Newspapers were still the lifeblood of sports writing on Jan. 17, 1999. There were reporters from newspapers all over the country in the Metrodome’s jammed football press box that day to watch the Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons play for the NFC championship.
You would get there 2½ hours early on a day like that, to talk with longtime acquaintances and get their insights. I still remember a couple of those:
• Mark Whicker, then of the Orange County Register, saying: “This feels exactly like being in Pittsburgh before the loss to San Diego in the AFC title game [January 1995]. The fans already had the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Today, the Falcons are in here 14-2, and the fans already have the Vikings in the Super Bowl.”
• Bob Ryan, of the Boston Globe, saying: “It’s bad mojo that Gary Anderson hasn’t missed a field goal. That’s going to come into play today.”
The Falcons hung tough in the din of the Metrodome. Anderson missed a late field goal. And Atlanta went to its lone Super Bowl with a 30-27 victory in overtime.
We are now 40 years removed from the Vikings’ last Super Bowl appearance. For the generations raised as Vikings fans in those four ensuing decades, they seem close to unanimous in citing that loss to the Falcons as Example A that somehow this organization carries a curse.
The latest evidence to support this theory came Tuesday, when Theodore Edmond Bridgewater II — also known as “Teddy, Teddy, Teddy” — crumpled as he prepared to throw a pass during a practice session and tore up his left knee.
“How can something like this happen to our Vikings?” howled the Purple Faithful. “Why is it always us?”
It’s not. It’s an important NFL player getting hurt. Happens most every August day around the league, in drills or in exhibition games.
The Bears lost Hroniss Grasu, their well-regarded center, because of a torn ACL when he went down untouched in early August. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo got hit once in the preseason and broke his back again.
This might be weird because Bridgewater was injured without being hit, but hey, the great Billy Sims, planting to make a cut in the Metrodome on Oct. 21, 1984, ripped up his knee, never played again, and the Detroit Lions were noncontenders for the rest of the decade.
You want cursed? Sign on to be a Lions fan.
We had Robert Smith quit with much left to offer as a running back and Vikings fans were stunned. The Lions have had Barry Sanders, a top-five all-time running back, and now Calvin Johnson, a top-five all-time receiver, quit while still great.
There’s no curse here. A quarterback got hurt and will miss the season. It’s the NFL. It happens.
But … but, “Teddy’s such a great kid.”
OK, and Romo’s had what could have been a Hall of Fame career waylaid by injuries, and you can get endless testimonials on him from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
I think almost all curses afflicting major pro teams are based on bad management:
The Lions, forever. The Timberwolves, for too many years. The Twins of 2016, products of bad signings, bad trades, bad drafting and putrid player development.
I do believe that in life and in sports, the sun does not shine on the same dog’s tail every day. And the Vikings have been basking in the sun and doing so rather arrogantly in recent weeks.
General Manager Rick Spielman was arrogant in not getting a viable backup quarterback when Taylor Heinecke showed up injured this summer. Spielman didn’t need to pay Nick Foles’ price; he had Bridgewater.
And now he doesn’t.
Coach Mike Zimmer was arrogant through the entire “Why didn’t Teddy play in exhibition game two?” episode. He still was changing the narrative last Sunday, telling John Lynch, a sugar-spewing analyst for Fox, that he was standing up for Teddy with the Twin Cities media because he loved the kid.
Of course, no one in the local media had said a negative word about Bridgewater’s not playing; the beat guys just wanted to provide Purple fandom with an answer as to why he had not.
I’m not suggesting Bridgewater’s ripped-up knee was any kind of karma. I’m just saying that it might have been a gorgeous day in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, but it was one when the sun chose not to shine on the Vikings.
That’s life, particularly in the NFL.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org