Never before have the Vikings been so loaded with talent, so get ready for Super Bowl expectations.
Brad Childress has gone from six victories in 2006 to eight, 10 and 12 in the seasons that followed. Another two-victory increase in 2010 would be a vault more than a step, but it's not out of the question with the talent the Vikings have due to arrive in Mankato on Thursday afternoon.
One important figure, Brett Favre, will not be seen until the third week of August, when the Vikings are back at Winter Park and preparing for their second exhibition.
The Aug. 22 game at San Francisco is Sunday night and nationally televised by NBC. The network will do as much pleading as it takes with the Favre camp to have him available to take his first few snaps of the preseason.
The Vikings' two-week stay in Mankato will be overshadowed nationally by the occasional and meaningless Favre bulletins from Hattiesburg, Miss. Meantime, the rest of the lads will be going through 22 practices that will assist Childress and his staff in making no important decisions.
None are necessary, what with a roster that carries the same 22 players that made the most starts at their positions in 2009.
This includes middle linebacker E.J. Henderson and cornerback Cedric Griffin, both returning from injuries. There's a chance Henderson will be back to play middle linebacker in the opener at New Orleans on Sept. 9. Griffin's return will be a few weeks later, with veteran Lito Sheppard expected to take the starts at right corner until then.
There's also the risk of more injuries, but for now, it's astounding in this era of free agency to see the Vikings positioned to have the same 22 make the most starts for two consecutive seasons.
There was incredible roster stability during the Vikings' glory years from 1969 through 1977, yet there were never two consecutive seasons when Bud Grant had the same 22 get the most starts.
It wasn't frugality or a lack of creativity that led to this current absence of change. This team demonstrated in January -- with the annihilation of the ballyhooed Cowboys and a bad-luck loss to the Saints in New Orleans -- the nucleus was in place to enter 2010 among a few Super Bowl favorites.
Go ahead. Rate the Purple pieces from 1 to 5.
Defensive front: 5. Linebacker: 4, with Henderson. Cornerback: 3 now, 4 with Griffin. Safeties: 3, with improvement from Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson, plus depth with Jamarca Sanford.
Offensive front: 4, with Phil Loadholt getting better at right tackle. Receivers: 5 -- and that's ignoring a healthy, more involved Bernard Berrian. Running back: 5. Quarterback: 4, based on a slight dropoff from 2009 for the Great Prevaricator.
Really. This bunch is loaded.
Going in, it's easier to be rabidly optimistic at this point than it was in July 1998. Then, there was a suspicion that Randy Moss would be great, along with the suspicion he had the potential to use a meter maid as a hood ornament (that came later).
Also: There was apprehension over a defense that had allowed 359 points in 1997. And there was no thought that Randall Cunningham would become the starter and win some player of the year awards.
Here in Minnesota, we follow a team that has reached the playoffs in 25 of its 49 seasons. All 25 have ended with a loss -- even 1968, when the Vikings had a chance to end a playoff season with a victory without winning the Super Bowl and lost 17-13 to Dallas in the prestigious NFL Playoff Bowl.
Yup. Our Vikes couldn't even win the last one when the stake was third place.
Considering that history, the start of training camp should be greeted more with trepidation than joy among Vikings fans. That's especially true with the 25th vision of doom being so fresh:
An ill-thought pass over the middle from an ancient warrior having the least careless campaign of a Hall of Fame career.
As a Vikings lifer, you should expect tradition to continue in the team's 50th season. You should expect the end to come as a kick to the stomach, but then you look at this roster.
Look at the defense. Look at Favre's weapons.
This is it, ye Purple of heart. This is the playoff season that ends with a victory.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • firstname.lastname@example.org