena. With a good hop, Bryant would have had a touchdown, and Minnesota would have had the lead. As it happened, Minnesota got nothing. The Vikings simply began extending a weird Super Bowl record that now finds them scoring zero points in the first halves of their four games against 51 for all the fortunate AFC teams that have met them.
When Stabler took over and drove the Raiders 97 yards for their first flicker on the scoreboard—a 24-yard Mann field goal—a pattern began to emerge. Casper was going to be open, so was Biletnikoff, and Davis was going to burst through openings—most often to his left against the overaged and undernourished right side of Minnesota's defense—and compile statistics similar to those that Miami's Larry Csonka (145 yards) and Pittsburgh's Franco Harris (158 yards) had amassed against the Vikings in previous Super Bowls.