Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Fear, self-loathing & Vikings fandom

There are certain historical events that, for one reason or another, manage to embed themselves in the collective mind of a people.

For the baby boomers, it was the Kennedy assassination. For a generation of 14-year-old boys, it was Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime “slip up.” And for every God-fearing, purple-blooded Minnesotan, it was Jan. 17, 1999.

It was the Christian Sabbath, and I was at Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Columbia Heights playing (riding the bench) in a Sunday basketball league. The game was airing on an old TV in the hallway outside the gym, but no one paid it much attention.


Occasionally, during water breaks or one of many beg-Dad-for-Super-Rope-money operations, we’d glance over at the fuzzy images of Randall Cunningham’s glacial wind-up or John Randall’s painted face, but always out of curiosity, not anxiety. Sure, it was only 20-14 at halftime, hardly a commanding lead for the then-highest scoring offense in NFL history, but if there ever was a team of destiny, this was it.

Then, late in the fourth quarter, came the whispers. Like some heretical version of The Wave, they started at the far end of the wooden, fold-out bleacher and slowly crept their way across the gym.

“He missed,” they echoed.

It wasn’t possible; Gary Anderson doesn’t miss. He hadn’t missed all season, going perfect on his 35 field goals and 59 extra points. Suddenly, the basketball game stopped. The hallway, which mere moments ago had been filled only with the faint smell of cheap popcorn, was now packed tighter than a state fair haunted house.

He missed.

The rest of the game is about as hazy as the television reception one would expect from the basement of a Cold War era elementary/middle school. “The Kneel,” ordered by Denny Green to spark overtime, lives on in local infamy, but we all knew how the game would end. It was only a matter of time.

It did not take long for Gary Anderson to transform from a soft-spoken Midwestern hero to the worst thing to come out of South Africa since Apartheid. Even though he would spend another four years with the Vikings — a word avoided up until this point out of reverence to God’s destructive power — the relationship would never be the same. In the eyes of fans, a lovable loser is still a loser.

We still thought the 1998 Vikings were a team of destiny, but now only in the same vein of the ’69, ’73, ’74, ’75 and ’76 teams. Anderson was nothing more than a new inductee to the Minnesota Hall of Villains, joining Drew Pearson, Hank Stram and Hershel Walker as the catalysts for so much passive-aggressive Scandinavian anger.

The Vikings were destined to fail, and if the loss to the “Dirty Bird” Falcons weren’t enough to seal the bizarro-canonization of the franchise as the patron saint of let downs, then the “41-Donut” slaughter by the Giants in the 2001 NFC Champion game would surely serve as our Shroud of Turin. The evidence is there. The Vikings are cursed.

At least that’s what we’ve been conditioned to think. And when your team’s legacy is largely defined by four Super Bowl losses and a long string of embarrassing scandals — the Sex Boat and Whizzinator stand out as recent highlights — it’s tough to argue otherwise. But in Minnesota, history is written by the losers, and reflected in that are the omissions that the 1998 Falcons ended the regular season 14-2 and that two of those Super Bowl losses came at the hands of legendary teams: Don Shula’s Dolphins and the “Steel Curtain” Steelers.

This isn’t David sweeping Goliath, this is how football, sadly, works. For every depressing loss, there’s a near-miracle win against the Los Angeles Rams to simply get to the Super Bowl.

Come this Sunday, miracles might be the Vikings’ best game plan.

The Vikings two apparent strengths, the offensive and defensive lines, aren’t as dominant as the national media would like the public to believe. Despite two titanic tackles and a Pro Bowl left guard, they haven’t effectively opened holes for the running game since Week 10, and that game was against the Lions.

Even more, while Jared Allen’s 14.5 sacks rank him second in the NFL, only four of those came from outside the weak NFC North. Oh, and Brett Favre is always liable to either keel over or throw a few back-footed interceptions.

But the Saints aren’t infallible, and a long-shot game against a seemingly superior opponent appears to have put the team and its fans in a better place. The upcoming NFC Championship, unlike the past two, will not be seen as inevitable disappointment, but as the product of unique opportunity.

We traded our souls for purple No. 4 jerseys, now let’s see how much influence the Devil really has. They might be Saints, but for over 40 years, we’ve seen ourselves as martyrs. There might not be hope in Minnesota, but there is cautious optimism, and for once there’s no guilt in dreaming of another Vikings Super Bowl.

Of course, the Colts would crush us.

Sean is a senior majoring in journalism and is absolutely terrified. Any fellow Vikings fans out there want to share your sad memories with him? E-mail him at [email protected]

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