My Facebook feed continues to reflect the ongoing woe of Vikings fans everywhere, and it’s reminded me of why I stopped following the gang of purple almost 20 years ago.
I grew up in Bloomington, about five miles from the old Met Stadium. It was back in the day when the average Minnesotan could afford a ticket to a professional football game without requiring a bank loan, and more than once I and friends brushed the snow off a few box seats and shivered through a game.
I wasn’t just a fan… I was a rabid fan. I loved Bill Brown, Dave Osborne, Joe Kapp, Carl Eller, Allen Page, Gene Washington, and, later Fran Tarkenton during his second stint with the Vikes. I’d think about a big game all week, and by Sunday would be primed to watch the action.
I still remember their first Super Bowl appearance, when they played the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 11, 1970. It was my ninth birthday so, of course, I assumed the Vikings were destined to win. They wouldn’t disappoint me on my big day, would they?
You all know the sorry truth…after going 12-2 that season, the vaunted Purple People Eaters looked to have indigestion as the Chiefs walloped them, 23-7. I was crushed.
Over the years, we Vikings fans were treated to more disappointments, as our team would assemble outstanding season records and statistics only to have it all fall apart when it really counted. In the 1974 Super Bowl, they lost 24-7 to the Dolphins, and fell 16-6 to the Steelers in 1975. In 1977, it was the Raiders’ turn, as they dumped the Vikings in the big game 32-14. Add to that a long list of devastating playoff disappointments, starting with their dispiriting last-second playoff loss on a Dallas Hail Mary in the 1975 divisional playoff, a dismal end to a season in which the Vikings went 15-1.
The Vikings took another 15-1 record into their 1998 playoff tilt against the Falcons and jumped to a 20-7 lead early on. The Falcons closed the gap to 27-20 late in the fourth quarter, when Vikings kicker Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a field goal all season, lined up for a relative chip shot that would have extended the Vikings lead to an insurmountable ten points. But he missed wide, and the Falcons came back in the final seconds for a touchdown that sent the game to overtime. Final score: Falcons 30, Vikings 27.
And there are so many, many more. To be a Vikings fan is to forever live with that crushing feeling that you’re just not good enough. When it really counts, we’ve come away with the participation medal every time.
Twenty years ago I said enough is enough. I found better things to do with my Sunday afternoons, and left the Vikings behind, I thought for good. For two decades, I couldn’t tell you the Vikings’ record, or even the name of their quarterback. They were dead to me.
But then an old buddy of mine, who was a sports writer at the MDN back in the 1980s, and is now a hotshot lawyer out in Oregon, kept reaching out in an effort to bring me back into the fold. “This year is different,” he told me, “they’re going all the way!” He insisted I watch the playoff game against the Saints.
So, like a prairie dog who had lived underground for 20 years, I cautiously poked my head up to take a look around. I didn’t watch at first, but checked my phone as the game wore on to follow the score. With the Vikings up 17-0 early in the second half, I cautiously decided to tune in— only to watch the Vikings defense collapse in the fourth quarter. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, with the Vikings then trailing the Saints 24-22, I typed out a sarcastic text to my buddy, on how nothing seemed to have changed. “Still the old Vikings,” I wrote. “Can you say C-H-O-K-E?”
I was about to hit send, when the Vikings captured lightning in a bottle and pulled out one of the most improbable victories since the Cowboys did it to them back in the ‘70s.
For the briefest moment, I let hope get the better of me. Maybe this was a sign that this year’s Vikings team had the golden touch. Maybe Lucy wouldn’t pull the football this time, and leave all of us Charlie Browns staring at the sky with a pained expression. After two decades of blissful ignorance, I found myself thinking about the next Vikings game once again. I had gotten sucked back in.
And then the Eagles happened, and all the years of suppressed pain came rushing back to the surface.
“The horror, the horror,” is all my Oregon buddy could say after the game.
But within the week, there were tentative words of hope percolating around on my Facebook feed. One commenter even suggested that the loss was actually good news, that sets the Vikings up for long-term success. “They’re just a couple pieces away from taking it all,” said this poor deluded fan.
Yes, just a couple pieces away, I thought. All they really need is a defense that shows up when it counts. That… and an offense.
As for me, this prairie dog’s going back underground for a long, long time. There’s just too much pain up on the surface.