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GUEST POST: The Agony Of This Kind Of Defeat

[NOTE FROM ADAM: This is a guest post from Sam Neumann. He is the author of three books, including the New York Times Bestseller Memoirs of a Gas Station: A Delightfully Awkward Journey Across the Alaskan Tundra. He is a lifelong Vikings fan who currently resides in Denver. You can follow him on Twitter @NeumSamN.]

Why Do I Do This?

By Sam Neumann

I’m sitting here a day after the Vikings astonishing, embarrassing, and all-too-Vikings playoff loss to the Seahawks, and try as I might, I really cannot get the visual of a 27-yard field goal going wide left out of my head. Just make the kick, Blair. You’ve been crushing the ball all day in temperatures that are wholly unreasonable for a kicker to do his job. You drilled a 47-yarder with the laces squarely pointed toward you. You’re responsible for the team’s only points. This one’s for the win. It’s a chip shot. Just make the kick.

But he didn’t, and as I watched that kick sail wide, I’m thinking “unbelievable” and “of course” at the same time. Unbelievable because, heck, that’s a 99% kick right there, and this is one of the (statistically) best kickers in the NFL. Of course, because this is the Vikings we’re talking about, and that’s what they do. They don’t just lose. They lose spectacularly. They crush your soul.

My brother and I were texting each other yesterday, long enough after the game to soak it all in, and we both mentioned how we wouldn’t mind being Browns fans at times like these. We even fantasize about it, as he put it. Because with a team like the Browns, you know what you’re getting. They’re bad, and that’s it. They lose. They give it to you straight. With the Vikings, it’s different; you know they deal (that they always blow it, so why wouldn’t they blow it again?), but they get you right to that edge where you think they might actually pull it off. They win 11 games. They take the division. They play one heck of a game against the hottest team in the NFL, and then in the fourth quarter, a few screwy plays happen and a sure game-winner sails wide left.

After games like these, I always find myself asking, “why do I do this?” Why do I get so emotionally invested in a game over which I have no control, and a team with which I have absolutely no affiliation? Why do I care so much if they win or lose? I could’ve done something else with my Sunday. I could’ve gone for a hike or gone snowboarding or just taken a really nice long walk with my dog, enjoying a beautiful winter day and breathing fresh air and feeling the sun on my face and appreciating an activity in which no one loses. I could have felt good today. I could have chosen that.

But instead I watched the game, because that was the only real option, wasn’t it? I’m a fan. Rational or not, it’s what we do. We wake up with a glint in our eyes and get all giddy at breakfast and sit in front of the TV a half hour before kickoff because we just can’t wait for the game. And then we watch it, we yell at players who can’t hear us and don’t know we exist, and we yell and jump around when they do something good, and bury our faces in our hands or slam the rest of the Coors when they do something bad. We watch. We cheer. It’s “us” against “them,” and it’s what we’re programmed to do. And we cheer for the wins, and they win just enough to make us think they’ll keep winning, and then, at the worst time, they stop.

The Vikings win just enough to make you think they have a shot. They win until the stage gets big. And then the NFC Championship against the Falcons happens. 41-donut happens, the Favre interception happens, Nate Poole happens. Yesterday happens. And then we remember, oh yeah, this is what they do. They rip our hearts out.

So why, then? Why do we keep coming back? Why do invest our time and emotions into these games when history has told us it’s just going to end this way? That it always ends this way? I don’t know. But I think it’s hope. No matter what – no matter how many of these garbage gut punch endings there are – there’s always hope that sometime, someday, once, just once, they’re gonna get it right. They’re not gonna choke. Four Super Bowls, four Super Bowl losses. Too many sensational playoff failures to count. But still – but still – there’s that hope. That one day we’ll be on the other end of it. One day we’ll get to watch them pull it off instead of screw it up.

A year ago, a friend of mine, who is a casual sports fan, asked me about changing teams. He’s a Raiders fan. His squad hasn’t been good in more than a decade. We live in Denver, and are in the midst of an influential five-year run by the Broncos. The team is good, the town loves them, and the people are abuzz after wins. This year, they were the best team in the AFC. Should he just become a Broncos fan, he asked? Wouldn’t it just be easier to switch teams?

