Yes, this is somewhat delayed, but as I have relayed it was for good reason: I was spending some excellent time in the Twin Cities on my first ever visit to the holy land, and as I was due to unfortunately return to the state that can't count votes today, I chose to a.) focus on enjoying the time in a real winter with my little girl (who had never prior even seen snow) and b.) enjoy ringing in the New Year before writing this.
And while I didn't get to attend the game, I did get to actually meet Arif face-to-face (Skol Girl, Eric, you both still owe me a meeting) and chat football for about 27 hours before watching THE MOST INSANE GAME OMG WHAT THE HELL EVER at the Pourhouse. And THAT was an experience that I wouldn't trade for the world: singing alongside hundreds of fellow Viking fans "Skol Vikings" every time we scored a TD or nailed a FG, man. Just... man.
You know, it occurs to me: this entire season has been a compliment sandwich. Observe:
Compliment: We start off the season with our rookie kicker who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a sawed off shotgun from ten feet away nailing a 50+ clutch FG to send us to OT, where he nailed another to seal the deal to take out the Jaguars. Sure, we narrowly lost to the resurgent Colts the following week, but we followed it up with a Vikings style beat down of OMG THE BEST TEAM EVAH the 49ers, then went to Detroit and put our foot up the Lions' collective arses before chewing up and spitting out the Titans.
But: Then we laid a major egg against the Redskins, barely beat a horrible Cardinals team before losing to the Buccaneers (AREASDFADFASLDFH), Seahawks, Bears, and Packers. Sure, we beat the Lions in between those embarrassing fiascos, but it's the Lions: they can't do anything right.
That said: Backs against the wall, pretty much out of playoff contention in Week 13, and with a QB who was clearly a complete draft bust WHAT BITCHES WHAT?! THE VIKINGS RAN THE TABLE?! WHAT, WE CURBSTOMPED THE BEARS? OH, THE TEAM THAT CAN'T WIN ON THE ROAD HIT THE ROAD AND KICKED ASS IN ST. LOUIS AND HOUSTON (the other OMG BEST TEAM EVAH)?! Then what, what... that doesn't matter? What's that, we have to beat the Packers (the other other OMG BEST TEAM EVAH DER DER DER) to get into the playoffs? Why, that would never happOH YES, YES IT DID HAPPEN. BLAIR WALSH LADIES AND GENTLEMEN*.
*Yes, the camera angle totally made it look like he missed. I freaked out bad, then freaked out good when the zebras raised their arms straight up.
It's been the mother of all compliment sandwiches when you look at the grand scheme of things. And since we had such an amazing team effort (as coach Frazier himself gave credit to when he gave the game ball to the team as a unit), I have no real negative meat to offer up between buttery crusts of happiness here. Sure, our DBs had a bit of a rough outing at times, as did the punt/ kickoff coverage units, but you know what? Forget it. We're going to do a regular season long compliment sandwich piece here. Pull up a chair, tuck in your napkin like a bib, and chow down.
Compliment: Dear Viking fans, my brothers and sisters, this one is for you. For us because I am no exception. We all want immediate results. We all want to draft Peyton Manning in his prime right away, and enjoy such production from day one. We just don't know how to handle a QBOTF's development because hey, we haven't had one to watch since Daunte Culpepper, and he arguably had a better team to start out with in his time. (At the least, he had Randy Moss to play catch with, the passer's ultimate security blanket.) And this is fine. We are fans, it is our right to bitch and moan and make sweeping judgments of doom.
But: We were so, so wrong about Christian Ponder. Is he ever going to be Peyton Manning in his prime? No, probably not. But he has grown and evolved into the very quarterback we need: the quintessential game manager, the guy who can take care of the ball and keep the chains moving. Between his legs, his quick strikes just past the marker, or a bomb to a streaking Jarius Wright, he's the compliment to that thing in the backfield that wears #28 that this team needs. By and far the most impressive thing I saw on Sunday was the third down situations. Quite often we didn't even line Adrian Peterson up back there... we knew we were going to pass, and we didn't care that the other team knew it, too. Ponder wasn't just picking on stacked boxes and whatnot in many of his great passes, he was daring and challenging a solid Packer's pass defense, and with excellent results.
That said: Look, we all did it. I did it. Not to call out my own fellow writers here, but even Fearless Leader, Ponder's most stringent supporter, quit on him at one point. It's OK. Again, we're fans. It's our right to make mistakes, and to just admit we were wrong and be happy about it.
