Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The other 20 worst things to happen to the Vikings

Brett Favre's signing with the Minnesota Vikings is supposed to go down on Friday, July 3, according to the unimpeachable Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Other oracles are chiming in. The production of No. 4 jerseys has already been green-lit (how unfortunate that phrase evokes the colours of a certain rival in Wisconsin). Some even wonder if this is the canary in the coal mine, that owner Zygi Wilf has resorted to a desperation play because he wants to unload the team since it has zero chance of getting a modern stadium.

The indispensable Daily Norseman has tried to counsel Minnesota Vikings fan through this. As it put it in a piece titled The Favre Stages Of Grief.
"As a group, we've been through way more than this, and we've been through way worse than this ... and we've managed to persevere for this long. To be honest, I'm not even sure if 'signing Brett Favre' would crack a list of the Top 20 most disappointing things to ever happen to the Minnesota Vikings."
Twenty most disappointing things to ever happen to the Vikings, eh? Consider that gauntlet picked up, even if the author is unaware it was even thrown down. If nothing else, it's way to build a a forcefield for Favregeddon, starting right after the jump.

First off, there need to be ground rules, which the author reserves the right to make up off the top of his head.

Randy Moss' mock-mooning at Lambeau Field during the 2004 playoffs does not count. It came in a game where the Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Moss came off better in that fiasco than FOX Sports' Joe Buck did. Scratch perennial 1,000-yard running back Robert Smith retiring from football in 2001 when he still had a few good seasons left, since that was his personal decision. Mocking former running back Onterrio Smith for getting busted at the airport with something called an Original Whizzinator is also out since that incident was symptomatic with his problems with addiction (read this post by one of Smith's one-time teammates, NFL tight end George Wrighster, and then say Onterrio Smith is fair game).

The rest is in play, as far as anyone knows.

20. Starting quarterback, Spergon Wynn

Spergon Wynn III was hardly cut out to be a CFL quarterback, let alone a NFL quarterback. The epitaph for his career in Canada came courtesy of one-time B.C. Lions teammate, Carl Kidd, who once said, "Spergon can be a good quarterback at times." The rub is none of those times involved the two starts he made for the Vikings late in 2001. He went 48-for-98 for passing with one touchdown and six interceptions and never started another game. He is the answer to a great trivia question: Who started at QB in the Vikings' last game under Dennis Green and the first under Mike Tice?

19. Drafting Troy Williamson

He's open deep and ... oh, he can't hang on! There is another NFC North team which is synonymous with spending first-round draft choices on wide receivers whose 40-yard dash times turn out to be fool's gold, but Williamson's ignominy ranks with any of the approximately 72 receivers Matt Millen drafted when he was doing to the Lions what a bunch of dopes in suits did to the U.S. auto industry.

Williamson, the No. 7 pick in 2006, was expected to give the Vikings the deep threat they had lacked since Moss left. Three years later, his name is mostly a punchline and he's an entry in Worst Man Drafted tournaments. Some of his drops were so bad that the director of a cheesy football comedy wouldn't have even included them, for lack of believability.

18. Paul Ferraro's special teams unit (2008)

Seven return touchdowns allowed in one season, a NFL record. The crazy part is Ferraro moved up the coaching ladder after that showing, since he was hired by the St. Louis Rams to coach their linebackers. Granted, that means worrying about three players, not all 11 on the field at one time.

17. Tony Dorsett runs 99½ yards (Jan. 3, 1983)

Perhaps it was not disappointing in the classic sense. It's just that the NFL Network seems bound by policy to have to air the clip of Dorsett's dash at least once every 24 hours. No one remembers that the Vikings actually won that 1982 Monday nighter, no mean feat when you allow a running back to go 99 yards on a play when his team lined up with only 10 guys. True story.

16. Vikadontis Rex (1995-2000)

There is only room for one lame dinosaur mascot in the four major sports. The Toronto Raptors totally called this one. Vikadontis was introduced in the wake of the Jurassic Park phenomenon in the early '90s, probably as a way to appeal to the kids. Of course, the Vikings already had a mascot, Ragnar, played by a guy who holds the world record for shaving with an ax, so it just ended up muddying the brand.

15. Antonio Freeman's catch (Nov. 6, 2000)

A semi-legitimate sports journalist is conditioned to eschew using the word fluke. However, what happened on the night of Nov. 6, 2000 was nothing but a damn fluke. The Vikings and Packers never should have been in overtime in the first place, but in a driving rainstorm, the Vikings botched the hold on a last-second field goal try.

In OT, Freeman slipped on the wet field while running a deep route and Dishman appeared to bat it to turf. However, it hit Freeman, who managed to complete the catch, get to his feet without being tackled and cut inside a defender to score and give Green Bay an ill-gotten 26-20 win. It also cost the Vikings home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

14. Dennis Green tries to sue the team (1997)

To be fair, you might call a lawyer too if you had coached a perennial playoff team and found out the highers-up tried to replace you with a rah-rah college coach like Lou Holtz who was a failure in his one shot in the NFL.

