I am thinking about trying out for the Vikings or Twins pretty soon. I still throw hard and I am in my forties. Isn't that enough? I wouldn't have thought so last week, but August 17th has rekindled my desire to become the pro athlete I dreamed of being in the 1970s. I think I can.
The news of Brett Favre's return after three teammates tracked him down was blasted in the media by some. How could the Vikings grovel like this? Offering millions more to a forty year-old to rejoin the team after his umpteenth retirement. Have we no backbone? Letting the old man skip training camp, again. Treating Tarvaris Jackson like he is a wicked step-child. Certainly now, as a forty-something, teams will simply copy the Saints plan of violently attacking him and he will not make it through the season. Minnesota is grasping at straws.
To that I say Jim Thome. Last night Thome rocked a home run to win a dramatic event against the White Sox. Thome is at that forty year level. Thome was basically let go by teams because all he could do is hit. As a matter of fact, he can hit. And the last team to tell him goodbye found that out last night. It was old-timer's day yesterday, what with the Return of the Favre and Thome's blast. It was the kind of night that makes forty-somethings like me reconsider their career paths.
Is it crazy that these old guys want to keep playing a young man's sport? How can they remain successful? They cannot last an entire season, can they? What fools these elderly be, right?
Let me introduce the greatest of oldies: Gordie Howe. Gordie played a violent sport (hockey) full of collisions and injuries. He started at sixteen in the minors and finished as a fifty-one year old in 1980 for the Hartford Whalers. He played in all eighty games that year. Gordie's best year scoring wise came in the 1968-69 season, when at the age of forty he topped 100 points for the only time in his career. This guy was so tough he survived a fractured skull in the 1950 playoffs, returning the next year at the start of the season. He also knocked out Maurice "Rocket" Richard with one punch as a rookie. Sounds a lot like a quarterback I know. As a side note, Howe did play a shift in the minors for the Detroit Vipers in 1997, at the age of seventy.
Besides Thome, baseball boasts many present forty-something. Jamie Moyer and Omar Vizquel to name a few. Baseball has had players like Satchell Paige (59 years old), Hoyt Wilhelm (49), Phil Niekro (48), and Jesse Orosco (46). Others whom have pitched into their forties include: Nolan Ryan, Tommy John, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens. But these are pitchers in baseball. These are not QBs in an NFL game, where opponents aim to knock you out of the game. Pitching in the MLB is not the same thing.
True. Maybe Gordie Howe was the exception and pitchers are not comparable?
George Blanda was a place kicker and quarterback who started in the NFL in 1949. He retired in 1958. Then he came back again in 1960. Familiar? Blanda starred as a quarterback/kicker in the AFL for the Houston Oilers. He was the leading passer in the league many times. In 1967 he switched teams, joining the Oakland Raiders as a thirty-nine year old. He was released in 1970 but came back again in his forties. Where have I heard that before? Blanda won two games in relief of an injured QB that season. Blanda went on to start an AFC Championship Game at the age of forty-eight, nearly winning until two late interceptions (yes, heard that before, too).
But George Blanda was far from the only QB to be active in his forties. Other quarterbacks at the same age range included: Doug Flutie, Steve DeBerg, and Vinny Testaverde. Even linebacker Junior Seau has neared this level. It can be done.
I am happy that Favre has returned. I laugh at those who laugh at us. I know there is a great history of we old people doing tremendous things throughout sports. Jim Thome reminded over forty thousand people first-hand last night. I have a feeling Favre will convince more than that. Old people are no different than you and me. Or was that short people?
Anyway, I am stretching out right now in lieu of the 2011-12 NFL season. Or maybe the 2011 MLB season?
So close. So much anguish. The loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship ranks with the harshest losses in Minnesota history. There was the "Hail Mary' loss to the Cowboys in 1975 at the Met. Then there was the 1998-99 Championship OT loss to the Falcons at home in the Dome, after the 15-1 season, due to a missed kick. The Super Bowl losses. They all hurt.
