I spent a few years here writing about fandom, about what the Minnesota Vikings mean to me and how they’ve shaped my love for football from an early age. But before I go any further, I should reintroduce myself. It has been a while, huh?
Austin Belisle, former editor-in-chief of Vikings Territory and now casual fan of the purple and gold. Nice to make your acquaintance again. As I sit and write, I can’t help but look back on the year and reflect; on how much has changed, not only for myself but for the team we all so passionately follow.
Around this time last summer, with the excitement of a new season upon us and plenty of writing ahead, I decided to take a step back from the routine; from analyzing hours and hours of All-22 to scouring Twitter for breaking news. Instead, I joined Brett and Adam, former owners of Vikings Territory, on a new venture, one that’s made the heartbreak of last season’s NFC Championship a little less painful.
Joe Johnson, who by now should be a familiar name here and at Purple PTSD, took over the website last August. He’s kept the ship afloat, but more than that, he’s continued to give writers and fans a place to call home and nurture their passion. Although I’m writing less these days, I remain in awe of the talent and trajectory of this remote, blogging corner of the Internet. There’s Vikings Territory, The Daily Norseman, Climbing the Pocket, Zone Coverage, The Viking Age, and more, with a list of names that’ll likely continue to grow as opportunities for fans expand.
From Jordan Reid to Nick Olson, I’ve been fortunate to follow — and be a part of — the rise of their sportswriting careers. I’ve made connections with people like Sam Neumann, Drew Mahowald, Sean Borman, and Luke Braun, a few who now make up the lifeblood of Vikings Territory. And outside of this small piece of writing real estate, I’ve shared a platform with the Andy Carlsons, Luke Inmans, Daniel Houses, Eric Thompsons, and Matthew Collers of the world, which is pretty surreal for a Vikings fan living in sunny California.
I attended the team’s NFL Draft coverage a few years back, joined Jayson Brown’s podcast to rip on Teddy Bridgewater (I was wrong, Jayson!), appeared on local radio, worked with Mike Zimmer’s foundation, and met hundreds of fans and Vikings employees who continue to follow me on Twitter despite the lack of #content and the influx of #bad tweets. I’m sure I’ve missed a few names and experiences in this stream of consciousness, but I remain grateful for every aspect of this years-long foray.
Most importantly, I’ve solidified lifelong partnerships with Brett and Adam, who are more than business colleagues — they’re two of my most cherished friends. It was actually the NFC Championship Game, the 38-7 debacle Eagles fans can’t seem to forget, where I was hit with an unexpected sense of contentment and necessary clarity.
Before the 2017 season had even begun, I approached the year with a different mindset. I wasn’t going to be watching on Sundays with an eye for a story angle, but instead, as a more casual observer. Selling the website gave me a chance to appreciate the team the way I had as a kid who fell in love with the game — for the pure joy of football.
‘Casual’ is a loose term, though, because I spent many Sunday afternoons screaming, cursing, and yelling at the television. Missed third-down conversions and dropped interceptions infuriated me beyond explanation, even though they’re a routine part of the sport’s chaotic nature. That inexplicable flame won’t burn out, even as I pursue new creative interests; I’ll always root for the team, albeit, with a little less hysteria and fire.
When Sam Bradford hurt his knee, seemingly beyond repair, I was crushed, hit with a nostalgic sense of “here we go again.” But Case Keenum’s miraculous season eased the sting, Minnesota’s top-ranked defense masked the pessimism, and the team’s 13-3 record made the ride more enjoyable than anything else. Following Stefon Diggs’ unbelievable walk-off touchdown against the New Orleans Saints, Brett flew out for the pivotal matchup against the Eagles. If we were going to watch this team move on to the Super Bowl, we were going to do it together.
I remember the excitement of that first touchdown drive, of watching Kyle Rudolph haul in a perfectly-placed pass from Keenum, journeyman quarterback turned hometown hero. But the enthusiasm dissipated as Doug Pederson and his own hometown hero, Nick Foles, ran laps around the Vikings en route to an absolute disheveling of Zimmer’s mighty team. The game ended in embarrassment, but the pain of past letdowns — 1998, 2009 2015 — didn’t come.
Midway through the defeat, I looked at Brett, sitting in silence — either from disbelief or shock — as our attention on the outcome wavered. We didn’t make it through the third quarter, instead, accepting another lost season as just that — another season of more-of-the-same from our childhood team. “You know, it’s just a football game,” I told him, and at that moment, I think we both felt the same sense of shared clarity and contentment.
In recent months, I’ve reflected on the roller coaster that was last season, and how much I enjoyed the ride without analyzing Xavier Rhodes’ technique or Riley Reiff’s kick step (a marked improvement over Matt Kalil’s trudge of a first step). When football, or the thought of enjoying football, became an effort for me, I knew it was time to take a step back. I’ve learned not to attach my happiness to the Vikings, and for that, I’ve enjoyed the freedom of fandom from afar.
I’m still paying attention to roster moves, to the second grouping of offensive linemen during training camp, but through the obsessive behavior, I’ve realized that wins and losses don’t have to be mood-killers. Maybe I was turned off by the catastrophe created by #VikingsTwitter, or maybe I simply burnt out trying to write something new, something perfect for every post. Either way, I can’t help but appreciate my path up to this point.
There’s something blissful about watching the team with an open mind, and for someone who tends to overthink everything, football is now more of an escape than the stressor I created these past few years. Players come, players go, and scenery changes. Football is cyclical, and with the season starting unofficially tonight, I’m reminded of the excitement ahead.
Kirk Cousins, the $84-million man, could be the quarterback to help Minnesota lift a Lombardi Trophy. That defensive line, with Sheldon Richardson adding to the chaos in the middle, should wreck every offense it faces. And Diggs, recently crowned face of the franchise, is here to say. Let’s get excited!
I’ll be around, maybe not as much as I used to be, but to all the guys out there grinding away — keep doing your thing. I think we’re in for another wild ride.