There are mixed feelings about saying goodbye to the Metrodome. We will transition to our new football stadium via two seasons at TCF Bank. Outdoor Vikings' football returns to Minnesota.
I was one who loved Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. The parking area surrounding the stadium meant the best tailgating possible. The winter elements were on our side. No more joyous feeling can a Vikings' fan have than watching the 49ers or Rams players try and keep warm with heaters on the sideline while your team went without.
Men against boys.
When the Metrodome replaced the Met in 1982 things changed. Suddenly the Twins had assembled a team that could win on a turf field with a big baggy for a wall. Blowing air helped carry some homers out while keeping others in. Balls lost in the white-topped roof. Ground balls bouncing high into the air.
A baseball heaven.
Among the greatest Metrodome moments, many are baseball ones. Eight World Series games,two Game Sevens in 1987 and 1991, the latter a 10-inning 1-0 Jack Morris shutout (which I attended). Clinching in 1987. All-Star games. Quite a few 3,000th hits. And maybe my most favorite moment of all: the impromptu pep rally for the 1987 team after getting to the World Series via Detroit.
Baseball enjoyed the Dome. Football not so much.
The Vikings were easily one of the best teams in the decade of the 1970s. The went to three Super Bowls in four years (1973-76). When the second half of any season began, the Met became a frozen tundra. Fans took pride in going to the game, facing the elements, and empowering the team with iron will (and a few tail-gated beers). The defense, led by the Purple People Eaters, actually ate teams. The faces on the offensive players of fair-weathered opponents as they had to return to the zero degree, minus fifteen wind-chilled field, to face our defense, were priceless.
'Goodbye heaters', they would sigh as they jogged onto the field.
When Minnesota moved to the Dome in 1982 Minnesota football changed. Roaring motorcycles, blasted music, little plastic chairs stuck together, and a big Teflon bag hiding the outdoor elements. Football became a concert for corporate Minnesota. Our wintry advantage gone.
We were told it had to be this way. Mike Lynn, snubbed for ownership, finagled a deal that benefited Lynn more than the fans. Something like Lynn got fifty cents on every beer. Suites were named Lynn1, Lynn2 and so on...sic.
The Metropolitans Sports Facilities Commission was behind it all. Governor Wendell Anderson had decried that we would lose both football and baseball if a new stadium was not built. And frankly, as wonderful as the Met was, it was built for a minor league baseball team. A commission of regular Minnesotans from across the state. Local businessman Harvey Mackay pushed all the right buttons.
So we built the Metrodome.
In thirty-two years the Minnesota Vikings have a 168-92 overall record. Their play-off record 6-4. Sound pretty good. Minnesota assembled a few powerful offenses, most notably in the Randy Moss era. Moss was easily the most exciting Viking to enter the Dome. The Brett Favre led Vikings of 2009 were also impressive. So too the 1987 team, that overcame an 0-3 replacement start to make the playoffs in a strike-shortened year.
In the 1998-99 season, Minnesota hosted the NFC Championship. Anyone over twenty will remember what happened. Gary Anderson, perfect on the season, missed a 38-yard chip shot to lock up the game. The Vikings lost in overtime to the Falcons. A 15-1 season for naught. Criticism of Coach Denny Green's handling of time was the beginning of the end of "the Sheriff", despite his success that has not been repeated since. A home playoff loss that rivaled the "Hail Mary" loss to the Cowboys in the 1970s.
The most memorable game in Dome history for the Vikings...
A heartbreaking loss.
Fifteen years later we say goodbye. For the next two seasons, Vikings' players will brave the elements. A new coach will stand on the sidelines in zero degrees. Fans will huddle near each other to stay warm. Opposing teams will huddle around heaters on the sidelines again.
And we will remember why we liked outdoor stadiums.
A humbling loss Sunday, in a humiliating season, did little to help Minnesota's 2014 NFL Draft selection.