“No,” I said. “God no.”

Why not?

Because you stick with your squad. In winning seasons and in decade-long drought, you stick with your squad. You stand proud as a fan, no matter how bad things get. Because once we start hopping on and off bandwagons based on who’s good and what’s more convenient, none of it means anything anymore. Because when you stick with that squad through all the losses, through the playoff heartbreaks and Super Bowl blunders and missed 27-yarders, then, if and when they finally get it right, you get to enjoy it, because you earned it. Because you didn’t bail.

I don’t know if the Vikings will ever figure it out. I don’t know if they’ll ever put it together and win a Super Bowl, of it will just be a lifetime of borderline comical big spot failures. But, Vikings fans, we don’t get to jump ship. This is what we were born into, what we were indoctrinated into, and they’re all we got. They may just keep disappointing us. They may just keep doing what they do. But I’d rather cheer for a loser, my loser, than hop aboard some bandwagon. I’d rather feel like crap on a day like today than start picking “second teams.” I’ll take the heartbreaking losses, because the only reason they feel that way is because they mean something. We care. That means something.

They might just keep imploding on us. They might. But, someday, they might finally win the big one, too. And on that day, all of this will be worth it. All of the built up frustration and anger from spectacular loss after spectacular loss will make it so much better when they finally figure it out.

Some fans are spoiled. The Patriots win a Super Bowl every two or three months. The Packers have, what, 6 championships now? Their fans – at least their fans under 35 – don’t know what  3-13 feels like. We do. We know what all kinds of football failure feels like. We don’t get things easily, at least not when it comes to sports. We’re from Minnesota. We root for a team in purple. It’s not the greatest hand to be dealt. But it’s our hand. It’s our team.

It’s our team. And that’s why I’ll be back again next fall, full of hope and excitement, face painted purple and NORV shirt flying proud, like an idiot. Because maybe, just maybe, that’ll be the year. One of these years, they’ll figure it out, and when they do, I want to be there for it. One of these years, they’ll flip the script. One of these years.

It’s got to be one of these years.

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Adam Warwas

Adam Warwas (Founder) has been writing about the Vikings for a total of eight years. Five of those years have been here at Vikings Territory where he continues to surround himself with enough talented individuals that people keep coming back. As proud as he is of what Vikings Territory has become, his real treasures are in his home... a beautiful wife and three amazing children (and a dog named Percy).

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  1. What an awesome article! I was 9 when Drew Pearson pushed Nate Wright on that damn Hail Mary in 75… Cried my eyes out… But have been back every heartbreaking year since. It’s what we do. Thank you Adam for staying the course with us. Skol!

  2. Snap-kick-pain … Didn’t get Vince’s trophy in Dad’s lifetime, hoping we get their in mine. Maybe the odds were long this year, but damn if they didn’t get me believing it just might be possible (again)…then pain. There it is, I felt it, hope crushed.

  3. I never wanted to believe we were a snakebit franchise, that maybe the Ol’ Met and the new Metrodome were built on violated Indian burial grounds, that we were merely a regional team that surfaced, secada-like every 10 years or so. Having surfaced, but awkwardly succumbs to the bright light of national attention. But Im not going there, I not jumping on the Panthers bandwagon like so many here locally. Our latest letdown ddnt feel as bad as the Saints game. At that time we made a Faustian, or Favrian if you will, deal with a green and gold devil, trading future for now. This feels better, we’re young and on the rise, ahead of schedule playing with house money. I love our coach, front office and owner this time around – this team has a lot of un-finished business and took major steps this year, so I’m going focus on the future, SKOL!!!!

