Sometimes it’s only possible to see a crossroads in retrospect. This applies to life in general — where we’re so busy making decisions at the moment that we don’t always understand how much one single decision impacts our paths — so it certainly applies to sports.
As such, it might seem a little too convenient to construct a narrative around past events and apply it to the present moment. But this is an attempt, at least, at a little bit of foresight about the 2017 Vikings.
Namely: This feels like a make-or-break crossroads type of season for the Vikings, something they have experienced on several occasions in the past 20 seasons. Sometimes these types of seasons yield extreme highs; other times they lead to extreme lows. Again, usually we only find out after the fact — as we did on these five occasions:
1998: This was Dennis Green’s seventh season as head coach. He had guided the Vikings to the playoffs in five of the previous six years, but postseason disappointment had often followed. The fan base was listless and disengaged. There was animosity between Green and ownership, revealed and fueled by his 1997 book “No Room for Crybabies.” A bad season in 1998 could have spelled the end for Green. Instead, Randy Moss came along. Green’s Vikings went 15-1 and should have reached the Super Bowl.
2001: The Vikings entered 2001 with plenty of optimism, having reached the NFC title game the year before. But that game ended in the infamous 41-donut final score, which foreshadowed a rapid decline. A good season here might have extended the Green era for several more years. Instead, Green was fired near the end of a dismal 5-11 campaign that was certainly a crossroads year in retrospect.
2009-2010: The Vikings and head coach Brad Childress gambled big on Brett Favre in 2009. Had it failed miserably, it might have spelled the end for him. Instead, it was a huge success — for a year. By 2010, everything fell apart and the “all-in” Vikings fired Childress midseason and started rebuilding.
2013: Leslie Frazier took over for Childress late in 2010, then watched his 2011 team go 3-13. But his 2012 team, to the surprise of many, went 10-6 and made the playoffs. Had he been able to duplicate that in 2013, he might have stuck around for a while. But a 1-7 start sealed his fate. Frazier was fired at the end of the season.
You’ll note that make-or-break seasons that end up breaking bad tend to claim head coaches along with them. It would be premature to suggest a similar fate could await Mike Zimmer if the Vikings go from, say, 11-5 two years ago to 8-8 last year to 6-10 this season. Every situation is different.
But enough people think the Vikings are a playoff-caliber team to suggest 2017 puts the franchise at a crossroads. A solid season that ends with a trip to the playoffs would re-establish Zimmer’s vision and plot a more encouraging future course. A losing season would cast further doubts on a long-term plan that took a hit last year when a 5-0 start led to a 3-8 end.
It’s time for some football and some answers.