Worse yet, the New Orleans Saints went on to win the Super Bowl, validating just how good the 2009 Vikings really were. The 34-3 handling of the Cowboys in the previous playoff game was one of the most lopsided games in Minnesota playoff history. The way the Vikings dismantled the cocky Cowboys was breathtaking. While the Green Bay Packers were allowing over fifty points in their loss the week before, the Vikings surrendered three in an easy win.
So the question(s) is asked for this season: Will the Vikings be able to repeat their 12-4 season? Will this be the year that Minnesota finally wins a Super Bowl? In order to answer those questions we first have to ask ourselves ... do we feel lucky? Or at least be able to answer these questions....
1. Does Brett Favre return or will Tarvaris Jackson take leadership?
The most thought of question. If Favre does return things look very good. His 107.2 passer rating in 2009 was proof that he is far from over the hill. His ankle injury at the hands of a very violent Saints defense is the deciding factor according to reports. But Favre is a question mark until he actually puts on the uniform. Once he does, the answers will come. This offense will explode with Favre back at the helm.
If things are left to T-Jack, all is not lost. He actually had a higher passer rating than Favre, at 113.4. However, it was based on only 21 pass attempts. We Viking faithful are hopeful that Jackson learned from the best last year, and has grown into the skills and mind set needed to succeed in the NFL. If Jackson performs like he did vs. the Cardinals in 2008, then no problem. If he is the QB who faced the Eagles in the playoffs, then the answer will be no.
2. Can Adrian Peterson regain his 'old form' and fumble less?
Peterson averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2007. He averaged 4.8 ypc in 2008. And last year, he fell to 4.4 per carry. In those three years he has carried the ball 915 times. That is a lot. Each year he has regressed in average. Is this a slowing down of a running back, or the reality that defenses have focused more and more on this prolific back? Is it the offensive line that has slowed down? I cannot say which is the truest answer, but he is still the most impressive back in football, no apology to Chris Johnson needed.
As for the fumbles, things have been bad for two seasons. In his rookie season, AD (Peterson's acronym - for All Day) had 4 fumbles in 257 touches, or about every 64 times he touched the ball. In 2008, AD had 9 fumbles in 384 touches, or a fumble every 43 tries. Last year, AD had 7 fumbles in the 357 times he saw the ball, or one fumble every 51 attempts. An optimist would say "Hey, he is getting better!". But the reality is he is a very violent-type runner. The previous best back in Viking history, Chuck Foreman, also struggled with fumbles. The answer to this question lies within AD.
3. Will E.J.Henderson return to form or Jasper Brinkley step up?
When Henderson went down in the 12th game last year, Vikings faithful cringed. Not only because of the horrific fracture of the femur that E.J. suffered, but also because his replacement was Jasper Brinkley, a relative unknown. Henderson was averaging about seven tackles a game, on pace to lead the team and be considered for All-Pro honors. What would become of the defense?
Jasper Brinkley had 23 tackles in his four starts and change, and was probably more of a liability than an asset. But he was maybe better than expected. Now reports are that he had a terrific off-season, and is having an even better camp in Mankato. If Henderson returns to form all is well. But if not, many feel Brinkley is ready to come forward.
4. What will become of the Vikings secondary?
Cedric Griffin's ACL tear during the NFC Championship was as big a factor in the loss as any of the turnovers. Griffin had developed into the best defensive back, given Antoine Winfield's injury and slow recovery. Now Griffin appears to be unable to play until at least October. What will we do?
Luckily, the Vikings did address this issue in both off-season moves and the draft. 34th overall pick, Chris Cook of Virginia, is a 6'2, 212 lb, specimen that will help the future at cornerback. This is good considering Winfield is in his 12th year. Add to that the signing of Lito Sheppard, an Eagles runaway, who joins former coach Brad Childress. Benny Sapp and Asher Allen also return. At safety, Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams come back with another year of experience. Minnesota finished 19th in yards allowed versus the pass. 23rd in tds allowed. This area must be improved.
