As the Vikings prepare for the Chicago Bears in their season finale Sunday, they do so game-planning against quarterback Josh McCown. The Vikings have only played McCown once and it was eight years ago Wednesday, leading to one of the most memorable radio calls in franchise history.
The call was quite simple. “No-o-o-o-o!!! No-o-o-o-o!!!”
On Dec. 28, 2003, the Vikings were on the doorstep of the playoffs. After a frenetic season in which they won their first six games only to squander it away, all they needed was a win over 3-12 Arizona to make the playoffs. For three-and-half quarters, the Vikings had dominated McCown and the Cardinals. With 6:48 to play in the game, the Vikings had allowed Arizona to gain just 98 yards, but, with their backs against the wall trailing 17-6, McCown would lead the Cardinals on the most improbable of comebacks.
With the Vikings in prevent defense mode, the Cardinals seemed content to simply gain yards and didn’t appear to have a sense of urgency. McCown led Arizona on a 15-play drive that covered 60 yards following a kickoff out of bounds by Aaron Elling. When the Cardinals scored with 1:54 to play and blew the two-point conversion, the Vikings still led 17-12 and the playoff planning began.
But someone forgot to tell McCown. The Cardinals recovered an onside kick and, with no time left on the clock, McCown completed a 28-yard touchdown to reserve wide receiver Nathan Poole to give the Cardinals a 18-17 win that knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs and, in the process, made second-year play-by-play announcer Paul Allen a media star following his infamous exclamation.
Allen had never been a football play-by-play voice at any level prior to getting the job with the Vikings after cutting his teeth in the Twin Cities radio market on Vikings flagship station KFAN. His call of the McCown-to-Poole touchdown was the pain Allen, an unabashed Vikings fan, had on that play. Having become friends with head coach Mike Tice, Allen said he knew the gravity of making the playoffs for the second-year head coach. His call came from the heart, not a script, and he felt the pain the Vikings did on the sidelines as the improbable comeback knocked them out and put Green Bay in the playoffs.
“It was natural emotion and it plays into how I call games,” Allen said. “I admit my style is not for everyone, especially old-school football fans who were used to games being called a certain way. That team was fighting for a division title and it was strange from the beginning. We were in Arizona and it was downright cold – about 40 degrees. It was a weird day in a weird stadium with a weird finish.”
While the Vikings had dominated the entire game, but the 2003 Vikings had a history of playing down to their competition. That year, four teams finished tied for the worst record in the league at 4-12. They had one thing in common – they all beat the Vikings with suspect quarterbacks. That history had Allen concerned despite the Vikings’ domination for 3½ quarters.
“I thought all along they had a chance to come back in that game,” Allen said. “It just played into the type of season we had that year. That year the Vikings got off to a 6-0 start and then lost five of their next six. After starting so strong, suddenly they were losing to quarterbacks like Doug Flutie and Rick Mirer. A couple of weeks prior to that they lost to (quarterback) Chad Hutchinson when Eddie Johnson completely missed a punt and set up a touchdown. In that same game, Randy Moss was going in for a touchdown that would have put them in the playoffs, but Charles Tillman stripped him going into the end zone. It was just one of those seasons – very topsy-turvy all the way around.”
Allen admits his friendship with Tice played into the raw emotion that came across over the radio and said he shared in the heartache that went through the Vikings locker room as their dream of competing for a championship slipped through their fingers.
“Knowing (head coach) Mike Tice as well as I did, I knew how important it was for him to get the team into the playoffs,” Allen said. “For 58 minutes, they got the job done. Then it all came crashing down and I think I reflected that disappointment in my call of that touchdown.”
The call put Allen on the map among play-by-play guys. In his second year at the position, most fans were unaware who Allen was. Since then, he has become a staple on the Sounds of the Game weekly segments on ESPN. It became a national sensation that was replayed over and over again. But there was one person who wasn’t pleased with Allen’s on-air emotion and it was the guy who was paying him.
“One guy who wasn’t too happy about the call was the owner, Red McCombs,” Allen said. “He didn’t like the way I handled it and I spent much of the offseason wondering if I was going to still have my job as the play-by-play announcer the next year.”
Allen said he knew pretty quickly that his call was going to resonate with fans and, eight years later, admits that is probably the call he is best known for. He said he was surprised how much attention it received, but it didn’t take long to know that he had achieved the radio version of “going viral.”
“I believe that was what got me noticed, although I wasn’t doing it for effect or to have it replayed over and over again,” Allen said. “I pretty much found out immediately that it was a pretty big deal, because I kept hearing the replays and got a lot of calls asking what went into making that call. It was just my emotion as a fan of that Vikings team and I think most Vikings fans felt the same way. I’ve had a few of those types of calls in the decade I’ve done Vikings play by play – for better or worse – but that was the one that I think a lot of people remember the most and kind of put my stamp on being a play-by-play announcer in the NFL.”
Allen hopes there won’t be a repeat performance of his memorable call made at the spur of the moment eight years ago. But, he said, despite being for the wrong reason, it became a signature line that has carried over to this day and he hasn’t toned down his on-air love for the Vikings.
“It’s just who I am, as a person and as the play-by-play man for the Vikings,” Allen said. “You don’t change who you are and that’s who I am. Some people like it. Some people don’t. But that’s who I am, so if a situation like that comes up again, I will probably react the same way.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.