    1. I agree Matt. No one expected much from MN this year, certainly not another division title. 75, 98, 09 were all years of high expectations that were crushed due to just terrible officiating against the Vikes for the former and latter and poor coaching in the middle. Like in 75, we have a good coach and a solid team. This year we were hopeful at the start, thought that there was potential in a very talented yet young and unproven defense and hopeful for a young QB to continue and Adrian back, Then disaster on the o line before the season started, dinged up defense in the middle, and then just a tough gutsy defensive battle to finish with the defense intact. I really can’t wait for the draft and for next season.. SKOL!!

  4. Have two boys born here in AZ who had a choice of what team to follow….they took the Vikings:( That being said, we had a blast going to 4 Peaks Brewery(awesome Viking Bar!) in Tempe to watch most of the games this year as well as in person at TCF for Greenways’ magnificent pick 6!!!! Sadly, on Sunday last my youngest blamed me for bad vibes making Walsh miss the FG….damn, years of experience I guess! Great year and hopefully the start of something special

    SKOL Vikes!

  5. Why Do I Do This? i’ve asked myself this question about a lot of things i do in life, and it has worked well to help me decide things, but many years ago one of my brothers asked me why i cared about the vikings so much and i didn’t have a good answer. i’ve always remembered that moment for some reason, i think partly because i couldn’t understand how he didn’t care so much. so yeah, i guess we really don’t know for sure why, we just do. good post, sam

    1. Because true fans tend to be loyal in their day to day living as well Cal. We are loyal as people, so when we hitch our wagon to a team it is no different.
      I am just past 50, your comments have indicated that you have been a fan through tough times. CC has stated as much.. and he is from Texas for pete’s sake!! 🙂 We were kids when we had our heart’s broke by one of the worst no calls in the history of the play offs in 75. 98 WAS OUR YEAR! Things were rolling in 09, still had a chance to win despite the most obvious case of officials deciding before the game who had to win since the Colts Pats game after 9/11. I will never forget the Pats just grabbing onto Marvin Harrison four plays in a row and no call, so flagrant that it initiated an emphasis on the rule following that game. After all, the country needed the team called the Patriots to go to the SB after 9/11 and those folks in New Orleans just had to have something after Katrina.. Ironic that the rule that was initiated on the QB that was given that game in Jan 02 (low hit on QB, the Brady rule, although that rule came years after the Colts game) was not called repeatedly when it was Favre taking the low hits, but I digress.
      We have followed our team since we were kids, and we will likely follow them until our end. It is what true fans do. I am still pissed at all that I knew that never watched a Twins game all year and then when it was Sep 91 they were referring to the Twins as “we”.
      Just my humble opinion.

      1. Some good points there luv. Loyal to a fault! Ain’t it great?
        Not actually from Texas, just lived there a few years. Oklahoma is my home state!

  6. Great post.

    I actively try not to care about the Vikings. I really do.

    I’m a bit of a liberal, I care about the fact that terrible things happen to these players and their brains, that billionaire’s NFL franchises soak up tax dollars for stadiums and walk away richer than ever, that football glorifies violence, and blah blah blah. I admit it. I care.

    But I care more about the Vikings. About purple and gold and victory. and I can’t stop caring. I wake up with that glint in my eye every Sunday. I love this shit.

    Its got to be one of these years.

    1. I tried to not care so much, back about 15 years ago. Some family situations were much bigger than football, even so, I had little success. It got a bit easier in 2001 and 02′, when they weren’t that good. But in 2003…last game of the year. Guess where this dude was? Yep, front and center for that crazy finish.
      It’s gotta be soon!
      Good to hear from you starrc! Hope all is well with you.

  7. Not sure at which age this stuff is worse. If 18 is adulthood, I was an “adult” for everything starting with the 1970 Super Bowl loss (yes, I am now 63), man that really hurt. I remain angry about the ’75 Hail Mary to this day, and thus completely despise the Cowbabys. By the time the ’87 NFC Championship loss occurred in Washington, I was helping my sons deal with these things. Our living room went stone silent in ’98, embarrassed anger was expressed during 41-0, and Favre got a good tongue-lashing in 2009 (“see, he’s still a Packer!”).

