Heroes. Who needs them.
I have had many in my lifetime. My first that I remember was a sports figure. Bert Blyleven. From the time that I could throw a ball I wanted to have a curve ball that broke as dramatically as Bert's. Striking a batter out was a feeling that one needs to repeat should one pitch.
My first football hero was Chuck Foreman. After watching a steady batch of Bill Brown and Dave Osborne for a few years carrying the ball for the Vikings, the addition of Foreman was like an 'aurora borealis' to the home team's offense. I spent years emulating Foreman in my yard with neighborhood friends, or with my brother diving over the top of stacked pillows (defenses) on the bed to try and score from the one yard line.
I will never forget Chuck.
Today heroes took a hit in Minnesota. Adrian Peterson was de-activated from Sunday's game due to charges he incurred while attempting to discipline his 4-year-old child by a woman not his wife. The absence of Peterson was too much to overcome and Minnesota was thrashed by the Patriots 30-7. I was hopeful the team could rally around each other and overcome the cancer of losing a player just before a game.
I was wrong.
The beating was a steady downpour of passes from Tom Brady, who seemed to have all day. There were four interceptions of Matt Cassel, as he looked ever the part of Christian Ponder in 2013. After a beautiful drive led by Cassel that resulted in a Matt Asiata touchdown catch and a 7-0 Minnesota lead, the remainder of the game was more one-sided than last week's 34-6 romp FOR our Vikings.When New England returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown (and a 24-7 lead) just before halftime, the sound of mowers everywhere in the Twin Cities began.
But that is not even the painful part.
The pain comes from knowing exactly what Adrian Peterson did to his child. Pictures were produced through the media and the internet that pointed to a severe beating of his child with a switch. The inner-feeling I have hoping and praying he can still play for Minnesota trying to overcome my nausea for the available images of his child's backside. As my wife stated during an argument, "I don't know you." Me, a guy who works in public schools and has seen/reported far too many abuse cases in his career, wants compassion for number 28.
I want(ed) AP to play.
Not today. I am proud that my Minnesota Vikings de-activated AP. But I want him to return. I want him to be a better parent. I want to believe that I just do not understand a 'culture' that uses this method to keep children from doing the wrong things. I want to find excuses. to allow our local football hero a chance to help us be a better football team. Win,
And that is where my pain comes from.
How many kids in Minnesota and across the world are wearing number 28 jerseys? How many have pretended they were AP as they ran over their friends? How many adults watched him come within a few yards of the all-time season rushing record, wishing he could get it? We marveled at Adrian Peterson. We said things like he was better than Chuck Foreman. Maybe one of the best of all-time.
We purple are in pain today.
There are some who have already sworn off AP. Cris Carter gave a wonderful and impassioned speech that states he wants there to be no more child abuse. He said the Vikings did the right thing, and the only way guys like our own AP and Ray Rice are going to wake up and act different is to take away their right to be a hero.
Others want him back. Serve his penalty, but then play football for us.
But we know that feeling inside. The one that tells us we are wrong. The one that would put the welfare of a child behind our desire to watch winning football. Or the welfare of a young woman. We come to the realization that people are more important. Corporal punishment will have its' obligatory societal examination, a la gun rights whenever there is a school or public shooting. We will examine the effectiveness of hitting or spanking a child to get them to obey.We will talk.
In the meantime we realize there is a painful purple rain falling.
And as Bob Marley sings.. "When the rain falls, it don't fall on one man's house."
The 0-1 New England Patriots come to town to face our 1-0 Minnesota Vikings. The excitement of the season opening 34-6 win over the St. Louis Rams has finally died down enough that hotel and flight reservations to Glendale, Arizona (site of this year's Super Bowl) have finally slowed from the Twin Cities.
The Vikings enter the game without their star player, running back Adrian Peterson, who was deactivated earlier in the week. Normally this would be enough to have optimistic fans cashing in their hopes for a win. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Shane Vereen lead a Patriots team that is one of the better offensive units in the NFL. Definitely better than a Rams' offense without Sam Bradford. After losing their opener, the Patriots come to town eager to even their record at 1-1.
Luckily, many have already donned their 'purple shaded homer glasses'. As a proud wearer, I am convinced Minnesota can win without Peterson,. The fact that both Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd were injured late in the season opener, and have been limited in practice, escapes purple vision. My shades can only see the improving defense handling the pass-happy Pats. Everson Griffen opened the year with two sacks. Harrison Smith recorded his third interception-return for a touchdown. The front seven limited St. Louis to 72 yards on the ground. Minnesota's new aggressive play forced 13 penalties for over 120 yards. The Vikings were a plus three in turnovers.
