Monday, January 25, 2010

A Minnesota Football Fan's Lament

Just for today, I'm going to use this space to talk about Minnesota's purple and gold football team instead of our beloved Maroon and Gold. With the recent tragedy in Haiti (if you haven't already, please donate to the red cross or one of the many other charities and relief organizations fighting to help the people in Haiti), it's probably silly to feel depressed and down because of a football game. And yet I do.

I've been a Vikings fan since 1987. As most of you probably know (and if you don't you will now) I'm not from Minnesota. I'm actually not even from this country. No matter how long I live here or how passionate I am for the Gophs and Vikes, I'll never be considered "One of Us". Hopefully you can accept my thoughts and feelings on these two fine football teams anyway.

Growing up in Vancouver without an NFL team, I somehow decided to become a Vikes fan. I blame Anthony Carter, who at the time mesmorized me with his grace and acrobatics catching a football. I had posters of the guy up in my room as a kid, and to this day he's still my all-time favorite Viking. I don't remember much about the 1987 NFC championship game loss to the Redskins other than being disappointed but feeling like I had made a good choice. Then came the Herschel Walker trade. And the Denny Green Era. 1998. 2001 and 41-doughnut. Chilly. T-Jack. And then this year.

It was yet another kick in the crotch and punch to the stomach all at the same time. I heard Dan Barreiro on the Dan Patrick Show this morning, and he said he'd rate yesterday's loss behind only the 1998 loss as far as most painful. I would agree. 1998 was a complete and total shock. We were a much better team than the stinkin' Dirty Bird Falcons, and I still can't, and probably never will, believe we freaking lost to Atlanta.

Last night just left me depressed. New Orleans is a great team with great players and a great coach. No shame in losing to a quality team, except we gave them the game. We really did. For me there was a lot of blame to go around, but I don't feel like one person should shoulder it more than others. The Vikes dominated New Orleans in every single stat category except for the two that mattered most: the final score and turnovers. The turnovers KILLED Minnesota and it's what ultimately cost them the game. That and the inexcusable, inexplicable 12 men in the huddle penalty. Oh my good lord. A few thoughts and then I'm done talking purple until September:

I watched the game with a few people, including my wife and brother and law Dave, both of whom are die hard Packers fans (to the point they both wore Packer sweatshirts last night). They were both very gracious to me in defeat, and Dave even made the point that this loss could bring Vikes and Packer fans a little closer together, since this is almost exactly how Green Bay lost to the Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship game. Favre making a dumb throw that gets picked off and essentially loses them the game. I can't solely blame Favre. That throw, along with his other pick, and a third that Greer dropped, were awful, awful throws. On his last throw Favre should have run for five yards or thrown the ball away instead of trying to do what every person who has ever watched football knows not to do, which is throw the ball across your body to the middle of the field. Never. Never ever ever. But Favre did.

Still, we would have never gotten here without him. We'd be lucky to have even made the playoffs with T-Jack or Sage at QB. As Dave said, and had been telling me all year "Just wait. He'll kill you at the worst possible time." And he did. And yet, this is what we signed up for back in August. He was our best option at the time and despite all the retirement-unretirement circus and the schism and everything else, the Vikes made the right choice to get Favre. Does he come back next year? I don't know and I don't care. I hope he does (unless a better QB falls out of the sky. Donovan McNabb maybe? then again, you can't seriously say he's better than Favre), but I'm not reading, listening to, or watching a story about Favre between now and the end of training camp.

Regardless of what happens with Favre, the one quarterback move the Vikes absolutely, positively have to make is drafting Colt McCoy. From what I've seen and read from all the so-called draft experts, McCoy will not be a first round pick, which means the Vikes can trade up to get him in the 2nd just like they did T-Jack. McCoy reminds me so much of Drew Brees it's scary. Smaller guy with the heart of a lion and incredible accuacy and timing. Bill Walsh said the two things he looked for most in a QB were decision-making and accuracy, and that arm strength was WAY down the list. You won't find a QB in the draft who is better at those first two things than McCoy, and I think he could end up being the steal of the draft. I want him in purple.