No, the chances are Minnesota will draft 8th no matter if they win or lose next Sunday vs. the sinking Detroit Lions. Given that the 49ers will win tonight hosting the Atlanta Falcons, there will be five teams 1/2 game "ahead" in the standings. Minnesota at 4-10-1 won one too many. Atlanta, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Oakland, and Cleveland are all 4-11 and are facing playoff contending teams. Each of these teams cunningly lost in Week 16. There are a few teams at 6-9, but thankfully the Vikings are safe from them.
Houston and Washington are going to finish ahead as well.
So barring an NFL miracle, Minnesota's position will not be changed whether they win or lose.
After Sunday's 42-14 loss to the Bengals, fans simply do not have enough fingers to point at the problems. From the owner, to the management, to coaching, and players, there is blame to be had. Hopefully, 2014 can see a rebound from the abyss that is the 2013 season.
The 2012 playoff visit a mere memory. And maybe one of the most fortunate records in Minnesota sports history, because apparently this team lacks a lot of talent we thought was there.
Everyone is aware of the quarterback issue. Hopefully, Week Sixteen enlightened enough to realize that we need a new quarterback. That does not mean we have to take Johnny Manziel with the eight pick. It does mean we should be looking over time for a franchise quarterback.
We need to look at the possibility of trading Adrian Peterson. He is incredible. Our Kevin Garnett of football. But like KG it may be time to set him free. He has paid his dues. We still love him. Many of us simply want him to experience a Super Bowl, and that may not occur here for the rest of his career. Others of us want to sell a commodity that keeps us from getting good draft picks.
The offensive line is struggling. From my couch view I saw Phil Loadholt and Matt Kalil fail more than they succeeded. Christian Ponder's demise was in part due to the lack of protection from these two. Kalil, a Pro Bowler his rookie season, looked slower. Loadholt even slower. The guards were worse Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco seemed to disappear often. Johnson, an older veteran, has to be nearing the end.
Offensive line must be addressed.
Running backs are a strength, but backup Toby Gerhart should take the Free Agent train to anywhere. Minnesota may need to replace him with an heir apparent to AP. Wide receivers are probably a need, but the poor protection and passing this season left a few receivers without chances to showcase. Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson will be back. The rest a mystery.
Defensively, Minnesota will need to replace Jared Allen. And while he is a beloved Viking, his gotta-sack mentality seemed to negatively impact the run defense. And Kevin Williams is getting older, soon to be retired. There seems to be some depth with Everson Griffen, Letroy Guoin and others. Still, Minnesota could use Sharrif Floyd to step up next year. He contributed little in 2013.
The linebackers are a definite sore spot. Minnesota drafted two Penn Staters last year in the latter part of the Draft, both ended up contributing only on special teams. Chad Greenway could not keep up with the faster running backs, and seemed to be less definitive about tackling in 2013. The rest of the LBs are worse. Fans like Audie Cole, but realistically, Minnesota could pick up three free agents who would not do much worse.
As bad as the linebackers appear, the defensive secondary might have been worse. High draft selections Chris Cook and Josh Robinson are not getting it done. Robinson has become a word synonymous with Swiss cheese. Cook is often hurt, a PR cancer, and not dependable on the field despite talent. Only S Harrison Smith and CB Xavier Rhodes appear talented enough to start for any other NFL team.
We must find more DBs.
As for coaching, nice guy Leslie Frazier appears to have the confidence of the team and the owner. But not many fans. Like Ron Gardenhire, this coach appears to have a free pass on success or not. If Minnesota is as bad as many now fear, maybe Frazier should have been coach of the year in 2012.
Rick Spielman, coming off of serious accolades for his shrewdness in handling Percy Harvin and the 2013 Draft, appears vulnerable. Christian Ponder's lack of success his albatross. Letting Antoine WInfield escape, Josh Robinson stay, and assembling the worst defense in Vikings' history.. telltale. Probably not enough to lose his job. But maybe lose some fans.
And the owner.
Ziggy WIlf won a new stadium. They won community support, not to mention a lot of future dollars. He puts out a product that is poor for the third time in the last four years. Despite bad press, law suits, and a sluggish economy, Wilf got everything he wanted.