Purple Shades are in my brain.
Minnesota is tied for the NFC North division lead with the Detroit Lions. Their leading rusher is going to play a big part in game two. No, not AP, but Cordarrelle Patterson. Coming of his 100-yard plus opening performance, which included a dazzling touchdown run in which he broke four tackles, Patterson is among the league leaders in rushing and overall yardage. And he only touched the ball six times on offense in week one.
Matt Cassel completed 68% of his passes, continuing his solid performance from the preseason. Greg Jennings caught six passes and scored a pretty touchdown in the back of the end zone last week. Meanwhile, Matt Asiata looks to duplicate his performances late in the 2013 season when he took over for an injured Peterson. Asiata averaged near four yards a carry in those two games, with three touchdowns. In addition, fans eagerly await the increased use of the uber-athletic Jerick McKinnon, drafted to replace Toby Gerhart at back-up running back.
The purple future is still bright.
Mike Zimmer and his staff have changed the culture on this team and their community in a short time. Zimmer is undefeated as a head coach, albeit only 1-0. Norv Turner has players excited to play offense. Tight end Kyle Rudolph could benefit the most from the new offense. Rudolph had only two catches for sixteen yards in week one, though one catch was a red-zone touchdown. The preseason appetizer of Turner's offense demonstrated an increased role for the Vikings' young tight end.
You should really try these glasses.
It seems illogical that a team can go from the abyss of the 2013 Vikings' defense to one that can stop Tom Brady and his 56 pass attempt attack. It seems doubtful to most that Minnesota can shrug off the loss of what many consider the best player in football. A 5-10-1 team which could stop no one, turned the ball over religiously, and survived offensively on the skills of a single running back for many years.
But not to we wearers of the purple shades. We see Minnesota moving to 2-0 on Sunday.
I remember the day football became more important than Christmas. I was at my grandmother's house for the holiday, and for the first time I was allowed in the basement to watch football with the adult men of the family. It was 1971, December 25th.
While the fine cooks of our family fretted, the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins battled to double overtime in the longest overtime in NFL history. Miami eventually won 27-24. There were missed field goals in the overtime that had half of the family praying for a miss (more football) and the other half cursing the same miss (the turkey was getting cold).
When it was finally over it ended up being the majority of discussion at the table. My mother, who sided with her mother, had more steam coming out of her ears than I saw from the green bean casserole. It was clear to a seven-year-old that a power play had occurred inside my family, and football had won.
More than four decades later, nothing has changed.
My passion for Vikings' football rose out of the basement of my grandparents' house. The 1970s were a very successful time for Minnesota in the NFL. I watched Super Bowls. I witnessed Super Bowls. 12-2 seasons were expected. The Purple People Eaters defense controlled games.
Life was good.
Each season that begins anew rekindles that love I had for football dating so long ago. It does not matter to me if Minnesota is picked to finish last, or not expected to contend for the playoffs. when the first Sunday rolls around in September and we take the field with a 0-0 record, I am filled with hope.
And so today, the Saturday before the first Sunday, we anticipate. I have already coached a middle school football scrimmage at nearby Watertown-Mayer. I have rode on a bus with tough hitting kids who want to sing "The Wheels on the Bus" in unison. I have mowed the lawn. Checked my fantasy baseball team. Pet the dog. Grilled steaks. Talked football on the phone...
This is a very long day.
I eagerly await tomorrow. The Vikings have a feel-good story about them. A new stadium was approved. New coach Mike Zimmer is a long-time assistant who finally gets his chance. Matt Cassel is finally given control of this team. Nearly every rookie made the team, and three 7th-rounders look to see meaningful action. Adam Thielen came from local Minnesota State via the practice squad in 2013, to find an opportunity to contribute in 2014. Teddy Bridgewater is an instant fan favorite (sorry Matt). Free agent additions look to shore a porous defense. Adrian Peterson is rested and ready.
Add to that the Green Bay Packers were already roughed up in front of a national television audience. The St. Louis Rams, our first opponent, lost their starting quarterback Sam Bradford to an injury..
Life is good.
And so we wait for tomorrow. Unless you read this on Sunday..
Which would mean you have survived the longest day.
