Employment to talk on a Twin Cities radio station comes with this perk: An opportunity to attend the Minnesota State Fair, day ... after day ... after day.
There is more face-to-face feedback with the public on local sports events during those two weeks than in the other 50 combined.
This summer, the fairgoers’ vitriol over the Twins had turned to indifference, in favor of rampant optimism over what coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings were likely to accomplish in the 2016 season.
“The Vikings are going to be great this season,’’ I was told a minimum of 150 times at our great get-together.
I swear by the soul-searing power of Bud Grant’s steely gray eyes, this was my response on each occasion: “You must add a disclaimer when saying that. Injuries.’’
And then I would offer my theory: “If an NFL team makes it through a season with 19 or 20 starters playing most every game, it can reach its potential. If it winds up with 15 or 16 starters, it can turn into a bad year.’’
The Vikings were 3-0 in exhibitions a week into the Fair. There was no cold water to be poured on the sporting public’s fervor.
Then, on Aug. 31, a Wednesday, came the bulletin quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had suffered a knee injury in practice that caused frantic work from trainers and an ambulance to arrive on the field.
The Vikings talk suddenly turned gloomy, but that lasted only until Saturday. That morning came the news the team had acquired quarterback Sam Bradford from Philadelphia.
“This proves the Vikings are all-in,’’ the fairgoers said. “Super Bowl, here we come.’’
OK, the Super Bowl part was more implied than directly stated, but the optimism was back and over the top.
The Vikings won the opener with Shaun Hill at quarterback, and then four more with Bradford before the bye week. Sharrif Floyd was limited in the first game and hasn’t played since. Adrian Peterson and Matt Kalil were lost after the second game.
Yet, nothing could stop these Vikings. They were 5-0 when headed into the break. The home advantage in the new dome had seemed immense in victories over the Packers, the Giants and the Texans.
The national media had concerns over the Vikings offensive line, while at the same time saying Zimmer’s fierce defense made this a team as solid contender to win the NFC.
Overconfidence. That was the biggest problem for the Vikings and their fans.
Zimmer must have felt that way. As the team departed for its bye-week break, Zimmer scattered stuffed toy cats in the locker room, as a reminder to his unbeaten athletes not to become fat cats.
The stuffed cats were then maimed by an unknown source. And the Vikings and even the coach have been maimed in the two months since then.
The Vikings and their small-play, mistake-prone offense has lost six of seven. Zimmer has undergone four procedures on his right eye in an attempt to repair what had become a detached retina.
Bradford could be an upgrade over Bridgewater. So, if you go back to a lineup projection right after the Bradford trade, the Vikings will be without five starters Sunday vs. Jacksonville:
Peterson and the tackles, Kalil and Andre Smith, on offense. Floyd and safety Harrison Smith on defense. There also have been one- or two-game injuries that caused shuffling on the offensive line and the back seven in defense.
Injuries aren’t an excuse. They are an explanation for a season of great optimism that already has turned to disappointment, and will become a total failure without a four-game winning streak to reach the playoffs.
Bridgewater being severely hurt while backpedaling to throw a practice pass should have been a sign of rough sailing. And seeing the coach at Wednesday’s media session, with his damaged right eye, was a dramatic snap shot of the melancholy when 5-0 turns to 1-6.
Zimmer was asked questions about his right eye.
“I would really like to talk about Jacksonville,’’ the coach said.
He was asked about missing a game as a coach for the first time, and reiterated the desire to talk about Jacksonville.
And then Zimmer got halfway through another response, and then started talking about Jacksonville — went into full coach mode about the defensive challenge (fourth in the league), about a strong running game, about the scrambling ability of quarterback Blake Bortles, making it all sound as if it’s unfathomable the Jaguars are 2-10.
As for the Vikings going from all-in for a Super Bowl to barely hanging on to a playoff hope in December, it’s not that hard to fathom.
I tried to warn you at the State Fair. Every NFL team starts it season with injuries as the great unknown.