As talk of a trade for Donovan McNabb looms, I find myself excited. The drafting of Christian Ponder is precursor to a future unknown. The signing of Tarvaris Jackson by the Seahawks strange. Free agent quarterbacks like Kyle Orton and Vince Young just do not do it for me. Questions at QB are not good to have going into a season where the Packers are defending champions, the Lions expected to be much improved again, and the Bears looking decent. So we may bring in the aged McNabb.
I remember when Donovan McNabb visited in September, 1996, with the Syracuse Orangemen. They were nationally ranked, and faced my Golden Gophers who had just eked out a three point win versus Ball State in the Metrodome a week earlier. It did not look promising. McNabb was strong-armed, fast, and impossible to contain. I sat with my 6 year-old son among the older alumni and expected the worst. Sure enough, McNabb impressed early and the Gophers trailed. Unfortunately, a ticket had been given to a Syracuse fan who would sit among the Minnesota faithful. Every play that McNabb made, every score, this guy would scream how it was "over" for the pathetic Gophers. He laughed at our team. He knew how good McNabb was.
My son complained to me. I complained to him. We hated this fan in orange. What was he doing sitting among the alumni? I silently cursed the person who surrendered their ticket to this outsider. I did not want to spend the game being humiliated by a fan from another team. I whispered to my son (like a nice Minnesotan) that he was a bad man. He would get his someday, just probably not by a Wacker led Gopher team. But then the tide changed. I recall turnovers turning into touchdowns. The Syracuse fan grew quieter. All of the elder fans I sat with started to smile. And then my son, whom I love dearly, started to say the things we alums could not. He taunted the Orangeman. He laughed at him. And it was a glorious day. Minnesota pulled off an improbable upset against McNabb and Syracuse (who would finish the year ranked and 9-3). I never hugged my son more than that day.
Some twelve plus years later I took that same son to the Vikings playoff game versus the Eagles. We had Adrian Peterson, we had won the NFC Central, and the aging Donovan McNabb came to town with his Eagles and their vaunted defense. Gus Frerotte had led Minnesota in 2008 to a respectable year. I am not sure many thought we would get to the Super Bowl, but most hoped we could defeat the Eagles at home in this first round of the playoffs, McNabb was good. We were not. The 26-14 loss was a low point for my son, myself, and our relationship with the Vikings. Next to the 1998 playoff loss to the Falcons, this was the worst we had encountered. It was the last game I would watch live with him before he went off to college. Not a good way to end.
And now the Vikings are wanting to bring McNabb in to push/educate Christian Ponder. Or maybe to start and return Minnesota to the respectability of just a season ago, when we were a play away form the Super Bowl? Minnesota has had success bringing in older quarterbacks before. Guys like Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Brad Johnson, Frerotte, and Brett Favre have done exactly that. Why can't it be McNabb, too?
It will be difficult at best. But one thing is certain, Donovan McNabb brings a history that warrants hope. He was the facilitator of a football fan friendship I have kept with my son for many years. Maybe he can help some other father/son duo enjoy moments like we have had?
It was a good day for Minnesota. With about six minutes remaining the Vikings scored their final touchdown, Brett Favre's fourth passing TD, to cap a drive that left some Cowboys bitter. Keith Brookings ran up to the Minnesota bench and yelled "classless" to Brad Childress for either leaving starters in up 27-3, for passing frequently to score, or because Brookings was so frustrated by being dominated he regressed to adolescence.
If you examined the statistics, the game was not so one-sided as the score. First Downs were even at sixteen. Time of possession and total plays favored Dallas slightly. Third down conversions were almost identical, with Minnesota converting one more than the Cowboys. But it was what each team did when they had the ball. It was about field position and turnovers. And in those areas it was a definitive edge for the Vikings.
In that game Cedric Griffin had nine solo tackles. Ray Edwards had three sacks (of the team's six) and six hits (of the team's ten) on the quarterback. Sidney Rice caught 6 passes for 141 yards and 3 TDs. It was the most one-sided win in playoff memory in which it was Minnesota being the dominant. Now fast-forward.
The Cowboys arrive with the same 1-3 record that haunts the Vikings. Media has proclaimed this game a 'must-win' for whichever team wants to be in the playoffs. There is not room for both, they say. Gone are a couple of the heroes that led us to our playoff victory of last year. Griffin is out for the year with a recent season-ending knee injury. Rice has been out all season with his delayed surgery of his hip. Edwards is here, but not nearly playing to the level he displayed in that 2009 Divisional Game. Dallas arrives healthier than when they appeared last year. But playing a lot worse.
