This week marks the 10-year anniversary of a very important event in Minnesota Vikings history (and I say that half-joking and half-serious). It was on Oct. 6, 2005, that several Vikings players embarked on a Lake Minnetonka journey that is now infamously known as the Love Boat Scandal.
(Yes, the actual anniversary was yesterday, but the news didn’t break until a few days after it happened, so I consider this a week-long celebration).
You can find a lot of details about what allegedly happened or didn’t happen on various parts of the Internet, but in case you are coming to this cold, here are the first few paragraphs from the main news story in the Star Tribune after the scandal erupted:
Minnesota Vikings players are being investigated in connection
with a lake cruise that turned into a wild sex party last week on
Lake Minnetonka. The party became so out of control that crew
members on the two yachts were offered money for sex and feared for their safety, law enforcement authorities and an attorney for the
cruise company said Tuesday.
The excursion Thursday on two yachts owned by Al & Alma’s
Supper Club and Charter Cruises in Mound was organized by
first-year Vikings safety Fred Smoot and possibly two other
players, according to Stephen Doyle, the company’s attorney.
At least 17 Vikings players have been identified as being on the
yachts, he said. It was unclear how many were involved in
sex-related activities. At least 90 people were on the two yachts. The boats were ordered to return to shore just 40 minutes into what had been planned as a 3 1/2-hour cruise after supervisors learned of the alleged behavior.
That’s the long and the short of it. The story broke just as sports blogs were becoming more mainstream, and it was amazing fodder for many outlets. I can’t even imagine if it happened today, given how much things have accelerated in a decade thanks to Twitter and cell phone video being so pervasive.
Many people still recall the salacious details of the scandal; Steve Smith catching a pass against Fred Smoot and pretending to paddle a boat a few games after the story broke, in a 38-13 loss to the Panthers, is still a haunting yet amusing memory.
What might get lost in the shuffle is how the Love Boat contributed to the next 10 years of Vikings football. In case you forgot, 2005 also brought us the Onterrio Smith Whizzinator scandal and the Mike Tice ticket scalping scandal, among other things.
The Love Boat was at the forefront of those events, which gave the impression that the Vikings were an organization that was out of control, and that fateful October boat ride specifically led the Vikings and new owner Zygi Wilf to issue a 77-page code of conduct to players, coaches and other team personnel.
The cumulative effect of all the scandals almost certainly led to the end-of-year firing of head coach Mike Tice, who had guided the Vikings to the playoffs the year before (including a win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field) and had turned a 2-5 start, including a career-altering injury to Daunte Culpepper, into a 9-7 finish in 2005.
In his place, the Vikings hired Brad Childress — the anti-Tice in almost every way, and a coach whose imprint for better or worse is still felt today. The Vikings were one play away from reaching the Super Bowl under Childress, who squeezed one magical year out of Brett Favre before everything changed in 2010.
Between 2010 and now, the Vikings are 33-50-1 and are still trying to dig out from the go-for-broke 2009 season. They appear to be on their way to better times with Teddy Bridgewater — their best hope, by far, for a young franchise quarterback since Culpepper shredded his knee not long after the Love Boat — and second-year coach Mike Zimmer.
But it’s not hard to think that the last decade could have played out differently if not for that scandal.
As such, let’s pause to remember it 10 years later — as the Vikings are once again on their bye week, just as they were during the Love Boat incident, hopefully not generating the kind off-field news that would alter the course of the next decade.