How on earth do I deserve this football team of mine?
Anybody? Is it for sins committed in a previous life? For kissing girls before marriage? For ramming Shaun Gartner in the back with a toy truck in Senior Kindergarden? For stealing my parents’ car the weekend of their twenty-fifth anniversary to see Oasis and the Black Crowes in St. Paul? I don’t pretend to know. What I do know, however, is that the Minnesota Vikings are hell-bent on destroying me–and that I’m more than happy to go along for the ride. Irrefutable evidence to this effect was offered on Sunday, with the Vikings’ latest stunt: a 28-27 win over the freaking Detroit Lions that wasn’t sealed until a failed PAT with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter. Before that, the Vikings had taken a seven-point lead with 1:37 left to play in the game–then sat back and let Joey Harrington (Joey Harrington!) lead an eighty-yard drive so surgical in its precision, so economical in its clock management, that you’d have been mistaken for thinking Brett Favre had been put in command of the Lions’ offence.
When Harrington hit Roy Williams in the corner of the end zone with eight seconds left, overtime seemed a foregone conclusion. Until the unthinkable happened: Lions’ long snapper Don Muhlbach muffed the snap, holder Nick Harris couldn’t corral the loose ball and Terrance Shaw hit him before he got a second chance. Just like that, the game was over. Up in the stands–I was at this game, by the way–the general mood swung from ebullience to paralyzing shock in the space of two seconds. I actually didn’t see the botched snap, so focussed were my eyes on the Vikings’ line to see if the kick could be blocked. Next thing I knew Terrance Shaw was on Nick Harris like the proverbial fat kid on a Smartie, and it was all over. The onside kick attempt went straight into the waiting arms of The Great Randy Moss and the Vikings, despite their best efforts, had escaped Detroit with a win.
It should have been so much easier. When Sir Daunte hit Moss for a life-altering (at least from a fan’s perspective) 82-yard touchdown bomb in the second quarter, it was 14-3 Minnesota and the fat lady was warming up. The Vikings were dissecting the Lions’ defence with ease, while the Vikings’ d was shutting down Detroit’s running game and giving Harrington all sorts of problems (which, well, is almost easier done that said). Yet this being the Minnesota Vikings c2004, the team folded, sputtered, farted around for an entire quarter, mounted a couple touchdown drives in the fourth that should, to all intents and purposes, sealed the deal…then let Detroit come within a statistical anomale of tying the game and sending it to overtime.
Once again, it begs the question: why do I bother? I’m going to let this team destroy me someday, and I’ll have no one but myself to blame for letting it happen. I know perfectly well that cheering for the Vikings is hazardous to my health, the sports fan’s equivalent of being a two-pack-a-day smoker since elementary school. Yet I persist–because, like smoking, the Vikings are a habit I cannot break. All the while I keep holding onto this impossible dream that one day they’ll reward my dilligence with a Super Bowl–a Xanadu that keeps me holding on, even when the team I cheer for is conspiring against my health, my sanity, my very life.
I should also point out that the Vikings win, coupled with the Fudge Packers’ loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, has made Friday’s Green Bay/Minnesota game a winner-take-all for the NFC North. I would also like to mention that Terrell Owens is done for the season, thus making the NFC a much more competitive conference than it was heading into this weekend’s play. Am I allowing it to happen again? Believe that this could be The Year for Minnesota? Looking at their potential playoff matchups–the Vikings have essentially clinched a playoff spot, and will do so with one more win or one more loss by either Carolina or St. Louis–and thinking to myself, “Hmm…”? You bet I am. Because what’s the point in being a fan if you’re not going to let yourself get sucked in? The short answer: there is none. And I’ll gladly sacrifice my sanity for a chance to be a part of it.