Reusse: Nostradamus even missed this Vikings' shocker

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2012 - 10:48 PM

Not even history's top prognosticator could have foreseen the most surprising season ever.

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The Vikings' Blair Walsh hit a 29 yard field goal as time ran out to lift Minnesota over the Green Bay Packers and earn a playoff berth.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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There is nothing that thrills a sporting public more than surprising success. Examples of the madness this has created in Minnesota include the 1981 and 1991 North Stars, the 1987 and 1991 Twins, the 2003 Wild and the 2004 Gophers women's basketball team.

The Vikings are best known for the heartbreak delivered to their constituency, yet they have won much more than they've lost through 52 years. And they have delivered several seasons when success was extra- surprising, including these:

• The 1969 Vikings went 12-2, won two playoff games at Met Stadium and advanced to their first Super Bowl. It was a pleasant surprise, not a shock, after an 8-6 record had given Bud Grant's club a berth in the Western Conference title game a year earlier.

• The 1987 Vikings were 8-4 with real players, 0-3 with strike-breakers, and backed into the playoffs. The surprise came when Jerry Burns' club upset New Orleans and San Francisco in road playoff games, before narrowly losing at Washington in the NFC Championship Game.

• The 1998 Vikings were coming off a season in which Dennis Green won his first playoff game in unlikely fashion against the Giants. The optimism increased when Randy Moss was drafted in April. Still, a 15-1 regular season with a record-breaking offense ... that was more excitement than most of us anticipated.

And now there is the ongoing season, and it says here, this is already a journey that carries the most surprising success in the Vikings' existence.

The Vikings were 3-13 in 2011 and earned every embarrassing moment. They also had an 11-game losing streak in the NFC North.

The only previous time the Vikings were 3-13, in 1984, CEO Mike Lynn was forced to bribe Grant to return as coach. Bud went 7-9 in his one-year comeback and was lauded for returning stability to the operation.

Most Purple zealots would have signed on for 7-9 and a return to stability in 2012. That group included Rick Spielman, who used his new powers as general manager to undertake a rebuilding project. He infused the roster with players from the past two drafts, and went after free agents Twins-style (meaning, on the cheap).

By all estimates, the Vikings were miles behind the Packers, and kilometers behind the Bears and the Lions entering this season.

And now here we are: The Vikings, 4-2 against the North and 10-6 overall, are headed to Lambeau Field for a third meeting with the Packers.

The Vikings will arrive with justifiable confidence, since they had a chance to win in Green Bay on Dec. 2 with their quarterback, Christian Ponder, playing like a putz, and they did beat the Packers in a shootout on Sunday, with Ponder playing like a pro.

They also enter with a four-game winning streak -- two on the road at St. Louis and Houston, and at home with the Bears and the Packers, the rivals that had been handling the Vikings routinely.

It has been Adrian Peterson, of course, but it also has been Ponder showing that all those calls to put his helmet on a stake were premature.

"He's done a great job over the last few weeks of executing his assignments ...," coach Leslie Frazier said after Sunday's 37-34 victory over Green Bay. "That's part of being a championship quarterback and he played that way today.''

Didn't think you would hear that in the same sentence -- Ponder and championship quarterback -- unless it was part of a Frank Caliendo send-up of the hyperbolic Jon Gruden, did you?

Then again, if a team is going to figure out a way to be the most surprising success in 52 years of Vikings football, the drama probably has to include a quarterback who goes from performing far below NFL standards in the middle of the schedule to more than competent during a rugged stretch drive.

This is a triumph for the athletes and for the coaches:

Frazier has proved to be a leader, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has gone from making an offense out of only Peterson to one that now includes a dash of passing, defensive coordinator Alan Williams has done wonders with what was labeled an inept group in preseason forecasts, and Mike Priefer has built outstanding special teams around his new weapon, Blair Walsh.

And it has led to this: Surprise ... big surprise.

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

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