We call that entrepreneurship.
So with nothing to play for, a dismal near future ahead, and a new stadium only a couple of years away, this game vs. Detroit is one for the players. We will see if our beloved Vikings want to beat up the Lions in Week 17. They will be deflated. Their fans more angry than even us.
Should be a good one.
Anyone old enough to drive remembers.
The 2003 Minnesota Vikings drove us crazy. The accumulated 6,294 yards of offense that season, an average of nearly 400 yards a game. Despite the most moronic of NFL Drafts (remember, the too busy trying to trade to make their first pick?), Minnesota came away with rookie Kevin Williams, a defensive tackle who had 10 1/2 sacks his rookie year. Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss could not be stopped. Minnesota started 6-0 that season.
Then they lost four straight. They lost seven of their last ten games and missed the playoffs.They lost four times to teams that finished 4-12.
Despite the horrid finish Minnesota stood on the brink of the playoffs with seconds left, the Cardinals in a 4th and 25 situation. And then Nate Poole caught the ball in the end zone, and was ruled in despite Antoine Winfield keeping one of his feet from touching by knocking him out of bounds.
Then the referees could rule that players would have been in-bounds had they not been pushed out.
I remember I was in Orlando with family and friends, watching the game with a room full of Packers fans, all of whom were mostly quiet until that final play. After the play, they erupted in an in-your-face display worthy of champions. I had zero fun the rest of the trip. No more laughing at Dumbo, Goofy, Minnie.. No more enjoyment at the Tower of Terror. No cotton candy.
Later, in reflection, I wondered why Arizona did not just lay down? Why was it so important to win when you are 3-12? They obviously needed draft picks very badly. Seriously, all they had was a worn-down Emmett Smith and rookie Anquan Boldin. Their quarterback was Josh McCown.
Now I know.
Ten years later it feels good to play spoiler. The last two weeks have been fun. The tie with Green Bay was anti-climatic, but it brings me joy to see them 1/2 game out of the division lead so late. Defeating, or exposing the Eagles last Sunday was fun. Our rag-tag group put a whipping on a team looking ahead to the post-season.
Next up: the Cincinnati Bengals. On deck: the Detroit Lions.
Both teams are eyeing the playoffs, though Detroit is on the outside looking in. The Bengals hold a one-game lead in the AFC Central, and will face the team chasing them, the Baltimore Ravens, the following week. This game is very important to them.
Which is why playing spoiler is so fun. Our Vikings can go crush the hopes of millions of fans.Young fans. Old fans. People in bars full of their rival fans. People on game threads. Some will cry if Minnesota wins.That is why playing spoiler is fun.
Minnesota has started to play consistent on offense with Matt Cassel at the helm. It appears Coach Frazier and a handful of fans (including me) were wrong about who should be the starter at quarterback. Cassel has been very good. So good in fact that maybe others are starting to realize we do not have to have a top three pick and choose a quarterback. Maybe Matt Cassel can be the starter for years to come? Maybe we can take our time, choosing many QBs, until we find one we like.
The defense had their best game in some time, and despite surrendering a lot of points again, looked strong at times. Stopped the Eagles and got off the field.
Meanwhile,Teddy Bridgewater, a shoe-in first pick QB a few weeks ago, has dropped significantly in mock drafts and rumors are he may stay in school now. Underclassmen hurlers are fleeing the draft faster than rats on a sinking ship. Maybe it is time to resolve ourselves to the old "best player available" model? Maybe let go of thinking about drafts and focus on beating a playoff contender.
And want to win.
Because right now we can...
It's easy to hate the Eagles. Their fans most-famous for throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. The team that houses PETA most-despised Michael Vick. They play in the media-bloated NFC East. Philadelphia knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs in 2004 and 2008, the latter a home loss.
And then came the movie Silver Linings Playbook.
