Hey everybody. I know a lot of you have come to appreciate my father's wit and wisdom these last couple of seasons via the Stock Market Report and Twitter. It's been fun for him, and I've gotten a kick out of all the great feedback.
But things might be a little different for this season, and we may or may not have the Don Glover Quote of the Week, for reasons that will be apparent once you read this.
December 28th, 1975, Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, Minnesota: The Minnesota Vikings have fielded one of the best teams in their relatively short history. They have one of the best offenses and defenses in the NFL, and roared through their regular season schedule at 12-2. They drew home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and their opponent was the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys had a good team, but the Vikings were better, and at home. It was a tough game, but late in the fourth quarter, the Vikings went on an epic drive to take the lead at 10-7, giving the Cowboys little time to march for a game tying or game winning score.
With time winding down, QB Roger Staubach launched a prayer from around midfield. Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson hauled in the pass and scored what was a miraculous touchdown (ask any Vikings fan, and to this day, Pearson pushed off the defender) and the term ‘Hail Mary' became part of the NFL lexicon.
I was eight years old, watching the game with my father. As the game progressed, he got up to pace-my father always paced when the Vikings games were tight-a look of worry on his face. He was standing in front of the TD when Pearson scored, and as Metropolitan Stadium fell silent, my father sat in stunned silence. I was on the verge of tears.
"Son", my father said, "this was their best shot. If they were ever going to win a Super Bowl, this was it. The window is closing."
The Vikings would make it to Super Bowl XI the following year, but the vaunted Purple People Eaters were old and they were pushed around by a bigger and younger Oakland Raiders team. They haven't returned to the Super Bowl since.
Their window had closed.
The Minnesota Vikings weave through my family, much like the Mississippi river weaves through the center of the United States. My father became a Vikings fan in 1961, and has followed them every year since then. Because of him, I became a Vikings fan in the early 1970's, and still am to this day. For better or worse, I will be a Vikings fan until the day that I die. Because of him, I have a daughter that is a Vikings fan, and because of him my grandsons will be Vikings fans, at least if I have anything to say about it.
I don't remember the real early years of the Bud Grant era; I was only two when the Vikings played Kansas City in Super Bowl IV. But my father tells me I saw that game with him, and other than diaper changes and a nap, I didn't miss a play. When I got old enough to play, he enrolled me in Pee Wee football, showed me how to put on my pads, and would help me practice getting into a three point stance.
Growing up with my father wasn't always easy, as he is an old school guy through and through. You are either right or wrong, and there is no gray area. If you are not on his side of the argument, then you are against him, and henceforth you are an idiot. He has never met a dumb Republican, a smart Democrat, and there is no doubt in his mind that Harry P. ‘Bud' Grant is the best coach in NFL history. It's not up for debate, folks, so don't even try. As a man, your duty in life is to work hard, provide for your family, and don't bitch and whine. If you get knocked down or you find yourself on the wrong end of an ass kicking, physical or metaphorical, drive on. Head up, eyes forward, into the wind. Bud Grant did. Work harder, and things will turn out all right.
Because of my father's viewpoint, and because I am his only child, his expectations for me were the same. My mother let me have pretty much free reign to do what I pleased, and I did some things that got me in trouble. When she could no longer control me (they divorced when I was 10 or 11), my father took me in at the age of 16, and jerked a serious knot in my chain. I hadn't played football in a couple years, so the day I got to Columbus, Ohio, he drove me over to the school, found the football coach, and told him I was going to be one of his new players. He didn't really ask, but just sort of told the coach we just moved here-that day-and his son wanted to play football.
Mind you, he didn't ask me, either. The coach shook his hand, told one of the other players to show me to the locker room to get fitted for equipment, and told my father when practice was over so he could pick me up. When we got home, he asked me what position I was going to play, and what number I was going to wear.
"Cornerback, and they gave me 44," I said.
"Chuck Foreman's number. See if you can't get 20, or 43. You should only wear Foreman's number if you're going to be a running back." Those were the numbers of Bobby Bryant and Nate Wright, respectively, two long time starters for the Vikings during the heyday of the Purple People Eaters (Wright was the cornerback Drew Pearson pushed off of-and yes, Pearson DID push off).