5. Is the offensive line getting better or worse?
In the loss to the Saints, it was apparent that the O-line could not handle the rush of the Saints. Although Bryant McKinnie was awarded All-Pro honors, most knowledgeable fans did not see it that way. There were frequent mistakes by McKinnie, Sullivan, Herrera, and Loadholt. Even Steve Hutchinson struggled once in a while. In that NFC Championship the line was overmatched. On top of all that, the Vikings lost their most experienced back-up, Artis Hicks, to free agency.
Minnesota did draft an offensive lineman (too late for my taste) in Chris DeGeare, a 6'4, 325 lb., from Wake Forest with the 161st pick. The starting five returns as well. In Mankato, reports are that 2nd year OT Patrick Brown from Central Florida, and 3rd year player Chris Clark from Southern Mississippi are looking good. But neither would address the biggest concern: Herrera. This line did lead the offense to an overall 5th ranking in yardage and 2nd in scoring, albeit most due to the uncanny play of Favre and the running of Peterson. To go farther in the playoffs this unit will have to get better.
The 2010 season awaits. The questions are there. We await answers. The first game, a Thursday Night affair to kickoff the season begins in New Orleans, the source of many of these unanswered thoughts.
We can sure get spoiled fast. For example, my family just purchased our first HD TV, with the HP 1080, and whatever else makes it sound groovy. We had held out, what with the economy and costs of growing children. But shopping in a local Target we found a deal to good to pass up, and even though it was last year's model, made the move to HD. Love it!
Minnesotans just experienced the best season/career by a starting quarterback in their forty-nine years. Brett Favre's 107.2 passer rating in the 2009 season easily bests the second highest Vikings career rating, that of Randall Cunningham's 94.2 (excluding Todd Bouman's 98.6 in his three 2001 starts). For comparison, Fran Tarkenton was a lifetime 80.1, Tommy Kramer 72.9, Warren Moon 82.8, Brad Johnson 82.5, and Daunte Culpepper 91.5. There is no doubt that Favre was the missing piece for a Super Bowl-type team. We now have one.
Favre's recent disclosure of the needed surgery to play in 2010 has cast some doubt on his return. Those that witnessed the brutalization of Favre at the hand of the dirty Saints pass-rushers have to wonder why he would want more of the same? Sure, he is a tough old hombre, but I wouldn't wish that kind of beating on Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler (OK, maybe Cutler). With his long list of NFL successes, Favre could retire an NFL Hall-of-Famer and still be able to walk to the podium. Why return?
Meanwhile, the NFL draft came and went, and Minnesota passed on a couple of quarterback prospects that has media and friends concerned about Minnesota's future. Notre Dame grad Jimmy Clausen, the first-round talent who was absent in the "Green Room", was available the first two days of the draft, yet we avoided him. Later, Tony Pike of Cincinnati, sat atop the 'best available' list of draft choices, and once again the Vikings went elsewhere. Critics cried "foul", citing Favre's ego as the reason Minnesota avoided addressing the future at quarterback. Never mind that both of these QBs dropped in value faster than the riders of Valley Fair's Power Tower, the Vikings had blown it due to the coddling of their superstar. Yea, right.
What they all fail to realize is that as good as Favre was, the reason for the Vikings' success is many, not singular. The addition of Percy Harvin; the improvement of Sidney Rice; the drafting of Phil Loadholt; Adrian Peterson; the emergence of Ray Edwards; the Williams' wall. Too many factors to decide that Favre was the only reason. The fact that Minnesota won the division in 2008 with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte at the helm should at least suggest the overall talent of the Vikings is presently superior to the Packers, Bears, and obviously the Lions.
