Two games in the past few years have dramatically altered the course of Vikings history.
The first is obvious. The overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game following the 2009 season cost a talented roster a chance at a Super Bowl victory and led to Brett Favre's reluctant return, the desperate trade for Randy Moss, the firing of Brad Childress, the hiring of Leslie Frazier, the rise of Rick Spielman and the team's temporary descent into irrelevance.
The second was less dramatic but could be similarly meaningful for the future of the Minnesota/Los Angeles Vikings.
When backup quarterback Joe Webb led a comeback 33-26 victory against the Redskins at FedEx Field last December, Frazier pumped his fist and his players celebrated, relieved to have secured an all-too-rare victory.
Spielman, now the Vikings general manager, should fly Webb to the draft on Thursday, just so he can kick him in the shin.
Christian Ponder might want to give Webb a hug.
That Redskins victory cost the Vikings the second pick in this week's draft. If the Vikings had remained at No. 2, they would have faced a fascinating and appetizing decision: Whether to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, or trade him for the kind of ransom the St. Louis Rams acquired from the Redskins -- three first-round picks and a second-rounder.
My view is that Griffin, presuming good health and the right situation, will be a star. The Vikings could have either traded Griffin, or kept him and traded Ponder. Either move would have filled Winter Park with talent and optimism.
Instead, Webb's Charge left the Vikings with the third pick in the draft, severely limiting Spielman's options while, perhaps, improving Ponder's chances of succeeding as an NFL starter.
With a slew of picks, the Vikings would have been positioned to become the next Packers or Lions, or early-'90s Cowboys, a team built from the ground up via the draft. With the third pick, assuming the Vikings aren't offered a surprising ransom between now and Thursday night, Spielman is almost obligated to take USC tackle Matt Kalil, a safe and promising player at a position of need.
Adding an offensive tackle with the No. 3 pick is hardly optimal for the Vikings. Only one of the past 10 Super Bowl winners chose their left tackle in the first round: the Colts. As important as left tackle seems to be, left tackles don't win championships. A good offensive coordinator can scheme around having a good-but-not-great player at that position.
Here's why the Vikings might benefit from their predicament anyway, why Ponder might want to hug Webb, and why that Redskins game was so pivotal:
Webb's performance that day, and the hit that knocked Ponder out of that game, meant Webb was given a tryout as a starting quarterback. His inability to efficiently run an offense confirmed that Ponder is the Vikings' quarterback of the future.
During that Redskins game, Adrian Peterson suffered a knee injury that means he can't be counted on to be his typical, exceptionally productive self this season. That means Ponder will have to be responsible for carrying the offense, and the offense will be considered a work in progress, and the Vikings a rebuilding team, which will force Spielman and Frazier to be patient with their second-year quarterback.
Ponder's injury during that game also provided a reminder of how important it is to protect him.
Ponder looked more composed during his first NFL start, in Carolina, than in his eighth, at Washington. A mediocre offensive line and lousy batch of downfield receivers left Ponder, a mature, intelligent 24-year-old (he was 23 last season), looking twitchy.
Ponder's development might hinge on improved protection, and Kalil's addition could go far in making Ponder feel more comfortable in the pocket.
Because Webb blew the chance of drafting or trading Griffin, Ponder is now the most important figure in the Vikings organization. Under these circumstances, hiring Kalil as his bodyguard makes sense.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org