The first team I ever hated in my Vikings-based life was the Kansas City Chiefs. As I was just cognizant of a world bigger than my hometown, I learned through playground football games that the Chiefs had embarrassed my Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Despite being from the much stronger NFL, heavily-favored Minnesota fell 23-7 to the AFL Chiefs in early 1970.
It may or may not have been Minnesota's best chance to win a Super Bowl. But it was the only one in which they were supposed to win. Personally, I think the best shot we had was 1975, or the year of the "Hail Mary Pass" vs. Dallas. Minnesota would near dominate the league during the next seven years, with three more trips to the Super Bowl, and only one season where they did not make the playoffs.
Fast forward to 2014. Minnesota faces the Chiefs in Arrowhead, one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. Kansas City rebounded from a miserable season two years ago (2-14-0) to start last year 9-0-0. They finished 11-5-0 and made the playoffs. Alex Smith, a 49ers castoff, gave the Chiefs a reliable quarterback, something that had been lacking for some time. Jamaal Charles provided most of the offense from the running back position. And the defense was top ten in the NFL, holding teams to under twenty points per game.
I know I was happy to see them fail last year down the stretch and in the playoffs.
I have not forgotten.
Minnesotans are excited about their chances in 2014. And for good reason. First, and foremost, we have a new coach and offensive coordinator that have instilled hope in both players and fans. After two preseason games Minnesota has not one, but two quarterbacks with passer ratings over 100.0. I know it is only the preseason, but when was the last time we could say that?
"Your defense was 31st overall last year".
And then the voice inside our head reminds us. It rings obsessively to the point we cannot hold up our heads around fellow NFC North foes.
"You surrendered over thirty points a game last year".
We tell ourselves things are different. Our offense has added Teddy Bridgewater and Jerrick McKinnon. Our offensive line, together another year, has never looked better. Kyle Rudolph looks giddy in the new Norv Turner offense. We were top fifteen last year in offense, now we have added to it.
"Who is the middle linebacker? Who is your strong safety? Who will play cornerback well?"
The voice will not go away. It will hound us forever.
Coach Zimmer has made a name for himself in the NFL as a defensive guru. We added talent on the defensive side through the draft in Anthony Barr, Scott Chrichton, Antone Exum, Jabari Prince, and Shamar Stephen to name a few. New defensive coordinator George Edwards was also blessed with solid free agents in Linval Joseph, Captain Munnerlyn, and others
"You gave up 45% third-down conversions."
We want the voice to stop, but it won't. It mocks our playoff aspirations. That voice manifests on sports talk shows as they place Minnesota fourth in the four team NFC North projections.
"You were 5-10-1 last year because of your defense."
We know better. We are smart. Tonight's game versus the Chiefs will be an opportunity to face a true playoff team. Both teams will field most of their starting lineups. Tonight will be the most tell tale as to what our defense has in store for us in 2014. Jamaal Charles will be out because of a freak dorm accident, but there should be enough talent to have a better gauge on what to expect this year.
While it is still only a preseason game, this one will tell a lot about what is in store. If Minnesota's defense can improve enough this year maybe the negative voices will go away.
And we can return to the promised land again.