Never in my life had I been to a NFL game; not a preseason, not a regular season, and certainly not a playoff game, but on January 5, 2003, I awoke to the sound of a ringing phone.
A neighbor who I barely knew had tickets to the Giants vs. 49ers game, and at the last minute couldn't use them. So, looking at the clock beside my bed, I thought if I get in the car and drive to San Francisco right now, I can make it in time for kickoff.
Up until that point I really didn’t follow football that much, although the opportunity certainly presented itself daily with the likes of the 49ers, Raiders, Chargers and even the Rams if fans were willing to travel back in time a bit talked about in my town.
But fan or not, I drove to the storied Candlestick in San Francisco to witness one of the greatest playoff comebacks in NFL history.
Being fairly late in the game and with the 49ers being down by 24, the only reason I decided to stay was because I had never been to a game and I wanted the full effect. After each play I saw more and more people get up and leave, by the hundreds, maybe even the thousands, and then something incredible happened…the 49ers offense came to life.
A young Terrell Owens began playing with the spark he’s still known for today, and Jeff Garcia started completing passes like his career depended on it.
When San Francisco blocked New York’s last-second field goal attempt as time expired, even I was screaming, and I wasn’t even sure what happened.
Head coach Steve Mariucci said in an interview after that game, “as long as you live you might never see a game better than that… It’s kind of hard to remember everything right now but I remember how it ended.”
Although he wasn’t speaking to me, it sure felt like it after what I had just seen.
While I had witnessed greatness in person, it still hadn’t made me a NFL fan, at least not in the sense that I wanted to turn on the television and watch football all day every Sunday.
With that being said, fast forward a couple of years and a few life changes later and I find myself living in North Dakota, a state that has zero professional sports teams and no real prospects of gaining any.
After a time, I succumbed to the peer pressure and became a Minnesota Vikings fan, because that’s what most people in North Dakota did.
Maybe I grew fond of them because they were good…no, that wasn’t it.
Maybe I liked them because they were bad…they had their moments, but they weren’t terrible.
Or maybe, just maybe, I liked them because they were a little bit like me…painfully average.
In 2004, they made it to the divisional playoffs despite only finishing 8-8, they then went on to finish 9-7, 6-10, 8-8 (again), and then 10-6 last year only to fall to Philadelphia in the Wild Card game.
There was only one losing season in that mix, but not a whole lot to write home about beyond that.
A record alone can’t always generate a fan…or drive them away though, I needed something else…some kind of “X-Factor.” And finally, I got it, but it was a bad one.
In 2005, the Vikings were wrapped up in a sex scandal on a boat with several prostitutes; this was just the kind of Jerry Springer-esque moment I needed. It was like a rite-of-passage, so that my loyalty could be the butt of every joke, and yet I wouldn’t have to feel too bad, because how could it get any worse?
I had found my free pass to being a fan without consequence right?
Fast forward a few seasons and now Kevin and Pat Williams find themselves in a controversy over allegedly taking a banned diuretic.
I realize that the frequency in which these two go to the bathroom really is none of my business, but something just doesn’t add up here.
In all honesty though, I don’t like the Vikings because they fail, and it certainly isn’t because they hire prostitutes, or allegedly take steroid-masking agents, but I like them because it shows that football players, like all people, are human.
They make mistakes, they break the law, they partake in questionable activities…does that make them bad people?
As a matter of fact, sometimes it does, but it’s about how the players respond, it’s about how the Vikings front office takes action, and it’s about how the fans react.
The Vikings are waiting for their day to shine, whether or not that will come this season is anyone’s guess, but if the Vikings have one more average season ahead of them to put in the record books, that’s OK with me…I’ll just react accordingly.