I'm not ashamed to say it was one of the worst days of my life. Not that I actively keep track of those kinds of things. But January 18th, 1999 is in the top 10.
That's the day when the Vikings' incredible 1998 season came to a screeching halt at the hands of Chris Freaking Chandler and the Atlanta Falcons. I distinctly remember watching Gary Anderson's field goal drift to the left, his ONLY miss of the ENTIRE year of course, which would have given the Vikings a 10 point lead and essentially ice the game. I obviously was not the only fan who saw Chris Freaking Chandler (I insist on using his full name) trot out after the miss, feeling like I was looking at some kind of insane mutant hybrid concoction of Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and Superman, essentially ready to say to everyone watching, "Hey what's up? We're tying this game, okay? You know that, right? I hope everyone here knows that. So, Vikings defense, can you just kind of roll over for us please? Yeah, like that. Thanks." To say I wasn't surprised at the proceedings is an insult to my Viking fanhood up to that point.
You know the rest of the story. Tie game, Denny Green inexplicably takes a knee, despite 40 seconds still showing on the clock, 2 timeouts yet to be taken, and the most powerful offense in the HISTORY OF THE NFL up to that point at his disposal, which essentially is like Phil Jackson saying to MJ during a playoff game, "I know the game's tied, and there's only about a minute left, but I'm gonna have you just hang out on the bench til we get to overtime, is that cool?" Or like going up to Denny Green and asking, "Can you just punch me in the face right now?" I could trot out a million examples of how devastatingly stupid this decision was, but the point is, there's not a Vikings fan I know that doesn't get worked up about it to this day.
They proceed to do nothing in overtime, eventually losing on a 38 yard field goal by Morten Anderson. I remember making the slow walk upstairs, peeling off my Randy Moss jersey like it were covered in infectious disease, and taking the longest shower of my life. Yeah, it was bad.
Little did I know that day would become depressing for another reason entirely: it was my peak as a Vikings fan, in terms of interest, passion, devotion, whatever you want to call it. It was all downhill from there.
These days, it's weird for me to look back at that game and remember how depressed I was afterwards. It feels like a million years ago. Recently I started to wonder why that is; I still watch at least 6 hours of NFL football (sorry, the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE) every Sunday, I'm in at least two fantasy leagues every year, I make friendly bets, football's always a huge topic of discussion both at work and among my friends, etc. Yet last year, as the season wore on, something changed. Watching the Vikings had become more of a chore, more of a tedious obligation, and it was BORING as hell.
I may be a Vikings fan, but I'm not a mindless idiot and I won't watch anything thrown in front of me. Trying to watch them last year was the equivalent of a band like Metallica releasing a pure disco album with some poor impressionable fanboy feeling obligated to listen to it, because god forbid if he didn't like it, he wouldn't be a REAL fan now would he? Well, screw that. I'm not going to watch 97 straight off-tackle handoffs. I'm not going to watch the same sort of playcalling I could walk down the street and see at Bloomington Jefferson high school.
In the past few years, there was seemingly ALWAYS something going on with the Vikings, on or off the field, and it all culminated with the comical Lake Minnetonka incident and Mike Tice's firing. Subsequently, they made a knee-jerk hire, getting the most straight-laced exciting-as-watching-grass-grow coach they could get, with the #1 priority being not to let himself or any of his players further embarrass the franchise. After watching the Vikings last season, or trying to, I get the feeling that during the interview process, they decided to tack on one more question for Childress at the last second as he was leaving, "Uh, you can actually COACH a football team and manage a game, right? Just checking."
Turns out, not only can he manage a game that drives me to go do my laundry instead of watch, but he also falls right into the head-coach-ego-circle-jerk that feels it is in the best interest to form the team according to his own system, rather than form his system to the team's strengths. Hey, he even said himself after he was hired, "This could be my only opportunity to be a head coach in this league, so I have to try it MY way." He might as well have kept talking - "Wide receivers, who needs em? Hell, any name players on offense at all whatsoever? Nuts to that! In fact, let's make a huge reach with our 2nd round draft pick to get a guy who only played Division II college football, because I'm full enough of myself to believe that I think I can mold this guy into what I want him to be for my system. And once I do that, who gets the credit? Me!"
I remember being so eager to get rid of Tice as a coach. "ANYBODY but him" was the sentiment. Well, we GOT anybody but him. I'm forced to remember when the Steelers were stuck with Kordell Stewart as their starting quarterback for years and years, with their fanbase begging and pleading for coach Bill Cowher to dump him and start someone else, ANYBODY else. And when they got ANYBODY else (Tommy Maddox), there was a brief honeymoon period, before the fanbase seemed to collectively realize, "Hey, wait a second... TOMMY MADDOX is our quarterback?!? How did this happen????" Call it the Kordell Corollary. That's really the only feeling I have this year about the Vikings, other than total apathy. I'm nostalgic for Mike Freaking Tice (let's also use his full name). And it sucks.
The old adage goes, "Tis better to have loved than not loved at all." There's a similar, more accurate adage for me these days that goes, "Tis better to have suffered than not rooted at all."