Choking on a Purple Chicken, Er, People Eater
On the frigid, blistery Sunday mornings in my hometown igloo of St. Paul, MN—every red-blooded, pigskin-loving male puts on their golden french braids and even manlier purple beanie (with spiky horns on it of course for good measure) in anticipation of the Vikings' best to come to play on that day.
Far too many times those purple beanies and blond braids end in a heap on the floor in disgust as a result of the final outcome. However, we as fans of these perennial losers have come to accept the fact that they are exactly that—losers.
Oh, but then again, the Vikings aren't just losers. No, they are actually heart-breakers and homewreckers—downright detractors of the soul.
It's true. Many stories can be heard upon stumbling into any local watering hole of the average fan just up and disappearing—only to reappear some many months later sporting Patriots gear and again smiling and appearing to enjoy life.
For all you spoiled fans of NFL franchises whose owners actually want them to get to the Super Bowl—my Vikings have been there four times. That's right. They basked in the Super Bowl glory on four occasions and yet never came out with a single W. Not one. Goose-egg and Four overall!
Although I must admit, none of these Super Bowls have occurred in my lifetime. But looking back now, I can see why I was swayed into being a fan in the first place. They were quite an impressive franchise after all. They had reached four Super Bowls in about eight years—so I guess I was easily swayed.
And yes, I do know I can't really complain because they do win a lot of division titles (13 to be exact—good for third best ever in NFL history) but what good is it really if you're just going to bow out of the playoffs in the first round?
But this isn't really about the disappointing nature of being a Vikings fan. No this is about the gleams of hope that they sometime provide for the dreary kingdom they call fans. Sometimes they'll catch you off guard. They'll make you believe again.
This is a story about that time - that one time they sucked me back in again into believing only to be...
Well, I think you get the point. But that team was destined for greatness from the beginning and of course as Vikings fans have come to understand and accept that destiny is an evil witch in our world.
But the 1998-1999 Minnesota Vikings will always and forever be my favorite NFL team of all-time. Yup—sniffle—those boys still have my heart. Well, except for you Gary Anderson.
Awwwwww, okay, even you too, Gary Anderson. :)
It all started with the draft that summer. With everybody STILL reeling from the Herschel Walker debacle (and yes, even though it was years later, we were still devastated and numb as a community.) we desperately were still waiting for our hero to come and resurrect the franchise.
The Vikings tried for many years by bringing in past their prime superstars like Warren Moon, Jim McMahon, and, of course, Randall Cunningham. But nothing ever quite clicked and they always were left wanting when it came time to go all the way.
And then Baby Jesus came to a small town in Minnesota that draft day in 1998. (It's true, on the day of the NFL draft in 1998 there was a baby Jesus sighting way up north in Minnesota.) Baby Jesus was spotted in a stroller outside of the Baby Gap and people were alarmingly intrigued.
But also on that day the Minnesota Vikings drafted another form of Baby Jesus in Randy Moss. I was a huge fan of him during his career at Marshall University so I was instantly swept away in his beautiful rows the minute he donned the purple and gold hat and flashed his pearly whites.
For the next few months, I told everyone within earshot that this year was going to be the Vikings year. The Super Bowl was already wrapped up and the trophy headed to Minneapolis as far as I was concerned.
I laughed at the people who were laughing at me and I rolled my eyes at the people that rolled their eyes. I didn't care—this year I was committed. This was my team—and we, WE—were going all the way. Luckily, I didn't catch the entire Vikings franchise at a drunken kegger because—chuckle—we WERE going all the way...
But I digress.
So with the drafting of Randy Moss the Vikings put together literally one of the greatest offensive teams ever to put on the pads in an NFL game. On paper they were electric with names like Robert Smith, Cris Carter, Jake Reed, Moss and even the former textile forklift driver Cunningham.
Every time that team took the field, you knew you were going to be mimicking the Vikings horn all day long.