    Interesting comparison to the Blair Walsh situation… In the 1980 Miracle at the Met, the Vikings trailed by one point because Rick Danmier had missed an extra point (yes, shorter than Blair’s miss) on what we all assumed was the tying TD. The Met went silent, and the entire state was ready to declare Danmier the goat who cost us the division championship. As we all know however, he was bailed out by the 14 second “miracle”, having more fortune than Mr. Walsh.

    It seems we’ve had more than our share of this stuff, but ask the fans of many other teams if they would take our record of success despite these crushing games. We remain tied for the second most playoff appearances since 1961. Remember, you gotta get there to get your heart broke.

  8. By the way, among the reasons I stick with the Vikes is the purple top / white pants uniform. With our purple helmets, I get amped just watching. That’s why our uniforms matter to me. And for the record Sam, in the years a 35-year old Packer fan was about 6-11 years old, he/she saw his/her team go
    Don’t let them tell you they’ve always been great. We marked them down at the start of the season as two wins many years. The Dan Devine years were especially deplorable,

  9. Even though this wasn’t our year,this loss still was unreal. I thought when Walsh lined up that no way can he miss this, even though I was worried.
    I was counting the losses that have piled up in my Vikings lifetime, which started in 72. Why couldn’t we beat the eventual undefeated Dolphins when we were up 14-6? For those that don’t know this tidbit, Nate Wright kicked his left foot out and softly deflected Staubach’s underthrown pass to Pearson. I could never figure out how Pearson caught it one handed with his right hand. The end zone view showed the kick deflection before we ever knew about Antonio Freeman.
    Sammie White getting his helmet knocked off while Willie Brown later went pick 6.
    Doug Paschal and Eddie Payton fumbling while Kramer intercepted away a 14-0 divisional round lead at the Vet in 1980.
    Darrrin Nelson dropping the 4th down pass to end the 87 NFCCG after Neil Olkewicz stuffed Dozier earlier at the 2.
    Salisbury and Moon losing to the Redskins and Bears in wild card no shows, and McMahon throwing floaters in the meadowlands.
    The 87 niner game and the Cunningham Giants comeback brought some sunlight, before Gary Anderson, fumbling Jeff George, and 41-0 ruined the 98-01 years.
    Culpepper no showing at the Vet after beating Favre and Moss getting traded made me seriously start questioning my time and stamina, but Favre and Joe Webb got me excited. I was sure Webb would beat the Pack, but boy was he awful.
    When Walsh missed, I started re-learning and thinking my Vikings 2025 Super Bowl Champ hat I had made in 2000 may be too optimistic.
    I hope the these memories and John Henderson’s fumble in SB IV, Oscar Reeds’ SB 8 fumble, Foreman’s SB 9 fumble, and McClanahan’s SB 11 fumble can someday be redeemed by our guys in purple. Preferably in my lifetime.

    1. So, you’re saying the ball glanced off Wright’s foot into Pearson’s hand? I didn’t know that. That’s crazy. Of course, par for the course for us.

      1. I’ve never heard or seen it mentioned before anywhere. But I was reading Pearson discuss the catch and he said the ball was underthrown and he didn’t think he could get to it with his left hand.
        He then said the ball wedged in his right hand and he caught it with one hand.
        I watched the play on youtube like 10 times and in the end zone it became clear. The ball got kicked by Wright.
        But i still have never heard to discussed.

  10. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen far fewer Vikings games than most of you, never having lived anywhere near Minnesota and rarely ever setting foot in a sports bar (the 10 or 12 games I saw in 2009 were probably the most ever in a given season, playoffs included). Maybe it’s because so much of my Vikings fandom has been based on the written word, from football annuals I started buying in 1976 (and the back issues I collected to have at least one for every one of the Vikings’ 55 years), through my teenaged subscriptions to Football Digest and Bob Lurtsema’s Vikings Report, and up to the Internet Era. Maybe it’s because my love of history includes an interest in the broader history of pro football and a heavy respect for the greatest players of the eras long before my time. Maybe it’s because I was a Giants and Chiefs fan as a kid before I adopted the oldest team in the league – but still one of the best! – who started a former Giants QB and then reunited him with his favorite Tight End and my favorite Giant. Maybe all of these reasons I’ve listed are why I CAN’T STAND HOW WHINY SOME OF MY FELLOW VIKINGS’ FANS ARE!!!!!!!!!

