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Skol! (Good Health!)

  • Mar 17, 2012
The Minnesota Vikings are a paradox: Since their establishment in 1961, the Vikes have had one of the highest winning percentages in the NFL. Their 26 playoff appearances are third most in league history. Yet, they're an exercise in futility when it comes to actual closure. In the Super Bowl, only one team has had worse luck than Minnesota. Four teams have lost the Super Bowl four times. Of those four teams, the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have managed to offset their four Super Bowl losses with Super Bowl victories. The Minnesota Vikings are 0-4 in the Super Bowl. I'll argue the Buffalo Bills have had worse luck in the big game because Buffalo went four times in a row, and two of those Super Bowls were eminently winnable. The Vikings also don't have Wide Right to mar their history. They have a very strong imitation of Wide Right, but not the real thing.

Professional football began in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area of Minnesota in the 20's and 30's with a team called the Minneapolis Marines, who later changed their name to the Minneapolis Red Jackets. They folded, and no one ever thought of professional football in Minnesota again until 1959, when the Twin Cities were given a team in the American Football League. Those guys forfeited their league membership and five months later, the NFL expanded and put the first NFL team in Minnesota. Since there's supposedly a little bit of animosity between St. Paul and Minneapolis, the original thought was that the team would be called the Minneapolis/St. Paul whatevers. It was soon decided to use the name of the state, Minnesota, instead. Among the proposed names for the team were Chippewas, Miners, and Voyageurs. On September 27, 1960, the new team officially adopted and announced its name: The Minnesota Vikings, as a way to honor the number of Scandinavian people in the area and their culture. In 1961, they named Norm Van Brocklin as their first head coach.

Fran Tarkenton was drafted that year too, and he was an outstanding first franchise player. Tarkenton anchored the team from 1961 to 1966 before heading off to the New York Giants for a spell from 1967 to 1971. He then returned to Minnesota, leading them to all of their Super Bowl appearances in the 70's, which covers three of the team's four. He retired in 1978 after racking up 124 victories as a quarterback and some impressive statistics, although his inability to win a Super Bowl has cost him a spot among the game's gods.

The late 60's and early 70's Vikings had one of the coolest nicknames ever bestowed upon an NFL defense: The Purple People Eaters. Throughout the 70's, they were the most dominating team to never win the Super Bowl. And in 1979, the state legislature approved funding for the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, one of the worst sporting arenas in the industry, but also one of the very, very few major league arenas to actually turn a profit for its city.

In 1983, Bud Grant, Minnesota's coach since 1967, retired. He unretired for 1985, then retired again. Grant had been hired in 1967 to replace Van Brocklin, and won 168 games for the team. Les Steckel was hired to replace Grant after the first retirement, and in his only year at the helm, the Vikes lost 13 games before Grant came crawling back. After Grant left again, Jerry Burns was hired to coach. His first year at the helm, the team went 9-7. In his second, they went to the NFC Championship. All in all, Burns 55-46 as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He did well, but never could manage to do any real damage with them. For most of his tenure, the Vikings always seemed to be one player away from the Super Bowl. Then in 1989, they really went all in to get that player.

Vikings then-General Manager Mike Lynn had his eye on Herschel Walker, the powerful running back for the Dallas Cowboys who, while popular in the community, wasn't getting along with Tony Dorsett, their other star running back. Walker looked like a fantastic pickup, but Lynn was more businessman than football man. Jeff Pearlman, in his book Boys Will be Boys, writes that had Lynn consulted Vikings management before making the trade, they would had put the clamps on it immediately because Minnesota's offense relied far more on trickery and gimmickry than the pure physicality Walker was known for. But he didn't, and so the Vikings took Walker and four future draft picks for what turned into a flat out heist for Dallas. Issiac Holt, David Howard, Darrin Nelson, Jesse Solomon, and Alex Stewart all went to the Lone Star State expecting to suit up as Cowboys, and some draft picks were thrown in as well. The exact details of this trade are a little tricky, and most onlookers believe Minnesota was giving up 13 players for Walker. So pay attention: Pearlman explains the draft picks were conditional. The five players who went to Dallas all have draft values attributed to them. In other words, one of them was worth X number of the draft picks Dallas was getting, another was worth X number of draft picks Dallas was getting, and so on. Dallas would only get the draft picks if they cut the players who were worth those draft picks before a certain date. Lynn made the trade with the belief that Dallas would keep all five of the players, thus waiving the draft picks. That turned out to not be the case, and Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson cut them all within very short order and used the draft picks to totally rebuild the team from scratch. One of the picks turned into Emmitt Smith, another into Darren Woodson. The Cowboys went to three Super Bowls in the next ten years.

