We remember. It was a season coming off of one of the harshest losses the Minnesota Vikings had ever suffered in an NFC Championship. Beaten on the road after a decisive win at home in the previous round. Fans who disliked the coach for his lack of playoff success grew. But their was hope by many as the team had a new quarterback who had played very well in getting the team to the NFC Championship.
And then, tragedy struck.
A player would not be available to start the season. It would be a blow to the offense, who had counted on this player for its' success. They would start poorly without him, losing their first two games. Then they would win one they should at home to be 1-2 in the standings. A tough schedule lay ahead.
The 2010 Minnesota Vikings you say?
Or maybe the 2001-02 Vikings. Back then it was Daunte Culpepper, fresh off his successful first year with the team. The much maligned Denny Green had disappointed in the playoffs again. The New York Giants disposed of Minnesota 41-0 at the end. During the following training camp, Korey Stringer died tragically, and the team was scrambling to replace such an important member of the offense.
They started the season by losing 24-13 to Carolina. The Panthers would win only one game the entire year. Next, Minnesota lost 17-10 to Chicago. After a 31-26 win over Tampa Bay, they stood at 1-2. The city was nervous. Things were not clicking like they had in the previous year. And they were right to be nervous. Minnesota would make it to 3-3, and then proceed to lose nine of the last eleven games, to finish at 5-11.
Dennis Green was let go before the end of the year. He had not done enough with the talent he was given. That final year, Minnesota had an exceptionally poor Draft, with Michael Bennnett being the top selection with the 27th pick. Mike Tice replaced Green in the final game, and would go on to a mediocre few years before being let go. Both Green Bay and Chicago had success in those years while Minnesota floundered.
The loss of Sidney Rice just before the season has had an obvious impact on Minnesota. The Vikings are 29th in total offense. Brett Favre, who tore the league up in 2009, has a 60.4 passer rating (that's really low). He has only 597 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games. Despite the number two rusher in the NFL, the offense is just not getting it done.
Brad Childress is a coach walking the plank, so to speak. He has had improved success in regular season each year, but little in the playoffs. Minnesota fans are not happy with just getting there. Childress has been given plenty of talent to obtain that elusive first Super Bowl. Positive drafts have yielded players like Adrian Peterson, Rice, Percy Harvin and much more. Acquisitions, like Favre and Steve Hutchinson, have given the team elite offensive talent. Their are many veterans on the defense who are candidates for All-Pro consideration this year. It is now or never for the coach.
Some are hoping that Childress' trend of improvement every year will also apply to the playoffs. Most fans would concede that the Vikings certainly had the team necessary to win one. The humbling of the Cowboys and the strong effort in New Orleans demonstrated just that. But this year's slow start, or more specifically, the loss to the Dolphins at home, has fans on edge. The Childress haters are convinced we have no chance. The realists see a very tough schedule in the upcoming weeks and more talent on both the Bears and Packers than a true Viking fan could stand. And the optimist correctly assessing available talent, is sure that this is still the strongest team in the NFC North. They remember that this team was a play (or huddle) away from winning the NFC Championship. And they have faith that Brett Favre will begin to return to last year's form.
We did experience 2001. It was not fun. This season's start has been somewhat depressing, given the talent and expectation coming into the opener in New Orleans. If it is to be deja vous all over again, it will probably come at the expense of a head coach. Many would like that. Sacrifice a season to get a new head coach. But what if the next one is Mike Tice? I think we should just start winning again with the same coach.
We will find out soon after the bye week is over.
Losing to the Super Bowl champions at their home opener is not worrisome. The 14-9 loss showed that Minnesota's defense is for real. We easily rationalized the lack of offense as Brett Favre's rust being removed. The missing receivers, the injured cornerback, the excuses were greater than the effort needed to defend the loss.
And then week two arrived.
Miami was credited with the 14-10 win. But I think it is better stated a 14-10 loss for Minnesota. The Vikings visited the red zone so many times it began to look purple. On the opening drive Minnesota decided to go for it on fourth and two from easy field goal range. They did not get it. Sitting in the stands I could not help but think that was a mistake. I thought the old adage used in the NFL was "always take sure points on first drives" or some other made up saying that meant "don't be stupid". We were. Later, interceptions would thwart other attempts in the purple zone. Adrian Peterson would be stopped on a goal line stand late in the game.
The crowd sensed it from the beginning.
My first inkling that something was amiss came when I sat down and heard some twelve year-old Dolphins fan making fun of the Vikings' cheerleaders. Taunting the cheerleaders? And no one stopped him. I sat biting my tongue as this little punk was pointing out every mistake Minnesota made. "The old man's arm is tired" he said dribbling ice cream onto his aqua blue uniform as he stood and cheered a pick. "You have no wide receivers!" he screamed as defensive backs for Miami blanketed Bernard Berrian, Camarillo, and Percy Harvin, forcing another fourth down. His shrill, not yet matured voice pierced everyone's eardrums around him. All I could think was how did I end up with tickets near the future second Gilbert Gottfried?