It was a tremendous sports movie that in part focused on the die-hard fan. Suddenly I had a new-found respect for Philly fans. They care about their team and take their wins and losses to heart. As a die-hard Vikings fan I identified with superstitions, unwavering support, and anger toward others with less investment.
The Vikings are a community family.
At 3-9-1, one has to have unconditional love in order to support the 2013 Vikings. The defense is still on path to give up the most points per game in our fifty plus year history. The quarterback carousel has included many dismal performances by Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel. Coach Leslie Frazier keeps telling us that the team is getting better. And the 2-3-1 record in the last six games supports that compared to the overall record.
And now Adrian Peterson is injured.
Most fans are focused on our present draft position. It is fourth. However, there are five teams a mere half-game behind, at 4-9. Tampa Bay and Oakland, two of the five, have schedules that suggest they will not win again in 2013. Of the teams presently ahead of Minnesota in draft position, two (Atlanta,Washington) play each other this week. So a win by Minnesota could move the 2014 pick from a third overall selection to at least sixth or worse.
Cheer for a loss?
The reason the movie Silver Linings Playbook resonated with so many is that it rightly showed how loyalty is prized. In our anxiety-based, stressed-filled, crazy lives that we endure football has become an emotional outlet for millions. It is why we tolerate owners and players making millions while we work year round in jobs that pay much less. We fork over hundreds of dollars to attend games where you get a hot dog and beer for the cost of a family meal.
They are us.
I have no doubt the players and coaches want to win. It appears Minnesota has played hard despite all the losses.
We care too. We cheer for Audie Cole to have a chance to prove himself. We are excited with every touch by Cordarrelle Patterson. We want Adrian Peterson to run to a NFL rushing title, overcome another injury, and prove he is the best running back in football.
And so many of us want our team to win on Sunday.
It will be difficult.
The league's leading rusher is an Eagle: LeSean McCoy. He has 1,744 combined yards in thirteen games. Nick Foles, drafted 88th in 2011, has 20 TD passes to one interception. His passer rating is 120.0. Comparatively, Christian Ponder has a 77.9 rating and Matt Cassel has a 84.9. The Philly offense is ninth in scoring, third in total yards, and first overall in rushing. They have won five straight by outscoring opponents 158 to 90.
They are on fire.
But we die-hard fans look for victory. We know CB Xavier Rhodes is doubtful, CB Chris Cook questionable, and the Eagles run a spread offense featuring DeSean Jackson, who has 65 catches for over 1,000 yards. Despite the prime position present in the 2014 Draft, we loyalists want a win. We rationalize that management probably would misfire on a franchise quarterback anyway (the track record on hurlers being what it is). Top underclassmen quarterbacks are opting to stay in school. We have already lost the Teddy Bridgewater sweepstakes.
We are looking to win.
As crazy as that appears.
No Purple fan really wants Minnesota to lose more games, thus insuring a franchise quarterback in the 2014 Draft. But when you are four games out of the division lead with five to play, the realist takes over.
Minnesota's remaining five opponents are a combined 32-25. None have losing records. After hosting the (6-5) Chicago Bears this Sunday, the Vikings will travel to Baltimore (6-6), host Philadelphia (6-5), play at Cincinnati (7-4), before finishing with the first place Detroit Lions (7-5).
With the 30th ranked defense in the league, that has additionally lost two players (A.J. Jefferson and Erin Henderson) in recent weeks to misbehavior, Minnesota does not appear to have the defense to stop anyone. They are ranked 31st in the league at allowing teams to convert on third down at 46 percent. They have a plus/minus point differential of -80. They are 28th in turnover ratio at -9.
This defense is the worst in franchise history. The fans want a franchise quarterback. But this team needs a defensive overhaul in the worst of ways.
Still, if Minnesota loses their remaining games, they will finish with no worse than the fourth overall pick. After Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville is taken with the first pick in the Draft, there is the possibility of Minnesota choosing from a rather long list for the right franchise quarterback. Names like Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel, or Brett Hundley, are being tossed around as potential picks.