For their part, the Vikings actually didn't do very badly themselves. Dennis Green became the new head coach in 1992, and over the next ten seasons the Vikings won four division titles, made the playoffs eight times, and appeared in the NFC Championship twice. By the time he was done in Minnesota, the Vikings had accumulated a record of 97-62 under his tutelage. In 1998, the Vikings began using their backup quarterback, Randall Cunningham, after starter Brad Johnson was injured. Cunningham had the best year of his career as he teamed with fast running back Robert Smith, his old teammate wideout Cris Carter, and rookie wide receiver Randy Moss as they put 556 points on the board, which was a record until New England broke it in 2007. They never scored fewer than 24 points in a game, and they became the third team in history to win 15 games. Their one loss was to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by three points. As the only two other 15-game winners in league history at the time - the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the 1985 Chicago Bears - had both won the Super Bowl, you can't blame fans for believing the Vikings really, REALLY looked like a Team of Destiny that year. They went to the NFC Championship to face the 14-2 Atlanta Falcons. In one of the most epic football games ever played, the two fought a hard back-and-forth contest. With two minutes left in the game and the Vikings leading by seven, kicker Gary Anderson - who hadn't missed a kick throughout the entire regular season - had the team's aforementioned Wide Right moment when he missed the field goal that would have put the Falcons away. Atlanta tied the game, and Dennis Green opted to run the clock out instead of going for the win. In overtime, Atlanta won the coin toss and won the game on a field goal.

Minnesota was still good after that, but they weren't dominant. Their defense wasn't there in the head. Cunningham was benched for Jeff George in 1999, and the Vikes went to the playoffs but lost the Divisionals to St. Louis. The next year the Vikings had Daunte Culpepper at quarterback, who became Minnesota's reliable leader for the next few seasons. The team went 11-5 and made it back to the NFC Championship, only to be stomped and humiliated by the New York Giants in a one-team game which ended 41-0. In 2001, Dennis Green took the team to a weak 5-11 record before the Vikings bought out his contract. He would go on to coach the Arizona Cardinals in a few years, while the Vikes replaced him with Mike Tice. Tice endured growing pains, going 6-10 his first year, then starting the next season at 6-0 only to ultimately go 9-7. The next year, they went 8-8 despite Culpepper amassing statistics worthy of the MVP prize he didn't get. They squeezed into the playoffs and became only the second 8-8 team in league history to win a playoff game. That victory came a day after the first playoff victory of an 8-8 team: The St. Louis Rams.

Tice, Culpepper, and Moss were all gone by 2007. The Vikings drafted a running back named Adrian Peterson that year, who was the Rookie of the Year. He helped pick up the slack for the next quarterback, or rather, the next several quarterbacks; the starting quarterback position had become one of those unbearable carousels. In 2009, the Vikings landed a major deal at the position when they traded for the old but still potent Brett Favre, coming off his second retirement and two years removed from his signature gig with the Green Bay Packers. He felt disrespected by The Pack because they thought it was time to develop their younger talent, and Favre wanted revenge. Favre took them to their finest season f the millennium, going 12-4 and into the NFC Championship, another hard-fought epic that ended in overtime, this time against the New Orleans Saints. He didn't do nearly as well next season. In was a bad season and a debacle which ended 6-10, with Favre texting pics of his private parts to a reporter, and Metrodome roof collapsing, Favre's legendary streak of games started ending at 297 after a hard hit against Buffalo, and the resumption of a quarterback carousel which now includes Patrick Ramsey, Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte, and even Donovan McNabb, a possible Hall of Fame candidate. They now think Christian Ponder might be their guy, but I haven't seen anything to warrant that idea. It may be time to roll out the tattered carpet and welcome Vikings fans into their first stint of real, long-term irrelevance.