The first team I ever hated in my Vikings-based life was the Kansas City Chiefs. As I was just cognizant of a world bigger than my hometown, I learned through playground football games that the Chiefs had embarrassed my Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Despite being from the much stronger NFL, heavily-favored Minnesota fell 23-7 to the AFL Chiefs in early 1970.
It may or may not have been Minnesota's best chance to win a Super Bowl. But it was the only one in which they were supposed to win. Personally, I think the best shot we had was 1975, or the year of the "Hail Mary Pass" vs. Dallas. Minnesota would near dominate the league during the next seven years, with three more trips to the Super Bowl, and only one season where they did not make the playoffs.
Fast forward to 2014. Minnesota faces the Chiefs in Arrowhead, one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. Kansas City rebounded from a miserable season two years ago (2-14-0) to start last year 9-0-0. They finished 11-5-0 and made the playoffs. Alex Smith, a 49ers castoff, gave the Chiefs a reliable quarterback, something that had been lacking for some time. Jamaal Charles provided most of the offense from the running back position. And the defense was top ten in the NFL, holding teams to under twenty points per game.
I know I was happy to see them fail last year down the stretch and in the playoffs.
I have not forgotten.
Minnesotans are excited about their chances in 2014. And for good reason. First, and foremost, we have a new coach and offensive coordinator that have instilled hope in both players and fans. After two preseason games Minnesota has not one, but two quarterbacks with passer ratings over 100.0. I know it is only the preseason, but when was the last time we could say that?
"Your defense was 31st overall last year".
And then the voice inside our head reminds us. It rings obsessively to the point we cannot hold up our heads around fellow NFC North foes.
"You surrendered over thirty points a game last year".
We tell ourselves things are different. Our offense has added Teddy Bridgewater and Jerrick McKinnon. Our offensive line, together another year, has never looked better. Kyle Rudolph looks giddy in the new Norv Turner offense. We were top fifteen last year in offense, now we have added to it.
"Who is the middle linebacker? Who is your strong safety? Who will play cornerback well?"
The voice will not go away. It will hound us forever.
Coach Zimmer has made a name for himself in the NFL as a defensive guru. We added talent on the defensive side through the draft in Anthony Barr, Scott Chrichton, Antone Exum, Jabari Prince, and Shamar Stephen to name a few. New defensive coordinator George Edwards was also blessed with solid free agents in Linval Joseph, Captain Munnerlyn, and others
"You gave up 45% third-down conversions."
We want the voice to stop, but it won't. It mocks our playoff aspirations. That voice manifests on sports talk shows as they place Minnesota fourth in the four team NFC North projections.
"You were 5-10-1 last year because of your defense."
We know better. We are smart. Tonight's game versus the Chiefs will be an opportunity to face a true playoff team. Both teams will field most of their starting lineups. Tonight will be the most tell tale as to what our defense has in store for us in 2014. Jamaal Charles will be out because of a freak dorm accident, but there should be enough talent to have a better gauge on what to expect this year.
While it is still only a preseason game, this one will tell a lot about what is in store. If Minnesota's defense can improve enough this year maybe the negative voices will go away.
And we can return to the promised land again.
I confess, I am spoiled. I grew up watching the Vikings in the 1970s. To this day I can still name every member of our defenses. My favorite players were all defensive, at least until Chuck Foreman arrived. One of the first heroes of mine was a Vikings' safety who set the record for most interceptions in a career: Paul Krause.
Krause came to Minnesota in 1968 via Washington, where he had made a name for himself with 28 interception in his first four years in the NFL. Krause would start at safety for the next ten years, and Minnesota would go to four Super Bowls in that time. Only one year (1974) did Krause not start every game.
That is not to suggest he was the main reason we were so good defensively. Included in those great defenses were Hall of Famers Alan Page and Carl Eller. Jim Marshall was there. The Vikings front four was so dominant that Krause is still the leader in all-time interceptions with 81, He had an ability to find the ball when it was desperately in the air.
Karl Kassulke was probably the other well-known safety of the early Vikings. Drafted by Detroit in 1963, Kassulke ended up a starting safety in his rookie season, and stayed there for his ten year career. While he is probably best remembered for his tragic accident that left him paralyzed before the 1973 season, those that actually watched him play would say he was known for his ferocious hits.
Other players have played safety for Minnesota since Karl and Paul in the early years. While most have been forgettable, a few have left their imprint in Viking lore.
