Sports fandom and rivalries, by their irrational nature, tend to turn fans quite willingly into something less than their best selves.
This comes through most notably in local terms when it comes to the Vikings and Packers — and the past couple of weeks have seen an escalation in that relationship.
First, it was the season-ending Sunday night game at Lambeau Field two weeks ago, won by the Vikings and conveying not only the NFC North title to the Purple but also bragging rights.
The pendulum swung violently back to the east a week later. Vikings fans dealt with the stunning 10-9 wild-card playoff loss to Seattle and, if they had the stomach for it, watched immediately after as the Packers won their game at Washington.
The Vikings game, in rational terms, should not have mattered to Packers fans. Nor should the Packers game have mattered to Vikings fans. But they did. Oh, they did.
This is where we get to the “less than their best selves” concept, tied directly to that perfect German word Schadenfreude — defined by merriam-webster.com as “a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.”
Packers fans — not all of them, of course — enjoyed a measure of this when Blair Walsh’s kick went wide left. When Green Bay won last week, it left Vikings fans of a certain mindset with only one hope: that they, too, would eventually get to feel the distorted joy of their rival losing.
That it happened Saturday night in similarly stunning fashion to the Vikings’ loss — with the Packers being rescued from the brink of sure defeat with their second successful desperation touchdown heave of the season, only to have it end so quickly in overtime — gave many Minnesota fans particular pleasure.
Again, these are not our best selves. But maybe that’s OK? Maybe there’s room for all sorts of heat-of-the-moment instincts as long as we can keep real-world perspective?
Walsh’s missed kick became a teachable moment for Blaine first-graders, who wrote him letters of encouragement after his missed field goal. (A friend suggested that Sheboygan, Wis., first-graders could follow suit and write letters to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews to soothe their reported frustration over Saturday’s overtime coin flip drama.)
Without the dark side, how would we know light, and vice versa. (Hey, there’s a pretty successful film franchise that’s made a mint off this idea.)
What I know for sure is this: The two-week stretch of escalated tension between Vikings and Packers fans ended with common ground. Again, it was courtesy of our old friend Schadenfreude:
Seattle, which escaped with a victory it probably didn’t deserve last week against the Vikings and did the same a year ago to the Packers in the NFC title game, finally ran out of magic Sunday at Carolina.
Unified by the misery of others, but not proud of it. That’s where we stand right now.