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.
We used replacement officials before. And if it had not been for 9/11 people might remember. In 2001, the NFL referees union went on strike. It last one game. After the terrorism and the consequential shutting down of NFL games, the two sides came to agreement and football continued as it had before. The NFL returned and things have stayed that way for eleven years.
But in the summer of 2012 the NFL decided to streamline. Much like the governor in Wisconsin has tried to streamline education. It was deemed that the future officials should not be given life pensions, but instead a raised present salary. The pension program was originated in 1974. Additionally, the NFL graciously offered to increase its' work force from the present 119 officials to 140, or add three teams.
What teams, you say?
NFL officiating crews, or teams, consist of seven members: a referee, umpire, line judge; side judge; back judge; field judge; and head linesman. Since there are 119 active members, that means there are 17 teams that rotate throughout the season.
The truth is many officials in other leagues make more. The average salary for NHL, MLB, and NBA officials is higher. But then, they officiate far more often. But do not feel sorry for the NFL officials. They are paid handsomely. Further, the present offer by the NFL increases their salaries significantly. For example, a first-year referee making 78,000 per year would be making 165,000 in 2018. A 10-year veteran making 139,000 per year would make 200,000 by the end of the seven year deal. Not bad.
I wonder if Gov. Walker would be willing to try those type of pay increases for teachers?
And we the fans are left with a poor excuse for officiating. It has been rough. In the Chargers-Vikings preseason game I noticed the opposing coach had to challenge two plays that were blatantly wrong. Minnesota benefited from so many bad calls it felt like the French-paid judges in figure skating. Or was it gymnastics? This must have been what happened in 1972 U.S.A. vs. U.S.S.R. in the gold medal basketball game. They had replacement Olympic officials! And yet we still lost.
The lockout has been in place since June 3rd. Talks have stalled. It is apparent that we will move forward with all the officials who are good enough to be hired, but not so good that they would scab across cloudy union lines and ruin their chances with guys like Ed Hocholi. He's an attorney, you know.
And other than Hocholi, most avid football fans couldn't name another official.
But then I realize that the locked out officials were not gods. Certainly the guy (Phil Luckett) who blew the coin toss on national television with Jerome Bettis isn't. Or the pass interference in the Giants-49ers playoff game, or Super Bowl XL, where the Seahawks were repeatedly on the wrong end of calls in their loss to the Steelers. We Vikings' fans feel terrible about the official (Armen Terzian) getting hit by a bottle in the Cowboys-Vikings playoff game that featured the Hail Mary pass involving Drew Pearson, but the non-call was ridiculous.
No, NFL officials are not all that. But after watching week one coming up, they may find a few more union supporters than just their families.
It used to be we all pulled for the hard working union guy. Nowadays it seems we prefer to point a finger. And with the way calls are going to upset fans this coming week, there may be all kind of fingers available.
When one talks playoff droughts in Minnesota, only the oldest of fans can give a knowing nod. The 1960s was home to the beginning of the expansion franchise, and those first seven years. It was the Norm Van Brocklin years, the coach for the first six fledgling years. Van Brocklin went 29-51-4 with the 1964 season (8-5-1) our only winning year. Bud Grant was pursued and accepted the position in time for the 1967 season. Grant went 3-8-3 that year, before the Vikings' winning ways would begin.
The Vikings' first division title (1968) would precede a run of ten playoff visits in eleven years. Four Super Bowl visits. An NFL Championship. Three NFC championships. Ten division titles. Numerous individual awards, most notably Alan Page's MVP award in 1971. Fran Tarkenton was traded for valuable draft choices by Minnesota in 1968 and then re-acquired in 1972. After a missed playoff, Tarkenton led a run of three Super Bowl visits in four years (1973, 1974, 1976) interrupted by the Hail Mary loss to the Cowboys.
We thought the good times would never end.
The first time since expansion that Minnesota ever missed the play-offs for more than one consecutive season after the expansion years was the drought of 1983-1986. Minnesota finished playing at the Met (1981) and made the playoffs in a strike-shortened 1982 season. Grant started 7-2 in 1983, but finished and retired with an 8-8 season. Les Steckel followed it what is known as the worst of years with Pecos River and a 3-13 mark. Grant was then reinstated and went 7-9 before retiring again, a la Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan. Jerry Burns was then hired and went 9-7 but missed the playoffs. That winning season signaled the end to the losing way of 1983-86.
