My 7th grade football team at Rockford is pretty good. There are presently only twelve players, but their record stands at 6-2. And that includes a visit to Benilde St. Margaret's, where we were mostly in awe at their turf and playing under the lights as 13-year olds. Just this past week they avenged a 40-8 road loss to Maple Lake (big rival) with a 16-12 win that involved kids committing depite being tired, hurt, outsized, and outnumbered. I did not expect to win, simply to improve greatly. Boy, was I wrong. I witnessed heart triumph. The high from the game has carried into my weekend.
The Vikings are 4-1 and I am happy. Not ecstatic, but very content. And a little worried. I keep waiting for the 3-13 team of last year to appear. But they do not.
I talk to many fellow VIkings' followers daily. Everyone is happy, but no one is thinking playoff runs just yet. When I pushed a previously loyal fan the other day to commit, he replied that he will not give his heart to Minnesota, he has been hurt too many times. He was around for the four Super Bowl losses; the NFC Championship losses; Hail Marys; the brutalization toward Brett Favre and the 12-man huddle; the sitting on the ball before halftime and missed chip shot by a perfect kicker; Nelson's dropped touchdown; the embarrassment vs. the Giants. I cut him off...
He is waiting for a Super Bowl win.
Twins' fans were rewarded in 1987 and again in 1991. But Vikings' fans remain wounded. Despite being a very successful franchise (in terms of wins, division titles, playoff appearances), Minnesota remains without the ultimate football prize. And it hurts.
Arguing with Packers fans, or Bears fans becomes impossible. We can have double or triple the division titles but it means nothing, We are second-class fans. My childhood was spent watching us dominate these teams, they were terrible, but I have to bow to their Super Bowl wins. It is disheartening.
Still, I remain committed. I am willing to put heart on the line for this 2012 team. They are a feel good story. We were so bad last year and now we play with a toughness not seen in many years. Matt Kalil must be really, really good. Same with Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson, because we suddenly are much better. This team is very similar in name to the 2011-12 team and yet the results are polar opposite.
Which is why I bring up a game of 7th grade football. All week in preparation for a rematch against a team that basically destroyed us, fellow coach Tyler Maher and I tried to convince our small team that they could compete and win despite our previous failure with the same team. Actually, minus a few players. We were different now. We played better under our schemes. We had more heart than they did. And that would make a difference.
So, VIkings fans, I think it is time to commit. The team is playing hard for you every weekend. I know you are hurting, you have been disappointed, embarrassed, and wounded. So have I,
But investing emotion often brings greater return. And in some unexplainable way, I think it really helps. The team feels that support and gives you more than the sum of its' parts.
Maybe it is time?
I was browsing an NFL site on the internet, looking at expert's picks of this week's upcoming games. I was a little surprised to note that the entire group of prognasticators universally picked Minnesota to beat Tennesseee today. Wasn't it not too long ago that we won just three games? Now we are the unanimous favorite?
There has been some impressive single season improvements in the NFL through history. The 2008 Dolphins went from 1-15 to 11-5. The 1999 Colts went from 3-13 to 13-3. Also in 1999 the Rams went from 4-12 to Super Bowl winners the following year. In the NFC North the biggest turnaround was probably the 2001 Chicago Bears, who were 5-11 in 2000, and 13-3 the following year. It has been done.
Winning creates expectations. The difference between hope and expectation is larger than words. Most Vikings fans have hoped for a Super Bowl their whole lives. But there have been many years where we expected one. In the 1970s it was the consistent expectation that Minnesota would make it to the Super Bowl. Maybe the greatest expectations were on the 1998 team that went 15-1. After Minnesota drubbed the Cowboys in the 2009 playoffs, just about everyone expected another visit. But Minnesotan expectations for a Super Bowl have been the source of great disappointment. We have learned not to expect, but rather hope.
Hope is eternal. Despite a 3-13 season last year, many of us came into the season with hope. Maybe in 2012 we could overcome a poorous defense and return to winning football? If Adrian Peterson was back, if Jerome SImpson played well, if the young defensive secondary was legit... we had a chance. Throw in an "easy" schedule in the first half, and loyal fans hoped for a .500 or better start.
Well they got it. And more.
We are 3-1, at home, and prohibitive favorites vs. the Titans. There is a good chance we will win and surpass last year's win total in five weeks! Even the most purple homers around would have taken 4-1 out of the gate. And that is when doubt creeps in. When you are coming off a 3-13 season, and most of the players/coaches/management are the same, it is difficult to feel confident. The expert's can say we are going to win, the media, Las Vegas.. it does not instill expectation in most of us. The hope has always been there. The confidence is growing.
But we fear expectation. It leads to disappointment around here.
And that is something we know quite well.
Percy Harvin made a statement instantly. Jerome Felton made a key block on the outside and he was gone. Minnesota would take a 7-0 lead in seconds. Later in the game, Marcus Sherels, refusing to fair catch in traffic, shook off a few arm tackles and raced into the endzone as well. Two return touchdowns and a 20-13 win over Detroit.