And how true it was. That Vikings team shattered the NFL record for points scored in a season with a then record 556 points. In fact, they never put up less than 24 points in a game all season long—which equated to a lot of horn blowing all year long!
They seriously were the original 'Greatest Show On Turf'. Apparently though, Minnesotans aren't as clever as Missourians, because it wasn't until Kurt Warner and the gang came along that the term was coined.
On defense the Vikings were also above average although they were far from the past Purple People Eater image. But with names like John Randle, Ed McDaniel, Robert Griffith and Jimmy Hitchcock leading your defensive squad—you really aren't too shabby.
The Vikings' 'D' did have its moments and managed to hold teams to 14 points or less in 6 out of the 16 regular season games. Overall they allowed 18.5 points per game on average—much lower than the offensive average of 34.7 ppg. This brought it in every possible way.
And then those bums had to go 15-1! Seriously?! During OUR bye week of the playoffs, I made sure to visit everyone who scoffed at my bold prediction earlier in the year, yearning for my praises for being such a bold predictor and an overall NFL-knowledge dynamo.
However, most had forgotten the bold prediction had ever even taken place to begin with—so it wasn't as ego-inflatable as I imagined.
But either way there I was again, heaping praises about my team, my boys and what WE were going to do to those ridiculous Cardinals in that Divisional playoff game. I was still committed and to the core.
How could you not be? Moss made every catch, every touchdown, every game look so incredibly easy that it was impossible to beat these guys when they had a human superman on their side.
The Cardinals (whom would later capture my heart in their own way) posed absolutely zero threat as the Vikings completely stomped through them with a 41-21 thrashing. Up next were the Falcons, and although they had a tough running game, they didn't seem to be much competition either. Plus, the dirty bird dance? Puh-leaze!!
I don't remember much about that week leading up to that 1999 NFC Championship game—much of it all a blur now due to what my psychotherapist says is healthy mental blockage of my mind and spirit. But needless to say, that was my last carefree week ever spent as a Vikings fan.
And I absorbed every minute of it. I still have the VHS tapes of every interview given by the members of the team leading up to the big game. I was still so innocent. So naive.
As we all now know, that game was a disaster for the Vikings. They just could never run away from the Falcons and although they did lead for almost the entire game, the Falcons hung in there and played tougher than anyone expected.
Some blame Gary Anderson and his two missed field goals that would have clinched and then won the game (ironically, he had just completed the NFL's first perfect season in history that season not missing a single FG or XP all year long), but I don't.
Football is, after all, a team game.
But he did muff the two most important kicks of the season—that is undebatable. However, my heart goes out to him because I saw a story on SportsCenter one night about how his wife left him and the kids like the night before the game. So one can understand if his concentration is a bit off kilter.
But that was it. After going 15-1 on the regular season and demolishing the Cardinals in the first game, it all was gone in a puff of smoke as the Vikings dropped the NFC Championship to the heavy underdog, Atlanta Falcons, 30-27 in overtime. And with a poof—it was all over.
That loss was devastating and the ripple through the local Vikings community was resounding. It has never been the same after that either. They had the same pieces for a while but could never quite get it back to its heyday form.
Eventually they shipped Moss off to Oakland and a bunch of the other guys almost sunk themselves in a wild boat party gone stripperingly wrong.
For me, it has never been the same. I tune into the games but I have yet to ever feel the same passion and connection with a team as I did that year with the Vikings.
I felt violated for a long time—like I was being lead down this path into believing, endlessly teased by their potential, only to have it fall short in the end—as typical Viking fashion. I am definitely more jaded now.
But for that one glorious, dreary, freezing gray winter, those Vikings provided me with the most excitement I have ever experienced in all of sports. If only the last stop would have been the Super Bowl exit.
Than maybe I wouldn't feel robbed emotionally and still be writing blogs about it ten years later. Then again, who am I kidding. They probably would have dropped to Goose-egg and five anyway. Stinking bums.
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