Cris Carter’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his emotional speech provided another visceral moment for Vikings fans to celebrate.
Memories of Carter also should make the most paranoid fans in professional sports even more edgy. Carter is the latest reminder that individual greatness does not enjoy a direct causal relationship with championships.
Carter played with four Vikings who entered the Hall of Fame before him: Chris Doleman, John Randle, Gary Zimmerman and Randall McDaniel. He caught passes from another future Hall of Famer, Warren Moon.
He played with an NFL MVP, in Randall Cunningham, and a future Hall of Fame receiver, in Randy Moss, and a slew of Pro Bowl talents, including Robert Smith, Matt Birk, Steve Jordan, Joey Browner, Keith Millard, Gary Anderson, Audray McMillian, Anthony Carter, Daunte Culpepper, Jeff Christy, Todd Steussie, Henry Thomas, Ed McDaniel, Jack Del Rio, Todd Scott and Korey Stringer.
Carter was constantly surrounded with excellence, if not greatness. That extended to the Vikings’ coaching staffs.
In 1991 and 1992, Carter’s first two full seasons as a Viking, the team’s coaching staff included Denny Green, Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, Marc Trestman, Ty Willingham, Willie Shaw, John Teerlink, Tom Moore, Brian Billick, John Michels and Paul Wiggin.
Willingham was the running backs coach. He would become the head coach at Stanford and Notre Dame. Monte Kiffin might be one of the best and most influential defensive coordinators in NFL history. Tony Dungy would win a Super Bowl as head coach of the Colts, with Tom Moore being credited with the development of Peyton Manning and the offense that perfectly suited the quarterback. Teerlink would coach the defensive line for Dungy.
Trestman is head coach of the Bears. Shaw would become defensive coordinator of the Raiders. Billick would win a Super Bowl as head coach of the Ravens. Michels and Wiggin were considered among the best line coaches in the league.
Later in Carter’s career, he played on two teams that reached the NFC title game only to be upset in stunning fashion.
Carter could not have done anything more within his power to help the Vikings win games. He never reached a Super Bowl because the Vikings’ tremendous talent never was aligned or allocated properly.
He played with great players. He did not play with a transcendent quarterback in his prime. That’s why Vikings fans are today’s version of Red Sox fans in 2003, wondering whether years of angst will ever be washed away by champagne celebrations.
The 2012 and 2013 Vikings feel a lot like some of Carter’s best teams. This year’s team features at least one future Hall of Famer, in Adrian Peterson, and perhaps more, if Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are viewed favorably by the voters.
This year’s team features a slew of players who have been or will be on Pro Bowl rosters, including Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings, Jerome Felton, Chad Greenway, Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, John Sullivan, Harrison Smith and the trio of new first-round draft picks.
The Vikings roster is loaded with talent. What is in doubt is whether the alignment or allocation of that talent will work in their favor.
Alignment means having your best players reaching their prime at the same time. The Vikings are under pressure to win while Peterson, still a young man in many ways at 28, is the best back in the game. They’ve already parted ways with their best cornerback, Antoine Winfield, because of age.
Allocation means having your best players at the most important positions. The past 10 quarterbacks to win Super Bowls are Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, and Brady again.
All belong in the top quarter of anyone’s rankings of NFL quarterbacks.
This season won’t provide a referendum on talent. The Vikings have plenty of talent.
It will provide a referendum on luck, timing and quarterback play. Christian Ponder’s job is to ensure that Peterson doesn’t go into the Hall of Fame the way Carter did, as a proud member of a ringless brotherhood.