Minnesota fans are well aware of the hunt for a good draft choice. Living in the same state as the Timberwolves, how could one not? The have made a habit out of focusing on draft position by mid-season. And some years the Vikings have provided this entertainment. 2011-12 comes to mind. Minnesota finished 3-13 and was awarded the fourth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. They chose Matt Kalil, who had a Pro Bowl type rookie season.
And so, while some of us still look for victory, many of us are starting to watch the other teams competing with us for the draft position in 2014. I am sure it is some sort of defense mechanism our egos provide to minimize the pain of being unable to win. There are ten teams who are presently at four wins or fewer. They are as follows (ordered projected finish):
1. Houston Texans, 2-9. Houston is riding a nine-game losing streak despite having the number one-ranked defense. Their opponents in the remainder of the season are 31-24. They have games against New England and Denver at home. They travel to Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Tennessee. The are almost a lock for the first pick, save for a vital match against the 2-9 Jaguars. That game could be called the Teddy Bridgewater Sweepstakes.
2. Atlanta Falcons, 2-9. It is not clear how the Falcons can be so bad. They have lost five straight games with the 13th ranked offense. Maybe it is that their defense is dead last in stopping opponents on third down? Or 30th in turnover ratio? Atlanta is the only team worse than our Vikings in these areas. And that means their opponents at 27-28-1 are: at Buffalo, at Green Bay, Washington, at San Francisco, and Carolina, licking their chops. Still, the Falcons must lose to two other teams who are also headed to an early pick. And that can prove to be difficult.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars, 2-9. Just a few weeks ago, the Jaguars were a shoe-in for a top two pick. Not anymore. Despite a -182 point differential and the 32nd-ranked offense, Jacksonville has won two of their last five games. And their remaining games are winnable, as their opponents are 22-33. Jacksonville will play at Cleveland, then host Houston, Buffalo, and Tennessee, before finishing at Indianapolis.
4. Minnesota Vikings, 2-8-1. The way Minnesota's defense has crumbled late in games, one might think we have been tanking all season. But the truth is they have been working very hard. We are simply not as talented as the 2012-13 season suggested. Minnesota could easily win a few of their remaining games if the defense steps up.
5. Washington Redskins, 3-8. Robert Griffin III is another reminder that young quarterbacks are often not dependable. Even really good ones. Washington has been terrible all year. They are one of the few teams with a worse point differential than Minnesota. And while their offense ranks 7th, the defense is ranked 28th in the league. Their schedule of: New York Giants, Kansas City, at Atlanta, Dallas, and at New York Giants, is a combined 26-30. Many eyes will be watching the Week 15 game vs. the Falcons, as it could have large impact on Minnesota's position.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 3-8. The Bucs have won three straight, and have improved since deposing Josh Freeman. They have the 31st ranked offense, but their turnover ratio is 4th in the league at +10. However, their schedule is difficult, with their opponents having a combined record of 33-22. Tampa Bay begins with visiting Carolina, hosting Buffalo and San Francisco, and then traveling to St. Louis and New Orleans.
7. Oakland Raiders, 4-8. They almost pulled off a Thanksgiving upset, but the Raiders folded late. Oakland has only four games remaining, two road games with New York Jets and San Diego, and home matches with Kansas City and Denver. Their opponents are 28-16 at present. It is highly likely they will remain at four wins by season's end.
8-10. Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, all 4-7. Any of these teams could tank the remainder of the season. Buffalo will have the most difficult time losing, as their opponents are 20-35 combined. The Giants were riding a four-game winning streak until last week, while the Browns will battle the Jaguars this Sunday in an important game in terms of the 2014 Draft. My money is on Cleveland keeping to four wins, as they have lost their last two.
And so the battle rages on.
Many Minnesota faithful will cheer for the Vikings to beat Chicago. Matt Forte is somewhat hobbled. Josh McCown is not Jay Cutler. Christian Ponder has played better. He stepped up in the pocket better than ever before in the game vs. the Packers. Adrian Peterson is running very well, and has had success versus the Bears.
But for some the question is... do we really want to?
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