The one great thing about the unholy marriage between football and alcohol is this: If the local NFL team is playing a large game and you’re a sports writer not covering it in person, all that is required to find some ambience on the subject is to drop into a bar with the television access to attract fans.
A week ago, I was in southwest Florida, wound up at the Lighthouse Tiki Bar on Fort Myers Beach, and was rewarded with a large group of Vikings fans and a number of lively characters.
I was back in the Twin Cities on Sunday and trying to come up with a twist on the bar angle. And then it came to me:
The football gods had taken such good care of the 2017 Vikings that it seemed unavoidable that they would be playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in 41 years.
They had a quarterback hurt, and wound up with Case Keenum as a playmaking phenomenon. They injured the quarterback for Green Bay, and the hated rivals to the east turned into buffoons.
They won 11 of the last 12 to finish 13-3, and when faced with an impossible situation at the end of the first playoff game, they did the impossible. That made the Vikings the first-ever team to reach a conference championship game, when the Super Bowl then would be played in its home stadium.
All that stood in the way was Philadelphia, a No. 1 seed that had the life sucked out of its offense after losing quarterback Carson Wentz to injury. The Eagles used a buttoned-up style to beat Atlanta 15-10, but now came the Vikings, with better defense and a passing game to take advantage of Philly’s mediocre cornerbacks.
Yeah, it was all sitting there for the Purple, and what better way to share this than with Packers fans, those wonderful Cheeseheads whose list of irritants starts this way: 1-A, Packers losing; and 1-B, Vikings winning.
I texted my guy Jay Kolls to recommend a dedicated Packers bar over the border and he went with the Village Inn in North Hudson, owned by Leigh Halvorsen, a hardcore Packers and Wisconsin sports fan.
I showed up there for the second half of the New England-Jacksonville game. Two things: Halvorsen had a snowmobile accident last week and was laid up, and there were more Vikings fans than Packers fans in the place.’
Jerome Rasmussen was wearing an Adam Thielen jersey and sitting in prime position at the main bar. “I’m here for every game, Vikings or Packers,’’ he said. “There are a lot of insults flying, but mostly in good fun. A lot of the Packers fans in here don’t care if the Vikings go to the Super Bowl or not.’’
Rasmussen then looked to his right and said: “Except Junior over there. Ask him?’’
Me: “What will be your reaction when the Vikings win tonight?”
Junior (a k a, Duane Nelson): “They aren’t going to win.’’
Me: “OK, if the Vikings do win?’’
Junior: “That will be good, because then the Vikings can be the first team to be 0-and-5 in the Super Bowl. They have been waiting a long time to lose that fifth one.’’
The bigger room in the back had tables that were starting to fill up with mostly Vikings fans. There were three gents who were pointed out as regular attendees: Will Davis, Eric Situmbeko and Todd Hunt.
Situmbeko came to the U.S. from Zambia in 1995. He was a stranger to American football, and then along came 1998.
“Randy Moss,’’ Situmbeko said. “He was so exciting. He turned me into a Vikings fan.’’
As New England was making Sunday’s fourth-quarter charge, the discussion at the table turned to this:
Were the Vikings going to be better off playing the Patriots or Jacksonville in the Super Bowl?
“I think the Vikings would move the ball against New England,’’ Situmbeko said. “The Jacksonville defense is so fast, so good. I think the Vikings would do better against New England.’’
Davis shook his head and said: “Brady, man. You give him a last chance, he’s going to beat you.’’
Which is what happened, of course. Meaning the Vikings would be taking on the dynastic Patriots in their long-awaited return to the Super Bowl.
Four hours later, Junior and other Packers hardcores were ecstatic and the issue of Patriots or Jaguars as a Vikings’ opponent had turned into more of a satirical sketch than a topical conversation.
The Vikings went down the field in precise fashion for a touchdown to open the NFC title game in Philadelphia, and didn’t score again in the final 55 minutes. The No. 1-rated defense in the NFL allowed Nick Foles to throw for 352 yards, three touchdowns and a 141.4 passer rating. It also allowed Jay Ajayi to slash for 73 yards on 18 carries.
It was pathetic. The final was 38-7, Philadelphia, and here’s the whole truth:
If Stefon Diggs’ astounding 61-yard touchdown reception on the final play of the last Sunday’s playoff victory over the Saints was the greatest moment in Vikings’ history, what happened on Sunday in Philadelphia was the worst.
This isn’t hyperbole. This is strong opinion based on following the Vikings for 57 seasons:
The 2000 Vikings that lost 41-0 to the New York Giants were an 11-5 team with lousy defense. The 1998 Vikings that lost 30-27 in overtime did so to a 14-2 Atlanta team that was playing with its real quarterback. The 1969 Vikings team that was upset 23-7 in the franchise’s first Super Bowl did so against an underrated Chiefs outfit that was loaded with future Hall of Famers.
What happened Sunday is unequalled in Vikings history:
A 13-3 team with a new lease on its playoff life based on an impossible play, and now looking at a chance to play the Super Bowl in its home stadium, shows up and turns Foles into Joe Montana, and the Eagles defense into the Steel Curtain.
Everyone with a stake in the Vikings – owners, club officials, coaches, players and fans – would have been better off if Marcus Williams had just tackled Diggs, thus keeping this ultimate humiliation off the franchise’s resume.