I have never had cause to strike a child, but I was close. And the worst part about the obnoxious little mouth that never quit was that he was right. Favre struggled. Receivers failed. Considering that one of Miami's touchdowns was solely because of the offense (the fumble in the end zone), Minnesota once again shut down their opponent for the most part defensively. The offense did not struggle as much as last week, and Adrian Peterson looked like the 2008 model all day. They just turned it over. A lot. And they missed a couple of fourth down conversions. If Minnesota gets a field goal in each purple zone visit, they win by ten or so.
Yes, we lost. We are 0-2 and in trouble in the NFC North with both the Bears and Packers being 2-0. Time waits for no one in the NFL, and two losses early in the season forces a team to get better soon. The fact that the Detroit Lions are next is little comfort. Tougher games are ahead. Anyone can see the talent is there. But the season has started and good teams have to get wins. Ask the Dallas Cowboys. Like the Vikings, 'America's Team' finds itself in a hole amid speculation that they are not as good as advertised. And as a neutral observer I would say not even close.
I will have to research teams that turned around 0-2 seasons. From memory I cannot recall to many Vikings' teams that lost a few in a row to start, then did something. There has to be a few, right?
I call it Bud Grant Syndrome, or BGS. Minnesota joined the NFL in 1961 and Norm van Brocklin was the coach for the first six years. He has a tough assignment as the coach of a new franchise. The NFL has a history of teams that struggled in their early years. Only a few have avoided this pitfall. Minnesota was not one. Van Brocklin went 29-51-4 in his tenure, which equates to a winning percentage of .363.
Bud Grant, a local hero from both the Gophers (football, basketball, baseball) and the NBA Minneapolis Lakers, had coached the previous ten years in the Canadian Football League (CFL) for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He originally started as a member of the Lakers, and was a part of the 1950 NBA Championship team. After two years as a reserve in the NBA, Grant changed careers and joined the NFL's Eagles in 1951. Grant had been drafted in the first round after college by the NFL, but chose to stay in the area and play for Sid Hartman's Lakers. Grant had nearly 1,000 yards receiving in 1952, a year after leading the team in sacks in 1951. Grant would hold out for more money and leave the Eagles for the CFL in 1953. There he had a great career cut short by a move to coaching in 1956. He coached there for the ten years, winning four championships (ended up in the CFL Hall of Fame) before Minnesota lured him away to replace Van Brocklin.
Grant had a rough first year, going 3-8-3 in 1967. And then the transformation occurred. From 1968 to 1978 Grant won the division ten times. After his 8-6 year in 1968, he was 35-7 the next three years, including the Vikings first Super Bowl visit. After a mediocre 7-7 season in 1972, Grant reeled off six straight division titles and three more Super Bowl visits. Minnesota was consistently one of the best teams in the NFL every year in the 1970s. Minnesota fans grew accustomed to his winning ways, as Grant compiled a lifetime record of 151-87-5, or a winning percentage of .634.
But all good things must end, and Grant was replaced in 1984 by Les Steckel. Steckel went 3-13 in what many felt was the worst season in Vikings history. It was so bad, they talked Grant out of retirement, and he coached the team in 1985, compiling a 7-9 record. But then he left again.
Jerry Burns followed, sporting a 52-43 (.547) record from 1986 to 1991. He was followed by Dennis Green, who coached the team from 1992 to 2001. Green had better success than any other coach not named Grant, and led the Vikings to their best regular season record in 1998 at 15-1. Green's lifetime record was 97-62, a winning percentage of .610. But Minnesota could not seem to get back to the Super Bowl with him despite good talent. Mike Tice took over in 2001 and struggled to a 32-33 record, Minnesota's first losing coach since Steckel. Vikings brass removed Tice before the 2006 season and brought in Brad Childress.
Childress has been a work in progress. It is interesting to note that he has improved by two games every year, from his first in 2006 (6-10) to last year's fourth season of 12-4. Childress is a lifetime 36-28, or .563. Last year Childress returned the Vikings to the NFC Championship, but as we all know, fell short to the Saints.
So how does BGS affect Childress? For one, Minnesota fans consider any season short of the Super Bowl a failure. Moreover, since Grant, fans have pointed a finger at the head coach more than the owners, GMs, or players when the season ends short of the Super Bowl. Dennis Green had great success for a period, but fans were constantly upset with his decision-making. Jerry Burns suffered the same fate. Neither did well in the PR part of the job, struggling with reporters keen on asking why they made the coaching decisions that they did. Minnesota Nice did not apply to questioning and criticizing head coaches for the Vikings. Mike Tice and Les Steckel were given shortened assignments because Minnesotans do not tolerate losers coaching the Vikings. BGS has insured that this will always be.
For the last twenty-five years I have watched as friends, strangers, and those in-between bemoaned the poor coaching in Minnesota. I heard complaints in the 15-1 season in 1998. I heard complaints last year regarding Childress and the 12-4 season that was a play or two away from a Super Bowl visit. I guarantee Childress will be criticized if he continues his trend and goes 14-2 this year. It has to be. It is BGS.
