Joe Montana was phenomenal. He won four Super Bowls (XVI,XIX,XXIII,XXIV) and is considered among the greatest quarterbacks to have ever played the game. Others on the elite list include: Dan Marino, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw. Most of these QBs played their entire careers with one team, Unitas' brief stint in San Diego notwithstanding. Favre and Montana are different in that they led new teams to the Conference Championship games in the twilight of their careers.
Montana joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, along with Marcus Allen. They were hyped in the media and instantly produced. In 1993 Montana led the Chiefs to a 13-3 record and the AFC Championship, which they lost to the Buffalo Bills. But Montana came back for a second year. In 1994 he played in fourteen games as a thirty-eight year old. He faced his old team the 49ers with their reason to let him go: Steve Young. Montana beat his old team and Young in an NFL Classic. He got them back to the playoffs where his final game turned out to be a 27-17 loss to Miami and Dan Marino, despite 314 yards and two tds and an early lead. He retired before the 1995 season.
Brett Favre is back for his second stint with the Vikings. In his first year the Vikings finished the two seed and he took Minnesota back to the NFC Championship, where they lost an OT affair, despite 310 yards and a td. Now he will play his last season for Minnesota in 2010. He will face his former team at least twice, and the reason they could let him go: Aaron Rodgers. Last year Favre tore up his former team and swept them in the home-home series. How will he fare in his final year?
Joe Montana, the four-time Super Bowl winner is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever don a uniform. So too is Brett Favre. If this is Favre's final finale, can he bring Minnesota back to the playoffs again? Will he go farther than Montana did in his last season? Can he add a 2nd Super Bowl win to his resume?
One thing is certain. His contests with Rodgers and Green Bay will be fun to watch.
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.
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.
Indianapolis. They are a glamour team, with superstars like Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and Dwight Freeney. They have already won a Super Bowl with a major part of this team still intact. They are fun to watch. And they are favored.
New Orleans. They are the Cinderella story. Never been there. Minnesota fans should be torn between cheering blankly for the NFC, cheering against the Saints because of two weeks ago, or making your decision based on your feelings about Hurricane Katrina and all that went down. The underdog.
Well this blogger is also torn. My head says Colts in a romp. They will not make the same mistakes the Vikings did, protect the ball better, and like Minnesota, be able to move almost at will. New Orleans' defense is below average, and that will not do in the biggest of playoff games.
My heart is semi-torn. I always like an underdog. I am still a little mad at New Orleans' seemingly fortuitous game with the referees. I also do not want them to win their first SB, thereby lowering us to an already lowish level with teams like the Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks, and friends. But the bigger part of the heart has to cheer for this team. They are not supposed to win, media seems to downplay their chances. They have never even been to this level. The town will party like it's 1999 if they win.
Heart: New Orleans 34 Indianapolis 27
Head: Indianapolis 41 New Orleans 20
Compromise: Indianapolis 34 New Orleans 27
We have suffered. In started in the 1970s, so any Vikings' fans you see who is forty-year old or better wears it on their collective face like cold wind exposure on an Alaskan. Those who are thirty-something cannot hear the name Darren Nelson without thinking of Marcus Allen, discos, and drops. Those in their twenties or late teens can only cringe when the name Gary Anderson is mentioned. And last night was created a whole new generation of sufferers. Adrian Peterson or Brett Favre may have to carry that cross based on early rants from fans.
The reason for the true suffering is the specific event of losing Championship games that could be won. It is one thing to get blown out 41-0 and find out for three hours that you are not ready for the Super Bowl, like in the 2000 season. It is another to lose a close game in the waning moments and/or overtime. NFL Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (NPTSD) occurs when you lose a close game late, that you should have won easily. Vikings Championship losses in seasons 1977, 1987, 1998, and now 2009 qualify as this disturbing of loss in varying degrees.
The numbers of this Championship hurt the most. Seven times the vaunted NFL's number one offense was three and out. The Vikings were shut down twice. Only three times did the Saints gain ten or more yards on a drive. The Vikings had eight drives of thirty or more yards. Four were seventy-plus yards.The total yardage was nearly double. First downs were more than double. Third down conversions. Drew Brees held to under 200 yards. Most numbers clearly show the Vikings should have won this game. All but turnovers and the final score.
So now those of us with NPTSD will be haunted by fumbles and interceptions. Last night my sleep was limited to four troubled hours full of nightmares in football. The work day was spent in numbing fashion, with thoughts of fright, in hyperarousal, and a heart that feels like it is beating 20-40 times more per minute than it should. I know the physical symptoms will go away. But true NPTSD can re-occur, like a flashback, with all of the same intensity. The 1998 veterans had to relive emotions of an overtime. The older veterans had to think of Brent McLanahan as AP coughed up the ball near the goal line. Like Groundhog Day, we awake to "I Got You Babe".
So what can we NPTSD carriers do? Awareness is half the battle. When I replay in my sleep Robert Meachem being awarded a catch for an obvious trapped ball and wake up in a sweat... relax, breathe. When pictures of the Saints players plastering Brett Favre echo in my mind during the day, I will seek counsel from a friend. Exposure therapy is effective. Go see a fourth grade sporting event, where no one keeps score, and everyone gets a trophy. Work your way through middle school games, clubs, and then beyond. We will get better.
Yes, a new generation of suffering is born. I cannot personally point a finger at any one player. They're my team, win or lose. Brett Favre played the most courageous game I have ever witnessed from quarterback, greater than Archie Manning against the Bears. Adrian Peterson is truly a great back, who is struggling with holding on to the ball. Percy Harvin. Bernard Berrian. How can you fault guys trying too hard? No, in order to recover from NPTSD you have to let go of the blame.
Except for 12 men in a huddle after a time-out.
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