The heart wants what the heart wants

The great Purple People Eaters of the 1970’s. From left: Jim Marshall, Carl Eller, Alan Page, Gary Larsen

I used to have a dog named Nikki. She was 9 years old when she came to live with us. She was not the prettiest dog I’ve ever come across (a friend of mine who is a bit of a Star Trek aficionado used to say she looked like a Ferengi), but she was incredibly sweet, and very, very smart. Her only annoying habit was that, when left alone for too long, she would get into the garbage can in the kitchen. We would come home to find garbage spread from one end of the house to another. In the middle of it all, Nikki would be sitting there nervously wagging her tail. Her eyes would be three-quarters shut, and she would be flinching with her head sort of buried into her shoulder, fully expecting to be hit as punishment for what she had done. This would have been a pretty sweet habit if it hadn’t been plainly obvious that she had been abused for much of her life.

This is very much how many, many long time Minnesota Vikings fans are feeling right now.

You want to give a Vikings fan nightmares? There are a lot of ways to do it. Really all you have to do is mention any of the following things or people:

  • Hank Stram
  • Drew Pearson
  • The Dirty Bird
  • Blair Walsh
  • Fred Biletnikoff
  • 41-0
  • Herschel Walker
  • Take a knee
  • Les Steckel
  • 12 men in the huddle
  • Franco Harris
  • Larry Csonka
  • Gary Anderson

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Hank Stram after Super Bowl IV

A seasoned Vikings fan can give you 500 words right off the top of their head on any one of these topics. I can go on for hours about Hank Stram cackling on the sideline as his Kansas City Chiefs beat Joe Kapp and the Vikings in Super Bowl IV, and I was only 6 months old when they played that game. A Minnesota Vikings fan can tell you the four teams that have Lombardi trophies at the expense of the Purple quicker than it takes Adrian Peterson to fumble the ball in a playoff game.

The Minnesota Vikings are the NFL equivalent to the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox: they’re cursed. There was never a pinpoint moment in time for the Vikings like the Red Sox sending Babe Ruth to the Yankees, but veteran fans believe the team is as cursed as they would have been had they traded Fran Tarkenton to Green Bay. There is just no other way to explain the luck this franchise has had in its biggest moments.

Like the Buffalo Bills, the Vikings are 0-4 in the Super Bowl, but that’s only the surface of this thing. Over the years they have consistently given up big plays at the worst possible moment. They have missed chip-shot field goals that would have won playoff games. They’ve made short term decisions that became long term disasters, like the time they traded away 13 players and draft picks for a running back who averaged exactly 59 yards per game. They were on the losing end of the pass that coined the term “Hail Mary.” There have been stupid penalties in the most important moments. There have been memorable fumbles and interceptions. They even missed their first pick in the draft one year.

Bud Grant

Yet through it all, this team has a proud winning tradition. Over the course of 57 seasons, the Vikings have a combined won loss record of 470-390-10, giving the team a .540 winning percentage, which is among the top ten in the NFL. Next Sunday will mark the 29th time they have been an NFL playoff team. That’s a 50% rate since 1961, and a number that fans of teams like the Detroit Lions, the Arizona Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would kill for. This is the team of Alan Page, Chuck Foreman, Ahmad Rashad, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson and Bud Grant. The organization has 20 division championships, 4 conference titles and one NFL Championship (Super Bowl IV was played before the NFL merged with the AFL). They play in a palace of a stadium, in front of a rabidly passionate fan base. Their purple helmets garnered with white horns are among the most recognizable symbols in all of sports. And if you don’t think “SKOL!” is the best rallying cry in football, well then you’re just wrong.

