Bronx, NY – Goal: “To see the Vikings win a Super Bowl in my lifetime.” This is what the 18-year-old, not-quite-so-Angry Ward wrote in his senior high school yearbook. At that point it had been a decade since Minnesota went to and lost their fourth Super Bowl-to the Oakland Raiders. Three decades later, they still haven’t been back. So much for life goals.
Back when I was a kid I would absolutely live and die with my Vikings. I identified with them perhaps more than all of my other favorite teams in all the other sports combined. Back then, the Vikes would break my heart regularly and I reacted the way you might think a kid would react. On more than one occasion I was told by my Dad to “go outside and cool off.” One playoff game against the Eagles and Dick Vermeil (who I loathed) saw Minnesota start okay and then got slowly dismantled. When I went outside to calm down, at Dad’s behest, I ran across a neighborhood kid who thought it would be a good idea to laugh at me and my team. I was a skinny little runt but I still went all “Ralphie/A Christmas Story” on him and shoved his head in a snowbank.
As the years passed the Vikings found new and creative ways to lose big games and fail to get over the hump. There was Darrin Nelson not catching a game-tying TD in the 1987 NFC Championship at Washington, the 15-1 juggernaut losing the 1998 NFC Championship to Atlanta (I was there) when Gary Anderson (perfect on field goals and extra points all season long) missed a 38 yard FG and they lost in OT, the 41-0 whitewash at the hands of the Giants (I was there too) in the 2000 NFC title game. Brett Favre‘s pick in the 2009 NFC Championship game, and, of course, there was this past Sunday. And that’s only the “big” games we’re talking about!
As the years passed I mellowed considerably, if you can believe that, when it came to the Vikings. I started taking things in stride, never letting myself get too excited, and always waiting for that other shoe (or cleat) to drop. I mean, when you’ve been through all of those gut-wrenching losses, the Herschel Walker trade, the Sex Boat scandal, Korey Stringer’s death, countless Dennis Green brain farts, the Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier eras, and Metrodome roof collapses, you start to get a thick skin. Even if Minnesota were to someday do the impossible and win a Super Bowl, it will never be as big a moment for me than if it had happened when I was younger. I’ve lectured those like our own Junoir Blaber, not to get overly invested and get your hopes up when it comes to sports, because it’s not worth it. But this past Sunday I got sucked in.
My wife was away on a school trip and at the last second I lucked out and my daughter was invited to a party. Otherwise I would have been playing Connect 4 for three hours and watching the game over her shoulder. I settled in with some Guinness and leftover pizza, and, God help me, I let myself get excited for this game. I really thought Minnesota had a chance against Seattle in the sub-zero temps, and I was right! Seeing former coach Bud Grant go out for the coin flip in a short-sleeve shirt almost sent me through the roof. This was, in all likelihood my last chance to see my Vikes play an outdoor playoff game in Minnesota… EVER!
They played a hell of a game. Their defense was stifling, their offense moved the ball enough to put points on the board when the Seahawks couldn’t manage it at all. A fluke play and a fumble later put Seattle up by a point and left Minnesota with one last chance. We know what happened. Blair Walsh missed a very short field goal about as badly as you can miss one. Another excruciating loss added to the pantheon.
Sometime later I posted on Facebook: “If you’re not a Minnesota Vikings fan you will never know what it’s like. And that’s a good thing.” And I meant it. I know there are other cities like Buffalo and Cleveland who’ve had their share of football heartache but, trust me, you guys have no idea. Masochists think rooting for the Vikings is a bit much. In fact being a fan of this team should come with a “safe word” when things get too painful, as they so often do.
Being a Mets fan is a fun-filled field trip to the amusement park by comparison. My wife got home just in time to see the final knife twist and all the blood drain out of my face. I had indeed lost myself in this game. When I went to pick my daughter up, her friend’s mom later recalled that I looked like a shell of myself. I was spent and just slightly shattered. Now that I’ve had a couple of days to think about it, I’m kinda of glad that there’s still some some flicker of my youth burning for this team that breaks my heart every time.
Next year, the Super Bowl. That should be interesting.