Jerry Burns led Minnesota through its' second drought in 1990-91. It was a year after the blockbuster trade that sent the Vikings' future off to Dallas for Herschel Waker. After Minnesota surprised the NFL in 1987 with its' run to the NFC Championship despite suffering an 0-3 beginning with replacement players, the Viking brass felt they were one player away from a Super Bowl win. Boy, were they wrong. Walker was released in 1991 and Jerry Burns quit. Minnesota returned to their winning way.
The Vikings made the playoffs eight of the next nine seasons. When present day Packers and Bears fans make fun of the present day Vikings, the older Vikings' fan can smile. They remember stretches like this one and the 1970s. In 1998, Minnesota amassed one of the greatest offenses in all of NFL history. Rookie Randy Moss, Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter and more. The loss at home to the Falcons by a missed short kick may be the single greatest disappointment in Minnesota history. The 15-1 team would probably be voted Most Likely to Win the Super Bowl in a Do Over, though fans of 2009, 1975, or 1969 may disagree.
Minnesota won playoff games in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. They were not just making the playoffs, they were knocking on the championship door. And then that is when the weather changed. Minnesota has only made the playoffs three of the last eleven seasons. The 2004 team backed in at 8-8 (but upset the Packers in Lambeau so they are revered). In 2008, Minnesota made a run with Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson at the helm. In 2009, Minnesota famously added Brett Favre and made a serious bid for their first Super Bowl, only to be beaten (literally) by a very aggressive Saints team.
A pair of three year droughts ensued in 2001. We will call this the 2000s Famine.
First, the 2001-03 drought where Minnesota went 20-28. The successful but turbulent Denny Green was let go for Mike Tice at the end of the 2001 season. Tice had a good thing going in 2003, starting 6-0, only to finish with a 9-7 record and missing the playoffs after a last-second Cardinals loss.
Minnesota started 5-1 the next year, only to fall to 8-8 by season's end. The victory over Green Bay kept his job for another year, but eventually Tice would be replaced by Brad Childress.
The drought of 2005-07 was one of mediocrity. The Vikings actually had only one losing season (2006, 6-10) and went 23-25 over the three years. In 2007, Minnesota drafted Adrian Peterson and that seemed to change their fortune. Peterson's 296 yard game in his rookie season typified the type of rain to change a landscape.
Minnesota was decent in 2008, going 11-5 and winning their first division title since 2000. And then there was the addition of Favre, and as any fan who is of reading-age knows, the 2009 season. But the 2009 team was not one of longevity. The holes began to appear. Players left or were injured. A great team disassembled rapidly. Brad Childress would be replaced by Leslie Frazier after a 3-7 start to the 2010 season, one filled with false promise.
Our present drought 2010- is at the two year mark. We are 9-23 in that time, making this the barest drought of all time, including the expansion years. Many feel we are in rebuilding mode and will not see the playoffs for a time. Others remain optimistic that this drought will be no longer than other recent ones.
Many good signs are appearing. A rejuvenated Adrian Peterson. A defensive end that is capable of having season's like Alan Page, Chris Doleman or Keith Millard. Again. A sharpening of the skills of young Christian Ponder. The explosiveness of players like Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson. The addition of an offensive tackle (Matt Kalil) with hopes of a Ron Yary or Gary Zimmerman type future. Good signs.
But drought is tough to cure. Usually when it is dry in one region (ours) it is fertile somewhere else (the rest of the division). It will take good farming but maybe an added dose of hardship elsewhere. Not to wish ill on my rival teams, but maybe a plight of some kind. Like turnovers from your star player. Or missed field goals.
Because I do expect it to rain soon. And the promised land still waits for us all.
Glory and Skol.
Let's begin with the first step. We (as fans) are powerless over the team. No matter how hard I cheer, how much I swear, or whatever I throw, the game is out of my control. In order for their to be a change, we have to accept this fact.
The 3-13 season an abomination. Well, after the 6-10 season of 2010 it is more a downward spiral. All this after coming a couple of plays (or thugs) from being in the 2009-10 Super Bowl. Left staring at the mess that was once among the most feared in the NFL. No more Brett Favre. Half the Williams wall gone. Offensive linemen, wide receivers, linebackers gone. Some remain. But not the same team that should have beat the Saints that fateful game two seasons ago.
I suppose inventory should be taken. it is an important step. What do we have?
