Well, we're swimming in the circular porcelain confluence of another season that is the life of a Minnesota Vikings fan. We don't get many great seasons to remember, and rarely get two in a row. We do get some great days, days that will never leave our memories for as long as we endure as fans.
My greatest day as a Vikings fan came in August 1998. The Vikings traveled to Charlotte for a preseason game with the Panthers, and my buddy Eric Young, a law student and a Dolphins fan, bought us two tickets. I drove us the three hours from my Virginia home down I-77 for my first major sports stadium experience at age 26. This was the third game of the pre-season, and I knew I would see extended time from the starters.
The Panthers' field was still relatively new, and they were just in their fourth season in the league. It was a glorious August evening, not too hot, clear and no chance of rain. The Carolina fans were boisterous but friendly. We met Panthers cheerleaders who were stationed around every corner and seemed not to mind my purple gear. The black statues of panthers greeted us as we walked into the main stadium lot.
We quickly found our seats which were toward the top at the south endzone near the 10-yard-line. We enjoyed hot dogs and beer, caught up on girls and life in general, and watched the teams warm up. I pointed out the Vikings' first round draft pick from the spring, a kid named Randy Moss, and some of the other key Vikings players.
Everything about the evening was great until just before kickoff. A group of seven already-drunken Panthers fans, four guys and three gals, jostled in at the last minute, all wearing Panthers gear and each carrying two beers. They were loud, rowdy and ready to pick on any Vikings fans - and there were more than you'd expect in our section. They cussed, they smoked (in a non-smoking stadium), grew drunker and more profane, and seemed to care less about the game than turning our little corner into a rolling insult-and-badger session. They were up and down all game, going to get more beer, frequently spilling it on themselves and their neighbors, growing more and more obnoxious.
By the third quarter, I had enough and was ready to leave. But the game was close. I endured. Cunningham and Culpepper both played, and the Moss kid had a couple of spectacular catches. As the game drew to a close, though, the game was tied at 22 and the Panthers were driving. They had a great field goal kicker, John Kasay, and they were approaching field goal range. The Vikings second-and-third team defenders didn't break, though, and kept the field goal attempt a long one.
One of the obnoxious fans in front of me got up and high-fived all his buddies, looking a me the whole time, and shouted "Kasay's got this one in the bag, man! He's MONEY! MONEY, BABY, MONEY!" His buddies high-fived him back and reiterated "MONEY, BABY! MONEY!"
Time was nearly expired as Kasay lined up the kick in front of a cheering stadium, preparing to kick to the goalpost in our endzone, giving us a perfect side view. The stadium seemed to get louder as they cheered their kicker on as he tried to deliver a win. The ball was snapped, and Kasay let it fly.
My buddy Eric says it seemed like the stadium became quiet as a tomb from the time the ball left the kicker's hold, like everyone there drew in a breath at the same time. The next sound anybody heard was the sound of Kasay's kick clanging against the right upright and bouncing back into the playing field.
Eric says the stadium stayed so quiet that the only thing you could hear in the stadium was me, as I jumped to my feet and pointed at the Panthers fans in front of me and, at the top of my lungs, shouted "MONEY, BABY! MONEY!" That was their cue to leave. They did. Quickly, as though I had sucked all the enjoyment out of their day. With empty seats in front of us, we watched the Vikings drive down in overtime to let Gary Anderson kick a field goal to win, 25-22. As glorious as the 1998 season was for the Vikings, I always go back to that pre-season tilt when I think of that team.
I've seen the Vikings play in person one time since, in Nashville against the Titans. I've watched as many games on television as I can, and listen to Paul Allen and company via satellite radio. I've rejoiced and sorrowed alongside you from this far outpost of Vikings fandom. But I have never again had a day like that joyful summer evening in Charlotte. I hope to experience another day like it one February night before I die. That's my hope, and that's the reason why I keep returning to watch the Vikings, one miserable but hopeful season at a time.