We loved stoic Grant sitting on the sidelines in the cold of the Met. Our eighteen season love affair ended in 1985. Since then Minnesota fans have been sure that their coaches are basically morons. I do not think I have watched a single game in the last twenty years where some arm-chair, drunk, athletic has-been does not call me or talk to me about the lack of good coaching. Any mistake, from fumbles to penalties, falls on the leader of the team: the coach. Never mind that management won't draft offensive linemen early, or that we refuse to add a needed free agent. Come that first loss of the season people begin to call for the coach's head.
Can we cure BGS? Yes, definitely. But getting to the Super Bowl won't cut it, Grant did that four times. The only known antidote for this disease is a Super Bowl win. And it would not surprise me if even that didn't do it.
We really liked Bud.
I am full. I have eaten too much. Yet my refrigerator remains full. In Thanksgiving-idiom, I have decided to award Vikings players/fans my leftovers...
The last piece of pumpkin pie ... much sought after, the pie remains wanted until gone. In my house we make a frozen, ice cream-filled pumpkin pie with graham cracker crust. Yummy. The award goes to Brett Favre. His veteran leadership, despite much pressure, was intense. He seemed to know what personnel to have on the field better than the coaches. His accurate passing kept alive hope when there should have been none. Top it with fresh cool whip, Brett.
The hardening green bean casserole ... not a crowd favorite. Wonderful when fresh, but loses something once reheated.This prize goes to Offensive Linemen Anthony Herrera and Bryant McKinnie. They seemed to be letting players get to Favre, much like the racist players in Remember the Titans, (not to imply actual racism, more incredibly bad blocking). This is the most glaring weakness in the 11-4 Vikings.
The last of the turkey sandwiches ... once good, can easily be overeaten. After 2-3 leftover sandwiches, they lose their appeal. The last few sandwiches are tough, fatty, and greasy.This goes to the entire special teams. From the holder, to kick coverage, these guys cost us big. Early in the season they were only burned now and then. Suddenly, it is almost every kick. The poor hold and kick eventually cost us this game. Special teams have been special, as in needs assistance.
The 3 day old salad award ... goes to the defensive line. They were so good for so long, like a Caesar, or one of those fancy fruit-type salads. But then the flavor disappears. If you keep salad more than the meal intended, it becomes wilted, wet, and loses flavor. Enter the D-line. Once the pride of the team, they have done nothing in the three losses worth mentioning. Jay Cutler had all day, to coin a phrase.
The opened but unfinished bottles of wine ... goes to the fans. With star Adrian Peterson fumbling for his life, coaches unable to adjust, linebackers unable to cover, corners below average, and a knack for losing big games, the fans need something. Just find yourself a big mug, and wait for the Giants to come to town.
That cleans out my leftovers. I still love my Vikings, but like the therapeutically sound fan I am, I have begun the grieving process. If the Vikings win (as they should) on Sunday, I will return to the Denial stage, and hope for the Super Bowl that I thought we had a shot at back when I had Thanksgiving leftovers.
Life is brutal. Whenever anyone gets ahead, thinks they have life 'by the tail', fate comes along and slaps you across the face. Kismet. Swwaaappp. Every time, it seems.
Vikings' Land was confident. The Saints were using up every bit of good luck a team can have to survive a loss in Washington D.C., and Minnesota was waiting for the Sunday Night game against the Cardinals. The place where Tarvaris Jackson lit up Arizona last year. Where time and time again, the Cards have struggled in 2009. It was looking too good. But then winter came. The Arizonans closed the domed roof due to chilly temperatures (60s), and lit up Minnesota to the tune of a 30-17 victory. Worse yet, the Vikings had numerous injuries in the game, including losing stellar MLB E.J. Henderson. Rookie Phil Loadholt and fellow tackle Aaron McKinnie were also out with injuries, along with others. The blooming season of 10-1 experienced a change in the weather, to the extreme.
First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter.
Now we stare at a team with a hurting offensive line, the most important part of Brett Favre's health, if not his success. When Hicks, Cooper, and whomever are in, we know our limitations. We are suddenly missing an All-Pro level MLB. Our secondary is suspect. For the first time all season, we feel the defensive line did little. Adrian Peterson held to near nothing in rushing yards. When the athletes on this team do not perform, we realize that our play calling is non-lethal. Favre in December? Childress? Suddenly, it is raining and sleeting doubt. Blizzards of worry loom, ready to pounce on the Twin Cities.
In the garden, growth has it's seasons.
OK, Henderson is gone. Maybe for 2010, too? But many others are still ready. Yes, we are short some linemen, but guys like Sullivan and Herrera are having good seasons. McKinnie, too. Antoine Winfield is coming back soon. Ben Leber and Chad Greenway will both continue to play well, and help whomever replaces E.J. And I guess Childress and Bevell aren't actually the ones making the plays. It will be fine.
Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Or how about before the playoffs start? Seriously, we face the inevitable falls of injuries and losses that are a part of every season. We realize that as long as our nucleus is solid, we are still the same team. It will be fine. Really.
Just listen to Chance. It's simple.
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