Following Vikings football has been one of my favorite past-times since the early years of the legends Tarkington, Page, and (Moose) Eller. At one time I only watched the games, yet in recent years as computers and social media have risen in popularity to where they are now, I began to follow the off-season as well, following sites such as DN and others, satisfying my need to see the team progress, especially when the regular season was a loss and the rebuilding phase was continuing behind the scenes. I admit my passion for this game, and my team. Yet my passion goes beyond football, because at the end of the day I don’t worship a game, or an institution built to entertain me, I worship a God who created me to love him before all else. I’m not ashamed to call myself a Vikings fan now at a low point in their history, and I am certainly not ashamed to call myself a follower of Christ Jesus in this time when so many people long for more than what the world offers them, despite the great wealth, entertainment, and need for distraction from lives that are often difficult and hungry for meaning.
As I have read many of the articles on DN and other sites, both by the DN writers and fans who also add their personal insights, I enjoy the new things I learn about the game, and insights into the goings-on within the team. A fan’s common goal is to see the Vikings have success, and even when they aren’t successful in winning, we are offering our plan on what will make them more successful for the future, whether the next game, or next season. At this point I believe the majority of us are staying hopeful for a win against the Bears this next game. Some hope for a close game and a loss, eying the draft next season. Some yet hope for a complete staff turnover immediately and the team to begin a preseason tryout with the remaining regular season games. Everyone wants the win, yet everyone has their own opinion about how that will happen.
To be honest I have wrestled with watching football and following the commentary about the Vikings this year. I go to church on Sundays, and our service runs beyond twelve o’clock. I don’t have the latest in video and satellite technology. I listen to the radio or catch a local station on TV. When I read the comments of writers or readers, much of it is negative and depressing, especially when the season is lost, and the team is struggling to hold things together. So I continue to wrestle with my choices, and wonder if I should just focus my time and attention on other things that encourage me more. It is especially hard this season since watching Vikings football was what I did with my family growing up. It drew us together Sunday afternoons, especially when my parents stopped going to church. It has been a common bond for my own 19 year old son and I, especially now that he has stopped going to church on Sundays himself. I love God, I love my family, and with some of my family, doing what they love is my way of loving them. So how do I love them without being dragged into the pit like so many others are at this rocky time in the Viking’s losing season? Well the answer is I decided to write this article, and see where it would lead me.
Many of you who write and read here are deep thinkers, and have great insights. Arif is a walking encyclopedia of football knowledge, yet every one of us who admires his insights has their own unique perspective, and I see value in each one, even when I don’t always agree. Some really hate Ponder right now, which I understand, but I have a more reasoned attitude, which is in the right setting, with the right OC, and strong D, Ponder could look much better. But he doesn’t have that and so he looks really bad at the times we need him to look good. I pose this thought for you who are Ponder haters, or Musgrave bashers, or Leslie like-him-but-get- rid-of-him fans, or for those of you who have chosen to just turn away in disgust. What are those men feeling right now? If we were them (proper grammar?) what would we want someone to tell us that would help us deal with the downward spiral?
I will admit right here in this very public setting that in the eyes of others there have been times that I have failed to be the success at something that really mattered to me. More than once I have confronted openly what later caused me great hardship. I chose, or maybe God chose for me, that at certain times I will confront wrongs being done to others by those having power to do so. In the work settings I have been in, I have spoken up, and lost jobs because of it. It has hurt me, hurt my family, and cost me much. In the Army, as the gunnery range officer I spoke up to my senior officer who was also my company commander, who had violated a gunnery safety policy during tank training. Because it offended his pride, he began a paper trail that did not end until I transferred out of his company. In my last job I spoke up about OSHA health laws being violated, causing health risks to vulnerable adults living there, which embarrassed my supervisor, who then started a paper trail leading to my being fired. In the eyes of outsiders, these seemed failures on my part, yet I knew I had done what was right, despite the cost. No one without the knowledge I had would know this. I struggled each time with how to handle such outward defeats.
Who knows what happens behind closed doors of an NFL franchise? Who knows what goes on behind the closed doors of another person's life? Only one knows. He is God, and he judges right from wrong, evil and good. Leslie Frazer is a good man. Who knows what has happened to him so that he could not control that makes him look unsuccessful? Christian Ponder is young, inexperienced, and when he struggles with confidence he plays badly. Yet he has a supervisor who is timid and pulls back when faced with uncertainty and/or a team that seems to be on the ropes. Bill Musgrave knows far more about football than any of us, (or most of us) yet who knows why he struggles to finish what he begins so well? Very bright men can often struggle with the unknowns that they cannot foresee. Does this make them worthy of our anger and disrespect? Or does this give us the right, even as fans, to judge them as failures, not worthy of common decency and respect?
What do we honor? Who deserves our respect? Who do we worship? Most do not think through these questions, and most do not have an easy answer. Most of us desire to be people who are successful, respected, having integrity, honesty, trustworthiness. Yet when the chips are down, and we fail in the eyes of others, even those closest to us, my experience has shown me that when we don’t have a clear answer to these questions we will have nothing on which to stand that will support us in the storm. We will be shipwrecked without a lifeboat. This is what the Vikings team is facing now. Three different players have recently stepped outside the law during this time of trial, challenged in their core values and falling to new lows. Conversely, Adrian Peterson's little boy was killed and despite this tremendous blow, AP put on his game face and went back to work, grieving, but trusting his God. Every coach, every player, the GM, the owners, and we as the fans face a difficult challenge. The team is floundering in the waves, and success has seemed to pass us by. What can we trust now that we cannot win as we hoped, and success seems a fading dream?
Years ago when my life was on the rocks, I was leaving my Army life and career, leaving a marriage, without a plan, having no vision, my little brother spoke to me and told me about Jesus. I had rejected the gospel for years. Yet this time I heard him tell me that this simple carpenter, who is God, gave His life for me, and offered me His. I took it, like a rope tangling from the ship that could have passed me by. And since that day, my life is not the same. I know who I am, what I believe, what I honor, what I respect, and Who I worship. I do not say this so that you will do the same. But I will tell you now that I am no different than you. I want success and happiness as you. I want my life to make a difference like you do. You may be much more successful in life than I have been, have much more to show for it. Yet now my life is not measured by what I own, my bank account, the number of friends I have, my football IQ, how good looking my wife is, or what this world calls successful. My success is simply that I call myself a friend of God, and at the end of the day, when so many things have gone differently than I hoped, I still have peace, and I still believe tomorrow will be better. And I can honor you, and understand the struggle you have when your own ship is sinking. I now believe it will be better when the morning comes, not because the Vikings will win again, but because God has said it will.