"Who's that yonder dressed in black? Must be the hypocrites a-turning back" - Go Tell it on the Mountain
In this week's episode, I offer a map of what happened, what is happening, and what will happen with respect to the Vikings. This is not some novel by James Baldwin about Harlem, and I'm not preaching to the choir about lack of attendence at church. The purpose of my mangled mixed musical, mariner and mooing metaphors is to get us from point A to point B, where point A is defined as the whirlpool into which the the good ship Viking has currently careened, and point B is the Superbowl in Dallas come February 6, 2011, where we wish our berserks to come ashore frothing.
We need a new song and some focus to help us seemingly defy the odds, so I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
Why do teams lose? Want satisfaction? Do not be misled by pundits and sportscasters looking for a story angle to fire your imagination. Teams lose because the NFL is designed that way, such that we fans allegedly abhor ties so much the league deliberately tries to circumvent them with overtime, because the fans in the stands want a fight to the death after paying all that for tickets and drinking all the beer. Even if every team were created equal, the appropriate probability distribution favors a result after four games in which a quarter of the teams are 1-3 or about eight teams. In fact, in 2010, there were only four such teams, the Browns, the Raiders, the Cowboys, and the Vikings. So what gives? Nobody is undefeated now, and things seem askew.
What's that thing I saw at the Carnival? Have you ever seen the rack of staggered rows of pins through which a balls are dropped one at a time in the middle and stack up at the bottom in a bell shaped curve? Why does that happen? It seems like the ball hits the first pin almost directly in the middle, but gravity yells at it to make up its mind and go left or right. Actually, if we lived in a world where we built perfect racks and only tilted them slightly, the balls and pins were actually single objects with no moving parts inside, there were no heavenly bodies in the cosmos, there were no earthquakes in Chile, nobody ever sneezed, and there were no molecules jiggling in the heat nearby, we might even see a ball bounce repeatedly until it perched itself on the first pin. We don't live in such a place. Some unseen aggregate of things that perhaps we can't even see will give us a right or a left result. The same kind of things happen in football. Brett's hands are slightly wet at the snap. Antoine fails to catch the ball. For the want of a nail, the war is lost. The butterfly effect is allive and well in the NFL. A butterfly flapping its wings in Africa causes a hurricane in Haiti. Causes and effects are not proportional. No matter how slight the differences involved the ball bounces right or left, and teams win or lose. Call it the Thunderdome principle: Two teams enter; one team leaves. In brief, little mistakes can yield big losses. It's harder to build a good ship than to sink one.
It ain't necessarily so. So what happened to the other four teams that we expected to be 1-3 after four games? Well, of course, the NFL teams are not all created equal, and randomness permits variations to unfold. Some folks will look at the Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings and try to tell you Childress and Phillips don't yell enough. Nope. Singletary yells a lot; Belichick does not. Look at the standings.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Super Bowl. It usually does. If the games were not in doubt, how many would tune in and wade through commercials or buy tickets to find out what happens? Last night alone, there were thunderstorms with which to contend. A majority of the fans were yelling to make it harder on the visitors. In an hour's worth of activity involving twenty-two players at a time and a gang of zebras, a lot can happen, and it does not take much for things to go left or right. The odds or practices don't dictate any particular outcome, just the long term aggregate.
The problem with that, it has been said, is in the long term, we're all dead. If the Vikings are better than their record indicates, we're not dead yet, and not all looks gloomy. We scored three offensive touchdowns passing against one of the best passing defenses in their house. If we get just the last touchdown throw headed in the right direction, we change history.
Are we there yet, Papa Smurf? The Vikings and the Cowboys are currently both 1-3. The bad news is next week, one of them will be 1-4. The good news is the Vikings get to play at home this time. You get to be 1-3 by making mistakes, not being prepared for what happens, and having odd things occur due to circumstances beyond your control, like having certain people decide to conveniently publish two-year-old stories they can't prove the very week the Vikings come to visit. Malice aforethought? Methinks so. Did it matter? We have no way to know. Probably not, but professional assassins work that way. We'll just call in the ususual suspects: rain, boneheaded players, bad breath. (By the way, that riminds me, Mike Tirico is babbling. You have to make up one point when you're down two, so it doesn't matter when you go for two, you still have to make it when you do, and since even a safety scores two points to gain a tie, Mike has no point, other than avoiding dead air. Favre had a man open, but the play failed. If the plays fail, you lose, no matter which ones you call. If you call time ouf and get it right, that's a plus. It's not like we fired all our bullets in the air to warn the Jets we were coming or we did something stupid like trying an onside kick at half time.)
Where are we going with this? The way things work in a sixteen game season is that being 1-4 is a lot worse than being 2-3. Like the New Orleans Saints, we have two teams ahead of us in our own division. The Cowboys have three teams ahead of them in theirs and are in a worse spot, so they will need to come in pumped up, but playing disciplined football and being pumped up do not necessarily go together. We get to play at home after doubling our practice time for the season with Randy Moss, one of the few players who will play seventeen regular season games this year. Clearly, Moss can still catch the long ball, and it frees up space for Harvin. We're experiencing injuries, but the Packers are experiencing more. Wildcard teams have won the Super Bowl. They just must win in January and February.
To be or not to be? You hit the nail on the head, Hamlet. There's something rotten in Denmark, and we were born to set it right. The game Sunday is as much of a must-win game as a team can muster in game five. The stage has been set for the horse opera. Sidney, Chris Cook and the calvary might be riding over the hill in the weeks ahead if only we can hold off the hostiles long enough to stay in the race. (Did Santonio Holmes help the Jets? Apparently so. It's a game of inches. Put the ball relative to Moss where the defender can't get to it except by going through him and reaping laundry, and things can go better.) We've got all the parts needed to form an armada. We just need to start sailing in formation, read the winds, and man the guns.
In conclusion, as the choirmaster might have said, we not only have to be signing out of the same hymnal from the same page in the same measure and also harmoniously on key and in rhythm, we need to do that both with heart and from the diaphram. If we figure out exactly what that means and practice, man, practice the right stuff, this opera has not concluded yet.