HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
August 20, 2007, Herald Journal

Looking through rose (or purple) glasses


It happened again last night.

I did not mean for it to happen, just as I did not mean for it to happen all those times before.

I was sitting back minding my own business, when I was overtaken by an inexplicable wave of optimism.

This sense of hope can only be understood by someone who lives in Minnesota.

We share a resiliency of temperament that comes from enduring many harsh seasons.

I refer not to our long, brutal winters, but to our football seasons.

My bruised and battered spirit has endured decades of disappointment, and yet every August I am overcome with a sense of blind optimism and a hope that maybe this year things will be different.

There is no logical (or indeed sensible) basis for this.

Ever since that sunny afternoon Sept. 17, 1961 when Mr. Tarkenton took the field in Metropolitan Stadium for the first time, the boys in purple have been setting us up for disappointment.

On that day, the upstart Vikings surprised the legendary Chicago Bears by treating them to a 37-13 drubbing.

The euphoria was short-lived, however, as the purple horde proceeded to lose their next seven games, and finished the season with a dismal 3-11 record.

That first season set the tone for many that would follow.

I have spent a lot of happy hours over the years watching the denizens of Winter Park do battle on the gridiron.

They have enjoyed some success, and have put on some memorable performances, but they have never quite managed to finish on top.

The team’s many division championships, and its victories over some formidable opponents make for a respectable record, but we have always been left wanting more.

There was a time when teams feared the trip to Minnesota, where they would have to battle the Vikings on the frozen tundra of Met Stadium, while the stoic Bud Grant watched from the sidelines, but even the great teams of the past never won a championship.

Four trips to the Super Bowl in seven years is an impressive accomplishment, but the outcome of these contests was dolorous.

Beginning with a 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV, the Vikings went on to a 24-7 loss to the Dolphins in Super Bowl VIII, a 16-6 loss to the Steelers the following year, and a 32-14 loss to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI.

The frustrating part of these losses is that the team has enjoyed some amazing talent over the years.

Those who dream in purple still speak reverently of the players from the team’s early years.

Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Paul Krause, Ron Yary, and others, each carved out a spot in Vikings mythology.

There are also some names that Vikings fans might like to forget, such as Les Steckel and Herschel Walker.

Steckel led (if led is the word I am looking for) the team to the worst record in franchise history (3-13).

The Walker trade crippled the Vikings for years, and helped propel the hated Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories. It will go down in history as one of the worst blunders in the annals of sports (or indeed, business).

The Vikings have assembled some crushing defenses and some explosive offenses. Unfortunately, they have found it difficult to put the two elements together.

Vikings fans have suffered through failed strategies, such as “the Randy Ratio,” and the “take a knee” offense.

We have survived years when the only offensive strategy seemed to be running the ball up the middle three times in a row, in the hope that the defense would be caught off-guard because no one would be foolish enough to run the same play that many consecutive times.

Despite all of these things, when August rolls around, I am always ready to start over.

Each season is a clean slate, and anything can happen.

As I sat back and assessed some of the team’s new prospects last night, I was sure that I detected a spark of something different.

It was just one meaningless pre-season game, and the starting lineup was only on the field for a short time, but both on offense and defense, I am sure I saw a glimmer of good things to come.

I am jaded by years of experience, and I expect that I will be disappointed again this season.

But, with so much time and energy invested in this team, I can’t help but climb back on the purple bandwagon one more time.

It has been 30 years since Vikings even made an appearance in a Super Bowl, and they are about due for another adventure.

Someday, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, I am sure the team will finally break through into the sunshine, and I don’t want to miss it when they do.