We first must face the ominous facts. The Minnesota Vikings look rather good this year — like a team both skilled and balanced, on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Like a team, as the well-dressed sports oracles say, that knows how to win.
This state of affairs fills any long-suffering Vikings fan with a blood-chilling dread.
The obvious fear arises from the inexorable temptation to false hope — from the danger that already, as hardened as we Vikings vassals are, from long and bitter experience, against believing “this time” will be any different, still the poison of possibility thinking infects us with a faint but feverish optimism.
The fans of other sports franchises have endured their shares of Job-like suffering over the years. But for shamelessly leading their loyalists on, time and again, as generations come and generations go; for impersonating invincible champions regularly only to unmask themselves as bums and chokers at the crucial climax of multiple seasons — for snatching humiliation from the jaws of hubris — surely in this the Vikings are without serious rival.
Only Minnesotans of a certain age — and only those of us who haven’t repressed the trauma — can actually dredge up memories of the Vikings’ four Super Bowl losses between 1970 and 1977. Their 0-4 record of Super Bowl futility is matched by the Buffalo Bills, if you find any solace in that. But there has been so much additional carnage and mayhem in Vikingsland, so many playoff pratfalls by seemingly unstoppable teams — in December 1975 and January 1999, 2010 and 2016, to name just four.
It says something to remember that the so-called “Hail Mary” desperation pass play was named after a preposterous but somehow characteristic Vikings disaster decades ago.
But let us dwell no longer on the shadows of the painful past. The point is that of course something like this could happen again if the hometown team’s march toward the 2018 Super Bowl persists. This winter’s big game, after all, will be played come February right here in frigid Minneapolis — creating a tragedian’s setting worthy of Sophocles (or Bergman, or the Coen brothers), which the fates and furies may be unable to resist, for the mother of all Vikings mortifications.
Or … something much, much more problematic might happen.
To everything there is a season, scripture warns us, and one of these seasons the Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl at long last.
On that day there will be real cause for alarm. On that day disoriented hordes of Vikings fans will for the first time be psychologically exposed and vulnerable, adrift on a perilous sea of mental tranquillity.
They will proclaim that the curse has been lifted; they will declare that Minnesota’s long statewide nightmare is over. They will conclude that if cockeyed optimism through thin and thin — keeping the faith, staying the course, fighting the good fight — can even pay off in the end for Vikings devotees … well, life’s possibilities are endless, aren’t they?
See what I mean?
In an instant a Vikings vindication may squander the work of more than half-a-century, hard labor building your average Vikings fan into a veritable tower of philosophical strength. Merely to be a Vikings fan has long been to be prepared, forewarned and armored impenetrably against life’s slings and arrows, disappointments and embarrassments — it’s especially good for embarrassments.
Vikings fanhood confers an understanding of the essentially tragic nature of life that others can only acquire through years of theological training, a doctorate in Russian literature or a weekend of ice fishing.
Consider for a moment the plight of fans who root for the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys. Again and again these unfortunates have seen their heroes bring home the Super Bowl prize — their every gridiron wish granted, their triumph complete and perfected in the presence of their enemies.
What useful life lesson can a person learn from such a loyalty? The power of superiority? The inevitability of success? How do such wretches feel when they return to their own real lives of hangnails and hemorrhoids, endless sales meetings and endless soccer tournaments?
Ah, but the noble Vikings fan has long been something else again. Here is a dry-eyed stoic who knows that “the days of darkness will be many,” especially in the playoffs. Here is a stalwart who understands that humanity is “born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward”— which is why absolutely any place-kicker can shank absolutely any field goal at the exquisitely wrong moment.
Vikings disciples even understand where scripture got it wrong. It’s been said that the race may indeed not always be to the swift; and the battle may indeed not always be to the strong — but don’t bet the rent money on the slow and the weak.
This year’s Vikings seem neither weak nor slow, and Minnesota doesn’t have the kind of climate that produces many fair-weather fans. So what’s been called “the purple and gold faithful” are ready for almost anything.
Almost anything, except maybe victory. You’ve been warned.
D.J. Tice is at firstname.lastname@example.org.