American Football Database
1981 Minnesota Vikings season
Head Coach Bud Grant
General Manager Mike Lynn
Home Field Metropolitan Stadium
Record 7–9
Place 4th NFC Central
Playoff Finish did not qualify
Previous season Next season
1980 1982

The 1981 season was the Minnesota Vikings' 21st in the National Football League, their 15th under head coach Bud Grant, and their final season at Metropolitan Stadium. They finished with a 7–9 record, and missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

The Vikings attempted 709 passes in 1981 (44.3 per game), a league record that stood for 30 years until it was broken by the 2012 Detroit Lions.[1]


1981 Draft

Pro Bowler
1981 Minnesota Vikings Draft
Draft order Player name Position College Notes
Round Selection
1 18 Traded to the Baltimore Colts[a]
2 39 Mardye McDole Wide receiver Mississippi State from Colts[a]
45 Robin Sendlein Linebacker Texas
52 Jarvis Redwine Running back Nebraska from Rams via Redskins and Colts[a]
3 71 Traded to the New Orleans Saints[b]
74 Tim Irwin Offensive tackle Tennessee from Patriots[c]
4 101 John Swain Cornerback Miami
5 123 Wendell Ray Defensive end Missouri from Colts[a]
128 Traded to the New Orleans Saints[b]
6 154 Traded to the Miami Dolphins[d]
7 184 Don Shaver Running back Kutztown (PA)
8 210 Wade Wilson Quarterback Oklahoma
9 237 Traded to the Seattle Seahawks[e]
10 266 James Murphy Wide receiver Utah State
11 293 Bill Stephanos Offensive tackle Boston College
12 320 Brian Williams Tight end Southern
^[a] The Vikings traded their first-round selection (18th overall) to the Baltimore Colts in exchange for the Colts' second- and fifth-round selections (39th and 123rd overall) and the second-round selection they received from the Redskins (52nd overall).
^[b] The Vikings traded their third- and fifth-round selections (71st and 128th overall) to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for T Steve Riley.
^[c] The Vikings traded RB Chuck Foreman to the New England Patriots in exchange for the Patriots' third-round selection (74th overall).
^[d] The Vikings traded their sixth-round selection (154th overall) and 1982 fifth-round selection (120th overall) to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for C Jim Langer.
^[e] The Vikings traded their ninth-round selection (236th overall) to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for T Nick Bebout.


1981 Minnesota Vikings roster

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive linemen

Defensive linemen


Defensive backs

Special teams

Reserve lists

Practice squad

Rookies in italics
Active, Inactive, Practice squad


Week Date Opponent Result Record Venue Attendance[2]
1 August 8 Miami Dolphins L 6–20 0–1 Metropolitan Stadium 45,165
2 August 14 at Washington Redskins L 13–27 0–2 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium 44,662
3 August 22 Atlanta Falcons W 20–19 1–2 Metropolitan Stadium 42,908
4 August 27 at Los Angeles Rams L 31–34 1–3 Anaheim Stadium 60,141

Regular season

After opening the season with back-to-back losses, the Vikings ran off five straight wins and sat near the top of the NFC at midseason. After splitting their next four games, the Vikings were 7–4 and poised for a playoff run—however, they lost their last five games to close out the year.

The Vikings were led by quarterback Tommy Kramer, who enjoyed the most productive season of his career, throwing for 3,912 yards and 26 touchdowns. However, Kramer also threw 24 interceptions in 1981. The Vikings set an NFL record for pass attempts with 709.

A trio of offensive standouts paced the Vikings in 1981 at the skill positions. Running back Ted Brown was the team's main ball carrier, rushing for 1,063 yards, and also came in third in the NFL with 83 pass receptions; he scored eight touchdowns. Veteran wide receiver Sammy White also eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career (1,001) and tight end Joe Senser, who would later become a color analyst on radio for the Vikings, logged 1,004 yards receiving with eight touchdowns; Senser went to the Pro Bowl for the 1981 season.


Week Date Opponent Result Record Venue Attendance
1 September 5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers L 13–21 0–1 Tampa Stadium 66,287
2 September 14 Oakland Raiders L 10–36 0–2 Metropolitan Stadium 47,186
3 September 20 Detroit Lions W 26–24 1–2 Metropolitan Stadium 45,350
4 September 27 at Green Bay Packers W 30–13 2–2 Milwaukee County Stadium 55,012
5 October 4 Chicago Bears W 24–21 3–2 Metropolitan Stadium 43,827
6 October 11 at San Diego Chargers W 33–31 4–2 San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium 50,708
7 October 18 Philadelphia Eagles W 35–23 5–2 Metropolitan Stadium 45,459
8 October 25 at St. Louis Cardinals L 17–30 5–3 Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium 48,039
9 November 2 at Denver Broncos L 17–19 5–4 Mile High Stadium 74,834
10 November 8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers W 25–10 6–4 Metropolitan Stadium 47,038
11 November 15 New Orleans Saints W 20–10 7–4 Metropolitan Stadium 45,215
12 November 23 at Atlanta Falcons L 30–31 7–5 Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium 54,086
13 November 29 Green Bay Packers L 23–35 7–6 Metropolitan Stadium 46,025
14 December 6 at Chicago Bears L 9–10 7–7 Soldier Field 50,766
15 December 12 at Detroit Lions L 7–45 7–8 Pontiac Silverdome 79,428
16 December 20 Kansas City Chiefs L 6–10 7–9 Metropolitan Stadium 41,110

Note: Intra-division opponents are in bold text.


Template:1981 NFC Central standings


Team leaders

Category Player(s) Value
Passing yards Tommy Kramer 3,912
Passing touchdowns Tommy Kramer 26
Rushing yards Ted Brown 1,063
Rushing touchdowns Ted Brown 6
Receiving yards Joe Senser 1,004
Receiving touchdowns Joe Senser 8
Points Rick Danmeier 97
Kickoff return yards Eddie Payton 898
Punt return yards Eddie Payton 303
Tackles Scott Studwell 230
Interceptions Tom Hannon
Willie Teal
  • Vikings single season record although tackles were not official until 2001.

League rankings

Category Total yards Yards per game NFL rank
(out of 28)
Passing offense 4,333 270.8 2nd
Rushing offense 1,512 94.5 28th
Total offense 5,845 365.3 6th
Passing defense 3,328 208.0 18th
Rushing defense 2,045 127.8 15th
Total defense 5,373 335.8 17th


AFC East Central West East Central West NFC
Baltimore Cincinnati Denver Dallas Chicago Atlanta
Buffalo Cleveland Kansas City NY Giants Detroit Los Angeles
Miami Houston Oakland Philadelphia Green Bay New Orleans
New England Pittsburgh San Diego St. Louis Minnesota San Francisco
NY Jets Seattle Washington Tampa Bay
1981 NFL DraftNFL PlayoffsPro BowlSuper Bowl XVI