I am not afraid of life without Favre. True, like my HD-TV, it is certainly better. I would much prefer it. But these forty plus years have taught me to be patient (a skill all true Vikings' fans have had to own). For every Tarkenton, there will be a Tommy Kramer. For every Cunningham, a Jeff George. For every Culpepper ... you get the picture. The best playoff record of any Vikings' QB is only 6-5 (Tarkenton). Brett Favre's is presently 1-1, which is no better than Joe Kapp (2-2).
I love my new HD, it is better than before. But it is only TV after all, it cannot do the dishes. LAF will be tough, we will have to find a replacement or probably return to T-Jack. Or find someone at least as good as Todd Bouman. I hear the 2011 draft might have the answer.
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.
For many years the Viking pass defense has been the great cause for concern. Despite a spectacular run defense, Minnesota has struggled to shut down teams over the last few years via the air. In the first two rounds of the last six draft the Vikings have not selected some very good DBs. Sometimes the player they choose has been worth it, such as Adrian Peterson. But looking at the Draft's missed defensive backs over the years gives us reason to the "why" we are not an elite defense. The last six years:
2004 Draft results: 20th Pick, Kenechi Udeze, DE. 48th Pick, Dontarrious Thomas, LB.
Missed DBs: 25th Pick, Ahmad Carroll, Green Bay; 28th Pick, Chris Gamble, Carolina; 44th Pick Bob Sanders, Indianapolis; 53rd Pick, Michael Boulware, Baltimore.
2005 Draft results: 7th Pick, Troy Williamson, WR. 18th Pick, Erasmus James, DE. 49th Pick, Marcus Johnson, OT.
Missed DBs: 8th Pick, Antrell Rolle, Arizona; 9th Pick, Carlos Rogers, Washington; 23rd Pick, Fabian Washington, Oakland; 29th Pick, Marlin Jackson, Indianapolis; 50th Pick, Ronald Bartell, St. Louis; 51st Pick, Nick Collins, Green Bay; 56th Pick, Darrent Williams, Denver.
2006 Draft results: 17th Pick, Chad Greenway, LB. 48th Pick, Cedric Griffin, DB 64th Pick, Tarvaris Jackson, QB.
Missed DBs: 19th Pick, Antonio Cromartie, San Diego; 24th Pick, Jonathan Joseph, Cincinnati.
2007 Draft results: 7th Pick, Adrian Peterson, RB. 44th Pick, Sidney Rice, WR.
Missed DBs: 14th Pick, Darrelle Revis, New York Jets; 19th Pick, Michael Griffin, Tennessee; 53rd Pick, Eric Wright, Cleveland.
2008 Draft results: 43rd Tyrell Johnson.
2009 Draft results: 22nd Pick, Percy Harvin, WR. 54th Pick, Phil Loadholt, OT.
Missed DBs: 25th Pick, Vontae Davis. 55th Pick, William Moore. 59th Pick, Sherrod Martin.
I have been upset for years as we have only chosen two DBs in the last six years in the first two rounds. And surprise, the two we have selected (Cedric Griffin and Tyrell Johnson) are both starters.
If the Vikings want to win Super Bowls their defense will have to improve against the pass. No amounts of Williamses is going to change that. If you replaced Troy Williamson in the 2005 Draft with Antrell Rolle, we would be favored to beat the Steelers this week. If you added another to our roster, like Nick Collins, Darrelle Revis, or Antonio Cromartie, then we would be favored every game this year.
The loss (or potential) of Antoine Winfield (a free agent sign), points to out hole in the Vikings Defense. With Karl Paymahs' struggles, and the name of Benny Sapp being offered in hope, fans are now worried about what will occur versus Ben Roethlisberger this Sunday. That is our cause for pessimism.
Hopefully, the Vikings will overcome the injury issues and move to 7-0. If they win this one, they will shut up the leftover critics. That would be nice...
If they lose, the doubters will gain great numbers and momentum. And we will talk more about Drafts and DBs.
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