The future looked bright to Minnesota Vikings fans, no matter what history says.
After beating the Chicago Bears 23-10 Sunday in the last regular season game, the Vikings move on to the playoffs on their home turf in front of 66,200 fans who will be ear-piercingly loud and parched for a gulp of good fortune.
“This is what Vikings fans live on. Hope,” said Gretta Stritesky of Champlin as she held a hot chocolate spiked with peppermint schnapps.
The announced temperature and windchill at the noon kickoff were 11 below and 28 below, respectively. Undeterred, Stritesky was among her usual gameday group of 11 friends under their pop-up Vikings tent in a parking lot in the shadow of U.S. Bank Stadium. The gang had multiple propane heaters firing — including one covered with Vikings wrap. The heaters brought the tent temperature up to a somewhat tolerable level, but everyone was still bedecked head to fingers to toes in winter gear.
“Ahhh, there’s nothing like a Miller Lite slushie,” Pat Larkin said as he gripped a can with a gloved hand. The entire gang will attend the home playoff game in two weeks, but Larkin wasn’t ready to believe anything good will come of it, saying, “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. These are the Vikings after all.”
In warmer weather, one often sees a T-shirt that reads, “Just once before I die,” a reference to the fans’ desire for a Super Bowl victory. This year with the team going 13-3, there was legitimate reason to hope, dream, that the Vikings might become the first team to play in a Super Bowl on their home turf. It will take two more wins.
On Sunday, fans were cheery at the wrap-up of an improbably good season of dominant Vikings defense and quarterback Case Keenum’s rise from bench-warming ignominy to rock-steady leader.
In the skyway before the game, Andrea Wildman Hilal and her 9-year-old son Elijah waited in a three-block-long line to avoid the outdoor stadium entrances.
Mom had a thick streak of purple in her blonde bob and matching fingernail polish. Elijah wore a Kyle Rudolph jersey and Vikings winter cap. He said he’s no fair-weather fan. “I watched the Panthers game,” he said proudly, referring to the loss Dec. 10 in North Carolina.
As to whether the Vikings will go to the big game, he gave an unqualified “maybe.”
NFL television commercials say history is made in the playoffs. The Vikings could banish their hard-luck history and define their 17-month-old home with good times.
Recalling the Vikings’ better days means going back to the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington when Fran Tarkenton was the scrambling quarterback and the Purple People Eaters ruled on defense.
The Metrodome, which opened in 1982, went down with memories of two World Series victories for Minnesota Twins fans.
Even TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings’ interim home for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, brought historic heartache when kicker Blair Walsh missed a potentially game-winning 27-yard field goal against the Seattle Seahawks.
In 2016, the Vikings’ first season in the $1.1 billion stadium, the most memorable moment came exactly one year ago, off the field. Two protesters climbed to the roof’s steel scaffolding and dangled from the ceiling with a banner protesting the Dakota Access pipeline in a high-flying stunt that lasted the entire second half.
This year was different. It was a fun run. It’s not over yet.
On Sunday, the blue and purple Super Bowl LII gear was on sale in the stadium shops. Getting to make history by playing in that game means winning two tough games in the next three weeks.
Steven Carter, who was at the game, was openly optimistic — maybe because he’s from Ames, Iowa, and not Minnesota. “I’m hoping to see the Steelers and Vikings in the Super Bowl,” he said.
Across the parking lot, under his tent and waiting for the other shoe to fall, Larkin betrayed his hope, recalling a baseball team whose reputed curse was broken in 2016. “I mean, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series,” he said.
Asked about the Vikings being snake-bitten in the playoffs, coach Mike Zimmer shrugged it off with good humor, saying, “I’ve got a crystal ball and a wood spirit hanging in my office, so there’s no damn curse.”
Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.