As blue as the purple can make us
By Bruce Strand, 2004
Okay, after a week to simmer down, some reflections on the Vikings’ ill-fated campaign of 2003:
Since their inception in 1961 I’ve followed the Vikings every game of every season and can not recall a more traumatic loss than the Disaster in the Desert of this past Sunday, considering how much was at stake, how certain the victory appeared, and how undistinguished the opponent was.
I could not have told you before last Sunday whether Josh Mckown was an Arizona quarterback or an Archies comic strip character, but this no-name somehow managed two disputed fourth-down touchdown passes, sandwiched around an onside kick that was bumped by Vince Lombardi’s ghost into the Cardinals’ hands, and suddenly the Packers are in the playoffs and we’re not, after leading the division until the final 0:00 of the season.
I was at Met Stadium in the left-field upper deck in 1975 when Dallas stole a Super Bowl trip from the Vikings as Drew Pearson got away with a push-off against Nate Wright to catch the winning touchdown — which produced the loudest silence I have ever heard, which would have been matched last Sunday except that I viewed the game at the Mall’s big sports bar where dozens of delirious Packer fans doubled our gloom by shrieking in astonishment at their incredible good fortune.
At least in the 1975 game, and in the 1998 NFC finals when the Vikes blew a 14-point lead and lost in OT after Gary Anderson missed a field goal for the first time all season (further proof that the conspiracy against the Vikings goes considerably higher than the officials), the Vikings were facing strong teams in meat grinder contests that were nip-and-tuck throughout the second half. On Sunday, by contrast, the lost to one of the worst teams in the NFL despite taking a 17-6 lead into the final two minutes.
No, this was the most crushing off all. Admittedly, the 2003 Vikings had too many holes to go deep into the playoffs anyway, but with their first playoff berth since 2000 and a good chance for a first-round home victory, it would have been so sweet to shout at our purple, “All is forgiven! Scroll!” Instead, another exasperating season-ending loss to ache over.
So, where from here? It’s tempting to put a positive spin on things by remembering that 9-7 is a nice step up from last year’s 6-10, and that better things my lie ahead, what with a good young core on both sides of the ball plus plenty of salary cap room.
But it’s difficult to get comfortable with that notion. You can’t help but feel apprehensive that a stigma, a stain, will linger on a group that suffered such a collapse. It could be difficult for the Vikings to shake off this season, especially the way it ended, and move to the next level.
The current Vikings have plenty go stellar athletes and capable coaches, but there’s something troubling about the mix, the karma, with an aggregation that can start 6-0 but fail to make the playoffs, that can go 4-2 against playoff teams but 0-4 against the league’s four 4-12 team, that performs at drastically lower levels on grass than indoors, that can produce eight sacks and five forced-fumbles, as they did against Arizona, and still manage to lose a game they had to win.
I think most Viking fans personally like Mike Tice and his staff, and we have leapt out of our seats many times to cheer the exploits of Culpepper, Moss, Smith, the three Williams,’ Hovan, Kleinhasser and the rest, and we want to keep pinning our hopes on them until something good happens. But is there any reason to believe the same group next year will be any less maddening? Will they finally figure out that the game is roughly the same on grass as it is on turf? Can they focus on the task at hand enough to stop leading the league in penalties? Can they learn to bear down all season and avoid dropping off a cliff from one week (Kansas City win) to the next (Arizona?). Vexing Viking questions all.
But one plus for the Vikings is that their loyal fans never seem to learn from experience, either. We’ll all be back in September, naively optimistic about another season.