Throughout the team's fifty-year history, the Minnesota Vikings have won their division 18 times, qualified for the playoffs 26 times, reached the NFC Championship game nine times, and played in four Super Bowls. For fans of most professional sports teams, that would represent an astoundingly successful fifty-year run. For the star-crossed Vikings, however, it's been a history of laments.
The Vikings have been favored in all four Super Bowls in which they have appeared, but have failed to win even one, falling in all but one by insurmountable margins by the scoring standards of the day. In five losing Conference Championship games, the Vikings have lost three times as the favorite and twice as the underdog. Against Washington in 1987, Minnesota fell to defeat when Darren Nelson was unable to corral a tough, but catchable pass in the endzone at the end of the game. Against the Atlanta Falcons in 1998, the Vikings depressed fans with perhaps the most improbable loss in team history, with the offense failing where it had not failed during the season, the defense, absent its most important player, falling apart more than most Denny Green-led defenses, and placekicker Gary Andersen, who had not missed a field-goal attempt all season, failing when it mattered most.
The Vikings' championship futility, in front of an ever-loyal fan base, appeared to reach its depths in that home game against Atlanta. Then the Vikings lost in Twins'-like fashion at New York in the infamous 41-0 game.
History has provided many other lamentable and tortuous events for Vikings' fans, but, when the final script is written, it may well be that none prove as cruel as the present. This season might already be the the most disheartening season for Vikings' fans, not because the team has started the season 1-3--given the difficult schedule, Brett Favre's absence for the first two pre-season games, Sidney Rice's injury, the problems with the offensive line, and the absence of Chris Cook and Cedric Griffin, a rough start always seemed plausible, nor because the Vikings have missed several opportunities to be better than they are this year--either by failing to their backup running back issue, failing to fix the offensive line problems, or failing, in game, to move the ball.
What is potentially most disheartening for Vikings' fans this season, and what could stand the test of time as one of the more disheartening eras in team history, are the signs of what might have been. What might have been this year. What might have been before this year.
History is a difficult prism through which to asses the present, because the falling of one different domino generally leads to the falling of another different domino. While one can wonder what the Vikings might have done if Red McCombs had not dumped Randy Moss to avoid what assuredly was a pauper's price given Moss' post-trade production and how the team might look had the Vikings retained Matt Birk and drafted Logan Mankins or Aaron Rodgers in 2005, rather than Troy Williamson or Erasmus James, or how this year's squad would look had the Vikings been able to lure LaDanian Tomlinson to Minnesota, there is not certainly that, with those moves, all other pieces that currently are in place would have been available. With all or even any of these moves, the Vikings probably would be better than they currently are. Probably, but not certainly.
Such considerations are sobering, but not crippling. As evidenced by last season's late push, the Vikings are nothing if not resilient over time. That's been particularly true under the ownership of Zygi Wilf. When the Vikings needed a defensive end, the team made the deal that landed Jared Allen. When the team needed a quarterback (and finally admitted as much), the Vikings signed Brett Favre. And when the team was bereft of top-end talent at wide-receiver, the team traded for Randy Moss. Problems remained along the offensive line and in the third-down backfield, to be certain, but the team's overall condition appeared sound and far superior to that of any of its NFC competition.
Then word broke of Favre's sexual endeavors. Favre neither denied the allegations nor sought an injunction against the publisher of the rumors--two ominous signs in the face of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's history of suspending players for off-field transgressions, illegal or not. Favre's reported tearful apology to his teammates prior to the game against the New York Jets on Monday night seemed to carry over onto the field, where Favre had a Todd Collins-like experience through nearly three full quarters. That was neither discouraging nor disheartening. What followed ought to be crushing to Vikings' fans, and what that is has nothing to do with the outcome of the game.
In attempt to get back into a game in which, by all rights, they should already have been out of, Favre began slinging the ball as he has done so often in the past. On one touchdown pass, he spotted Percy Harvin cutting across the middle of the feed between defenders. The pass had to lead perfectly. It did. Touchdown, Vikings.
That play was nice. Vintage Favre. The prior touchdown was even better, however, and potentially cause for tears from the eyes of all Vikings' fans.
Covered well for most of the night by Jets' cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Randy Moss was even with Cromartie at the goal line when both players vied for leverage. Moss won the battle. Favre provided the payoff, floating a teardrop into Moss' awaiting hands. It was as nice of a play as one can ask of a quarterback and receiver--perfect positioning, perfect delivery in a minuscule opening.
Then, the already preoccupied Favre began clutching his tendonitis-swollen elbow. Instantly, it became clear that what might have been--a Favre to Moss season, bolstered by Adrian Peterson runs, Percy Harvin quick hits, and Visanthe Shiancoe catches up the middle--quickly could become a season of none of that, a season that reverts to the offenses of 2007 and 2008. In one game, the Vikings thus offered both the promise of what might or could have been and the prospect of what might never be. At some point, it has to be too much for Vikings' fans.
It's different for fans of teams like the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Lions. Those fans embrace the loser label. That's what their teams are and what those team nearly always have been. And, most important, they are and have been losers because they have made no effort to be anything but that.
The Vikings, meanwhile, have nearly always tried to be winners. The fans expect such an effort and even the translation to winning. As a consequence, unlike Cubs', Lions' fans, and similarly situated fans, Vikings' fans tend to be all in. They root for the team knowing that their level of support will lead to disappointment if expectations are unfulfilled. Usually, Vikings' fans are betrayed only at the point that signs are favorable. On Monday, with signs having only recently turned more favorable for the team, Vikings' fans suffered yet again. If Favre cannot revive the elbow or if Goodell is compelled to suspend Favre, Vikings' fans might be left to suffer yet another loss in the face of high promise.
Up Next: How I Met My Mother.