Growing up in Minnesota, being a Vikings fan was as ingrained in me as knowing that eating lutefisk would put hair on your chest (surprisingly, not a real selling point with little girls). And, hand-in-hand with learning to cheer for the Vikings, you learn to dislike the Packers. This dislike can fall anywhere in a range from mild disdain to all-out abhorrence, but, under no circumstances would a self-respecting Vikings fan cheer for the Packers. The flip version is probably true for kids who grew up cheering for the Packers, learning at a young age that you don't ever cheer for the Vikings. Thus we keep going a great NFL rivalry.
There was a time when having to live with the fact that the Minnesota Vikings' divisional rivals, the Green Bay Packers, had won a Super Bowl seemed like the worst thing in the world--that was 1997.
In 1997 when the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI, it felt like the sports equivalent of some annoying know-it-all finally being right and I knew there would be no living with the Packers fans after that. Led by a gunslinger quarterback from Mississippi named Brett Favre, the Packers beat the New England Patriots 35-21. As a result, my friend Jonathan wore foam cheese on his head and I came to really dislike The Favre. I remember it being tough to endure The Favre's cameo appearance in There's Something About Mary.
The evolution of an attitude after the jump.
But life is funny and years later I found myself cheering for that self-same Brett Favre as he lead the Vikings successfully in 2009 and miserably in 2010. The 2010 Vikings' season was the kind of crazy badness that sounds like the plot of a cheap, trashy novel, and it culminated in the Vikings' toughest divisional rival going to the Super Bowl--again.
However, when the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers won the Super Bowl on February 6, 2011, it wasn't the worst thing I had to endure that particular day. Earlier in the day I attended my beloved uncle's funeral and that genuine loss put the Packers' Super Bowl win in a different perspective than their win in 1997 had been--something other than life and death.
Steeped in Vikings football day in and day out, I tended to forget that I was getting riled up over something that, as wonderful as it is, is simply a preference regarding sports entertainment. That being the case, having a strong divisional opponent and a rich tradition of rivalry simply makes for good entertainment because it adds interest and drama.
Not only does a rivalry make for better entertainment, but a stronger rival makes for a better challenge and a better NFC North division. In 2008 the Vikings were at the top of the NFC North (10-6) but that didn't get them a lot of respect because the division was weak. That was the year the Detroit Lions achieved the dubious perfection of a 0-16 season. The Chicago Bears had a 9-7 record, and Green Bay finished 6-10. The Vikings went on to lose to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. But, a year later in 2009, three of the four NFC North teams improved on their 2008 performance (Chicago fell to 7-9) and the Vikings managed a deep playoff run. The stronger the NFC North is, the more winning against divisional opponents takes on the feeling of "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere."
A worthy foe can actually be an invaluable ally because worthy foes expose weaknesses and force opponents to always bring their A-game. Sherlock Holmes was invigorated (sans cocaine) by trying to outwit the diabolical genius of Professor Moriarty. John Lennon and Paul McCartney's competitive song-writing created some of the most iconic songs of the 1960s and reshaped rock music. The Cold War between the United States and the then U.S.S.R. led to the scientific advancements that ushered in the space program.
In this past year we've witnessed how much the rivalry between the Vikings and Packers can be a catalyst for needed change. While it's likely that Brad Childress' days as the Vikings head coach were already numbered in 2010 after the Randy Moss debacle, it was losing to the Green Bay Packers 31-3 in the Metrodome that prompted his immediate firing. This season, I'm willing to speculate that the prospect of seeing Donovan McNabb under-throw screen passes at home against the Packers may have ushered in the Christian Ponder era.
And, the Packers (via rivalry) may even inadvertently play a small role in helping the Vikings get a stadium. Minnesota's Twin Cities metro-area is considered the 15th-largest media market in the United States, but, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Vikings "attract the fourth-highest television ratings in the league." That interest has helped the Vikings sell-out all of their home games since 1998, which represents a lot of money coming into Minnesota from out of state--a point DN has labored to point out in the Vikings' stadium debate. If it wasn't for great teams participating in great rivalries, I find it hard to believe that the rest of the country would care what happens to a team in the upper midwest.
Sunday I'm going to hope that Chad Clifton being out for the Packers will create opportunities for Jared Allen and Brian Robison. I'm going to cross my fingers and hope that the Vikings secondary doesn't get torched for long plays by Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings. I'm going to hope that Christian Ponder can find a way to ignite a passing game that will keep the Packers from just loading the box against Adrian Peterson. But mostly, I'm going to enjoy watching the latest chapter of one of the best rivalries in the NFL unfold. As corny as it sounds, this rivalry keeps things interesting and makes the Vikings better.