    For Heaven’s sake, yes, we’ve never won the Big One, but over the last 55 years we’ve been one of the best franchises in the NFL (all stats below are from Pro-Football-Reference.com, amended to account for the 2015 playoffs).

    Our franchise regular season Won-Lost percentage is tied for 8th place at 54.2%, and that’s over a lot fewer years than the Bears, 49’ers and Giants (who we’d pass if we were just counting from 1961 on).

    Our 28 playoff appearances are tied for the third most ever. If we only count from 1961 onward, the Giants, Packers and Browns fall by the wayside and we’re tied for #2 with the Steelers (who are #1 since 1972, ahead of the Cowboys and us).

    Since our first playoff appearance in 1968, we made the playoffs eight times in the 70’s, five times in the 80’s, seven times in the 90’s (yeah, Denny Green really sucked as a head coach), four times in the Aughts (one of those was Denny’s, too) and twice, so far, in the Teens. Over those 48 years, only us and the Steelers (since ’72) never went more than four years without a playoff appearance (I’m discounting the Ravens 10 playoff appearances in the 16 years from 2000; Ozzie Newsome belongs in the Hall of Fame as an executive, not as a tight end).

    Yes, we’ve all had our hearts broken many times. Yes, as Vikings fans we’ve lived a roller coaster existence, but at least we’ve experienced the highs more often than almost any other fan base, even if not the complete nirvana of winning a league championship. Would any of you really rather be a Lions fan, cursed since the Bobby Layne trade? A Jets fan, contenders a year here, a couple of years there, since that one shining fluke of a win nearly 50 years ago? A Browns fan, who last knew glory more than a half-century ago and relevance a quarter-century past? A Cardinals fan with nine playoff appearances (and three hometowns) in 76 years? A Bucs fan, for pity’s sake, who’s only championship team was led by former Vikings at QB and Center, and had a great defense built by a couple of former Vikings assistant coaches?

    No Vikings fan, even those who’ve been here since Day 1, has ever had to wait more than four years for a winning season (Thank you, Norm Van Brocklin!). We’ve never had a 14-year trough without a winning season like Bengals fans suffered from 1991-2004. Our team hasn’t ever gone 16 years without a playoff appearance, like Bills fans since 1999. Unlike Saints fans, we didn’t have to wait 21 years for a winning season or playoff appearance, or spend 26 years in the wilderness, like Washington’s fans. We didn’t see our team go to the playoffs only once in 39 years, like Steelers fans did before Chuck Noll and the Steel Curtain. Heck, even Giants fans, hands down the whiniest fans in all of professional OR amateur sports, had to suffer through 17 years of “lousy football” before they started winning again on a regular basis.

    With only five playoff appearances and and six winning seasons in the last 15 years, Vikings fans know all about parity and have been all too familiar with mediocrity and false hope. The offense has big questions from the trenches to the coaching box, with injuries and age threatening the OL and running game, coaches who have left and others who may need to go, and first rounders who have not kept up with their defensive counterparts. But who among us isn’t confident that we finally have a legitimate NFL head coach once more? Who among us can’t acknowledge that Rick Spielman has stacked every defensive unit with at least one star and maybe two or even three? Who among us doesn’t see us contending for years to come if the offense can be tweaked here and there?

    Go ahead and cry in your beer or tear your hair out over this latest loss. Odin knows I did! But take heart that you root for one of the best franchises in the history of professional football, a franchise that has been one of the most consistent contenders and winners in professional sports for more than 40 years, a franchise that is coming out of a 15-year “patch” that only a few other NFL teams could dare call “rough.”

    Shout it to the world, Vikings fans: “SKOL, VIKINGS! SKOLLLLLLLL!!!!!!”