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Louis Villaume

Hamel, Minn.

Villaume: Purple Season 55 Begins for Fans

The Minnesota Twins World Series wins in 1987 and 1991 freed the state of Minnesota from the chains of modern losing. Previous to those two championships, most reticent Minnesota fans would have to point to either the Minneapolis Lakers of the 1950s (basketball) or national championships acquired by the University of Minnesota football program somewhere around the invention of television in order to defend being called losers.

Yet still the pain lingers.

The Minnesota Vikings enter their 55th season with second year coach Mike Zimmer, second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and the hopeful second coming of Adrian Peterson. The team improved from 2013's five win season to seven wins in 2014. The defense has improved. Minnesota is trending up.

Minnesota has missed the playoffs four of the last five years, as well as ten of the last fourteen seasons. If one is a recent Vikings' fan and/or is under the age of 25, only the 2009 Brett Favre led season stands between happiness and a fourteen year abyss. And that season ended violently in New Orleans.

The next generation is probably even more bitter. Fans in their thirties or late twenties suffered through the 1990s and specifically, 1998. Denny Green, or the Sheriff, took Minnesota to eight playoffs in a ten year span. His playoff record: 4-8. The 1998 Conference Championship loss in the Metrodome to the Atlanta Falcons may rate as the biggest single disappointment in team history. 

If you were from that generation you probably cringe every time you see a kicker miss a chip shot. Or a coach sit on a late tie with a high-powered offense. Or watching playoff overtime.

The next older generation, those that grew up watching in the 1980s, are probably best described as schizophrenic fans. These fans witnessed two player strikes (1982 and 1987), an 0-3 replacement team that counted toward a playoff team's record, dropped playoff passes by running backs chosen before Marcus Allen who like discos, and the advent of the Metrodome. While the Metrodome brought the Twins success, all it did was take away the advantages Minnesota winters gave a hard-nosed team. 

And Les Steckel. The tears that were shed for the retiring of the well-loved Bud Grant in 1984 quickly turned to pleas for him to return. He did. And then he left again. Jerry Burns would take over and have moderate success.

Fans older than that are proud fans. If one grew up watching in the 1970s or even cheering for the expansion team of the 1960s, you are most likely to have confidence in the team. The domination that spanned from the 1968 season until 1978 that saw: four Super Bowl visits; the Purple People Eaters including an MVP season from Alan Page; hapless opponents in the division; Frank Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman; with Jim Finks and Bud Grant in charge. 

Even the Super Bowl losses hurt less than recent conference championship losses, because the loyal fan would just realize that Minnesota was probably going to have another shot the following year. 

And so summer camp begins in this, the 55th season of the Minnesota Vikings. We fans of various backgrounds and beliefs will rekindle whatever hopes we can muster that soon one of these purple teams will put to rest the fact that we have never won the Super Bowl. We will relish with the improving team each win.

But our sights, no matter what age fan, are fixed firmly on the Lombardi Trophy.


Villaume: Vikings' Fans Ready for Draft

As the 2015 NFL season begins to emerge from the spring thaw, we turn our eyes to the NFL Draft. It is a kick-off to a new season, hosted this year in the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. No longer in New York's Radio City Music Hall.

A new era of the NFL.

Now is the time we look to solidifying rosters before the training camps of August. Sure that is more than three months away, but to we football fans it is the chance to rekindle our desire for team success.

With the new technology and media available, our world is filled with fans who have become experts in their team. Years ago I used to tell my young son which players had done what at the NFL combine and whom Minnesota was likely to draft. He would just nod his head in worshipped approval Now, when I tell him something I have learned through my research, wisdom and intuition he tells me three writers who completely disagree; and suggests my thinking is limited or too simple.

A new era.

The prospects of what will unfold this year are plenty. First, and foremost: the status on Adrian Peterson. Recent news has fans unhappy that AP's agent wants him out, Adrian feels unloved, and some talking heads have us trading him for as little as a 4th round pick. 

A 4th round pick?

The only way the club parts with AP is if they have a plan to replace him with something better than a Toby Gerhart. Two running backs expected to go in the first round are Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Georgia's Nick Gurley. Both are expected to be taken after Minnesota's 11th pick in the draft, yet before the end of the round. 

A trade on draft day makes sense. There are teams that have the kind of salary cap room that can afford Peterson. Jacksonville has near 37 million in cap room and there best back is Gerhart at about 3.5 million a year. Other teams with large cap space include: Tampa Bay (29 million); Cleveland (28); Oakland (25); and Tennessee (24).  And the top backs on these teams are nowhere near AP good. Just a lot cheaper.

NFL teams who might want to invest eleven million in a single running back are few. The percent teams are already shelling out for offensive players is a factor. Atlanta, for example, has 73 million already invested in their offense, compared with just 42 on their defense. Teams with lower payout to their offense and with enough cap room to add 11 million include: Tampa Bay (45); Tennessee (51); Miami (44); and Seattle (44).

The Vikings could force AP to play here despite his agent's whining. Running backs Jerrick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, and Joe Banyard each had good moments in 2014 and could be part of the plan if AP refuses to honor his contract or is traded. Not exactly inspiring, but most fans would prefer them to an unhappy, more talented back. Best case scenario: forgive and forget; Peterson wears Purple.

Luckily, the Peterson dilemma, salary caps and the first round pick(s) are only a couple pieces of the puzzle. Minnesota has to address their 1-5 record vs. the North last season. The Packers and Lions both exhibited strong offenses in 2014. Vikes' fans are excited about the play of Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and a few others, but most want Minnesota to add to the improving defense with another cornerback like Trae Waynes of Michigan State. Certainly more young linebackers, or a defensive end would be helpful as well.

Protecting hero-in-waiting Teddy Bridgewater will be a key to 2015, and if Peterson is gone, a even tougher job. Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt are our tackles, but the fans' faith in these early draft selections is waning, The guard position is even more shaky. Brandon Fusco played in only three games in 2014 and he was missed. Charlie Johnson is no longer on the team. Early pick David Yankey did not emerge despite the chance. Only center John Sullivan seems to show up every day. Minnesota could take an offensive lineman with their 11th pick. Many like Iowa's massive tackle and Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff. However, he may not be available at the eleventh pick. 

Rick Spielman stated publicly he is trying to trade down in the draft. It is a strong economical decision that takes all the fun out of the first night of the draft. We wait for months for our first selection only to be told we will wait some more. A buzz kill at most local draft parties. But part of the pre-hype of the draft is the bluff. Why give away what you intend to do? Sounds like subterfuge.

Months ago the hype was the possibility of hooking up Bridgewater with ex-Louisville teammate DeVante Parker with their first pick. Charles Johnson looked great at the end of the season, and Mike Wallace was added in a trade with Miami. On the other hand, Cordarelle Patterson did not progress as hoped and Greg Jennings is gone. Maybe Parker or even Kevin White of West Virginia would be a good selection should Minnesota not trade down.

2015 is a new season. The NFL Draft in a new location. Fans' hopes rekindled anew.

Let the fun begin.