The Minnesota Vikings joined the NFL in1961 as an expansion team and a year later, the Pittsburgh Steelers took the first contest between the teams 39-31. The series is tied at 9-9 but in Minnesota, the Vikings hold the balance at 4-2.
Minnesota has never won a Lombardi trophy. The Steelers played their part in preventing the Vikings from winning one in 1975 when they triumphed 16-6 in Super Bowl IX.
The NFL Overseas
The NFL is always looking to expand and in an attempt to take over the sporting world, the league began playing exhibition games outside of the USA as early as the sixties. The failed World league of American Football and NFL Europa proved to be costly attempts in promoting the sport outside of the USA.
Although the first regular season game played outside of North America in 2005 was in Mexico, the NFL committed itself to playing games in London as the first step in establishing a franchise overseas.
Fortunately for SteelerNationUK (SNUK), the Steelers came over to play the Vikings in 2013 and it proved to be a memorable game for Steelers fans in the UK and from around Europe to watch their team. It was also an opportunity for Steeler Nation to travel from the USA.
Ben Roethlisberger came over to promote the game and some of SNUK were lucky to be invited to an evening with him in London. He gave a talk on football before answering questions from the invited guests.
Missi Matthews came over later and interviewed me for a Steelers Unite promotional video they put on the Steelers site in a build up for the game. Generally, these were exciting times for SNUK as many fans were seizing the unique opportunity to watch their team without having to travel abroad.
The game attracted fans from the USA and even Australia, so SNUK organized several successful events in London for Steeler Nation. On game day, we arranged for a pub on the doorstep of Wembley stadium to become a Steelers’ bar for the day. SNUK were also able to attend the Steelers practice held at the WASP’s training ground.
It was the year the Steelers drafted a running back with their second pick. Le’Veon Bell came to Pittsburgh with a great reputation and fans were looking forward to seeing what he would bring to their offense.
He missed the first three weeks of the regular season with a foot injury, but SNUK were delighted when they found out he was expected to play.
With both teams winless, Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson knew what was at stake. ”It’s great to be here in London,” he acknowledged, “but 0-3 right now, it’s time for us to get a W. It’s very critical, especially going into the bye week.”
Ben Roethlisberger was also aware of the consequence of a loss for the Steelers. No team had made the playoffs after starting 0-4.
The International Games are a big occasion for European NFL fans. For most American Football fans, it is their only opportunity of watching the NFL live. They travel in numbers from Germany and from all areas of the United Kingdom to be at the games.
Most “neutral” fans inside the stadium would support the underdog and the home team. For this game it would be the Vikings who benefited from their support. It didn’t matter which NFL team’s jersey they were wearing, if they were not Steelers’ fans, they would be behind the Vikings.
(0-3) Steelers vs (0-3) Vikings September 29, 2013, Wembley Stadium
The Vikings began the game on offense and moved the chains into Pittsburgh territory after Steelers’ Ike Taylor just failed to hold on to an interception. Minnesota kicked a 40-yard field goal to take an early lead.
After the Steelers punted on their first possession, the Vikings made short work of increasing their lead when Matt Cassel found Greg Jennings with a pass. Jennings shrugged off his tacklers and burst through the secondary for a touchdown of 70 yards.
On Pittsburgh’s next series, Roethlisberger found Emmanuel Sanders with a 36-yard pass and the Steelers began to move the ball. Short completions to David Johnson and Antonio Brown gave the Steelers a first down on the Vikings’ 8.
Le’Veon Bell went right tackle to score his first NFL touchdown and cut the Steelers deficit. Bell’s first appearance in a Steelers jersey had marked his debut with a touchdown to the delight of Steeler Nation.
The teams exchanged punts to take the game into the second quarter. Minnesota began on their 40 and Cassel handed the ball to Peterson and the Vikings restored their advantage. His run of 60 yards stunned the Steelers’ fans as much as it encouraged the neutrals in their support of the underdogs.
Before the teams went into the locker room for half time, they swapped field goals ensuring the Vikings held a ten-point lead.
The Steelers received the ball at the start of the third quarter and were gaining short yards when Roethlisberger threw deep to Brown. The incompletion drew an interference penalty and the Steelers were awarded a first down on the Vikings’ 1. Bell hammered his way into the endzone for the touchdown and Pittsburgh were within three points of their opponents at 17-20.
The Vikings were not about to roll over. Cassel’s 51-yard pass to Jerome Simpson opened up the Steelers’ defense and put the Vikings in good field position. Peterson finished the drive with runs of 8,1 and 9 yards before a touchdown run of 7 yards.
After Roethlisberger threw an interception on the Steelers’ next possession, Cassel accepted the gift and took just two plays to add another touchdown with his completion to Jennings. The Vikings were now 34-17 ahead and Wembley was rocking with the encouragement of the crowd.
With the Steelers playing catch up football, Roethlisberger suffered his fourth sack that cut short their next possession.
After forcing the Vikings to punt, the Steelers began a drive on their 45. Five pass completions moved the chains to Minnesota’s 15 when Roethlisberger found Jerricho Cotchery with a touchdown pass.
The Vikings next series ended when their field goal attempt from 44 yards went wide left. The Steelers replied with Shaun Suisham’s successful 28-yard field goal, but the Steelers were now fighting the clock with 3.40 remaining.
The Steelers’ defense kept the Vikings to one first down before forcing them to punt. Pittsburgh took over at their 22. Roethlisberger completed six passes to put his team on their opponents’ 6 with 24 seconds left and no timeouts. When he was sacked for the fifth time, he fumbled the ball and the game ended in a dramatic defeat for Steeler Nation.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 27 vs the Minnesota Vikings 34
The neutrals and the Vikings fans had been treated to one of the best games played in the International Series. The NFL would have been pleased with the high scoring game and the exciting spectacle would have done a lot to promote their brand.
SNUK may have been disappointed with the result, but they enjoyed the experience. For many, it had been the first time they had watched their team and they had witnessed the beginning of the career of a new NFL star in Le’Veon Bell.
Roethlisberger wasn’t too happy with the defeat. “We are in uncharted territories and the water is dangerous right now, so we have to stick together and get out of it,” he said. “Right now, you could say we are the worse team in the league. That hurts.”
The loss saw the Steelers open a season 0-4 for the first time since 1968, the year before the arrival of Chuck Noll. The Steelers would manage eight wins during the rest of the season to keep Coach Tomlin’s record of not having a losing season intact.