Meanwhile, Brett Favre is questionable as to whether he will further his continual streak of games started (that means he will). The defense has only six sacks in the first four games, which happens to be the same number as they had in the one playoff game. We saw the first glimpse of a clicking offense with new arrival Randy Moss versus the New York Jets. But we also saw another close loss.
Will this be the game that Minnesota comes together? Will the defense continue to play well despite missing their best cover in Griffin? Will the front four batter Tony Romo like they did last year?
One thing is certain, Adrian Peterson will improve on his last performance versus the Cowboys. In that game he was held to 63 yards on 26 carries. There is no doubt you will see better numbers. Favre right now is not playing to the same level as he did last year against the Cowboys when he finished with a passer rating of 134.4. More like half of that. He is looking the worse for wear this year, throwing far more interceptions, and struggling to get the protection necessary to be as successful as 2009.
But now is the time. It is the site of something very good last year. The Cowboys arrive in full memory of what occurred in 2009 and they will want revenge. Minnesota, seemingly out of sync, looks to today to bring back the stellar play of their team at the place where it all crescendoed in last year's near Super Bowl season. What will be today's outcome?
I expect today the offense and the defense will come together and it will be a Purple Day.
I am a reasonable man, eh brutus?
I could lament over the loss on Monday Night. We did nothing for nearly three quarters. We lost our best cover man in Cedric Griffin for the season. Brett Favre kept grabbing his elbow after each throw (it seemed). But for some reason when I try and get discouraged over the poor start I just smile. I picture myself dejected and then a big purple kool aid guy comes busting up my front door and everybody smiles.
I could tell you Brett Favre is presently 30th in passer rating in the league at 67.0, and that is up from last week! I could point out there is not a Minnesota receiver in the top thirty in the league. I could point to the fact that the Vikings have only six sacks in four games, Jared Allen only one all season. I could show you a schedule that has Dallas, Green Bay, New England, Arizona, Chicago, and Green Bay again for the next six weeks. But when I try and type it I just smile.
Hey, Kool Aid.
Maybe it is that Randy Moss is in town. He caught four passes for eighty-one yards and a touchdown. Favre's 37-yard TD to him was Brett's longest on the season. The Vikings offense woke up in the 3rd Quarter of last night's loss to the Jets. Suddenly, Percy Harvin looked impossible to stop in the middle of the field. Moss was consistently in position to make a play on long balls steadily hurled at he and defensive back Cromartie. Adrian Peterson was turning corners so quickly that the cameras struggled to keep pace. That same offense that tore up the Cowboys last year was back. And even better.
Maybe it is a defense that continues to shut down opponents. Sure the Jets moved the ball well in the first half, but that ended. When the Vikings needed a stop late in the game the defense arose to the challenge. And that was with Asher Allen and Lito Sheppard as the corners. The red zone defense was amazing. In four games the Vikings have stopped 35 third down attempts, while allowing only 16 conversions. As bad as the Vikings offense has been, they have out-rushed, out-averaged, out-possessed, and out-passed their opponents. That is how good the defense is.
I know many are unhappy with the coaching, game management, and philosophy of Brad Childress, coordinator Bevell, and others. They struggle with using time outs to think about extra-point attempts, or the lack of focusing on a running back that is third in the league in rushing, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and has zero fumbles. Others fear that the age factor and injuries to Brett Favre spell doom. His seven interceptions in the first four games puts him position to finish with 28 on the season. Even Sam Bradford has a better rating, for heaven's sake.
And Chicago is 4-1 on the season, with games versus Seattle, Washington, and Buffalo next. And the Bears are 2-0 in the division. Green Bay is 3-2, and scoring 23.6 points per game with a rabid air attack. Aaron Rodgers, JerMichael Finley, Greg Jennings, and Donald Driver are as skilled as any in the passing game. Both have a fairly large lead over Minnesota in the Central.
And then more kool aid.
Minnesota is about to explode. The surge last night was a sign of great things to come soon. The defense will only get better up front, and Favre is starting to connect long with his new receiver (Moss) and his young one (Harvin). Adrian Peterson is on fire, easily one of the strongest backs to ever play the game. He may cross the 2,000 yard mark this year. Childress and friends know enough to not get in the way, they will be able to let these players succeed.
