EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- He had made every kick, becoming the first NFL player to finish the regular season mistake-free.
But Gary Anderson wasn't perfect.
All the Vikings needed was a 38-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter of the Jan. 17, 1999, NFC title game at home against Atlanta, a kick that would have cemented his first trip to the Super Bowl.
It was a sure thing. Like asking Billy Joel to play chopsticks. Or Emeril to boil water.
But with one missed field goal, all of Anderson's mastery turned to misery.
The 15-1 Vikings were upset in overtime and never made it to the Super Bowl.
And as it turned out, Anderson's miss was a prelude to a cruel reminder of how fragile a seemingly perfect life can be.
Shortly after the Vikings final 1999 preseason game at the New York Jets, Anderson came home to discover his wife of 14 years, Carol, had left him, leaving behind a note and their two young sons asleep in their beds.
"People talk about adversity in life, and missing field goals isn't adversity," Anderson said. "I know that much. As far as the whole surprise and shocking aspect of it, my good friends all said I was the last person that they ever could have imagined anything like that happening to."
Anderson had trouble focusing on the uprights after his life was turned upside down.
He had three of his first nine field-goal attempts of the 1999 season blocked and missed two others.
Vikings fans and media questioned whether Anderson simply couldn't shake the psychological trauma of his miss against the Falcons.
Having turned 40, Anderson's leg strength was down. And teammates watched his body and spirit disintegrate in equal measures. Some estimate he lost 15-20 pounds from his 5-foot-11, 179-pound frame.
"It was such a heavy burden for him," linebackers coach Trent Walters said. "When he tried to kick, it was like he had a weight on his leg. At times it was someone just going through the motions."
A devout Christian and the son of a minister, Anderson turned to his teammates and coaches for support. They kept the news of his divorce inside the locker room.
Anderson finished the season strong, making 19 of 30 field-goal attempts and scoring 103.
That would represent a solid season, but not by the standards set by Anderson in '98, when he was perfect on 35 field-goal attempts and 59 extra points.
But Anderson credits his teammates for helping him through a difficult time.
"That's one of the main things about this game. Football is really the ultimate team sport," Anderson said. "One or two guys are never going to get it done."
Sunday, Anderson and the Vikings get a chance at redemption for their '98 season when they play the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.
Anderson owns the league's longest current streak of playoff appearances with nine. Four times in the past eight seasons, he kicked for a team that had home-field advantage.
It's never seemed to matter. Whether in Pittsburgh, San Francisco or Minnesota.
"It's important," Anderson said. "I've been in a championship game quite a few times in my career. I think this might be the first time I've been in a championship game where we won't likely be a big favorite. Maybe that's a good thing."
Here's another good thing: Anderson's life and kicks have straightened out.
He is taking care of his sons, Austin, 11, and Douglas, 10. He regained the weight and was nearly flawless this season, converting 22 of 23 field goals and 45 extra points. The miss was a 51-yarder blocked by the Bucs' Warren Sapp.
Anderson said until he is asked about it, he rarely relives the miss at the Metrodome.
"No, not at all. Each game you've got to take by itself and the one that's out there is the one to get," Anderson said. "What you did on the last kick has no bearing on the one you're about to do and that's the mental training of all field-goal kickers."
Although it's only been two seasons, nearly two-thirds of the Vikings did not play in the '99 title game. But the ones who did won't allow the rest to repeat the mistake.
"We were shocked too that we lost. We were like, "Oh, we lost?' " linebacker Ed McDaniel said. "We had a great season and we weren't supposed to lose. Now we're going in with our eyes open and knowing what we have at stake. We know you can be beaten on any given day, but we're not going to be beaten on this day."