I cannot recall a game where Minnesota returned both a kickoff and a punt in the same game. And while I can recall games where the Vikings have won without scoring an offensive TD, it has been a long while. The 2009 and 1998 NFC Championship teams both featured outstanding offenses with parts of a good defense. But how long since 10-3 wins? Take away the returns and Minnesota's offense produced two field goals. Six points and a victory.
Adrian Peterson kept the possession clock near even as he carved through the Lions defense. Christian Ponder avoided mistakes. Add a gutsy call by Bill Musgrave late in the game passing to new 2012 addition Jerome Simpson, and you have enough to win this year.
Kudos to everyone associated with the defense. The defensive line had five sacks, Letroy Guion and Everson Griffen each with two. Chad Greenway had eleven tackles, Antoine WInfield deflected passes and had ten tackles. Rookie Harrison Smith saved a touchdown with a hard hit on Calvin Johnson.Josh Robinson looked good in coverage. A total team defensive effort.
And that is what has been missing since the domination of the 1970s. Sure we have had many playoff teams, great offenses, but when it came to playoff games we could not stop the best teams in the NFL. Not sure who to thank, or if it will last, but for right now Minnesota is winning with a hard-hitting defense.
Like old times.
Fingers will stop pointing at Leslie Frazier, as he raises his Northern record to 1-8. The team is playing hard. Adrian is running like a purple beast. Percy Harvin continues to electrify the fan base. And we have a good pass rush with a run stopping front seven. If these young defensive backs like Smith, Robinson, and Chris Cook keep improving, we might just get cocky.
It is good to be a (Vi)King again...
Many people viewed the Green Bay Packers as the team to beat in the NFC North. Others were certain this was the year that the Detroit Lions would finally find their way to the top. But after two weeks in the NFL only one thing is certain: the San Francisco 49ers are better than that. Much better.
The 49ers dealt Green Bay an opening week loss. Last night they handled Detroit. Two weeks, two wins over NFC North teams. And this week they travel to Minnesota. Survivor pools across the country will be looking closely at the game in the Metrodome.
Watching the Bears and Packers play in week two, one could not help but see mediocrity. Without an effective Matt Forte, the Bears offense was relegated to Jay Cutler's whimsical decision-making, tantrums, and an offense that was quite offensive. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and the Lions defensive front were being taught a lesson in toughness.
Minnesota had it much easier. They were in Indianapolis, where the biggest offensive star is a rookie (Andrew Luck) or an aging veteran (Reggie Wayne). No Joseph Addai, no Peyton Manning. But mistakes turned what could have been a 2-0 start into a 1-1 beginning that cried 2011. Some credit must be given to Minnesota for coming back from two touchdowns down, and overcoming the abundant mistakes to tie the game late at 20-20. This week would not be Blair Walsh being the hero, rather Adam "He's just a kicker" Vinatieri. His long field goal gave the Colts a rare win in their rebuild mode and shook the eternal optimists down from their perch a little.
But fear not Vikings' faithful, we are tied for first in the North, and tied for seventh overall. That is because twenty teams are 1-1, while only six are undefeated. After two weeks parody has been established. Given twelve teams make the playoffs, the optimists could point out we are right where we want to be.
Garrison Keillor was wrong. Being average ain't so bad.
It is almost here.
Actually it was here Wednesday, the opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. Two of my personal 'most-hated' teams in the NFL. Dallas and New York have become staples of NFL television. I watch them both far too often. I really do not care for what happens in the oft-bloated NFL East.
Nor do I care for afternoons of the AFC West. Instead, give me the NFC North. But unless you have a package that provides other game opportunities, or you want to spend Sunday managing the internet and watching from a computer, you basically get what they give you. Maybe that is why I know Oakland and Denver's history better than Chicago or Detroit.
But I digress.
What can we expect in 2012 from our young, recovering Minnesota Vikings? Now minutes away from opening kickoff, most fans I have read, listened, or watched do not expect great things. They realize that Christian Ponder is young and inexperienced. They see Adrian Peterson trying to come back too quickly from a major injury. They scoff at the talent Minnesota displays at wide receiver after Percy Harvin. A defensive backfield too old (Winfield), too young (Smith), or inconsistent (everybody else). Linebackers that make the famous "no-name defense" of Miami seem celebratory.
Their predictions have ranged from no better than 3-13 to a modest 6-10.
And then there is the optimists, blind if unsuccessful, loyal to the end. They see elite talent in Jared Allen, A rejuvenated Kevin Williams, Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, and a strong rookie class. They see an 'easy' schedule in the first half of the season. They see Chicago getting old. They see the Packers defense crumbling. They see the Lions as paper tigers. They see what they want to see.
These predictions range from 8-8 to about 11-5 and and a playoff birth. (Even blind homers are realists somewhat, no 13-3 out there).
The funniest part of it all is that most fans on either side will not change their minds after this first game. They will see what they want to see. If the Vikings win, it will be because the Jaguars are bad. It will be because Maurice Jones-Drew held out, or the top tackler was injured. If Minnesota loses, it will be first game jitters for the young ones. Or bad officiating, or play-calling. I find it most humorous that about 1,000,000 Minnesotans feel they are better play callers than Bill Musgrave or Leslie Frazier. Every game. Every year. Except Bud Grant, hallowed be his name.
I will be watching no matter what... Right, honey?
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