The Grand Delusion
Vikings Football Returns
This is a story I wrote a while back about the Vikings and will publish it again this year (as I do each season), because it captures the particular aggravation of being a Minnesota football fan. And this was before the QB refused to be vaccinated. Good grief.
Football season begins today. As a Minnesota Vikings fan I cannot say I’m looking forward to it. I would prefer to not like football, I even say I don’t like it. But, to my shame, I watch NFL Red Zone every Sunday I’m in New York. The Vikings have a history of moderate but not triumphant success. They had the great Alan Page, (post-football career as a Minnesota State Supreme Court judge: amazing), they had Fran Tarkenton (post-football career as a crank: not as amazing) and they had Randy Moss, one of the most dynamic athletes of the last fifty years. But sadly, and more importantly, they are the losers of four Super Bowls. Last year, against the Buffalo Bills, the other 0-4 Super Bowl team, the Vikings lost a game that they were favored to win by over twenty points. Since the advent of the point spread no NFL team has been favored by that many points and then lost. That weirdly tragic symmetry is a Vikings hallmark.
Your team is sad? You like the Detroit Lions? Please. Don’t start. The Lions are merely awful. They’re perhaps the most boring team in sports which wouldn’t be bad except their boringness is inflicted on the rest of the country every Thanksgiving. But awful is not the same as painful. Awful is not having a date to the prom. Painful is asking a girl who said she likes you to the prom and then she goes to the prom with the Green Bay Packers. That’s pain. You have to approach the promised land and be denied in the most improbable, even diabolical, way. The Vikings have raised that to an art form.
Most famously, their kicker (who shall remain nameless), who hadn’t missed a kick all year, missed a kick that would have taken them to the Super Bowl. In a different NFC Championship they lost to the Saints in overtime, a dastardly game that led to the rule change the following year, since the Vikes never touched the ball in OT. For symmetry they’ve been also been blown out, 41-0, to a team led by Kerry Collins, one of the worst quarterbacks to ever make a Super Bowl. The Vikings were favored in that game too (the offense didn’t even touch the ball until they were down 14-0). Each of these losses hurt differently, yet they all felt peculiarly Vikingseqsue. All unhappy teams are unhappy in their own way.
About the only thing that is good is that now I don’t have to go in public to watch the games. Twenty years ago, when I moved to New York, there’s no way to say it: The Vikings were awesome. Randy Moss was is in his prime. We were unused to such an exciting team and we wanted to watch it play every week. The Giants would be the CBS game, so to watch the games my friend Sean, fellow suffering Minnesotan, would head to Bar None on Second Avenue. We chose this bar at random, but it turned out to be a Vikings bar, more or less. They showed all the games but the Vikings game was on the largest screen with the sound on. There was a crazy man named Joe, who had a mustache and a mullet, or a haircut that suggested mullet sympathies. Joe was in his mid-forties and would scream at the screen when the Vikings had one of their typical collapses (in those days these often happened against the Buccaneers who were then still in our division, coached by traitorous Tony Dungy, our former defensive coordinator).
Now we all pretended that we were embarrassed by Joe’s outbursts. Nobody really knew who he was or what he did during the week, it’s like he lived for this game and he came alone in an old jersey. When they blew a game he slammed down his drink, pointed at the screen and hollered, and I mean hollered, FUCK YOU. It wasn’t clear who he was addressing. It might have been our team, the opposing team, the announcers. Maybe it was the football gods. Then he would walk right out onto Second Avenue. We waited a polite amount of time, we didn't want to run into him in case he was smoking outside, and then we left too. A wasted Sunday, the light was gone, our money spent on Guinness we didn’t need. There was nothing left to say. Actually there was more left to say because over the last twenty years Sean would text me periodically after an excruciating loss that read simply: I’m done with this team.
But if I’m traveling I actually do have to go out to watch games. I’ve watched the Vikings lose in the playoffs at 1am at The Highlander, a Scottish pub in Paris. Why do I do that? Good question! This clearly isn’t rational or I wouldn’t have gone back to the same bar a different year and watch them lose again, this time when our kicker (a different one, but also nameless) missed a 21-yard field goal as time expired that would have won the game. I felt awful and the fact that I felt awful for such a silly reason in the world’s most beautiful city made me feel even more awful.
To make matters worse I spend part of the year in Wisconsin home of our bitter rivals, the Green Bay Packers. There’s a bar near our cabin that has recently repainted their door a color that I know for a fact to be Packers yellow. For some reason this sporting décor makes me absolutely furious and I have not been inside the bar since the facelift. There’s also a silo spray-painted with the Packers logo, which also upsets me a great deal. I would love this team, if they were in, say, Oregon and not in our division. But they are our historic rivals and they are better than us so I have no choice but to hate them. And I have no choice but to hate the way Aaron Rogers runs with his little feet and then draws late-hit calls after pretending to go out of bounds.
In New York I still can’t avoid Packer pride. I live a block away from Kettle of Fish, a bar that is unusually normal by Manhattan standards, but is overrun by hedonistic Packers fans on game days. They line up on chairs outside waiting for the bar to open. They put cheese heads on the head of the sculpture in the park after playoff wins. I do find myself walking by the bar after they’ve suffered a playoff loss, just to see how they’re holding up. (For the same reason I turn on Mike Francesa the day after the Yanks get ousted from the playoffs.)
The Packers have had three decades of iconic quarterbacks. The Vikings have Kirk Cousins. KIRK COUSINS, for the love of god. As if Vikings hadn’t suffered enough now there’s Kirk Cousins, the Light FM of quarterbacks, to throw the ball away on third down if he’s under the slightest bit of pressure. Kirk Cousins is the safest thing on a menu in a bad restaurant—you don’t like it, but the other options are worse. Except, why go into a bad restaurant in the first place and then pay $80 million for dinner? Actually, maybe Kirk Cousins is just what we need. He’ll steer us right to an 8-8 record, maybe glimpse 9-7. This team is a slow-moving meteor of mediocrity, destined to be incinerated trying to enter the playoff atmosphere. But now we know that. There’s no drama. No illusions. Crucially, no delusions of grandeur. But you know if all that changes and the Vikings make the playoffs I’ll be back in The Highlander, texting with Sean.