According to stat nerds, fumbles are supposed to be somewhat random. How else to explain that the Vikes were one of the best teams in the NFL taking care of the football, and suddenly yesterday they can't hang onto it to save their lives? I don't get it and that's probably the most frustrating part. New Orleans is a helluva team and deserving to win, but AP was right: the Vikes gave that game away. You won't convince me, or any other Vikings fan otherwise. Credit New Orleans for attacking ballcarries and trying to punch the ball out. That very could have been planned, and was something they saw on tape. Whatever it was, I still blame the fumbles on Minnesota, and that, coupled with Favre's two awful picks, cost Minnesota the game.

Oh how quickly our opinions can change. To start the year, AP was considered by some to be the best player in football. After last night's game, and after a regular season where he had just 3 100 yard games, nobody's saying it anymore. He's not washed up. We don't need to cut him or trade him. He's still capable of being one of the best backs in the league. I'm still glad to have him on the team, proud that I own an AP jersey, and hope he plays his whole career here. But obviously, he needs to fix his fumbling issues AS"AP". Ahman Green did it, having major issues with Seattle before going to Green Bay to become the Pack's all-time leading rusher. Tiki Barber too had fumble problems early in his career before figuring them out. It can be done, and Peterson needs to figure it out.

I don't trust him. I've never trusted him. After yesterday's loss, that definitely hasn't changed. You can't blame the loss on Childress, but he certainly played his part. The 12 men in the huddle penalty is the fault of the players, but especially the coaches. How on earth can you come out of a timeout and NOT HAVE THE RIGHT PLAYERS ON THE FIELD?!?!?!? As the play-caller for the offense, that one's on Childress more than the other coaches. And that's not even the one that baffles me most: what about that last drive? Chilly admitted in the post-game interview he was being conservative and playing for overtime, that the percentages said despite having 2.5 minutes on the clock and all three of your timeouts remaining (and a fourth with the two minute warning), the best play was to run the clock out. Un-freaking-believable. It makes no sense whatsover because in that scenario, after Minnesota ran two run plays for zero yards, causing the Saints to use up their last two timeouts, had the Vikes not converted a third and ten New Orleans still gets the ball back somewhere around their 30 yard line (at worst) with about 90 seconds left to get into field goal range. So Chilly's thought process told him to be gutless, play scared, and hope for a coin flip in overtime- which the Vikes lost.

Now, you can say that Minnesota had gotten into field goal range anyway even with the conservative start, but what happens if the Vikes go for it to start the drive? They would have had more time and more timeouts left, and there's a good chance the 12 men on the field never happens. Maybe that's just me rationalizing and trying to find another way to blame Childress, but I feel like that strategy really, really cost us.

Honestly, I'm much more upset about what happened in regulation than what happened in overtime. Is the NFL overtime rule idiotic? Of course it is. Whomever won the coin toss won the game. We knew that. New Orleans won the toss and did what they had to do. It's a stupid rule that both teams don't get at least one possession, but I don't see it changing anytime soon. Did the Vikes get jobbed on the pass interference call, even though David Thomas had no hope whatsoever of catching that ball? They did, but it never should have come to that.

Let's end this on a good note. The Vikes D was unreal. You could not have asked for more out of them. To hold the mighty Saints offense to under 300 yds total offense in regulation is amazing. They played the game of their lives the second half, and despite how many times the offense kept giving the ball away, the defense kept giving it right back with another chance to win. Hats off to Leslie Frazier, the rest of the coaches, and of course the defensive players for the effort. As much as everything else sucked, the defensive performance was truly epic. Those guys deserved better.

Alright enough whining, complaining and bemoaning the fact the Vikes found new and terrible ways to rip my heart out and stomp on it. It's going to probably take me until Super Bowl Sunday, but I will find the gumption to cheer for New Orleans. Great team, great story, and if anybody deserves it, it's them. I just don't have the heart of emotion to believe that quite yet.

Now back to your regularily scheduled Gopher football programming.

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