RB Earl Campbell (pictured at right) was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame NFL career as the New Orleans Saints played the Minnesota Vikings on November 24, 1985. Once the league’s premier running back with the Houston Oilers, he had been dealt to New Orleans midway through the 1984 season, which reunited him with Head Coach O.A. “Bum” Phillips, who had coached Campbell during his best years with the Oilers. It had not brought a turnaround for the worn-down 30-year-old power runner who had last run for a hundred yards in a game during the ’83 season, which was also the last time he reached a thousand yards and gained Pro Bowl recognition.
The Saints were having plenty of other difficulties. After starting out at 3-2, they were in the midst of a six-game-losing streak that had them at 3-8. Ex-USFL star QB Bobby Hebert started for the first time in the previous week’s loss at Green Bay, replacing the mediocre Dave Wilson. The defense, which had been an asset during most of Phillips’ coaching reign, was performing badly.
Minnesota had a 5-6 record, attempting to bounce back after a disastrous 3-13 campaign with Les Steckel as head coach in ’84. His predecessor, Bud Grant, had come out of retirement to try and right the ship.
There were 54,117 fans in attendance at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The Vikings had the first possession, went three-and-out, and punted. Earl Campbell carried on each of New Orleans’ first four plays, gaining a total of 29 yards. Faking a pitch to Campbell on the fifth play, Bobby Hebert instead handed off to FB Wayne Wilson, who ran 41 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. Morten Anderson added the extra point.
WR Buster Rhymes returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the Minnesota 42 and the Vikings struck quickly as, two plays later, QB Tommy Kramer threw to RB Arthur Anderson for a 54-yard TD. Jan Stenerud converted to tie the score at 7-7.
The Saints got good starting field position for their next series thanks to a 45-yard kickoff return by CB Willie Tullis to the Minnesota 46. It was Campbell running three times for 25 yards to start it off. Wilson netted a one-yard loss on two carries and, facing third-and-11, Hebert tossed his first pass of the game to WR Eugene Goodlow for a pickup of 17 yards to the five yard line. Two plays later, Campbell ran for a four-yard touchdown and, adding Andersen’s conversion, the visitors were on top by 14-7.
The Vikings responded strongly as Kramer connected with TE Steve Jordan for 18 yards and RB Ted Brown broke loose for a 21-yard run. But another running play lost yardage and Kramer’s next pass was intercepted by LB Glen Redd, who returned it 25 yards to the Minnesota 38. It was Campbell again carrying the load as the Saints reached the nine yard line at the end of the period and, two plays into the second quarter, Andersen booted a 26-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-7.
A short Minnesota possession resulted in a punt and the Saints advanced 48 yards in seven plays to score again. Campbell continued to run effectively and a pass interference penalty on CB Carl Lee picked up 34 yards. The drive stalled but Andersen kicked another field goal, this time from 47 yards, to make it a 20-7 game with less than eight minutes to go in the first half.
The teams exchanged punts until, just after the two-minute warning, New Orleans TE Hoby Brenner fumbled when hit by CB Willie Teal after catching a pass for 26 yards to midfield, and Teal recovered. Kramer completed three straight passes, the longest to Rhymes for 27 yards to the New Orleans five. The Vikings couldn’t penetrate the end zone, but Stenerud kicked a 22-yard field goal to narrow the margin to 20-10 at halftime.
The Saints had the ball first in the third quarter and advanced 33 yards in eight plays that culminated in a 45-yard Andersen field goal. New Orleans was up by 23-10. The Vikings punted following their possession and it looked promising for the Saints as Campbell ran the ball four times for 25 yards and Hebert completed a pass to Brenner for 14. However, after reaching the Minnesota 30, Lee intercepted an Hebert pass and returned it 33 yards to the New Orleans 39. Kramer completed four consecutive throws, the longest to WR Mike Jones for 17 yards, but after achieving a first-and-goal at the 10, the home team once again couldn’t score a touchdown and settled for a 22-yard Stenerud field goal. The spread was once again ten points as the game headed into the fourth quarter.
Following a punt by the Saints early in the period, the Vikings again drove into New Orleans territory. Facing third-and-ten at the 43, Minnesota got a break when the Saints were called for defensive holding, giving them another first down, and Kramer immediately passed to WR Anthony Carter for a pickup of 19 yards. The drive bogged down at the 20, but Stenerud chipped away further at the New Orleans lead with a 37-yard field goal that made the tally 23-16.
WR Eric Martin returned the kickoff 48 yards and the Saints started their next series off at the Minnesota 49, but Wilson fumbled on a third-down carry and DE Keith Millard recovered for the Vikings at the 38. Kramer had completions to Carter for 25 yards and RB Allen Rice for six as Minnesota advanced to the New Orleans 26, but a long pass by Kramer was picked off by CB Dave Waymer and returned 15 yards to the 18.
The Saints managed to reach their 42 before having to punt. Minnesota was quickly back in business when a first down pass intended for Carter drew a pass interference call on Waymer that picked up 45 yards to the New Orleans 30. This time the Vikings didn’t come up empty as a third-down pass from Kramer to Jones was good for a six-yard touchdown. Stenerud added the extra point to tie the score at 23-23 with 1:47 left in regulation.
The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds and the next, squibbed kick was returned 23 yards by RB Bobby Fowler to the 50. Campbell carried twice for 11 yards before Hebert threw to TE John Tice for a 39-yard TD. Andersen added the point after and New Orleans held on to win by a final score of 30-23.
The Saints had the edge in total yards (371 to 284) and first downs (19 to 17). Of the yardage total for New Orleans, 234 came on the ground. Each team turned the ball over three times.
Earl Campbell rushed for 160 yards on a team-record 35 carries that included one touchdown. Wayne Wilson (pictured at left) contributed 65 yards and a TD on his 12 attempts. Bobby Hebert completed 10 of 14 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, his first in the NFL, while being intercepted once. Hoby Brenner topped the Saints with three pass receptions for 51 yards.
For the Vikings, Tommy Kramer was successful on 19 of 45 throws for 240 yards and two TDs with three interceptions. Ted Brown ran for 40 yards on 8 attempts and also topped the club with 8 catches for 54 yards. Alfred Anderson also gained 54 yards on his one long scoring reception. Greg Coleman averaged 51.6 yards on his five punts.
The 160-yard outing against the Vikings was Earl Campbell’s fortieth, and last, career hundred-yard performance. He ended up with 643 yards on 158 carries (4.1 avg.) and his TD at Minnesota was the only one he scored in what was his last season.
The game against the Vikings was also the last for Coach Phillips, who resigned and was replaced by his son, Wade, the defensive coordinator. The Saints won again the next week but lost their last three contests to end up with a 5-11 record and placed third in the NFC West. Minnesota bounced back to split the remaining four games and finished at 7-9, which ranked third in the NFC Central and was considered a respectable outcome after the debacle of ‘84. Bud Grant retired for good and offensive coordinator Jerry Burns was elevated to head coach.