The first thing that comes to mind is RB Adrian Peterson. Drafted in 2007, he has been almost saint-like, were it not for a fumbling spell a few years ago, and the recent injury, he might already be canonized. He ran for 296 yards in a single game his rookie year. He has amassed nearly 7,000 yards in five seasons. And 80 rushing touchdowns. All that despite starting only 66 of the 80 games. Playing in 73. If he continues at this pace he will pass Chuck Foreman in the minds of the fans as the greatest VIkings RB ever. For some, he already has.
Percy Harvin is the other offensive skill player that most trust. Taken 22nd in the 2009 draft, Harvin has been electrifying on game days. He won Rookie of the Year honors. He has played in 45 of the 48 potential season games, catching 218 passes for over 2,600 yards. And he has been magnificent in kick returns. And he can run the ball. Only migraine headaches stand in the way of future All-Pro seasons.
Question marks loom over much of the remaining offense. WIll Christian Ponder's game reach a higher level? Will Jerome Simpson contribute at wide receiver? Can Kyle Rudolph replace and exceed the efforts of the departed Shiancoe? And maybe the biggest question, will the offensive line get better? Was the drafting of LT Matt Kalil a sign that the OL can return to its' dominance via the run, and provide enough protection to let Ponder loose?
Yes, lots of questions on offense. Defenisvely, there are maybe even bigger questions.
It appears the defensive line is in order, and with veterans Jared Allen and Kevin Williams returning, one of the better in the league. Names like Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Christian Ballard, and Fred Evans demonstrate solid depth. Not quite the 1970s Purple People Eaters, but on a 3-13 team maybe a bright spot.
It is the other seven that concern fans. And rightly so. Looking at linebackers, Chad Greenway has been more than good at SLB. Erin Henderson made improvements at WLB last year. This year's MLB is Jasper Brinkley, who has shown flashes, but is not quite the star power as the departed E.J. Henderson. It is as no-name a set of linebackers as I can recall in all my years of fanship.
Worse yet, it the present secondary. The names kepe changing at cornerback, and safety, yet the results have been the same for years now. Antoine Winfield, the run-tackling extrodanairre, is back at one CB spot. Chris Cook occupies the other. The safety spots appear unsettled, with my money on Harrison Smith, the rookie from Notre Dame, eventually inheriting the free safety spot. Mistral Raymond may win the strong safety job. Others defensive backs in the mix include: Chris Carr, Marcus Sherels, JarMarca Sanford, Eric Frampton, Josh Robinson, Brandon Burton, Robert Blanton, Zack Bowman and more.. In early training camp, anyone who has ever played DB is getting looked at somewhere.
So how does a team recover from a three win season when the parts haven't necessarily been replaced?
This season marks the 5th time Minnesota has had to start the season following one with three losses or less. Three of those seasons occurred in early Vikes history. Our opening season (1961) we were 3-11. The next we were 2-11-1. The team improved to 5-8-1 in year three, became a winning team in year four. But when Bud Grant joined in year seven we were coming off a 4-9-1 season. His first year, 1967, we went 3-8-3. We then completely turned our program around. We went to the playoffs the following for years.
How did that change happen? A new coach (Grant) used to winning changed mentality. We traded our star (Tarkenton) and received numerous early picks which we parlayed with our own choices into a playoff team. In 1967 we drafted RB Clinton Jones, WR Gene Washington, DT Alan Page, DB Bobby Bryant, and WR Bob Grim. The next year we added LT Ron Yary, DB Charlie West, and RB Oscar Reed. We would add OG Ed White in 1969. The dynasty had begun.
Later, in 1984, the team fell to 3-13 under Les Steckel.. The next year Minnesota rebounded to 7-9 with Grant returning. Then in 1986 we finsihed 9-7 under new coach Jerry Burns where the Vikings traded for Anthony Carter and Gary Zimmerman. What followed was a three year playoff run. The draft of 1985 had produced this year's Hall of Fame Viking representative: Chris Doleman.
The class of 2012 includes three or four players who could have the same type of impact. And a fancy new kicker to boot. Our past suggest that the GM and front office people will play an important part in our recovery, whether it is the typical 2-3 year wait to return to the playoffs, or if that can be sped up, or worse, slowed down.
So our recovery begins with hope. Minnesota has 25 playoff visits in its' 51 years. We have 17 division championships. Four conference championships. Since thise early years we have been a steady successsful program. Will administration do their part in helping us to return to our roots?
Because it is time for them to step up.
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