GRAND RAPIDS — Fran Tarkenton. Tommy Mason. Mick Tingelhoff. Bill Brown. Paul Flatley.
In my mind’s eye, I can still remember the faces of those men on my early 1960s football cards that I would purchase at Felosi Rexall Drug in Coleraine.
That was my first inkling that there was another football team in Minnesota. In the early 1960s, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers ruled the roost when it came to fall football. Of course, the local high school games were always exciting and drew good crowds, but on a national level it was the Gophers first and the Vikings a distant second.
In Coleraine, Gopher football was emphasized even more because a local boy – Greenway graduate Robin Tellor – was a starting offensive lineman on the last U of M team to capture a national championship, in 1960. So, Gophers football was everything although I was really too young to understand anything. The only inkling I had that the Vikings even existed was from the football cards. But at that young age, I could not distinguish college football from professional football from high school football.
It was just football.
Then, in the late 1960s, when Superior native Bud Grant took over as head coach, the state began to take notice of professional football and the Vikings. I can remember the 1967 season for the Vikings as a 10-year-old when they weren’t very good, and in two years they were playing in their first Super Bowl.
Ouch, and three more big ouches as Minnesota lost four Super Bowls in eight years, leaving Vikings fans writhing in agony as names like Otis Taylor, Larry Csonka, Franco Harris and John Madden riddled their minds with bad thoughts. Thankfully – and dejectedly – there have been no other losses in Super Bowl history for the Vikings because they have failed to reach one since 1977, when I was a young man in West Germany in the U.S. Army.
My sorrow deepened when I attended my first-ever Vikings game on Dec. 28, 1975, with buddies Dan “Wang” Guyer and Frank Serratore. We were sitting in the old left-field stands at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., singing “Good bye Dallas, good bye Dallas” when Drew Pearson and Roger Staubach broke our hearts with the now fabled Hail Mary Pass. A fan on the far side of the field hit a referee in the head with a booze bottle, prompting my dad to turn to my brother in the living room and say, “I hope that wasn’t Ted.”
Narrow misses abound. A Darrin Nelson dropped pass, a Gary Anderson missed field goal, a Brett Favre interception derailed what appeared to be certain Super Bowl appearances in 1987, 1998, and 2009. There have been good teams since but none have reached the Super Bowl.
Can it happen this year? Of course, because there have been a number of Super Bowl winners in the past who were not considered playoff-caliber teams by the preseason “experts” and they went on to championship seasons. With that being said, I would assume the Vikings are entering the 2019 season on everybody’s list of preseason contenders for winning the Super Bowl.
I am not going to get deep into the Vikings’ chances this season because everybody has read everything already about their chances and they don’t need to listen to an obscure sports writer. So, let’s let the battles begin.
I think the Vikings make the playoffs this season, exhibiting an enhanced offense which takes Kirk Cousins to the Pro Bowl. If Dalvin Cook stays healthy, he will give Minnesota that breakaway threat in the backfield that keeps defenses honest.
It seems the Vikings will be one of the best defensive teams in the NFL, although I keep thinking back to the Buffalo debacle of last season to remind myself that top-rated defenses can get torched like everything else. Still, I think that if it can remain consistent it will lead the Vikings to the playoffs.
Will they make the Super Bowl. It is a wild guess for everybody from an 8-year-old to the most informed NFL person on this earth. Can they make it? Yes, they can, but they will need some luck and everything needs to fall into place.
I am excited for the new season and here we go.