My first memories of Vikings' games were at old Met Stadium, coated in snowmobile suits, blankets, and spilled hot cocoa. It was cold. Bitter cold. We were a powerful franchise, winning division titles seemingly every year, four Super Bowl visits in less than ten years, and respect from the rest of the league. We did not mind the cold.
We had one of the most fearsome defenses in all of football. Our front line, known in time as "The Purple People Eaters", actually ate quarterbacks. Alan Page was possibly the most gifted defensive tackle in NFL history.In addition, powerful outside rushes from Carl Eller and Jim Marshall, and opposing QBs were on the menu every Sunday. Add a couple of gritty linebackers and opportunistic defensive backs, and you have a defense that could win games all by themselves.
Often the games were not that exciting on offense. At least, not until Chuck Foreman showed up in 1973. Sure, Fran Tarkenton was fun to watch scramble for his life, and then throw a desperate pass to Stu Voigt the tight end, or an occasional long ball to Gene Washing ton or John Gilliam. But the Vikings relied for years on guys like Bill Brown and Dave Osborne churning out the clock more than yards.
But something changed in 1976. Bud Grant let his hair down. He decided to let a rookie start at wide receiver. Sammy White, a 2nd round draft choice from Grambling State, rewarded Grant with back-to-back Pro Bowl years in his first two seasons. White caught 51 passes for 906 yards and 10 TDs in his rookie year. That may not sound like Moss-type numbers, but back in the day it was. And with the new-found deep dimension of White to compliment the future possession receiving skills of Ahmad Rashad, Tarkenton was afforded choice in passing.
And it was more fun to watch.
After Tarkenton, passers like Tommy Kramer and Wade Wilson took over. Kramer liked to go deep. When Steve Jordan joined in 1982, the passing offense had an added dimension of an athletic tight end (no offense to Voigt). From there, Minnesota added more players over the years who changed how Minnesota moved the football.
Guys like Anthony Carter in 1985. Cris Carter in 1990. Jake Reed in 1991. And the most dynamic receiver to ever wear Purple, Rand Moss in 1998. At quarterback, Minnesota had a revolving door for many years after Kramer. Rich Gannon followed Wilson. Jim McMahon. Warren Moon, Brad Johnson...
In 1998, Randall Cunningham, having replaced an injured Johnson in 1997, had maybe the best year in Vikings' history. Minnesota went 15-1 that year. With the rookie Moss, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed to choose from, Minnesota's offense became literally unstoppable. This allowed Robert Smith to have great success running the ball. The complete and perfect offense.
But Cunningham was soon injured and replaced by Jeff George, who in turn, handed the reigns to Daunte Culpepper. Utilizing the same receivers as Cunningham, Culpepper had a golden rookie season in 2000. Then five more years at the helm that each seemed to be less than the previous one. The revolving door continued.
The names start to blur in the mid-2000s. Receiving names like Troy Williamson, Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade, and Sidney Rice. Quarterbacks such as Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte, They were lean years. Not that players under performed, more that there was no Carters, Kramer, Moss, or Tarkenton.
That all changed for the better in 2009.
Percy Harvin was drafted and Brett Favre was signed. Minnesota became exciting once again through the air. Visanthe Shiancoe helped solidify a pass attack so strong that future Hall-of-Famer Favre had his most productive season. They got us to the NFC Championship in 2009, and inches from a return to another Super Bowl.
It has been a rough few years since that glorious 2009 season in the passing game. Favre could not match his 09 season the following year. Donovan McNabb's visit a failure. And then young Christian Ponder took over during the 2011 season. Most fans have not been impressed.
During the off-season, Rick Spielman jettisoned Harvin to Seattle and rebuilt his receiving corps with former-Packer Greg Jennings and draft pick Cordarelle Patterson, With Kyle Rudolph at tight end, it is hoped that these three will provide enough of a passing attack to help Adrian Peterson keep teams from over-playing against him
And so this first preseason game is a chance to see who else will help. Can Ponder improve, or will we turn to Matt Cassel? Or maybe even McLeod Bethel-Thompson? You will see them all tonight. At receiver, we may not get a glimpse at Jennings or Patterson (not a long one for sure), but there are other receivers who want to make noise and push for time while Patterson develops. Jarius Wright is said to be looking good. Jerome Simpson gets another chance to display the athletic talents he possesses. Longer shots like Stephen Burton, Joe Webb, and Greg Childs will look to make a noise tonight. And then super-long shots like Erik Highsmith or local boy Adam Thielen from Minnesota State at Mankato.
That is what we look for in the first week of preseason. This 2013 team needs an improved passing attack. And while those concerns may not be fully addressed in this first meaningless game, there is a team spark that we will all look for tonight.
And we want to see the ball in the air. Often.