The NFL’s conference championship Sunday turned into much-happier viewing for Vikings followers than it was a year earlier, when their heroes, riding the crest of the Minneapolis Miracle, were humbled 38-7 by the Eagles in Philadelphia.
This time, there was no such angst for the home-state favorites, having avoided the playoffs with a miserable effort vs. Bears in the regular-season finale inside The Zygi.
All the Purple crowd could hope last Sunday was coming out on the right side of grudges, and that turned out to be case for generations of Vikings fans young, middle-aged and old.
The bitterness had not subsided for any of these groups over the events of Jan. 24, 2010 in the Superdome, when the New Orleans Saints went after Vikings quarterback Brett Favre with great exuberance and wound up advancing to the Super Bowl with a 31-28 victory.
The Saints’ theory seemed to be that they would keep clobbering Favre in questionable fashion, and the officials wouldn’t call everything. It worked, as only two of a half-dozen hits on Favre that would have been no-doubt 15-yarders under today’s roughing-the-passer ethic were called.
The high-low hit on Favre that came on an interception and went uncalled wound up being cited by the league office as the worst of the missed calls, and it’s the one that still gets Vikings zealots riled up.
I found this out on Twitter on Sunday, when suggesting that what turned into “Bountygate’’ really could not be classified as “cheating,’’ not in my definition – not in the sense of taping another team’s practice, or hacking into another team’s computer system to gain information, or taking an obviously incorrect lie and claiming innocence in the Masters.
My opinion is the Saints would have gone after Favre with such vigor whether or not there was a bounty to be earned. This was about a trip to the Super Bowl, and a blustering, off-the-wall assistant convinced the defensive players that punishing Favre would help get them there.
Turned out, Favre played great, and Adrian Peterson’s fumble-itis had more to do with the adverse result than the bruises administered to the old warrior at quarterback.
It was a bad look, for sure, but it’s also football, and in January 2010, we were only a couple of years removed from ESPN’s Monday night celebration of NFL players being “Jacked Up!’’ in a weekly highlight video.
Turned out, with concussion lawsuits in the offing, the NFL was getting religion on the issue of excessive hits, and it undertook a bounty investigation of Williams and the Saints that started a couple of years later and led to suspensions for coach Sean Payton (one year) and the crazed assistant, Gregg Williams (lifetime, then waived).
The Bountygate punishments only increased the narrative of the NFC title game in January 2010 for Vikings fans: Our heroes lost because the Saints cheated.
There was a grand moment of revenge in Vikingland when the Saints were in The Zygi in an divisional game last January. The Saints rallied to take apparent control, Payton taunted the crowd with a mock “Skol’’ gesture, and then Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs hooked up for the miracle.
One whack of monumental revenge wasn’t enough. Vikings followers wanted another last Sunday, even though it involved their team not at all. There was great happiness late in the afternoon when the Saints got jobbed in incredible fashion late in regulation with an officiating blunder, and missed a second Super Bowl with an overtime loss to the L.A. Rams.
“Take that, Payton, you cheat!’’ bellowed Purple loyalists.
And then came another treat, for vintage Vikings fans: The Kansas City Chiefs were playing at home against New England, and trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since Jan. 11, 1970, when they outclassed the heavily-favored Vikings, 23-7, in SB IV.
It was not anything the Chiefs did on the field that caused a lingering grudge, although there was a hit that caused quarterback Joe Kapp to walk off the field grasping his right arm in agony.
The Minnesota outrage came when coach Hank Stram showed up on NFL Films cackling over the moments when he had out-schemed the Vikings’ magnificent defense. The problem wasn’t Hank fooling the Vikings; it was Hank agreeing to wear a mic, allowing the cackles to still be heard on NFL Films highlight reels a half-century later.
On Sunday, the Chiefs also had some refereeing misfortune late in the game (there was not irrefutable video evidence that Julian Edelman didn’t touch that punt) and lost to New England, 37-31, in overtime.
This continued K.C.’s lengthy history of postseason failures and gave Vikings followers from way back a chance to bellow, “Take that, Stram, you cackler,’’ even though Hank last coached the Chiefs in 1974 and has been dead since 2005.
Grudges are hard to let go for sports fans. Heck, I’m still mad about the ref in Madison in November 1962, that called the roughing penalty on my all-time favorite Gopher, Bobby Lee Bell, and cost the Gophers an outright Big Ten title.
According to Bobby, coach Murray Warmath went to his grave upset about that call, and I don’t blame him.
There’s also my grudge with Duke basketball. Trouble is, I’ve been rooting against Duke so long I can’t remember why. I just know that it’s not going to change, as with old Vikings fans and Hank Stram … loathed, dead or alive.