Football is to baseball as Cheez Whiz is to Gouda. Baseball is a game of subtle nuances. To fully appreciate it, you have to understand how with every pitch the strategy is different; how depending on the situation (how many runners are on base? what is the weather? what are the stadium factors involved?) the players must react in various ways to succeed. Football despite all its fancy plays ultimately comes down to which of the oversized men can hit each other harder. Baseball isn't over until the last batter is out; football relies on a clock and a coin toss to determine its outcome.
Baseball has always been, and no matter how hard they try to ruin it (extra playoff rounds, growing disparity between large market and small market teams) will always be my favorite game. There is no more exhilarating thing to watch in sports than to see Greg Maddux pitch. There is no more explosive sight than a Mark McGwire home run. But in this time of Presidential sized scandals I have to cleanse my soul and admit that the first time I had my heart broken was in 1973 when the Vikings lost to the Miami Dolphins.
My mother had given me a Vikings yearbook at the beginning of the year. Having just become a Twins fan the previous summer I now switched my attention to this other sport. This was Fran Tarkenton's second year back during his second stint with the team. It was Chuck Foreman's rookie season. The Vikings had gone 10-4 that year and despite having to play the defending champion Dolphins, I was absolutely sure the local team would become the Super Bowl champs. But they played their worse game of the year. My only memories of the game are of the many times it was up to Paul Krause to try and tackle Larry Csonka. The Dolphins ran at will. The Vikings offense went nowhere and it was a painful loss to endure.
The next year my love of the Vikings became even greater. Once again I lived and died with them all season long only to watch another awful Super Bowl performance, this time a 16-6 loss to the underdog Pittsburgh Steelers. (My lone memories from that game are of Mr. Tarkenton having a heck of a time trying to pass over the hands of Steeler lineman L.C. Greenwood. Seems like there were twenty blocked passes that game.)
The biggest heartbreak of all came however in 1975 (the best Vikings team ever until this season) when the team went 12-2 only to lose in that controversial playoff game to Dallas (the Drew Pearson game). It was after this season (with the image of the referee getting hit in the noggin by a liquor bottle) when I decided my heart couldn't take such regular disappointment. The highs of the season were equaled by the lows of the post- season. The Twins who were going through a mediocre stretch in the mid-70's were much easier to take with their .500 seasons and absence from the big game pressures of the playoffs and World Series.
I followed football for a couple more years (and another Viking Super Bowl loss) until my hero, the ever cool Bud Grant announced his retirement. It was to be the last time the Vikings broke my heart. I remember lying in bed on a Saturday morning when my mother came in to tell me of Mr. Bud's decision. I cried.
The Les Steckel year was comical. The Jerry Burns years were mind numbingly tedious. Football was a game to me that increasingly seemed lacking in any personality. Seemed like every game ended up 24-17 or something similar and the players were fast becoming interchangeable (Alfred Anderson or Scottie Graham? Rich Gannon or Gino Torretta? Who the hell cared?)
Before this season I went out on the limb and optimistically told anyone within ear range the Vikings would end up 12-4. I figured their passing attack, impressive as it has been the past few seasons, would be even better with Randy Moss and that the defense with ten returning starters would be much better (especially with the development of Duane Ruud). But being the casual football fan that I was, and despite my high expectations, I couldn't possibly imagine the dominance this team would have. I figured twelve wins was stretching the limits. Now anything less than a Super Bowl appearance would be down right disheartening.
Of course the question for me is can I watch another Vikings' Super Bowl appearance? I have finally after twenty years let the team back inside my heart to the extent I actually have watched most of their games this season (except their appearance in Chicago which I couldn't watch for personal reasons). If they don't make it to the Super Bowl it will be disappointing (just watch them lose to Green Bay). But if they make it to the Super Bowl and lose... someone may have to come and take me away.