Hey — psssst — I have a secret to share: This was Packers week.
Yep, says so right there on the schedule. Vikings at Green Bay, Nov. 1.
Remember when Packers week meant something? The excitement, the animosity, the extra significance of those two games each season?
Remember hating Brett Favre all those years, then loving Brett Favre those two years (OK, one year). The lead-up to Favre returning to Lambeau Field in ’09 was seven days of anticipation, followed by the loudest boos I’ve ever heard directed at one human being.
Gosh, how about that 2012 regular-season finale at the Metrodome? Adrian Peterson rushes for 199 yards, locks up his MVP award, nearly breaks Eric Dickerson’s single-season record and sets up a rematch in the playoffs at Lambeau the following week.
Not so long ago, the Star Tribune would send NFL writer Mark Craig to Green Bay for the entire week to help set up those showdowns.
Those Packers weeks were something else.
Now? The Vikings might as well be playing the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. Sorry, that’s how it feels on this side of the border.
When was the last time Packers week felt this devoid of buzz or hatred or relevance? A friend of mine described the mood perfectly: indifference.
Indifference stinks when it comes to rivalries.
The Packers are 5-1 and tied with Seattle for best record in the NFC. The Vikings are next-to-last in the NFC at 1-5 and just made the kind of trade that signals an organizational shift into rebuilding mode.
An uninspired and noncompetitive loss to the previously winless Atlanta Falcons before the bye extinguished hope that this season might improve enough to warrant a normal allotment of emotional investment from a fan’s perspective.
So Packers week became a snoozzzzzzzzzzzzzze.
Oh, I’m sure TV ratings will still be enormous. Vikings fans will still tune in, rather than spend the afternoon raking leaves, as long as Kirk Cousins doesn’t throw an interception on the first possession again.
This meeting just feels different. Like something’s missing.
This is not all the Vikings’ fault, of course. The pandemic continues to surge with record rates of new cases. The return of sports has provided a welcomed diversion from COVID-19’s reality, but 2020 has also provided us with a new sense of perspective.
This is speculative, but I’m guessing fan enthusiasm across all sports has waned since March. Not disappeared, but diminished by degree. There are far more important matters on people’s minds than Cousins’ interception total.
Empty stadiums — or mostly empty — on game day create a different detachment, too. The act of being there in person to watch, cheer, scream and boo almost certainly has some effect on engagement. And when a team starts 1-5, it’s easy to just move on emotionally.
The Vikings buried themselves in such a deep hole that a segment (majority?) of their fan base is openly rooting for losses now, which must be a conflicted way to experience a season.
Each loss improves the team’s chance of landing one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Probably not Trevor Lawrence because it will be impossible to outstink the New York Jets. But maybe Ohio State’s Justin Fields will be a possibility if they keep losing.
Vikings fans clinging to those hopes study the standings in reverse order: bottom to top. They don’t worry about tough games left on the schedule. It’s the bad teams that give them most concern. Everything feels upside-down. Or is it inside-out?
The biggest talker this week was the Vikings’ revolving door at cornerback. Injuries and COVID-19 absences will force coach Mike Zimmer to employ a patchwork of new faces in the secondary against Aaron Rodgers, which probably feels like running a race on crutches.
Who knows? Maybe the game will produce something compelling, something weird, something that makes for another memorable moment. Otherwise, this has been a ho-hum Packers week, and that’s a bummer.