Anderson’s only miss of the 1998 season came in the NFC Championship game

With all that said, the truth is being a Vikings fan means understanding failure. Heartbreak. Disaster. Despite all the team’s success, Vikings fans can’t help but focus on the things gone spectacularly wrong. The four Super Bowl losses, the horrific ending to the magical 1998 season, Brett Favre getting the team within inches of the Super Bowl despite the bounty placed on him by the New Orleans Defensive Coordinator. We’ve seen Gary Anderson go wide left after a perfect season, and Blair Walsh go wider left from twenty-seven yards. We have been led down the glorious path of success year after year only to be shown the exit at some truly unexpected moments. Thank God for our Scandinavian roots. To our Norwegian and Swedish ancestors, championships would have been too flashy; too audacious. Our background teaches us that there is honor in being an also-ran.

But the heart wants what the heart wants. Year after year, we show up. We pack US Bank Stadium, as we did the Metrodome for thirty years and Metropolitan Stadium for twenty years before that. We cheer those Purple Helmeted Warriors because they are our team. We celebrate the successes with them, and we feel the defeats as deeply as we would have had we been on the field.

This Sunday, January 14, 2018, the Vikings will host the New Orleans Saints at US Bank Stadium in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs. A win means a return to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in eight years. A win in that game puts them in Super Bowl LII.

Coincidentally, the Super Bowl will be played in Minneapolis this year, at US Bank Stadium.

After a 13-3 regular season, the Vikings are the favorites among the national talking heads to represent the NFC in that game. They would be the first team in history to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Optimism among the Purple Faithful is off the charts right now. But you can easily tell the veteran fans from the

In Zimmer we trust

bandwagoneers. The new fans are decked out in their Case Keenum, Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith jerseys, telling anyone who will listen that everything is lined up perfectly for the Vikings, and this is the year.

Meanwhile, the veteran fans are wearing tattered Jim Marshall, Tommy Kramer and Keith Millard jerseys, standing in a pile of garbage with our eyes three-quarters shut, expecting to get hit.

The head coach, Mike Zimmer, is a man we can all love and respect. He may well be the best head coach to roam our sidelines since Bud himself. Zimmer tells us “there is no damn curse.” We want to believe him. We know that there are no such things as curses. We all cheer. We all hope.

But some of us are keeping our guard up as long as we can.

 

 

This article was edited by Sara Larson

Rich Larson is the publisher and editor of The Next Ten Words. Contact him at richlarson@nexttenwords.com. If you like what you’ve read here, please CONSIDER THIS.

7 Comments

  1. Glen on January 9, 2018 at 11:22 pm

    This is pretty spot on. I believe in this team and coach Zimmer, but I know all it takes is a few mistakes or bad calls to kill the dream. I am 47, I grew up to super bowl losses. Lived through more NFC championship losses than is even reasonable, and several other early playoff exits. My birthday is on February 4th, and I know what I want more than anything!

  2. Pete Sandberg on January 9, 2018 at 11:38 pm

    I was at the ‘75 and ‘98 games, and so, am taking a sort of stoic, maybe staid, approach to all this.

    I saw the bottle’s trajectory to Armin Terzian’s noggin, and Gary Anderson’s miss was straight at us, as was the other Anderson’s winning kick.

    We made prank calls to random Kansas City numbers that sad evening, and I almost got in a brawl with my friend’s brother while Csonka was imposing himself on the Vikes. I can’t even think about the Steelers.

    Great job capturing all this.

  3. Andrew on January 10, 2018 at 7:56 pm

    I lived in the Buffalo area all 4 years. It was brutal. And I’m a Giants fan. Years later, I wish the Bills had won. It would have meant the world. So I feel your pain. Now I live in MN, and I really want the Vikings to win. Because “Scandinavian” or not, people here deserve it. Just this once.

  4. Randy on January 11, 2018 at 10:07 am

    You forgot LC Greenwood. He’s the Steelers defensive lineman who spent most of the week before Super Bowl IX in the hospital with pneumonia, then wreaked havoc upon your Vikes that Sunday in New Orleans. My recollections are of course shaped by the fact I was born and raised in western Pennsylvania, even though I have now lived in Minnesota longer than I had in my hometown. My eight year old said it best just a few days ago, he wants to see both his teams in the Super Bowl. My boys are spoiled.

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