Compliment: Adrian Peterson is now AP2K. I don't know if you remember this but I predicted that in my prediction piece (with the assistance of course of Professor Loki), but I just wanted to point that out here. (Oh, I also predicted a 10-6 season. Yup.) But AP2K is not just that: he's also now the second leading rusher in NFL history, a mere 9 yards away from a record that was never supposed to be broken. Did I mentioned he did that on a reconstructed knee? Cuz he did.
But: The pessimist in me just really, really believes Peyton Manning will win the MVP. I don't know about CPOY or any other such accolades, but I just have the sinking feeling in my gut that the Broncos' signal caller will get the big kahuna. Now, I have nothing against Manning or the Broncos, but if my fears come to fruition, IMO that just sullies the award forever. Why do I believe that? No particular reason I suppose that's not already out there: Vikings' luck, the NFL's favoritism of QBs, the fact that its Peyton Manning... sigh.
That said: Screw it. Just, screw it. Have you ever seen a football player do what AP has done? If you say "yes", you're a filthy liar. I don't mean any one thing in particular, I mean all of it. The amazing recovery. The insane season. The fact that he's an incredibly freakin' class act who puts team before self, something all too often lost with superstar players. I do care if AP wins the MVP; to say otherwise makes me the liar. But honestly I shouldn't. I just feel incredibly lucky that I've had the immense pleasure of watching this guy in action all these years, and I am looking forward to all the many more years to come.
Compliment: Some of us here are saying we don't care if the Vikings win Saturday in Green Bay. And I can respect that. Indeed, 3-13 to 10-6, bottom feeders to playoff contenders... I can respect it if you're happy enough with that.
But: But also no. No no no. The Vikings are going to make a freaking run at this, if not an outright utter upset that will send Vegas on its filthy head. I for one will not be happy with anything other than a win on Saturday. And I won't be happy with anything other than a win against Atlanta the following week, or a win in the NFCCG, or a win in the Super Bowl. This is it ladies and gentlemen. We're going for it.
That said: Yes, again, there is enough already to call this a ‘won' season for us, and I won't argue with that overall. Let's bask in it for a bit. Our beloved Fearless Purple are grinding away, ready to burn a frozen tundra before heading south to finish what Sherman started. But we fans, we can sit and just bask for a few more days first.
Compliment: Blair Walsh is in the record books, and rightfully a Pro Bowler. I won't go on here about who did and didn't ‘actually' deserve the Pro Bowl; we all know the answers to that. And Adrian Peterson is going to win something. MVP, CPOY, OPY... I dunno what, but he will get something. But there's someone we're forgetting sometimes here: one Mr. Leslie Frazier, who I think truly should have a shot at Coach of the Year.
But: I wrote a bit ago about how I was upset with Frazier for his decision to keep Ponder in the first Green Bay fiasco, and I'll man up and say I was probably wrong. Naturally we can't prove what would have happened otherwise, but let's just accept that the season swung back in our favor afterwards, so let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. (They bite.) However, there is one decision I still can't get over: leaving Percy Harvin in during the Seahawks game when he was already hurt. Would he have gone on IR otherwise? Maybe not, but also maybe anyways. But the point is it served nothing, as the game was very lost at that point. While many of Frazier's "controversial" decisions over the season have left many of us eating platefuls of crow, that one I still say is a blemish.
That said: We all make mistakes and NFL HCs are no exception. But the point is this is a guy who, having taken over the reins of a reeling and focus-less team in a horrific 2010 catastrophe, righted the longship. He kept this team fighting long after any ‘point' to it in 2011. And he did it again this season... right into the playoffs. Lots and lots of coaches have been fired now, and a lot of them because their teams quit on them. I have never once seen a team coached by Leslie Frazier quit. Ever. If that, coupled with the ridiculous turnaround we've enjoyed, doesn't earn him Coach of the Year, I don't know what would.
There it is, ladies and gentlemen. The mother of all compliment sandwiches. This is it. The Minnesota Vikings are in the playoffs, spearheaded by AP2K and championed by an amazingly resurgent Christian Ponder. We have a rubber match against Green Bay rolling up here soon; fellow Floridian Viking fans, I'll see you at the Tilted Kilt again this Saturday, game time. And we're going to cheer a victory. Nothing... NOTHING else.