Remembering the Twins’ 1987 World Series

Photo: 1987 Minnesota Twins World Series Championship Ring
Minnesota Twins 1987 World Series Championship Ring

Updated 2/24/2019: I updated this post to fix missing videos and added a few more.

With the Minnesota Twins celebrating the 20th anniversary of the team’s first World Series championship, I have, of course, been reminiscing.

In 1987, I was living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I attended Coe College.

I was a Twins fan as a  kid and I played baseball daily in both Little League and during summer pickup games. The players I watched included:

  • Harmon Killebrew,
  • Tony Oliva,
  • Bert Blyleven,
  • Jim Kaat,
  • Bill “Soup” Campbell,
  • Dave Goltz,
  • Jerry Koosman,
  • Dan Ford,
  • Larry Hisle,
  • Lyman Bostock,
  • Butch Wynegar, 
  • Roy Smalley and
  • Ken Landreaux

But my favorite player was, of course, Rod Carew. In 1977 I watched him flirt with a .400 batting average.

To this day, he was the best hitter I’ve ever seen. I go crazy watching the current Twins–or most current Major Leaguers, for that matter–bunt because Carew was such a master at it. He was also a master at stealing home.

Not Winning Enough

While I got to watch many talented baseball players, I never got to see the Twins in post-season play. In ’69 and ’70, they made it to the American League Championship Series, but I was five. The only World Series appearance the team had made was in 1965, when the team was four years old.

The Vikings, however, were perennial winners during my childhood. The young Vikings team had advanced to Super Bowl IV, but that was before I started following sports.

I started watching them when I was nine years old, 1973, the year they drafted outstanding running back Chuck Foreman.

The year before, the Vikes traded several players and two draft picks to reacquire quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Those two additions helped the Vikings win their first nine games of 1973, finish the season 12-2, and advance to Super Bowl VIII, where they lost to the Miami Dolphins.

The Vikings returned to the Super Bowl twice more after the 1974 and 1976 seasons, but lost both of those as well. They would have played in the Super Bowl after the 1975 season, were it not for the cheating Dallas Cowboys.

During the early eighties, the Vikings had some average seasons but in 1987 came within an inch of the Super Bowl when Redskins corner Darrell Green knocked the pass out of Darrin Nelson‘s hands to deny the Vikes a last second touchdown.

So during my childhood, my professional sports memories are filled with losing and not quite winning enough.

From 1980 to 1986, the Twins never finished better than third place; in 1986, they finished sixth in a seven team division. It was tough, therefore, to be a Twins fan during my college year; particularly because my annoying Chicago classmates were merciless in their teasing me over the Twinkies.


Then came 1987.

At that time, while at college, I also managed a restaurant and did some freelance copywriting. During the World Series, I visited with a copywriter for one of the top advertising agencies in Cedar Rapids, trying to make a name for myself and pry my way into the advertising business.

“How ’bout them boys from St. Louie?!?” he said to one of his coworkers, as I followed him to his office. I bit my lip.

It was interesting being in Cedar Rapids at that time because half of the town was rooting for the Cardinals and half was rooting for the Twins.

I tried, but couldn’t take off work from the restaurant for many of the games of the series, so I was reduced to asking customers the score, then dashing home to watch the highlights on CNN and devouring a copy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in the morning.

Twins 1987 parade

I did managed to find someone to work my shift for Game Seven.

My girlfriend, who was also from Minnesota, and I watched the game at our apartment. We watched a nail-biting game featuring a remarkable eight inning pitching performance by Frankie “Sweet Music” Viola and a ninth save by closer Jeff Reardon for the win and the championship.


The elation over my Twins world championship was due as much to the relief that we’d finally won as it was to the joy of winning itself.

You have to understand the context.

No modern Minnesota sports team had ever won a championship. We were always getting a sniff of the ultimate victory, but never the taste.

In baseball, the Twins lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965. Four times the Vikings played in a Super Bowl game and four times they lost. In 1961, the Minnesota Gophers football team lost to Washington in the Rose Bowl.

Long before the Timberwolves, the Minneapolis Lakers won three NBA championships before the team moved to Los Angeles, but I wasn’t born yet, so it doesn’t count.

Losing the big one was not merely confined to sports, though.

My state was a two-time loser in presidential politics as well. In 1968, former Minnesota Senator and then-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey lost the presidential race to Richard Nixon. Again in 1984, former Minnesota Senator and former Vice President Walter Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan.

Add to that the economic uncertainty of the time (Black Monday occurred on the first off-day of the series), and you have not just the winning of a championship but the relief and redemption of an entire state.

I didn’t get to enjoy the subsequent parade but I did watch it from afar. This is someone’s home movie of the parade. There there is no sound.

This is a tribute that was shown yesterday:

I’m Sorry, Darrin Nelson

A couple weeks back I saw a brief clip on Vikings Weekly where former Vikings running back Darrin Nelson was asked how he thought fans remembered him.

Nelson said he thought fans remembered him as a fast back with good hands. I, of course, snorted “Nooooo, fans will remember you for The Drop.”

The Drop being the pass thrown to him (that went into and out of Nelson’s arms) at the goal line by quarterback Wade Wilson on January 17, 1988, of against the Washington Redskins. Had Nelson scored and the Vikings converted the extra point, the game almost certainly would have gone into overtime, with the Vikings having a chance to return to the Super Bowl for the fifth time.

It would take another decade for the Vikings to get so close to the big game.