And the Packers are reeling from injuries. Losing guys like Ryan Grant, Harrell, Aaron Rodgers, Finley, and many more are showing a lack of depth. Watching the Redskins attack around slow tackles and pummel Rodgers was proof that Green Bay may not waltz into the playoffs. The secondary was mediocre at best. If not for Clay Matthews, I am not sure any Packer would have gone noticed on defense. And the Bears, while facing an easy few weeks ahead, are certainly not a shoe-in for the division title. I think their defense is better than advertised, but I cannot endorse any offense that has Jay Cutler at the helm. Ever. And I believe the Bears could easily go 2-6 in the 2nd half of their schedule. Easily.
Yes, their is a lot of purple drink over at my place. Is it my forty years of understanding of the NFL, or is it complete denial? My brain tells me it is the former. This team that could have easily won the NFC Championship last year is as good as last year, and with the addition of Moss, maybe better. Then again, at 1-3 Minnesota is on the doorstep of a 1-4 start, which holds poor prognostics for its' owner.
Sure we could bury the Vikes, they might even deserve it. But the smile on my face tells a different story. A purply drink. And purply fun that awaits.
Thursday is the first game of the NFL season, a prized contest that features the two NFC Championship combatants of last year, the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints.
During these summer months there has been talk of the Green Bay Packers suddenly being the cream of the NFC crop. Minnesota fans feel confident that as long as Brett Favre is slinging the ball, there are hopes of a fifth Super Bowl visit. Others think the Dallas Cowboys or maybe the Atlanta Falcons will be this year's NFC representative. Long-shot lovers select teams such as the San Francisco 49ers or the New York Giants. But the reigning NFL Champion is the Saints and that will not change for many more months.
Quarterback Drew Brees is playing at an elite level and right now he is the best quarterback in the NFL. Names like Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Marques Colston remind us that the offense of New Orleans is multi-talented. Combine that with a defense that forced over two turnovers a game and you have your champion. They handled the Indianapolis Colts much easier than most thought possible. They are good.
Those opportunists that create the NFL's schedule saw a game worthy of opening night. The dramatic overtime finish was quite possibly a better game than the Super Bowl follow-up. Media played up the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as the impetus for a feel good story. They could have just as easily told the story of Archie Manning and a failed franchise. That was nearly as disastrous.
A good story. But there is a better one.
It would start tomorrow with Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson righting a wrong. Instead of getting attacked every which way, throwing late interceptions, and limping around the field, this story would have Brett leaping into the arms of Greg Camarillo, Visanthe Shiancoe, or Percy Harvin as they catch another TD pass from Favre. It would show Adrian Peterson running over would-be tacklers while holding onto the football. It would star the offensive line protecting their quarterback, and defensive backs making big plays late in the game. The defense would bottle up the Saints for the entire game. And everyone would be healthy.
This story would unfold much like last year's tale. It would find Minnesota once again in the NFC Championship. Only this time they would hold onto the football and end up winning the Super Bowl with Brett Favre as their quarterback.
A tall task given the injury situation of Minnesota as well as the hype surrounding opening night for the Super Bowl Champs. The makings of a really good story.
Joe Montana was phenomenal. He won four Super Bowls (XVI,XIX,XXIII,XXIV) and is considered among the greatest quarterbacks to have ever played the game. Others on the elite list include: Dan Marino, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw. Most of these QBs played their entire careers with one team, Unitas' brief stint in San Diego notwithstanding. Favre and Montana are different in that they led new teams to the Conference Championship games in the twilight of their careers.
Montana joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, along with Marcus Allen. They were hyped in the media and instantly produced. In 1993 Montana led the Chiefs to a 13-3 record and the AFC Championship, which they lost to the Buffalo Bills. But Montana came back for a second year. In 1994 he played in fourteen games as a thirty-eight year old. He faced his old team the 49ers with their reason to let him go: Steve Young. Montana beat his old team and Young in an NFL Classic. He got them back to the playoffs where his final game turned out to be a 27-17 loss to Miami and Dan Marino, despite 314 yards and two tds and an early lead. He retired before the 1995 season.
Brett Favre is back for his second stint with the Vikings. In his first year the Vikings finished the two seed and he took Minnesota back to the NFC Championship, where they lost an OT affair, despite 310 yards and a td. Now he will play his last season for Minnesota in 2010. He will face his former team at least twice, and the reason they could let him go: Aaron Rodgers. Last year Favre tore up his former team and swept them in the home-home series. How will he fare in his final year?
Joe Montana, the four-time Super Bowl winner is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever don a uniform. So too is Brett Favre. If this is Favre's final finale, can he bring Minnesota back to the playoffs again? Will he go farther than Montana did in his last season? Can he add a 2nd Super Bowl win to his resume?
One thing is certain. His contests with Rodgers and Green Bay will be fun to watch.
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