Clippings by Trent Campbell: Vikings keep trying fans’ patience
I don’t watch a lot of football. I catch the Super Bowl, of course. Maybe a playoff game or two. I’ll watch the Patriots if I run across them on TV and I have nothing else happening. And every once in a while I will watch my beloved Minnesota Vikings. So far this year they are 1-3. They would probably be 1-4 except for the fact that they didn’t play this past weekend. It’s no big deal. I’m used to it. The Vikings have been disappointing me since 1970.
I grew up in Minnesota. I was a kid in the era of the Purple People Eaters and Fran Tarkenton and coach Bud Grant. The Vikings were tough. They were good. They were contenders.
Grant grew up in hardscrabble Superior, Wisconsin. He joined the Navy in 1945 and apparently his favorite thing about serving was the haircut, because I think he still sports it today. Grant ran a tight ship. He famously had his team practice for the National Anthem every week. He didn’t allow tomfoolery. Even in January when the bitter Minnesota winters pushed temperatures below zero he would not allow heaters on the sidelines for his players. The opposing team could have their sissy heaters. His system seemed to work. Between 1968 and 1980 his team won the NFC Central division 11 times.
For a good chunk of the 1970s the Vikings quarterback was Fran Tarkenton. Bud Grant has called him “the greatest quarterback who’s ever played.” In his very first game as a professional football player in 1961 he threw for 250 yards and four touchdowns. In his career he threw for 47,003 yards (sixth all-time) and 342 touchdowns (fourth all-time). And he wasn’t just an arm, he was also a mad scrambler and his career rushing yards place him fourth best among quarterbacks.
Of course, as they always say, the best offense is a good defense and Minnesota had one of the best. “The Purple People Eaters” was the name given to the Vikings’ defensive line. The original eaters were Jim Marshall, Alan Page, Carl Eller and Gary Larsen. They got their nickname because they wore purple and they ate people, mostly quarterbacks, for lunch. Every Sunday. Their motto was “meet at the quarterback.” This was not an invitation to tea, but a promise to each other that they would get the job done and pound the opposing quarterback into the ground with extreme prejudice. And they held these meetings with shocking regularity. The original eaters combined for more than 400 sacks during their Vikings careers.
On paper the Vikings had it all. Their first Super Bowl trip came in 1970. They went again in 1974. And 1975. Once more in 1977. The result? An oft repeated joke meant to make us Vikings fans feel bad will provide the answer: How are the Minnesota Vikings like a stolen car? No title. That’s right, the Vikings could never close the deal during those golden years back in the ’70s. They kept coming up short. Minnesotans spent many Januarys with their heads hung low. And it wasn’t seasonal affective disorder. It was Vikings Ineffective Disorder.
At least we had each other. There were no split allegiances like you will find here in the Northeast. Everyone in my family, everyone in my neighborhood and everyone at my school rooted for and mourned for the Vikings. That is, until the start of fifth-grade when a new kid arrived from Florida, eight months after Miami beat Minnesota in Super Bowl VIII. The new kid seemed cool enough, but about a month in he showed up wearing Miami Dolphin socks, turquois corduroy pants, a Miami Dolphins belt and buckle, and a Miami Dolphins sweater over a white button down shirt. When winter arrived he added to this ensemble a Miami Dolphins down coat, Miami Dolphins boots, a Miami Dolphins hat and Miami Dolphins mittens. He looked like a winner. He didn’t fit in.
Since the ’70s the Vikings have provided us with even less to celebrate. The team has had its share of incredible players and strong seasons, but not one more trip to the Super Bowl. For years after I moved away from home I would always talk to my parents on Sunday nights. During football season my dad would chew my ear about how lousy the Vikings were. “They can’t put two wins together. They can’t put a fourth quarter together. They can’t catch a break.” He vowed to stop watching altogether. He’s made that promise every year for about 30 years. And who knows, maybe someday the Vikings will get there again. And maybe they will finally win it. If they do, give me a shout out. I’ll be the one looking like a winner in purple corduroys.
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