For 20 years, one month and sixteen days I have laid the blame of that loss solely at the feet of Darrin Nelson. I am not alone. Most Vikings fans I know who watched that game blame Nelson as well.

But now I know I owe Darrin Nelson an apology. I’m sorry. I was wrong and I apologize.

I recently watched an NFL Films piece on the NFL Network about the Washington Redskins’ historic season that clearly demonstrated that I was wrong.

First a little context.

The 1987 NFL Season

In 1987, the NFL players went on strike after the second week of the season. The league scheduled games and arranged for replacement players to play them. , a backup for the Kansas City Chiefs for four seasons nearly a decade before, came out of retirement to play as a scab for the Vikings. The Replacement Vikings were miserable.

The real Vikings won the first two games of the season and The Replacements promptly lost three divisional games in a row to the Replacement Packers, the Replacement Bears, and the Replacement Buccaneers.

The real Vikings returned to work after three games boasting a roster loaded with talent:

The defensive line was manned by ends Chris Doleman and Keith Millard and rookie defensive tackle Hank Thomas; the linebacking corps included Walker Lee Ashley and Scott Studwell; and the defensive backfield featured cornerbacks Carl Lee and Issiac Holt and was anchored by safety Joey Browner.

In addition to Darrin Nelson, the offense was lead by veteran quarterbacks Tommy Kramer and Wade Wilson and a rookie quarterback named Rich Gannon. They threw to wide receivers Anthony Carter and Hassan Jones, and tight end Steve Jordan, and were protected by center Kirk Lowdermilk, guard David Huffman, tackles Tim Irwin and Gary Zimmerman,

The special teams units included punter Greg Coleman a small wide receiver/punt returner Leo Lewis.

That roster was able to overcome the devastating three divisional losses served up by The Replacements to gain a Wild Card berth and blow away both the Saints (44-10) in the Wild Card game and the dynastic San Francisco 49ers (36-24) in the divisional playoffs.

The Redskins’ season began with coach Joe Gibbs nearly trading castoff quarterback Doug Williams but having a last minute change of heart because he had a gut feeling that somewhere down the line, Williams would help them get to the Super Bowl that year.

Unlike the Vikings, the Redskins scabs won all three games they played, so Washington was well positioned for a playoff run.

Williams was protected by an outstanding offensive line that included Jeff Bostic, Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby and among his trio of receivers, “the posse,” was Art Monk. On the defense, the Skins boasted the fastest man in the NFL in defensive back Darrell Green, and defensive ends Dexter Manley and Charles Mann.

Doug Williams was selected by the pathetic Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 17th overall pick of the 1978 draft led the team to the playoffs the following year. Williams lead the Bucs to the playoffs twice more before an acrimonious contract dispute prompted him to leave the NFL for the newly-formed United States Football League. The experience left him feeling disrespected.

Tampa Bay would go to become a perennial loser and laughing stock and it would take 14 years before the team returned to the playoffs.

After the USFL folded, Williams returned to the NFL as a backup for Washington quarterback Jay Schroeder. Schroeder was a prima donna whose position as starting quarterback nearly caused a mutiny within the team.

Schroeder eventually suffered an injury and Williams stepped in to lead the team for the final five games of the season.

Williams lead his team to a 21-17 victory over the NFC Central Division champions Chicago Bears in the NFC Divisional Playoff game. That victory set up the Conference Championship game against the Vikings.

The two teams had recent familiarity with one another by playing each other on the final week of the ’87 season, a game in which Skins eeked out an overtime victory. That was a close game so the Conference Championship figured to be no different.

The game was tied 10-10 into the fourth quarter but the Redskins pulled ahead 17-10 on the strength of a seven yard touchdown pass from Williams to Gary Clark.

Here is where we return to my original topic: Darrin Nelson.

The 1987 NFC Conference Championship Game

The Vikings drove down the field and were down to their last chance on a fourth-down play in the red zone with 56 seconds remaining in the game. If they could score seven points, they could send the game into overtime with momentum on their side.

Washington defensive back Darrell Green figured you go to your playmaker when you absolutely must have a play, so he was going to cover Vikings wide receiver Anthony Carter with an eye toward him getting the ball.

The play Vikings quarterback Wade Wilson ran was designed to use Carter to clear the way for Darrin Nelson to score. The play unfolded on the left side of the end zone with Nelson running a crossing route at the goal line and Carter clearing the way by running Green off to the deep corner of the end zone.

The problem was that Carter ran a comeback route directly into Nelson’s route. Nelson had his defender beat, but Carter’s broken route brought Darrell Green into the play. All Green needed to do was play the ball, which he did, knocking it from Darrin Nelson’s arms.

Nelson did not drop the ball; it was knocked out of his hands. It’s on the tape. UPDATED 01/31/11: You have to watch closely, and the play is at the very beginning of this clip but there’s no replay, but you can clearly see Anthony Carter right next to the play, having pulled his defender into Nelson’s route:

Here’s another view:

So, again, I apologize Darrin Nelson.

The Redskins, of course, went on to win . And Doug Williams made history by becoming the first black quarterback to not just play in a Super Bowl but win it and win it impressively in a 42-10 route over John Elway‘s Denver Broncos.

For his performance, Doug Williams won the game’s MVP honors.

It would take 12 years for another black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl when Steve McNair’s Tennessee Titans came within a yard of tying up the score on the last play of the game against the St. Louis Rams during in what to date has been the most exciting Super Bowl ever played.

Were it not for Darrell Green’s play, Steve McNair may have been the trailblazer.

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