It wasn't until a few years ago that I became a die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan.
I grew up a Minnesotan in a suburb just west of Minneapolis. Being a Vikings fan just comes with the territory. You hate the Packers, the Lions are terrible and the Bears are just good enough to keep you nervous every week.
I now am known to dislike Sunday afternoons in the Vikings lose. Doesn't matter if it's a divisional game or just a game they should win, or even if they get clobbered. Sunday is not a good day if the Purple People Eaters go down.
I've been a life-long Vikings fan, but as a journalist, I'm able to stay out of being a homer and can be an objective journalist when being a professional is more important than a rube.
I've met Carl Eller, interviewed Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper, Jim Kleinsasser and Nate Burleson to name a few. I've also talked to Onterrio Smith, but he bombed out before he ever got the chance to be an impact player.
It's hard to be a Vikings fan because they're just good enough to keep you interested, but they manage to come short of expectations despite an abundance of talent. The 1997-98 season is a perfect example, and it's a metaphor for Minnesota professional sports in general.
There hasn't been a world championship here since 1991 with the Minnesota Twins. It's hard to think that was 18 years ago, I was nine years old.
The Vikings were going to the Super Bowl in the 1997-98 season. Randall Cunningham was the best quarterback the organization had since probably Fran Tarkenton. Randy Moss was the best receiver in football that hardly anybody knew about, but he was only a secret for one year.
Robert Smith was as reliable as a running back gets. The team had set an NFL record for points in a season and had a 15-1 regular season. The stage was set for a championship year.
Just as "wide right" is painful for Buffalo Bills fans to hear, Vikings fans know exactly what you're talking about when you hear "wide left." Gary Anderson hadn't missed a field goal all season. He was perfect, but that wasn't good enough in the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons.
He missed a field goal with a little more than a minute left that would've given the Vikings a 10-point lead and likely an NFC title. Atlanta tied the game and eventually won in overtime on Morten Anderson's field goal.
And don't even get me started on Dennis Green sitting on the ball before the end of the game. That's a guaranteed melt down for any Vikings fan.
I've seen a lot of painful losses in my day, but this one is probably the hardest. The game was right there, within grasp, for the Vikings to take. They didn't get it done. The Vikings often get it in their own way of success with turnovers or poor decison-making. They still manage to win enough games for fans to stay interested.
That, in a nut-shell, sums up my passion for Vikings football.