13. Randy Moss' long goodbye (about 2002 to '04)

There are reasons Randy Moss is great and wonderful beyond him being in the picture when people talk about the greatest pass receivers in NFL history (after Jerry Rice and somewhere in there with Marvin Harrison and Lance Alworth from the AFL and if you include Terrell Owens in there, you're asking to get punched in the balls).

Moss showed an outcast could make it in an American team sport. That point was generally lost amid the "I play when I want to play," the meter-maid bumping and leaving the field before the game was over. No one really got that at the time, except perhaps for Karl Taro Greenfeld, but he didn't profile Moss until after he been traded to the Oakland Raiders for next to nothing. Meantime, there was so much lost potential left back in Minnesota, even though it's hard to begrudge Moss on NFL Sundays when he's catching touchdown passes from Tom Brady and polishing his application to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

12. Daunte Culpepper's knee injury (2005)

When pro football historians (how do you get that job? Is there a test, like the foreign service exam?) talk about the great passing combos whose first names need not be mentioned, they'll talk about Montana-to-Rice, Manning-to-Harrison, Unitas-to-Berry, and Brady-to-Moss. It will ignore Culpepper, who threw to Moss during his prime years, from the time he was 23 until he was 27.

It went so well for long, then one day it did not anymore. Since '05, Culpepper has played for the Dolphins, Raiders and the Detroit Lions, so you could say the injury was career-ending.

11. Pass not intended for Darrin Nelson (Jan. 17, 1988)

Plenty of teams have seen their Super Bowl dreams dashed in the final minute of the conference championship game, just yards from a tying or winning touchdown. The killer is that the final play of the 1987 NFC championship vs. Washington, the underdog Vikings ended up with Anthony Carter and running back Darrin Nelson in the same area of the field. That made it easier for Hall of Famer Darrell Green, who was covering Carter, to break up the pass. It was intended for Nelson, but considering that Carter had set a playoff receiving record the week before, it's hard to perish the thought Wade Wilson was throwing for him.

In hindsight, the other kicker two decades later is the Vikings, as a blue state team, could have won on the field and on principle. That was the season when the NFL used scab players for three games during a players' strike. The fake Vikings went 0-3, but they still made the playoffs and were six yards from victory.

10. Super Bowl IV (January 11, 1970)

The first of the Vikings' four Super Bowl losses might not be well-remembered. The fact remains is they were 12-point favourites going in against the Kansas City Chiefs and lost by 16. No team ever favoured by such a large spread ever lost again until 1998, when a certain bunch of Cheeseheads, thanks to a couple key turnovers by a quarterback wearing No. 4, lost to Denver after being favoured by 13.

9. Smoot boat scandal (Oct. 6, 2005)

Easy enough to laugh this off now, but the general mood was less tolerant in 2005. Between Moss leaving and Culpepper suffering a thermonuclear knee injury, it was a rough few months.

8. Jim Marshall's wrong-way run (1964)

Marshall's record of playing in 282 consecutive games across 20 seasons basically makes him the NFL's answer to Cal Ripken Jr., except Ripken did not have to get cut-blocked or leg-whipped on a semi-regular basis. However, there's a belief the member of the Purple People Eaters is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame all because of one boner he pulled in 1964.

7. Nooooo! Nooooooo! (Dec. 28, 2003)

Six years later, the question how? remains unanswered. An 11-point fourth-quarter lead against the worst team in the NFL should have been safe. Somehow, the Arizona Cardinals, led by depth-chart fillers such as Josh McCown and Nathan Poole, scored two touchdowns inside of the two-minute warning, helping Favre and the Green Bay Packers get into the playoffs, keeping the Vikings out after they had started the season 6-0. It also inspired an epic rant. Of course, since the best a Vikings fan can usually hope for is justice delayed, several years later the NFL changed the so-called force-out rule, so Nathan Poole's end-zone catch would not count if they were playing the game today. Of course, they're not playing the game today, even if some of us are just replaying it over and over.

6. Metrodome opens (April 3, 1982)

Let's get this straight: You gave up the best home-field advantage in the NFL? How did that work out? Baseball's Twins, the NBA's Timberwolves and the University of Minnesota football team have each scored swankier digs, but only the Vikings remain unable to score a modern stadium.

5. Korey Stringer's death (Aug. 1, 2001)

As a fan, there is a lot you-don't-wanna-know when it comes to the sacrifices pro athletes have to make. Springer's death due to complications from heat stroke uncovered the dark side of the sport. Pushing someone that far was so needless, so unnecessary that it hardly seemed like a game.

4. 41-doughnut (Jan. 14, 2001)

Have you ever sat there as a sports fan after your team lost by a slim margin and wondered if it would have been easier to take if they had never been in the game? Losing 41-0 in the NFC championship game to the New York Giants, getting shut out by a defence which had Jason Sehorn on it, well, there's your answer.

