Reusse: In Vikes fandom, the generation gap is huge

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2012 - 7:57 PM

The age for sincere emotional involvement with a sports team is 12. Anyone whining over the result of a game before that is a crybaby destined to grow up with few friends.

Which means, if you were 12 on Jan. 11, 1970, the last cheery moment you had about the eventual fate of the Vikings came before that afternoon's kickoff of the fourth-ever Super Bowl.

Minnesotans as a whole were never more certain of anything than that the Vikings' magnificent defense would stifle the Kansas City Chiefs and provide a pro football championship in only the third season of Bud Grant's coaching tenure.

The final was Kansas City 23, Vikings 7. A couple of months later, NFL Films released a highlight tape from the game, complete with Chiefs coach Hank Stram cackling and ridiculing the Vikings throughout his team's decisive upset.

It was a wound that never healed for Vikings fans that were at least 12 that day, and are now 54, older, or dead.

All of these are my people when it comes to the Vikings. We never had a truly optimistic thought about the Purple since taking in the gloomy events that occurred on that Sunday at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.

We have spent more than four decades following the Vikings with cynicism and humor, which are basically the same thing.

You rarely will hear a member of the longest living generation of Vikings fans say, "This is going to be the year." Nor are you likely to hear them say, "I think the Vikes are going to be a lot better than people think."

We all call them the Vikes, by the way, since it's easier to curse their inevitable failure in one syllable than two.

This year's edition of the Vikings -- No. 52 overall -- is scheduled to report today for training camp. They will be encamped on the Mankato plateau for three weeks, or a week longer than in recent years.

Most of the fans gathering at Minnesota State will be from generations whose main burden is the loss to the Atlanta Falcons in January 1999, rather than the first of the Super Bowl losses in the '70s.

For some reason, these younger folks were not turned into fatalists by that defeat. I'm not sure where the 40ish fans stand on the Vikings, but somehow the under-40s seem capable of greeting each season with giddiness and optimism.

Everywhere you turn this week, there are Minnesota sports fans in their 30s looking you in the eyes to pronounce: "I think the Vikings are going to be a lot better than people think."

I call these people the Randy Moss Generation. Even as Denny Green's team squeezed into the playoffs regularly in the '90s, passion for the Vikings was waning. It was a frequent battle to avoid blackouts. The number of people you encountered that were moping around on a Monday after a Vikings loss seemed minimal.

And then Moss showed up in 1998, and struck a chord with every person who owned a bar jacket in Minnesota, and there was a renewal of Vikings enthusiasm that has continued even through the down times of this century.

We old-timers, we survivors of Jan. 11, 1970, look at the 2012 Vikings and see a low-budget remake of a 3-13 team.

In contrast, the Moss generation finds Rick Spielman's shopping in the bargain basement to have been productive, and looks at a two-deep draft as if it was a bonanza, and is confident that a young quarterback will emerge to trigger a potent offense.

The only difference of opinion is whether that quarterback will be Christian Ponder (as the Vikings envision) or Joe Webb (as a vocal segment of the fan base believes should be the case).

The longest surviving generation of Vikings fans looks at Percy Harvin and sees a talented receiver who practices only on his schedule, and might start pouting at any moment if he feels as if a new contract isn't on the way.

The Moss generation sees a great player. Period.

These modern-day fans puzzle me. Why isn't Gary Anderson's missed field goal as emblazoned on their memories as K.C.'s Frank Pitts running the end-around? Why isn't Brett Favre's throw over the middle to the Saints' Tracy Porter as haunting as Stram's cackling?

What's wrong with you 20-, 30-, maybe 40-year-olds?

You are Vikings fans. Start being cynics. Stop being optimists.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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