PHILADELPHIA – The ending was familiar, and yet Minnesota Vikings fans didn’t see it coming.
The team failed to pull off another miracle, or much of anything really, against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night in the NFC Championship Game here.
The Vikings fell 38-7 in a rout that left fans wondering where their team had gone. Not only would the Vikings not be the first team to play in a Super Bowl on their own turf, but now Minnesota would have to host the Eagles in their rematch of the 2005 Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.
Just one week after their euphoric, walk-off touchdown win over New Orleans, Vikings fans were greeting by neither Viking ship nor fire-breathing dragon. Instead, they were booed as they entered the Philadelphia field, largely lost in a sea of thrilled Eagles fans in green and white in their home stadium. Worse, many of them wore dog masks, an embrace of their underdog status in the previous game a week ago.
The Eagles fans lived up to their reputation — pelting Vikings fans with beers before the game and doing the same to the team bus as it prepared to head to the airport.
Glum Vikings fans who had come from out of town were on the concourses late in the game, trying to find their way out of the stadium.
“The experience outweighs the outcome,” said Braden Kirvida of St. Louis, who met up with his sister Grace Kirvida of Minneapolis and their friends for the game.
His friend Joseph Winter was not seeing the silver lining. “I’ve never been more gutted in my life,” the 24-year-old Winter said. “That was not the team we’ve seen all year.”
John Holten of Golden Valley, who attends medical school in Philadelphia, wasn’t smiling, nor was his friend James Holm of Maplewood who had flown in for the game with a group of friends.
Holten said all his friends are Eagles fans. “I love the city of Philadelphia, but it’s a bad day,” he said.
Holm added, “I didn’t expect it to be a blowout in this direction.”
But he said the friends enjoyed their time together and the season. “You want to see a win, but it’s been great,” he said.
The sting was felt across Minnesota.
At New Hope Cinema Grill, Cathy Lensing of Andover watched in disappointment as the game ended on the big-screen TV.
“This should never have happened. It should have been a lot closer,” she said. “We’re just in shock.”
Her husband, Jeff Lensing, added that the result was a letdown, especially with Minnesota hosting the Super Bowl.
“It felt like a magical year,” he said. “We got sucked in that everything we wanted could come true. That would have been truly magical.”
But, he added, he’s already thinking about next season and feeling optimistic.
His wife said this season brought their family and the entire community together in Minnesota, and even did something perhaps unthinkable: It united Vikings and Packers fans, with their Wisconsin family members cheering for Minnesota this week.
“You could feel that energy,” Cathy Lensing said. “It’s awesome to be part of that.”
All day, Craig Hotvedt had a nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach waiting for the game. In church Sunday, he said the minister mentioned praying for the Vikings three times.
Later, at Travail Kitchen & Amusements in Robbinsdale for a private game day party, he watched the TV nervously as his wife, Cynthia, drank a special purple punch for the party.
“I don’t want to get my hopes up,” Craig Hotvedt said. “I’ve been disappointed too many times. I felt like Charlie Brown all day. Am I going to fall for it again?”
That was the typical response from apprehensive Vikings fans at bars and restaurants in the Twin Cities on Sunday. After the Eagles’ third touchdown, the crowd of more than 75 people at the Robbinsdale restaurant groaned and sat in silence.
By the third quarter, James Winberg was shaking his head when his brother texted him his reaction: “It hurts.”
Not for Winberg. “It’s what we expect,” said Winberg, who owns Travail and is a lifelong Vikings fan and a season-ticket holder. “Our defense is playing the worst game of the year.”
While last week’s game brought some hope, “it doesn’t matter unless we finish,” he said. “We’ve never been able to win the big one. It’s not about a curse; it’s about being ready.”
The crowd at the Robbinsdale restaurant thinned out long before the game ended.
Even with a loss, Winberg said he will continue to be a Vikings fan, with the standard rule: “I’ll still have the same expectations — never too high, never too low.”
At the St. Paul Saloon on the capital city’s East Side, Erick Goodlow nervously thumbed his cellphone after another Eagles score in the third quarter.
Goodlow knows the sting of defeat. He was in the stands that fateful day in 1999 when the normally reliable Gary Anderson shanked a potential game-winning field goal with just over two minutes left in a 27-27 game, which Atlanta eventually won in overtime.
The experience left him with a new pragmatism. “At that point, I thought, ‘I am never going to let a game outcome that I’m not involved in ruin my life,’ ” said Goodlow, who works in risk management at Medtronic.
With the final minutes counting down, the mood was surprisingly upbeat at a viewing party at the Cedar-Riverside Community School.
Fourteen-year-old Charly Tiempos nodded his head in satisfaction as he surveyed the scene. Even with the game out of reach, nearly two dozen kids had stuck around and were helping clean up. At its height, more than 50 junior high and high schoolers had crammed into a classroom to watch the game on a large screen. A table in the hallway spilled over with mostly eaten snacks.
Jennifer Weber, who coaches youth sports in the neighborhood, said that she sympathizes with the Vikings players who, with the Super Bowl hype machine in overdrive, will constantly hear reminders of what could have been.
“Most of the time when you get knocked down and get up to go home, you get to get away from the situation,” said Weber, a dyed-in-the-wool Vikings fan.
The party was the idea of Tiempos and Hamsa Osman, 15, who wanted to bring local kids together. In that sense, the event was a rousing success, the two said. The game itself? Not so much, said Osman.
“It was a huge let down,” said the self-professed Broncos fan.
But, he couldn’t afford to dwell on the loss for too long. With the Super Bowl just two weeks out, they have another party to plan.
Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.