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Louis Villaume

Hamel, Minn.

Villaume: ATL-MIN History Favorable, But Painful

The bitterness between these two franchises had a first moment. It was 1973, a Monday night in November. Minnesota was 9-0 at the time. The previous year the Miami Dolphins had the perfect season, going 17-0 and winning the Super Bowl. At the time of the Monday Night matchup only the Vikings were left unbeaten.

The Falcons were riding a five-game winning streak at the time, and home teams were 11-1-1 in 1973 on Monday Night Football. It was expected to be contentious.

Minnesota had steam rolled most opponents with a smothering defense and that allowed only five of seventeen opponents to reach twenty points, and no one reached thirty all season. The three games previous to this MNF game the Vikings held their opponents all to under ten points, sixteen combined for a 5.3 average.

They were in the height of eating people.

The Vikings also sported a flashy new offense now that Fran Tarkenton had some speed in rookie running back Chuck Foreman from Miami. Previous to the 1973 season Minnesota's running game mostly consisted of Bill Brown and Dave Osborn, the original "three yards and a cloud of dust" duo. Foreman brought quickness, great moves, and intuition that others like Oscar Reed or Clinton Jones seemed to lack in previous seasons. Brown and Osborn were great in their time, but would never be mistaken for flashy. At seasons' end, Minnesota would rush for 2,275 yards in 14 games. Foreman led with 801 yards, Reed had 401 yards, and Ed Marinaro 302 yards.

Meanwhile, Tarkenton spread the ball to everyone. John Gilliam was his deep threat, averaging 21.6 yards per catch among 42 receptions. Second on the team was Foreman, who had 37 catches for 362 yards. Stu Voigt caught a few, as did Marinaro, Reed, and WR Carroll Dale. No one dominated the statistics on offense. Just a lot of variety and a scrambling quarterback.

Strangely enough,  Atlanta was led by Bob Lee, who was previously our punter and backup quarterback. After a poor punting year in 1971 he became expendable. Mike Eischeid became his replacement. Lee would later return to Minnesota and throw a touchdown in a Super Bowl loss. 

Their head coach was our inaugural coach, Norm Van Brocklin (1961-66). In 1973 Atlanta would finish 9-5-0, only their second winning record since their inception into the NFL in 1966. However, they fell short of making the playoffs. In fact, it was not until 1978 that Atlanta made it to the playoffs. 

At the time of the 1973 game I was nine years old. I lived Vikings every day.

Monday Night Football was in its' infancy, popular, but learning at the same time. Howard Cosell was the main voice, with Dandy Don Meredith and Frank Gifford with play-by-play. It was a wonder, night football on television with commentators you looked forward to hearing. 

I was given the chance to stay up late and watch the game. My mother had a pretty strict bedtime my whole life and staying up to watch this game put a greater emphasis on its' outcome than normal. Plus, Minnesota was trying to prove in 1973 that they could do what the Dolphins did the year before. Beat everyone.

As fans of New England seem to know often, and fans of Carolina are finding out this year, tension grows with each victory. Like chasing Joe DiMaggio's hit streak, the pressure builds among the players and their fans. Collective breaths are held longer and longer the closer the streak gets to its' end. 

On this Monday night everything went wrong. The game started out sluggish, and the first points were a field goal by Atlanta. Minnesota responded with a Tarkenton-to-Gilliam touchdown, and it was 7-3 Minnesota in the 2nd Quarter. By half time the Falcons had two TD passes from Lee to his running backs. Those two (Dave Hampton and Eddie Ray) combined for 169 yards rushing, 94 yards receiving, and both Falcons' touchdowns. The duo had 263 of Atlanta's 347 total yards. Against the toughest defense in football.

I started crying when I watched Lee make a key throw to keep a drive alive but cameras caught him stepping out of bounds prior to the throw. I think I complained so often, and growing in severity, that my parents cut me off from the rest of the game, claiming I was too tired.

But I wasn't. I was bitter. And angry. How could the refs not see that play? Where was instant replay? How could Lee be playing so well? Why did we trade him? Did Van Brocklin cheat? Why so many turnovers?

When Minnesota was stopped on a fourth down play late in the game that thwarted a last-second comeback and ended the game at 14-20, I was in my bed, deep into a fit that could only be curbed by threats of physical retribution.

I hated football.

I got over it later. It was just the first in a series of jolts. I attended the Super Bowl that year, a loss to Miami. I watched losses in other Super Bowls, the Hail Mary rip-off loss to the Cowboys, and the Darren Nelson drop against Washington in the 1980s.  But no game will have hurt as much as that one, the first one. Or so I thought.

Minnesota exacted some revenge, beating the Falcons in one of their rare playoff visits in 1982. But that was the strike shortened year, when the league decided that 16 team should make the playoffs. It was too NHLish for the football fans. After that loss, the Falcons next playoff visit was nine years later (1991). In 1995, four years after that, the Falcons made the playoffs again, only to be ousted in the first round.

And then came 1998. 

We do not dwell on what happened there. Suffice to say a whole generation of fans learned what I had experienced over and over again in the 1970s. Sometimes your team does not win even if they are the better team. Or if you wish hard enough you can somehow make a referee see a step on the sideline. Or help a perfect kicker stay perfect.

Minnesota owns a large edge in this series. The point differential staggering. The Falcons are a losing franchise that puts a good season together every now and then. They have 12 playoff visits in near 50 years. Their best season just happened to be the same time as Minnesota's best season. While Minnesotans can relish in the fact that their team owns this series, and is by far the more successful franchise, we must also realize that the Falcons have hurt us before. 


