Congratulations to the 2020 Vikings. In clawing back to .500 — defying season-wide odds and game-specific odds to win five of their last six games — they have shown themselves to be good enough to be considered frustrating.
I dare say, in fact, that this current incarnation of the Vikings, via twists and turns that alternately made us wonder if they could land the No. 1 pick in the draft and now have us thinking about the playoffs, have broken into an exclusive group: The most frustrating Vikings teams in recent memory.
In this thought exercise, let's draw the boundary a little more firmly and set up some criteria. Since the 1998 season has come to define modern fandom and heartbreak, let's say only years AFTER 1998 are under consideration.
What makes a team frustrating? That can be in the eye of the beholder, but to me there are often some key ingredients: Special teams lapses. Huge momentum swings during a season. Agonizing defeats. Breathtaking skill and execution undercut by bewildering decisions and turns of event. A general feeling that, from game to game, the team you are rooting for is not the more disciplined or intelligent of the two on the field.
Hello, 2020 Vikings!
To me, it is a season-long ethos — which is why, even if 1998 was included in this list, it wouldn't crack the top five. While the NFC title game that season was one of the single most frustrating games in franchise history, the season as a whole up to that point was a whimsical walk in the park picking up W's on the cobblestone.
As such, here in order of oldest to most recent are the main contenders that 2020 is dealing with in my opinion (with assists from many of you on Twitter). There are, to be sure, plenty of options.
1999: The year after the Vikings went 15-1, they started 2-4 (with all of those losses coming by five points or fewer). Randall Cunningham was benched. Jeff George led a frantic 8-2 final 10 games, which culminated in a playoff berth and the chance to be absolutely walloped in the division round by the Rams.
Perhaps this season holds a special place in my heart because I attended as a fan the 1999 game in Chicago. The Vikings chose to kick off to start both the first half and second half. They were going against the wind to start the fourth quarter. They missed a chip shot field goal that would have won it at the end of regulation. George was intercepted in Vikings territory in overtime. And they still managed to win — 27-24 in overtime, just like they did Sunday.
2003: Randy Moss had 111 catches for 1,632 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Vikings started the season 6-0 and had a very favorable schedule the rest of the way — having already gone 3-0 in the division, including a road win at Green Bay to start.
And then … they lost to all four teams that finished 4-12 that season, including an 18-17 defeat to the Cardinals on a desperation catch by Nate Poole on the final play of the season. An extremely frustrating season capped by an extremely frustrating play. This is a prime contender.
2010: You'll notice a theme of sequels here. Just like 1999 couldn't live up to 1998, the follow-up to Brett Favre's magical 2009 season was just the opposite. Something didn't feel right from the jump, with back-to-back losses to open the year despite allowing just 14 points in both. In the second of those, Adrian Peterson was stuffed on 4th-and-goal from the 1 late to help seal their fate.
Before everything started going REALLY wrong — like, you know, the roof collapsing — that was already a tough season to watch.
2016: A 5-0 start gave way to an 8-8 final record, with crushing defeats along the way. The offensive line was so bad that Sam Bradford was allowed, at maximum, a half-step drop before throwing the ball 17 inches forward. Blair Walsh missed four field goals and four extra points in the first nine games — and failed to execute a kickoff that led to a bad loss to the Lions.
It was mayhem. Pure, frustrating mayhem.
2018: This year was about the sum of the parts not adding up to the whole. Coming off a 13-3 season, the Vikings added Kirk Cousins. He threw for more than 4,000 yards with 30 TDs and 10 interceptions. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen both had more than 100 catches and 1,000 yards. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray were a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield.
The defense was positively loaded compared to this season. Front four: Danielle Hunter, Linval Joselph, Sheldon Richardson and Everson Griffen,
But they would go entire games where it looked like they either couldn't stop anybody (556 yards allowed to the Rams) or couldn't move the ball three feet let alone 75 yards.
Through it all, they still had a chance to make the playoffs by beating the Bears in Week 17. Chicago, with nothing to play for, crunched the Vikings 24-10 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings gained 164 yards.
Honorable mentions: 2004 and 2009. The former is a first cousin of 2003, with a 5-1 start giving way to an 8-8 finish. But that team backed into the playoffs and beat the Packers. One game doesn't erase 16, but it sure can try. The same notion, but in reverse, for 2009 keeps it out of my top five most frustrating. The NFC title game loss to the Saints was excruciating. But the season itself was a sight to behold.
Overall verdict on 2020: Some of the frustration of results is mitigated by the strange nature of this season as a whole. But I dare say it will crack the top five of the last 20-plus years when all is said and done.
There are still four regular-season games left to play, and all the evidence gleaned from tear-your-hair-out losses and wins in the first 12 games suggests there are some special surprises still in store.