DATELINE: EDEN PRAIRIE, MN
There is plenty of room available on the Minnesota Vikings bandwagon. In fact, after an 0-2 start that has the team mired in last place of the NFC North preseason standings, there might not be anyone left to even drive the bandwagon.
"That's it. I'm done. After more than 40 years of cheering for this garbage team, I'm out. That crap preseason game against the Bills pushed me over the edge," exclaimed former Vikings fan Jeff Zerbak. The downtrodden die-hard was part of a group of protesters outside of the team's Winter Park office Monday morning. Zerbak was burning his replica #80 Cris Carter jersey. "I wore this CC jersey nearly every day for 23 years," he explained. "I never thought I'd get rid of it but that awful performance on Friday made it easy. I suppose the smell and the fact that it had turned a weird lavender color after washing it hundreds of times made it a little easier to get rid of too. And I guess the team's new uniforms made my Carter jersey look even more ridiculous to wear in public. But mostly it was because the Vikes looked so terrible in Buffalo."
Zerbak definitely isn't alone in his sudden change of heart. The Vikings Locker Room store in the Mall of America has reported a grand total of 17 customers since the Vikings' 20-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Friday. "And all but one of those were returns," claimed store manager Josie Larssen. "The only sale we made was a Vikings flask. The guy told me that he was going to need it to numb the pain of switching from the Vikings to the Packers."
It appears that the Vikings Locker Room's lone buying customer will have some company in switching allegiances. "I grew up hating the Packers with a passion," explained protester and lifelong Minnesota resident Oliver Olson. "But at least Green Bay won a goshdarn preseason game this year! Meanwhile we got Ponder going 2-for-38 so far for like negative 3 yards and 14 interceptions...I hate to do it, but I gotta switch." [Editor's note: Christian Ponder is actually 6/13 for 68 yards and 1 interception thus far in the preseason.]
The divisive situation at quarterback is easily the biggest reason for the mass exodus of Vikings fans. "Ponder is the WORST!" shouted Mike Gustafson, proudly displaying his personalized "CP7 SUX" Minnesota license plate around his neck at the protest. "They say these games don't count, but we all know that they do. The guy could only complete six passes in two whole games! Even Donovan McNabb had better numbers than that. As long as Ponder is still on the team, I can't be a fan."
Not even the Vikings' star players and promising rookies can keep fans from leaving in droves. Protester Erik Sundegaardsen explained:
"Oh sure, they got Adrian Peterson which is nice, but not even AP can win games one on eleven. Kyle Rudolph is pretty good but he can't throw the darn ball to himself now can he? I like Jared Allen but he kills the salary cap and he's 100% leaving next year no matter what. I s'pose that Harrison Smith fella is decent too but the rest of the secondary is garbage since Antoine Winfield left. Those rookies look decent I guess but by the time they get up to speed we'll already be out of the playoffs. After that all we do is get washed-up players from Green Bay. I might as well just get some yard work done on the weekends instead of watching the Vikes lose preseason game after preseason game."
Most NFL fans dismiss the preseason as largely meaningless outside of filling out the tail end of rosters. Sundegaardsen and his fellow fans that have now sworn off the team disagree. "Sure, they say these games don't mean anything but we know better. We've seen the starters for like six series now--if they looked that bad over six series, it's pretty obvious that they're going to look that bad over 16 regular season games. It's simple math. Watch out 2008 Lions, you're going to have some company." (The 2008 Lions are the only NFL team in history to go 0-16.)
The exact number of remaining Vikings fans worldwide is now estimated at a paltry 37, according to a thorough scientific study conducted by a WordPress Vikings blog that has three posts since February 2008. The dwindling numbers of Vikings fans has resulted in a huge PR push by the team. Director of Corporate Communications Jeff Anderson sent out a press release this week announcing "Please Come Back Night" at the Mall of America Field. The promotion is scheduled for their upcoming Week 4 preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. "The first 100 fans in the Metrodome that night will get $250 gift cards to Manny's Steak House in downtown Minneapolis. They will also receive a full Vikings authentic uniform including helmet, pads, and alternate purple pants," Anderson explained. "If we don't get 100 fans we'll just leave a trail of the gift cards that lead into Gate H, which might trick a few people into watching the game for a few minutes and helping our attendance numbers."
It remains to be seen whether or not only 37 fans can support an entire NFL franchise, especially when some of those fans don't have much disposable income. Hallie Johnson, a 7-year-old that came to the protest with her father, claims that she still supports the team. "I don't really like football, but my favorite color is purple so I like the Vikings," said Johnson. When asked if she plans on buying season tickets: "I dunno. I get $5 a week for my allowance. I have almost 27 dollars saved up now. After I buy the new Barbie doll will that be enough for tickets?"