There are certain traditions that should not be lost with the death of Sid Hartman last Oct. 18 at age 100. One of those would be marking the start of Vikings training camp with considerable optimism printed in a sports column in a Minneapolis morning newspaper.
Hartman handled the chore for six decades, even last summer, when the pandemic kept Sid from actually attending. As camp was starting in Eagan, Hartman wrote:
"The Vikings' decision to give contract extensions to quarterback Kirk Cousins and coach Mike Zimmer this offseason mean that this club has made its decision on who can lead it to a Super Bowl.
"There's no doubt fans like to complain about the head coach and the starting quarterback … the fact is that Zimmer and Cousins are the right tandem for this franchise.''
In the next paragraph, Sid acknowledged some key losses on defense, and then added: "… there is zero question this coaching staff can produce a great defense.''
On Wednesday morning, I was making the drive to the Vikings' complex for camp opening, and it occurred there was no one — at least in a Twin Cities daily — guaranteed to set the optimistic tone as had Mr. Hartman for the Purple's previous 60 seasons.
And any doubt as to where this obligation fell in 2021 disappeared when I pulled into a spot in a Vikings parking lot and the vehicle to the right was a CTS4, almost an exact duplicate of the last Cadillac that I recalled Sid owning.
This had to be a call from beyond, a message from The Great Man saying: "This is football's opening day and you're now the senior scribe. It's your duty to indicate a return to the Super Bowl is near.''
As luck would have it, the mystical mini-lecture from Hartman was not a requirement to create an optimistic forecast for 2021.
This is tough to say, because the obscene profiteering from owner Zygi Wilf and his partners and the unbridled arrogance of the NFL makes me want to retch, but the opinion here for a few weeks has been the Vikings' offseason maneuvering was tremendous.
The defense that Zimmer could turn great, in Sid's sunny view, turned out to be horrid from the get-go in 2020.
Michael Pierce opted out because of the COVID-19 threat. Danielle Hunter was injured and didn't play. Anthony Barr was hurt after two games, and linebacker Eric Kendricks missed the last five. The injuries at cornerback didn't make that much difference, since they all were bad.
Zimmer's defense plummeted to 29th among 32 teams. This coach with 80% of his ego tied up in defense held his breath until General Manager Rick Spielman got him almost two hands full of reinforcements.
Now, the gigantic Pierce is back, joined by the gigantic Dalvin Tomlinson and the return of Sheldon Richardson in the middle of the line. Hunter has been satisfied with a new contract, and Stephen Weatherly has returned to join a crew of younger ends.
Sid would make a positive prediction here, so I have D.J. Wonnum as the emerging pass rusher with a half-dozen sacks.
Kendricks, the Vikings' best player, offered an optimistic few minutes with the local media before the first practice. Asked about the very large run stoppers expected to be in front of him this season, Kendricks smiled and referred to Tomlinson and Pierce as "meaty boys.''
No sign of the season-ending calf injury from 2020? "I feel great,'' he said, and it was obvious that he meant it.
Zimmer also was given a collection of new cornerbacks, including veterans Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland as well as the return of Mackensie Alexander for the slot.
Zim's got hand-picked weapons on defense, so he can be a genius again.
Cousins also did 15 minutes of question-answering. He's entering Season 4 as the Vikings' quarterback. He turns 33 on Aug. 19. He seemed a too-arrogant salesman of himself on arrival. He was more annoying when trying to come off as humble when things weren't going well.
I have a new theory: Minnesota's been good for Cousins. He's been bashed, but he survived, he's gained the confidence of his Teddy Bridgewater-loving head coach and Wednesday … basically, he was a straight shooter.
Cousins gets a B+ for answers on opening day. The best response was when asked where Justin Jefferson, the rookie receiver that Cousins helped turn into a phenom in 2020, has to improve this season.
He doesn't, the quarterback suggested.
"Just do it again,'' Cousins said. "Don't be a one-year wonder. I've learned that during my career. Do it again, and again, and again.''
Good answer. And a good enough quarterback to win the NFC North and more in 2021, even with Aaron Rodgers back in Green Bay.
(OK, Sid, is that sugary enough to maintain tradition?)