My father was not a violent man growing up, but he didn't hesitate to hand out an ass whipping if it was warranted, and I hit the ass whipping lottery pretty regularly. He puts the fear of God into me to this day, because of things like this:
About a week after I got there, I had made a couple friends and I was going to go golfing. So I was cleaning out my bag in the living room, and I had emptied some pockets, one of which contained a pouch of Beech Nut leaf chewing tobacco. While I was cleaning stuff, my father nonchalantly walked in.
"Hey son. What are you doing?"
"Oh...really? Did you ask me if you could go?"
"Uh, no. I never had to with mom."
My father got down on one knee, eye to eye, lowered his voice, and in the calmest, yet scariest voice I have ever heard, said:
"I don't give two holy shits how your mother did things. This is my house, and you will abide by my rules. Now, I didn't clarify this, so you get a pass this time. Go golfing and have a good time. But don't you ever presume you can do anything...ever...without my approval."
Then he picks up my bag of Beech Nut, stands up, and says:
"And if I ever see this shit or any kind of tobacco in my house again, it's the end of you. The end. Are we clear?"
"Have fun. Hope you break 90."
I can't remember what I shot, but to this day, I've never bought another pouch of Beech Nut.
As a teenager, I would rebel. As you can see, my father would always crush the rebellion, and he would take no prisoners. At times, that leads to hard feelings and resentment. That was because his son was a moron back then and thought he knew everything, and didn't need his father around. Or so he told him. And it was during those periods that we had no way to communicate, my father put away the swords and found a bridge to the negotiating table; our Panmunjom if you will.
It was the Minnesota Vikings.
He would say something fairly innocuous, like "what did you think of the draft?" Or, "how do you think they'll do against the Bears this week?"
That was my father, starting the dialogue, refusing to let the window between him and his son close.
January 17th, 1999, Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minnesota: The Minnesota Vikings, led by rookie sensation Randy Moss and a rejuvenated Randall Cunningham, have torched the entire NFL, going 15-1. They faced a good Atlanta Falcons team, but the Falcons were no match for the Vikings. After so many disappointments and heartbreaks, we both felt that this was the year. I had joined the military and moved away, but I spoke to my father at least twice a week. In almost every conversation, whether we were talking about serious topics or goofy ones, we always talked about the Vikings.
When I was stationed overseas, he would give me a full recap on things going on with the team. I got stationed in Alabama about halfway through the '98 season, he had retired to Florida, and we were on the phone constantly during the game. When the Vikings got the ball in the fourth quarter and started driving, I called him. We watched on TV together, over the phone. He cursed Robert Smith for running out of bounds, and when Gary Anderson missed his now infamous field goal attempt, my father took cursing to a rarified level that I think is worthy of some kind of swear word award. At some point, it became too much and we hung up. After the game ended on Morten Andersen's field goal, I sat alone in my living room, too stunned to comprehend what happened. The phone rang. We didn't have call waiting, but I knew who it was.
"Bud Grant would have won that game. Goddamn Denny Green taking a knee. This might have been the best team the Vikings ever had, and I don't know that Cunningham can do this again. I think the window just closed, son."
The Vikings made the playoffs in '99, and the NFC Championship again in 2000, but those teams weren't anywhere near as good as that '98 team.
Once again, the window had closed.
By 2008, things had changed. I had become a man, and my father was now in his late 70's. I think he had come to respect me on my own terms, and the way I could tell was the now infrequent use of the word ‘idiot' when referring to me. I had married and had children, and granddaughters tend to mellow hardscrabble men in a way nothing else really can. His health had gotten to the point he could no longer stay in his house in Florida, and bouts of serious pneumonia and colon cancer had given him a ‘new normal'. Physically, he couldn't do the things he once was capable of, but mentally, he was as sharp as ever. He moved up to where I lived, just outside of St. Louis.
He lived with us for a little bit, and then eventually moved into an assisted living facility literally one block away and around the corner from my house. By now, technology was able to feed our Vikings fandom; I had purchased the DirecTV Sunday Ticket and my father and I were now able to watch every game together. We watched the 2008 season together, and that was the first time we had been able to see every Vikings game together since I was a little kid.
My father deemed Brad Childress ‘an idiot', and Tarvaris Jackson ‘maybe the worst quarterback we've ever had. Well, except maybe Sean Salisbury. I always thought he was terrible.'
But in 2009, the Vikings signed Brett Favre and went all in for a Super Bowl run, and my father and I knew we were in for something special. I can't explain it, but we both knew. We both bought Favre jerseys, and the Vikings were coming to St. Louis. We got handicapped seating, which put us right on the goal line. We saw Jared Allen return a fumble for a TD, Brett Favre throw a TD pass to Visanthe Shiancoe, and we saw Adrian Peterson leap over the pile for a score, on our end of the field.