Joey Browner. Browner was with Minnesota from 1984 to 1991. He went to six straight Pro Bowls. He finished with 37 interceptions, good for fourth all-time in Minnesota. But Joey was best-remembered for his tackles. He finished with 1,098 in all. His hands were so strong he could bring down a runner simply by getting a hold of them. In 1984, Browner's rookie season, budding superstar Billy Sims of the Lions learned exactly that. Browner's tackle-by-hands ended his career.
Orlando Thomas and Robert Griffith. Both manned the backfield in the late 1990s, including the 1998 season where Minnesota may have had its best team. They both made top ten in career interceptions, but like Browner were better-known for their bone-jarring hits. Thomas made All-Pro his rookie season after being drafted in the second round, while Griffith, who was undrafted, had back-to-back All-Pro season in 1988-89.
Harrison Smith. Drafted in the first round in 2012 from Notre Dame, Smith returned two interceptions for touchdown in his first year. Fans love him. He hawks the ball and hits harder than the many no-names we have put at safety since 2001. Most purple-loyal are convinced Smith is part of the solution to our defensive woes, and one of the few spots that the new regime might not need to fix.
If one was to rank the best teams in our history, nearly all would have at least one of these safeties in the defensive backfield. The only exception might be the 2009 Vikings, who lived off the ability of Brett Favre. Otherwise, a key ingredient to team success appears to be strength at safety.
Tonight's second preseason game versus the Arizona Cardinals will be a true test for Defensive Coordinator George Edwards, Head Coach Mike Zimmer, and the growing number of safeties coming out of Mankato. Carson Palmer led Arizona to a strong season via the pass. Wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are talented. Most NFL talking heads will agree ever so much better than Oakland and Matt Schaub. This game could help solidify who will join Smith at safety.
Presently on the depth charts at strong safety for a 4-3 base defense is Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Andrew Sendejo, and Kurt Coleman. Other safeties include: Robert Blanton, rookie Antone Exum, and maybe newly acquired Chris Crocker. It would not surprise to see all of these guys have shots with the first unit, though early couch-fan money is on either Sanford or Coleman.
Sure, there is still the quarterback battle (though it appears to be Cassel all the way). There is the concerns at linebacker positions. Rookies to play or not. First big cuts are merely a week or so away. So much to focus on it is hard to know where to begin.
I say, when it doubt, focus on the safety.
Because if that position can help resurrect Minnesota's -9 margin on turnovers, then who knows where this season could end up? If two talented safeties are present, maybe the 37 touchdowns via the pass are a thing of the past?.
Certainly it gives Vikings' fans a chance to think bigger.
|Vikings (147)||AFC (10)|
|Bears (51)||Ex-Vikings (7)|
|Football on TV (11)||Lions (58)|
|NFC (56)||NFL draft (25)|
|NFL post-season (28)||Packers (78)|
|Super Bowl (70)||Vikings coaches (12)|
|Vikings defense (12)||Vikings fans (45)|
|Vikings injury report (3)||Vikings management (6)|
|Vikings off the field (3)||Vikings offense (16)|
|Vikings quarterbacks (13)||Vikings road games (5)|
|Vikings rookies (7)||Vikings roster moves (17)|
|Vikings special teams (2)||Vikings training camp (2)|
|Off the field (6)||On the road (13)|
|Quarterbacks (25)||Rookies (6)|
|Vikings draft (19)||Twins fans (1)|
|Vikings players (15)||Adrian Peterson (86)|
|Anthony Herrera (4)||Antoine Winfield (25)|
|Ben Leber (2)||Bernard Berrian (9)|
|Bobby Wade (1)||Brad Childress (14)|
|Brett Favre (66)||Brian Robison (12)|
|Bryant McKinnie (9)||Cedric Griffin (14)|
|Chad Greenway (23)||Chester Taylor (4)|
|Chris Kluwe (1)||E.J. Henderson (5)|
|Heath Farwell (1)||Jared Allen (32)|
|John Sullivan (7)||Kevin Williams (20)|
|Leslie Frazier (26)||Madieu Williams (3)|
|Pat Williams (4)||Percy Harvin (43)|
|Phil Loadholt (17)||Ray Edwards (14)|
|Ryan Longwell (1)||Sage Rosenfels (3)|
|Sidney Rice (18)||Steve Hutchinson (7)|
|Tarvaris Jackson (15)||Tyrell Johnson (3)|
|Visanthe Shiancoe (9)||Brad Childress (14)|
|Leslie Frazier (26)|