It will be interesting to see if Minnesota can overcome the loss of safety Harrison Smith this week, he has been stellar in the secondary. Antone Exum Jr. will take his place, he of the outstanding tackle on the runaway fan.

Let's hope he tackles Falcons with the same veracity.


Villaume: Thankful for Vikings

"so much death, what can man do against such reckless hate." .. King Theoden, Lord of the Rings.

It is everywhere. I am constantly reminded how angry everyone is with each other. We are angry at police officers, despite the fact they risk their lives every day for our safety. We are mad at Black Lives Matter, because they go too far in their right to peacefully protest. We are mad at the rioters in Ferguson and Baltimore. The truth is they speak for injustice. And it is there.

We are mad at politicians. If you are a Republican, you are mad at Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. If you are a Democrat, then you get George Bush (still) and Donald Trump. We spend hours and hours discrediting them in turn. From natural tragedies, to terrorist attacks, lies, to threats of removing illegals... both sides toss hatred at a steady pace through our tilted media, who has become seemingly the National Enquirer on every station, site, and paper.

It makes one tired. And bitter.

And then along comes football...

Ancient governments knew long ago, give the people a catharsis. Or a cynic might say a divergent. Whichever, growing up in today's world billions of people put their thoughts and emotional energy into their team. Be it soccer, rugby, baseball, basketball, hockey, or football... We attend games. We wear jerseys. We watch on television or internet.

For some, they are rewarded with the chance to root and win. Fans of the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Blackhawks, Manchester United, or Pittsburgh Steelers are used to winning. Regularly winning a title in their sport allows the fans great release of pride, joy, and community. Hugging total strangers. Pointing a finger at your rival. Knowing your team is better than another.

For others it is like a pit of despair. The Chicago Cubs for example, can never win a World Series. Or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where they started with a big losing streak and it kind of never stopped. Their .385 franchise record the worst in the NFL. By far. Or more locally, the Minnesota Timberwolves. Or the Minnesota Wild. 

Or maybe the Minnesota Vikings.

When Minnesota lost last week 30-13 to the Green Bay Packers at TCF Stadium it returned the anger. The hate. Never mind that the franchise had won only 12 games the previous two years. Never mind that the team has only one winning season in the last five. Fans expected a win, or at least a better performance, and were let down.

A true Vikings' fan could hold much anger. There has been so many close calls to winning or getting to a Super Bowl. The incredible talent that has been a part of our history: Paul Krause, Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Chuck Foreman, Randall McDaniel, John Randle, Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson. That is only scratching the surface.

So when we are 7-2 we gather hope. To have it dashed on national television at the hands of our most-hated rivals disheartening. We are prone to anger. We let go of the optimism and replace it with cynicism. How many times have you heard in the last week that this loss was the start of our downfall? Now we are going to play tough teams and we will lose.

Sometimes it is a greater curse to be good and lose, than to be bad and lose. Bucs fans will never know a Minnesotans angst toward football. Fans from Houston, Detroit, and Atlanta not only do not win Super Bowls, but they also regularly lose. When they have a winning record the whole city rejoices.

This Thanksgiving, as I read the Turkey of they Year Award goes to the recently deceased Flip Saunders (a childhood idol), as I stare at the morning news of video of a kid with a knife killed in the street, and knowing how it stirs both sides up, I am saddened. How I see flags at half-mast for losses in terrorist attacks in our ally countries, news channels seemingly promoting war, angry citizens pointing to immigrants even though our motto used to be "give us your tired...". Media vs. Politicians. Media vs. Truth. Safety vs. Kindness.

It is a cynical world.

And so yes, I was angry when we lost to the Packers. I was mad at coaches for leaving the blitz in the red zone. Mad at officials for one-siding the calls early in the game (not that I had much proof they were wrong). Mad at fumbling. Mad at bone-headed head butts. Mad at offensive play-calling. Really mad at penalties.

Just angry.

And by the next day I was better. Others were still upset. "How could they let us down like that?" they would say to me. "We were not who we thought we were" others said, in a distortion of a famous Denny Green quote. The fingers kept pointing. 

Suddenly I got it.

There is so much bad in this world. The good in the world long ago lost out in the media. That is why the National Enquirer grew, and became a powerful part of our world. That is why "news" channels like FOX, MSNBC, CNN ... have grown in power and stature. This world gobbles up the bad. The world would rather hear who died than who was born. More important what our enemy believes than what we believe.

Thank the heavens for football.

Football is pretend. Win or lose it is a game played for our entertainment. Our thoughts and prayers can be answered in the positive simply by throwing a touchdown. If the Vikings beat Atlanta this Sunday they will open a two game lead in the wold-card hunt. The playoffs would suddenly look much closer, and the fans will be happier.

In real life it is not that easy. And every action is scrutinized by the other side and then discussed for days and weeks. There may not be an answer to all the violence in some of our communities. There may not be a peaceful way to avoid groups like ISIS. The protests in our own country starting to re-divide us by race. Or were we ever united? Build a wall, forcibly remove illegals, deny others entry .. or feel unsafe?

I am tired of politics. I am tired of Americans being on opposite sides of everything based on their loyalty to a party. I am tired of a few people forcing sweeping generalizations of others be it religion, race, or our beloved police officers.

OK, Green Bay whupped us good last week, We fell to 7-3 and a tie in the division. There is a tough schedule ahead. We may lose more games. We may not be as good as we hoped.

That is fine, for I love cheering for the Vikings, and I do not mind a little adversity. I take the bad with the good.

That is life. Real life.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.