The period of mourning is over. The 2011-12 season was unique in that most of us realized before the season began that this year would not be a good one. There was the defending champion Green Bay Packers, who from the beginning of the season demonstrated that they are the elite team of the North. There was defending division champion Chicago, who as long as Matt Forte and Jay Cutler were present, were a force greater than our own. And there was the upstart Detroit Lions, who parlayed Matt Millen and first-round wide receiver blunders into enough early picks to put together a real team. Oh yes, we knew.
We had hope because of Adrian Peterson. There was talent in Percy Harvin. Jared Allen and Kevin Williams gave us enough of a defensive front to expect sacks. And there was Donovan McNabb. While no one thought he was Tom Brady, there was reason to believe he could improve the QB position from an aging Brett Favre and the friends of 2010-11. Enough pieces to compete.
And we did compete for a while. The early season losses were games within which most fans saw a chance for victory. Twenty point half-time leads. Late game leads. Close games. But we seemed to lose them all. By the middle of the season the writing was on the wall. The North would be tough in 2011-12, and we were not. McNabb was removed and the rebuilding began.
But rebuilding usually happens in the off-season. The NFL Draft. Free agency. Rebuilding in the seventh game usually means water under the bridge. Troubled waters. And the sea was angry in 2011. Adrian Peterson would finish with a season-ending injury. Minnesota would fall into the 3rd pick in the upcoming draft. The fans or citizens grew cold on helping support the Vikings' stay in Minnesota by the finding of a new facility. Coaches got fired. Sites blocked. The legislature using stadium talk for political gain.
A hush blankets the state.
The Super Bowl is today. The New England Patriots will face the New York Giants. Two big cities. Two storied teams. Two great quarterbacks. One great coach. One great defensive front.
In these quiet times it is important to take inventory. There are still many pieces of the puzzle in place despite all the negativity. It is comforting to know that the last nine years there has been at least one team that went from last to first in their division. The 49ers managed this feat in 2011. Maybe in our solitude we should study the framework of San Francisco.
Alex Smith was a number one draft choice in 2005. He labored for seven years before emerging as a play-off quarterback. Only one of those seasons did he start every game. RB Frank Gore was chosen 65th overall in the 2005 draft. TE Vernon Davis was chosen 6th overall in the 2006 Draft. WR Michael Crabtree 10th in the 2009. The offensive line that was a big part of why the 49ers were so good held three first-rounders, two taken in the 2010 draft (OG Mike Iupati 17th, OT Anthony Davis 11th).
That 2010 draft was big for San Francisco. Besides the linemen, there was safety Mays (49th), linebacker Navorro Bowman (91st), and kick-returner Kyle Williams (206th). Six key players chosen in a single draft. Six starters. The lambs became the lions. Of course it helped that the second-best team in the division was the 8-8 Arizona Cardinals. Or that the St. Louis Rams were there.
And free agency played a part in their success as well. So did the 2011 draft. Suddenly the 49ers had an outstanding pass rush led by the two Smiths, rookie Aldon and old veteran Justin. The secondary moved into the upper-echelon of the NFL. Tarell Brown, Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers. Two of them were draft choices outside of the top 100. Can you name which ones?
The point is Minnesota needs to use the draft to repair the team. The biggest holes? In my humble opinion is has always been offensive line. When I grew up watching the Vikings dominate the NFC (1970s) if not the Central Division, we had Mick Tinglehoff, Ed White, Ron Yary and others solidify our offensive front. We also had an extraordinary pass rush in Alan Page, Carl Eller, and Jim Marshall. We had a fancy quarterback in Fran Tarkenton and later a magic back in Chuck Foreman. That was enough. Or almost enough... at least we were always in the playoffs.
Clarice overcame her fear of the shrieking lambs. She used her resources well. Minnesotans now must quietly observe this year's Super Bowl and wait in anticipation for the 3rd pick of the 2012 Draft. Wait on the recovery of the best running back in football. Hope that 2012 is a better year for the offensive line. Hope we can find a secondary like that of the 49ers. Hope that Chicago is on the way down, and that both the Lions and the Packers have peaked.
Otherwise it may get real quiet.