3. Drew Pearson pushes off (Dec. 28, 1975)

Pass interference is like obscenity. There is no definition of it, but everyone knows it when they see it. Pearson's look of restrained jubilation after catching the Hail Mary pass from Roger Staubach to beat the Vikings in the '75 playoffs is all the proof one needs to know he pushed off on Hall of Fame defensive back Paul Krause, even if the replays are actually inconclusive.

2. Herschel Walker trade (Oct. 12, 1989)

The trade was so bad the temptation is to believe it was a conspiracy to restore the Dallas Cowboys to NFL prominence and help the league's TV ratings recover in the wake of the 1987 strike. It's easier to accept that

1. Almost perfect (Jan. 17, 1999)

All together now: Damn! One can finally laugh a little about it now that has been spoofed by an Emmy-nominated sitcom. It's a burn, not a serious one mind you since this is just football, to never know how Randall Cunningham and Cris Carter might have done in a Super Bowl. It is clear the Vikings might have been headed for a fall, having flown to close to the sun on the wings of bad song parodies.

(It was the end of the 20th century. You try to forget, but booze only helps so much.)

Of course, there was more to it than Gary Anderson (who, as Marshall Eriksen/Jason Segel has noted, is now retired and owns a fly-fishing business ... in Canada), missing a 38-yard field goal that would have wrapped up the NFC title when he had not missed all season. There was more to it than the irony that the Atlanta Falcons' winning field goal was also from 38 yards and it was kicked by Morten Andersen, a Dane, meaning the Vikings' fate was sealed by an actual Viking.

It was the aftermath. In this case, it meant having to go out afterward to cover a hockey game for The Queen's Journal while wearing a Moss jersey (going home to change was not an option) and being asked, "So, who won? Last I checked Minnesota was way ahead."

The point is the obvious. Vikings fans have been through much. After reading the magic words, "Top 20 most disappointing things," it took maybe forty-five seconds to come up with about 18 of the items on this list. Put all of it together and we're Brett-proofed. Bring him in, already.


Dennis Prouse said...

As a Viking fan, I am so conflicted about this I need to see a shrink. On the one hand, Favre is a better option than Tavaris Jackson, or probably Derek Anderson for that matter. You also know he will be motivated - he clearly feels he has something to prove, and he isn't just another veteran trying to cash one last cheque.

On the other hand, you just know he is going to fade down the stretch, and you wonder how he will fit in with the team. Maybe it is different in Minnesota, what with Purple Jesus in the backfield taking the pressure off.

As T.O. says, get your popcorn ready...

eyebleaf said...

How did the hell did you guys become Viking fans?

timmy! said...

Number 1 is one of those sports moments that you remember where you were at the time of that missed field goal.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how Korey Stringer's death in the line of duty is not #1. I'd gladly trade away every win the Vikings ever got to get him back. Life is more important than any game.

Secondly, Darrell Green is in the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. He didn't just break up Wade Wilson's pass to Darrin Nelson in 1988, he broke up a lot of passes over the course of decades. Green was a very gifted athlete who played for a very long time at a very high level. While it sucked losing to the Redskins that day, at least it took one of football's all-time's great players to stop us.

You left off the NFC Championship game loss to the Cowboys. That was one victory the Vikings should have had. Drew Pearson has publicly admitted that he pushed off. It was offensive pass interference, and the Vikings should have played in the Super Bowl that year.

Finally, I think Dennis Green made some terrible decisions by getting rid of the following players: Chris Doleman, Gary Zimmerman, Todd Steussie, Rich Gannon, Terry Allen (on the list of the 70 greatest Redskins), and Randall McDaniel (Pro Bowl appearance as a Buccaneer in the 2000 season).

Dennis Green did acquire Hall of Fame talent, like Randy Moss and others. Overall, however, he made many serious errors when it came to saying goodbye to guys who went on to incredibly productive seasons. In the case of Rich Gannon, he won the league MVP award as a Raider. Green's foolishness is one of the worst things to ever happen to the Vikings.

sager said...

Good point about Stringer. The reality most fans accept the next-man-up culture of the NFL and, sad but true, move on quickly one the pieces on the chessboard change, even in the case of death. That's why Stringer was No. 5; maybe he could be higher.

One consideration with this was to stay away from the garden-variety playoff losses, since every team but one falls short each year. For an 8-7 team to be right on the precipice and have it dashed by a great play by Green, that hurts.

Incidentally, which NFC championship game loss are you referring to? The Vikings lost 23-6 to the Cowboys in the '77 title game, in Dallas. No doubt that stung, but Dallas was in control throughout and it was not a shutout.

Anonymous said...

This game. I always think it was a conference championship game, but it was actually a divisional playoff game.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I came off as sound extremely critical. I guess I should have said "That is a very fine list, and very interesting to read, but I just disagree with some of it, and here are my points..." It's subjective. Thanks.

sager said...

No, not at all. You stated your case well. It is totally subjective; I don't try to write just to start an argument, but I always hope I make a strong argument.

I guess Pearson's push-off and that Dallas game were one and the same. Thanks for reading!