It was January 2001, and the Vikings had just beaten the Saints 34-16 in the Divisional playoff game to become one win away from the Super Bowl. Just weeks before, their regular season stumbled to a finish as they lost their last three to the Rams, Packers and Colts to finish 11-5. This was after starting the season 7-0 and looking like world beaters, finally finding their heir-apparent to Randall Cunningham, subsequently resurrecting Three Deep (well, Two Deep, since Jake Reed was in New Orleans). While their last three losses were against good teams, they lost in ass-ugly fashion. They looked downright terrible in their loss in Indianapolis where a win (or a Philadelphia loss) would've secured a bye and a playoff home game. Thankfully the Eagles also lost, the Saints upset the Rams, and the Vikings took care of business at home.
And then the feeling set in: "Wait, the NFC title game? This team? Already? How?" Considering how the Vikings very obviously had peaked early and backed into the playoffs, this was shocking to me. The Vikes would be heading to the Meadowlands to face the Giants, and we all know what happened there.
That "Already? Really? How?" feeling is the reason why I don't consider that embarassment to be too ghastly when compared to all the other memorable Vikings losses. It seemed like they got that far by mistake. The Rams were supposed to be there, or the Eagles, or even Tampa, but they all disappointed, which left the Vikings. They did not deserve to be in that position. It was like a manager going to his bullpen in a crucial spot, only to find out that three of his best relievers couldn't go, and he had to settle for Juan Rincon. "Hey he was good once!"
Honestly, I hate to be That Guy every single year (I really do), but this year's season is giving me flashbacks to 2000. Already? Really? How? Because as much talent as they have, I'm not sure this team deserves to be there. While they won ten games, it's not exactly an impressive resume:
Week 3, 20-10 over Carolina - Frerotte's first start, good win over a good team.
Week 5, 30-27 at New Orleans - A ridiculous game where the Saints did more than their share to hand the Vikes a win (4 turnovers, 1 blocked field goal, 1 botched field goal) while the Vikings sputtered and stammered like a Packers fan when he's told the all-you-can-eat buffet is closed. This inspired exactly zero confidence, but hey, a WIN is a WIN right?
Week 6, 12-10 over Detroit - The worst excuse of a game I can ever remember, and the very definition of playing down to your competition. This inspired exactly zero confidence, but hey, a WIN is a WIN right?
Week 9, 28-21 over Houston - Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels were torching the Vikings secondary. Then Schaub got hurt, and Sage Rosenfels proceeded to be Sage Rosenfels. Since the Vikings D did their part in ensuring the latter of that statement, I'll say this was a quality win.
Week 10, 28-27 over Green Bay - Adrian Peterson single handedly made sure this was a quality win.
Week 12, 30-12 at Jacksonville - After Jacksonville lost two fumbles in less than the first three minutes (including the opening kickoff), they never had a chance. Like the Saints game, this was more Jacksonville giving the Vikings a win than anything else. Fred Taylor probably agrees with that, and that's gotta count for something. I'm not sure this inspired much confidence, but hey, a WIN is a WIN right?
Week 13, 34-14 over Chicago - A total thrashing in a game they had to have, in prime-time. Best win of the year.
Week 14, 20-16 at Detroit - Another example of playing down to your competition. In fact, I'm racking my brain and I can't remember a single thing that happened, but I remember watching this entire game. Even after reading the recap, I don't remember any of it. I must therefore conclude that this inspired zero confidence (what win over Detroit DOES?) but hey, a WIN is a WIN right?
Week 15, 35-14 at Arizona - Tarvaris looked fantastic, but Arizona had locked up a playoff spot, and solidified their proof of not giving a shit about the rest of the season, as evidenced in this game and their 99-0 loss to the Patriots the next week. This inspired only a smidgen of confidence (thanks to Tarvaris), but hey, a WIN is a WIN right?
Week 17, 20-19 over NY Giants - Not only did the Vikes need to win on a last second field goal just to beat the Giants' third stringers, but the clock management at the end of each half was some of the WORST you will EVER see. Let me reiterate that: the WORST you will EVER see. It's as if Brad Childress pulled aside Andy Reid, Herm Edwards, Art Shell and Norv Turner and said "Here guys, let me show you it's done." It was embarrassing. This inspired zero confidence, but hey, a WIN is a WIN right?
So lets sum up: the NFC North sucks, Jacksonville quit, Arizona quit, and the Giants trotted out their third stringers in the 2nd half. In case you're the type that needs it spelled out for you, or in case your pattern recognition skills have taken leave, what I'm saying is if you need to bust out the "A WIN is a WIN!" cliche for more than half of your wins, that's not a good thing. That's a bad thing.
And with that, I have run out of transparent ways to avoid being disappointed over any negative outcome next week. But hey, a VIKINGS FAN is still a VIKINGS FAN, right?