The Vikings are the babies of the NFC North, and the least decorated team in the division. That's not to say they're not successful; clearly they are. But they happen to share the division with the Green Bay Packers, who have won more NFL titles than any other team (13) and the Chicago Bears, who have won more titles than any other team in the league that isn't the Green Bay Packers (nine). The Detroit Lions are there too, and the formation of the Minnesota Vikings came a few years after the installation of The Curse of Bobby Layne. But the Lions do have four titles of their very own too, which are theirs forever. The Vikings have those NFC Championships, and that's definitely something, but it looks a bit lacking compared to all that firepower.

Norse imagery is used everywhere with the Vikings. One of the team's logos is of a blonde Norseman. The team's unique cheer uses the word "skol," a word used in Scandinavian languages as a salute or a toast which means "cheers" or "good health." The Gjallarhorn, a kind of Viking horn, in blown loudly at the Metrodome after every big play, first down, or touchdown. The fans wear "Helga Hats," purple hats with big horns protruding from the sides which are widely believed to have been worn by ancient Viking warriors, even though history itself says the Vikings never wore such things because the horns would have given their enemies something easy to grab onto. (This isn't imagery anyone seems to care about, by the way, which is exactly why I don't give the PC crowd the time of day when they talk about how sports imagery of American Indians is racist. They don't seem to give a shit about the prominence of Irish imagery in sports, either.)

Eleven players are in the Hall of Fame based primarily on their contributions to the Vikings. Fran Tarkenton is the most visible, mostly because he's the only one who played a glamor position. Three of their Hall of Famers are offensive linemen, and four are defensive linemen. John Randle was one of them, but the others aren't quite as transcendent. One funnier part f the team's lore is that their retired numbers include 70, which was the number of defensive end Jim Marshall. Marshall was a very strong player who played on The Purple People Eaters defense, played in all four of the team's Super Bowls, and recorded 127 career sacks. But he's best known for a major on-field blunder. In a game against San Francisco in 1964, Marshall recovered a fumble, but apparently had lost his sense of direction amidst the confusion. He charged down the field toward his own endzone and, thinking he had scored a touchdown for the Vikings, threw the ball away in celebration. It resulted in a safety for the Niners. Minnesota did manage to win the game 27-22, but Marshall currently owns what may be an unbreakable record for the shortest play in NFL history. The gaffe still stands in the record books, going for -66 yards.

It's funny that a team named after a tribe of barbarians would wear colors associated with royalty, purple and gold. But then again, the Vikings have been one of the most competitive teams in the league through most of their existence, so perhaps they are royalty in the respect. They're heartbreakers, but it's safe to believe they'll get that Lombardi Trophy someday and officially take their place among their division rivals as champions. I wish them skol.

On a side note, I've now officially completed my NFL series. Time to move to the other leagues. Also, I've made no secret of my disgust with the Buffalo Bills, for various reasons, including the Toronto Series, the fact that they'll move before much longer, and the fact that the city's obsession with them keeps Buffalo from turning itself into anything other than a dead Rust Belt city because we're trying to keep them despite not being able to meet the NFL's demands or afford them. I've been going over my options and have decided to accept the New York Giants. I haven't switched quite yet, and I'm hoping the Bills make one final, improbable run to the Super Bowl this year because the Giants are now officially waiting for the call-up, and another AFC Championship - and possible Super Bowl victory - would be a hell of a way to end my fandom.

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More Minnesota Vikings reviews
review by . January 22, 2010
posted in Twin Cities Talk
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Im ready for #MNF!!!! Lets Go #Vikes
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The Minnesota Vikings participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota plays its games in the North of the NFC. The Minnesota Vikings, founded in 1961, play home games at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and have won one NFL Titles (1969).
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