Settle down! Settle! Down!
Yes, there’s been a lot of excitement in Minnesota since last Sunday (as the above image found on Facebook will attest). There’s been a buzz about town because the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota’s professional football team, is the only undefeated team in the entire league and will remain so for, at least, one more week as the Vikes have their bye week this weekend.
Yes, their record is 5 – 0 and their defense is very impressive. After all, as the old saying goes, “Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.” But we’re just five games into the season. Let’s try to get a grip, shall we?
And it’s the Vikings we’re talking about. I’ve been a fan of this team for more than 40 years and, if there’s anything I’ve learned over those four decades, I’ve learned the Minnesota Vikings always find a way to disappoint.
I’m too young to feel the sting of the first three lost Superbowls of the four total lost by the franchise, but I do remember that fourth loss in 1977 to John Madden’s Oakland Raiders. That was my introduction as a new fan to the futility of following this team. The Vikings have not returned to the big game since.
In the nearly forty years since that last Superbowl appearance/loss, my team has managed to get to the NFC Championship game, the winner of which would face the AFC Champion in the Superbowl, five times. They lost every time. Each time I’d console myself by saying, “At least they won’t lose the Superbowl.” Not much comfort.
Of the five losses, I’m gonna focus just a little on three of them.
The loss to the Atlanta Falcons on January 17, 1999
This bitter disappointment may have been the worst of them all. My team had gone 15 – 1 and had set a single season scoring record of 556 points. They had an outstanding receiver core (Randy Moss, Chris Carter, and Jake Reed), a good veteran quarterback (Randall Cunningham), a productive running back (Robert Smith), and a field goal kicker who could not miss (Gary Anderson). This team was powering through everyone (expect that one loss to Tampa Bay, who always seemed to beat the Vikes once a year when the two teams were in the same division).
It was a hard fought game, especially in the second half, but our confidence was high as the score was 27 – 20 in our favor when, with about four minutes left in the game, our never miss kicker came in to make a 38 yard field goal attempt. Making that kick would pretty much seal the victory for us and then it would be on to meet the Denver Broncos in Superbowl XXXIII. Gary Anderson was automatic. He never missed in 35 attempts that season. His foot was going to kick us into the big game for the first time in 22 years.
Atlanta went on to tie the game and our vaunted coaching staff led by the late Dennis Green opted to take a knee with 30 seconds in regulation and take their chances in overtime.
I can still picture Atlanta head coach, Dan Reeves, and his team dancing the “Dirty Bird” in the triumphant Falcons’ locker room.
The loss to the New York Giants on January 14, 2001
Final score: 41 – 0
The loss to the New Orleans Saints on January 24, 2010
This was the season that brought Hall of Famer Brett Favre to the Vikings, the hated rivals of his former team the Green Bay Packers. Favre had himself a career year. Vikings fans were sure the teaming of Favre with future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson would get us back to the Superbowl and, just maybe, finally win one.
Favre and company had dominated the red hot Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Division game with a score of 34 – 3, so it was onto the NFC Championship game to play the New Orleans Saints.
The game was close. Minnesota’s offense was potent, but turnovers kept the Vikes from dominating as they had against Dallas. Plus some of the Saints players were getting what amounted to bounties for working extra hard to hurt Favre. But Favre was always one tough cookie.
With the game tied in the final 30 seconds and the Vikings near field goal range, fans were certain our Vikes could do it. Just a few more yards and kick that field goal and onto Superbowl XLIV to face the Indianapolis Colts. But there was a penalty for 12 men in the Vikings’ huddle which pushed us back five yards and then the great Brett Favre, instead of running for whatever yards he could get and going out of bounds, tried to force a pass across the field. It was intercepted.
Overtime. Then the 31 – 28 loss.
So, sure, be impressed by a 5 – 0 start. Be happy the Vikings are the only undefeated team in the league. I don’t know how many seasons have started this well for this team, but I do know how many ended up with them lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy.
I’ve been saying this on Facebook lately and I mean it: I will be happy for the team. I will get excited. I will be encouraged by continued success. However, I will not be getting on the bandwagon until one week after they win the Superbowl.
Correction 10-20-16: I had originally stated the Vikings hosted the New Orleans Saints in that NFC Championship loss. That is incorrect. The Vikings went to New Orleans to play in the Superdome. The text has been corrected.
Correction 2-9-17: I state that I can still remember seeing Dan Reeves’ and his Atlanta Facons doing the “dirty bird” in the locker room. My memory is faulty. They did that dance on the field, in front of the very disappointed Vikings fans. That just makes it worse. I haven’t edited this mistake of memory.
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