For every terrible thing that happens on a national sports level, I bet you I can find a local sports comparison. And there’s a good chance that a lot of my playbook will feature things that happened to the Vikings.
Football, by its very nature, lends itself to massive ups and downs. And the Vikings have taken that to the extreme over the years.
So when a colleague referenced a Twitter poll that sought to make a comparison between the U.S. Men’s National Team’s stunning collapse and something that has happened in Minnesota sports, it got me thinking.
The two Vikings choices in the poll were the 1998 season and Blair Walsh’s playoff miss in 2015. While those were both devastating, to be sure, they are not really comparable to what happened with U.S. Soccer on Tuesday.
In case you missed it, the U.S. was a massive favorite to reach the World Cup when qualifying started. The U.S., while not a soccer power, has reached the World Cup every year since missing in 1986. Of the six teams in its qualifying group — Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago are the others — the U.S. has a massive population and financial edge. Three teams from the group automatically make it to the World Cup, and the fourth-place finisher can still make it by beating a bad team from another group.
From that massive position of strength, the U.S. floundered around during qualifying to the point that their spot became tenuous. Still, a big 4-0 win over Panama last week put the Americans back on solid footing. ESPN crunched the numbers and gave them a 93 percent chance of making it going into Tuesday’s final night of qualifying games.
Realistically, all the U.S. needed to do was earn a tie with Trinidad & Tobago — the last-place team of the group. Short of that, the U.S. needed either Honduras or Panama to lose Tuesday to still be in good shape. And … all three of the bad things happened. The U.S. is on the outside looking in for the first time in 32 years.
Your Vikings parallel to this: the 2003 season.
The Vikings that year started 6-0, putting themselves in the same general position of strength that the U.S. was in when qualifying began. They then proceeded to lose their next four games — three of them to teams that would finish the year with 4-12 records, the worst in the NFL that season.
But the Vikings rallied enough to be 9-6 going into the regular-season finale. All they had to do was win at Arizona — a 3-12 team at the time — or get some help from other teams to qualify for the playoffs.
The Vikings led 17-6 midway through the fourth quarter, at which time Pro Football Reference gave them a 99.5 percent chance of winning.
The Cardinals then scored a touchdown with 2 minutes left, recovered an on-side kick, and then scored the winning TD on a 4th-and-25 play as time expired. The Packers won their game, giving them the division title and keeping the Vikings out of the playoffs.
The 2003 Vikings and the U.S. Men’s National Team were both knocked out before the playoffs even started in the most cruel way — in the final game, against the worst team, after blowing a massive advantage. They had way too much in common.