The Vikes steamrolled the hapless Rams, and as I was wheeling my dad out of the Edward Jones Dome in his wheelchair, he kind of became an unofficial mascot for Vikings fans. There were a ton of purple and gold clad people, and damn near every one of them high fived him on the way out. It got to the point where he just kept his hand up; by the time we got to the car it was red from all the handslaps. The Vikings were on a roll.
January 24th, 2010, Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana: The Minnesota Vikings, led by a rejuvenated Brett Favre, find themselves two minutes from the Super Bowl. Despite miscues and mistakes, the Vikings have outplayed the Saints in every other aspect of the game, they are tied 31-31, with one of the best come from behind quarterbacks in NFL history at the helm. It seems like fate is going to finally smile on the Minnesota Vikings and her long suffering fans.
"Well son, this is why we got Favre. It all comes down to this."
With the Vikings driving, once again fate steps in, this time in the form of a 12 men in the huddle penalty, and then Favre's across the field interception. New Orleans wins the game in overtime without the Vikings ever seeing the ball. I am crushed, as it was the last realistic chance the Vikings had of winning the Super Bowl in my Dad's lifetime. I knew it; he knew it.
Anyways, as I dropped my Dad off at his place and got him comfortable, I put on some polka music for him (if you're not down with the Six Fat Dutchmen, my friend, you're not down) and just...lingered...for a minute or two. I wanted to cry, and I think he did too, as the realization of what wasn't going to happen started to hit us. But, as always, he had it figured out long before his ignorant son did.
"Well, son, you can't win them all."
"No Dad, you can't. But it would be nice to win one."
"It was a helluva run. I had a great time watching the games with you this year. Who woulda thought Brett Favre was going to be our quarterback?"
"Who woulda thought, Pop?"
"Give me a hug and go home. The sun will come out tomorrow. Might snow a little bit, but we'll live."
"I'm sorry the Vikings didn't win, Dad."
"Son, I know if it was up to you, they would have won the Super Bowl. Just wasn't meant to be. Go home, I'll see you tomorrow."
The Vikings put all their chips on the table with Favre. They dropped to 6-10 in 2010, and cratered in 2011. Every week, my father and I watched the games, win or lose, hoping against hope.
Once again, their window had closed.
Earlier this summer, I was given an opportunity to interview Vikings coach Bud Grant, and my thoughts immediately turned to my Dad. He would be really excited, and as soon as I had finished the interview, I went over to his place to tell him the good news.
"Dad, you'll never guess who I just got off the phone with, doing an interview for Daily Norseman."
"Bud Grant," I said, lingering a bit between the first and last name, for full, maximum effect.
My dad had become quite the comedian in retirement. He was also a little hard of hearing now.
"BUD GRANT, funny man," I said a little bit louder.
My father looked at me with his trademark ‘what the hell are you talking about look' on his face.
"Son, who's that?"
My father had no idea who I was talking about. After a couple trips to the doctor, he was diagnosed with dementia, and it will eventually lead to Alzheimer's disease. The doctor pulled me aside and told me, and I had to be the one to break it to him. It struck me, at that moment, all the things he had taught me over the years were things I was going to have to do with him-give it to him straight up, in black and white, as there is no gray area with this disease, and what the end result will be.
He was his typical self when I told him. There were no tears, there was no bitching and moaning, only a matter of fact assessment.
"Well son, I've lived a good life. I want to stay on my own as long as I can, and then when I can't, we'll cross that bridge when we get there, I guess."
A few days ago, I noticed things are getting a little worse for my father. Things that happened a couple days ago he had trouble remembering, and he was having difficulty finishing his thoughts when he was speaking. Then I thought about the ‘Panmunjom' trick he used to play on me, and I wondered if his disease would allow him to cooperate.
I started talking about the Vikings, and he seemed to snap right out of it. We talked about the 49ers game, the regular season opener, the new stadium, and the 2013 season.
Some folks say the Vikings Super Bowl window might be opening, depending on the play of Christian Ponder and a trio of three first round draft picks.
For my father, his window is closing, little by little, every day. And it's not going to open up again.
But we will use the Vikings and their 2013 season as a crowbar to help keep his window open for as long as we can.
And we drive on, head up, eyes forward, into the wind. No bitching and moaning allowed.