Hi kids. Come on over here, gather ‘round. We need to have a talk.
Most of you are waiting for the next shoe to drop, aren’t you? I get it. We’ve all been there. If you’ve been a fan of this franchise for literally any length of time that starts from 2016 back, you have a moment that you can hold up and say, almost with pride, ‘this is when they broke my heart, and cynicism took over.’ Because you have now been baptized in the fire of Vikings failure, just like your parents, and their parents before them.
Some of you have more than one of those moments, and hey, if you follow me on Twitter, or go back and read older posts or comments on here, I’m just as guilty as the next person. I’ve got a half dozen, and I’ve come to use cynicism and pessimistic humor to keep me insulated from what has always been the inevitable collapse. So I’m not here claiming any moral superiority about being the ever eternal optimist, because my heartbreak goes back to the 1970’s, to three of the four Super Bowls and the Drew Pearson Hail Mary (my other two are ‘87 and ‘98, if you were wondering).
I’m here to say I’m done with my belief in cosmic curses. It’s time to put those feelings aside...while you continue to wear the same socks, jerseys, and underwear on Sunday against the Panthers. You gotta respect the streak, man (some NSFW language in that clip if you play it, fair warning).
It’s easy to play the ‘woe is me’ game with this franchise, especially since Dennis Green was fired in 2001. Denny took the Vikings to the playoffs in eight of his almost 10 seasons from ‘92-01, and from 1968-2000, the Vikings were in the playoffs 23 of 33 seasons. It was an amazing run, for the most part, but since Green left, the Vikings have only been to the playoffs five times, and have only two wins.
Two wins in 17 years makes it easy to predict doom and gloom. Two wins in 17 years makes it easy to look for the other shoe to drop. Two wins in 17 years makes it easy to blame the refs (officiating all over the NFL is legit bad though). Two wins in 17 years makes it easy to think there are invisible forces robbing this franchise of the one thing we want more than all else.
You guys know I’m a huge fan of this franchise, but I’m a fan of Occam’s Razor too, which says, basically, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Because the flip side to bad luck, bad calls, or cosmic conspiracies is that this team just wasn’t good enough.
That’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true. For basically the 21st century, this team, by and large, has been bad. 2017 will be only the sixth year since 2001 that the Vikings will finish above .500.
Between coaching staffs, poorly constructed rosters, outdated offensive and defensive schemes, or a lack of depth at critical positions, (and it was usually a combination of all of those things) the Vikings couldn’t match up to the best the NFL had to offer. Oh sure, maybe a game here and there, but consistently? No.
So at critical moments, whatever their weakness was, it was exposed. Either during the regular season, repeatedly, or in the rare playoff appearance.
But when you look at this 2017 team, it’s as complete a team as I can remember, going back to the Purple People Eaters. They have a top five offense, and a top five defense. It’s a team that has an incredible homefield advantage, they are currently the top seed in the NFC, and they play complementary football as well as any team that has worn the purple and gold laundry.
What do I mean by complementary football? The offense and the defense feed off of each other, and they don’t rely too heavily on one unit to carry the team and win the game. If the offense needs to stay on the field and give the defense a rest, they do. If the defense needs to get a stop and get the ball back to the offense, they do. There aren’t very many three and out drives for the Vikings offense, much less back to back three and outs. The offense has also become one of the best in the NFL in the red zone this year, giving the defense touchdowns and bigger leads to protect, not field goals and smaller margins for error.
Just for one example, I went back and looked at the play by play charts for all 12 games, and I counted 23 drives that went three plays and then a punt for the Vikings offense. Of those, only three times did the offense go three and out in consecutive drives, giving the defense little to no rest—Steelers (loss), Bears (win), and Packers (win). It should be noted that in the first Lions game at home, a loss, the Vikings opened the second half by going three plays with a lost fumble, one play with a lost fumble, and then three and out. And in the Bears game, the Vikings offense went three and out on the first three drives of the game, with the last drive resulting in a safety for the Bears.
That’s it. And as a result, the Vikings haven’t lost since that first Lions game. In that time, they’ve won five straight road games, something that hasn’t happened since 1974, the heyday of the Purple People Eaters. They’ve played nine games against teams that are at .500 or better, and have gone 7-2 in those games.
This team plays good football, in all phases of the game, and they win in any manner you want. Shootout? Sorry Washington. Meat grinding dogfight? Too bad, Atlanta. When nothing seems to be going right? Adios, Chicago. Big game with enormous playoff implications riding on the outcome for both teams? Happy Thanksgiving, Detroit.
This franchise has a proud history, but no doubt a star crossed one. But it’s history, and what happened in 1975, or 1987, 1998, or 2009 has no bearing on what happens in 2017. I have quit looking back on those unfulfilled seasons with disappointment. No, the ending wasn’t what we wanted, but all those seasons gave us some incredible memories, and accept them at face value now, not what could have been.
For a few years I’d tell myself ‘I’d rather not even go to the playoffs than go and lose’ because of those past moments, but no, not anymore. That’s a loser’s lament, and I’m sick and tired of it. I’m done with the jinx excuse, I’m done with the ‘refs screwed us’, I’m done with the ‘well injuries killed us’ (even though they really did last year on the o-line, because that was nuts, man).
I’m going all in with this team. All my chips are on the table, and whatever happens, happens. I like this team, and I’m going to enjoy this run, because I think it’s gonna be for more than just a season or two.
PS—Just ixnay on the Upersay Owlbay Alktay until it happens, okay?