In just a few more hours 2010 will be in the books and we'll be bracing ourselves with cautious optimism to see what 2011 has in store for us. And, because weather in Minnesota seems to have a wry sense of humor, we're getting ice and snow just in time for this evening's holiday parties. What's life without a little challenge?
In a way, it's kind of similar to the Minnesota Vikings 2010 season.
January 2010 started with palpable excitement for Vikings fans as we witnessed one of the best seasons since 1998. Quarterback Brett Favre had one of the most productive seasons of his storied career, the Vikings' roster was filled with aggressive and dynamic players, and for the second year in a row the Vikings were the NFC North champions. The Vikings won a first round bye in the playoffs and, despite all the buzz about the red-hot Dallas Cowboys going into their January 17 playoff game at the Metrodome, the Vikings soundly defeated the Cowboys 34 to 3.
In retrospect, that moment of victory, with Favre singing "Pants on the Ground" in the locker room after the Vikings beat Dallas to advance to the NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints, feels like that highpoint on the roller coaster right before a serious drop with dangerous curves and loops.Well, we know what happened in the NFC Championship game, the Vikings got so close to going to the Super Bowl that you could almost feel the confetti and taste the champagne, only to lose it in overtime. And of course the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl.
After a season as thrilling and winning as 2009, it is hard to blame the Vikings organization for trying to get lightning to strike twice. They reunited the band (a.k.a. kept the 2010 roster almost exactly the same as the previous season) and begged/charmed/strong-armed Brett Favre to come back for a 20th season in the NFL. Which, after the requisite drama, he did.
However, nothing in the 2010 season has gone the same as it did in 2009. The roster was gashed with injuries at positions where the Vikings lacked depth, making it difficult for the team to find that winning rhythm that came so naturally the season before. At times in 2010, there were so many changes at wide receiver and corner that fans practically had to watch the games with one eye on a roster sheet so they would know who was trying to catch the ball or defend against the pass on any given play.
And, that lack of chemistry and rhythm led to losses. Losses led to desperate acquisitions which led to personnel problems and a general vote of no confidence for coach Brad Childress. After an embarrassing blowout at the Metrodome in November to divisional rival the Green Bay Packers, Childress was out and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was made interim head coach. So far, his record as coach is 3-2 and the team is 6-9.
Sunday the 2010 Vikings have one last game to play against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. To say that the team taking the field will be far different from the one that started the season is the mother of all understatements. For this final game of the season the Vikings have a different guy in at head coach, they'll likely have a third-string rookie taking the snaps, and they have more question marks than exclamation points to cap off the season regardless of who wins.
It's easy to write off 2010 and simply say that the season sucked and the less we talk about it the better. Just recounting it is enough to make me want to toss back a couple valium and spend my last penny on a one-way ticket to a small town in Costa Rica that has never heard of American football, the NFL, and especially not the Vikings. I like to imagine that I will spend my time there learning to surf, making hammocks to sell to chump tourists, and perfecting my already kick-ass fish taco recipe. Not that I have given the idea much thought or anything.
But with the end of the season comes the hope that next season will be better, all fresh with no mistakes in it yet. We can imagine all sorts of great things will happen, like that the Vikings will have pulled the best draft sleeper pick since Tom Brady and that Joe Webb will reignite the Vikings as the quarterback of the future, handing the ball to Adrian Peterson, passing it to Sidney Rice, confusing defenses taking the pass from Percy Harvin in the Wildcat, and, when necessary, rushing for crucial yards and touchdowns. Or, that Jared Allen will have made an intellectual jump forward as a student of the game because of his slow start to 2010 and will become the "Pass Rush Whisperer" and will never suffer another sack slump. Or that with Cedric Griffin healthy out in the secondary with Antoine Winfield that tag team will help the Vikings reassert their overall defensive dominance. Or that Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson will both make it to the Pro Bowl next season.
No matter how lofty my daydreams for 2011's Vikings are, there is no getting around the fact that this team will face many challenges moving forward. However, as with so many things, it's the difficulty of the challenge that gives the accomplishment it's magnitude.
So, as the clock ticks down and 2010 ends, let's try to have some hope that out of disappointment and destruction can come progress. Here's to hope and to next season and to the Vikings and all their fans. Skol!