Surprisingly, Packers Fans Have Handled Big Win With Class

I admit, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XVL Sunday night, and over the past 48 hours, their fans have been too caught up in revelry to rub it in the face of Vikings fans like myself. Don’t get me wrong — there’s been very little sports media consumption for me this week. No ESPN. No KFAN. No Star Tribune sports section. Hell, I didn’t even log into Facebook until Monday afternoon. The Packers and their fans have every right to celebrate that Super Bowl win and it doesn’t bother me at all. But I totally expected Cheeseheads everywhere to resort to child-like boasting.

Guess what — it hasn’t happened. Yet.

An NFL lockout looms if players and owners can’t agree on a new collective bargaining agreement by March 4. It’s possible the Packers will hold the title of “defending Super Bowl champs” even longer than usual. If next season is wiped out, the Cheeseheads get to flaunt their Lombardi Trophy until February 2013. In reality, the Vikings could be rooted in Los Angeles by then. Think about it.

Or don’t. It’s been a rough enough week for Vikings fans as it is.

I call her a Packers fan. Someone in Green Bay calls her mom.

Packers faithful have been nothing but gracious thus far. From what I can tell, the team is made up of upstanding characters who respect and understand their unique franchise, so they’re hard to hate. They’re a team that’s built for the future and a run of dominance that could well outlast the Vikings’ stay in Minnesota. That idea isn’t as painful as it once was, because as long as I can tune out the TV, radio and Internet and avoid public places for a few days, I can ignore each subsequent Super Bowl win. Go wild, Cheeseheads. You go enjoy your little dynasty run in your silly foam hats.

As much as it eats at my soul, I want to congratulate the Green Bay Packers and their fans for… — God, I can’t do this. Yuck. I’d rather comb Clay Matthews’ mane.

OK. Let’s try this again. Kudos to the Packers and their fans for…—No. Hell no. I’d rather eat Cheerios out of Mark Tauscher‘s jock strap.

One more time, with feeling.

Thanks to the Packers and their fans for not being completely obnoxious about winning the Super Bowl … EVEN THOUGH WE BOTH KNOW THE STEELERS COMPLETELY LAID AN EGG AND THERE’S A GOOD-TO-GREAT CHANCE THE GAME WAS RIGGED BY THE NFL TO ERASE THE MEMORY OF BRETT FAVRE AND POSITION AARON RODGERS AS THE NFL’S NEXT MOST LOVABLE QUARTERBACK SINCE PEYTON MANNING IS 35 AND PROBABLY ON THE WAY OUT!!!

Is it baseball season yet? How about them Brewers?

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The Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium? I Was There

I went to last night’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium so I could say, for the rest of my life, I was at the game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium.

I didn’t intend on going until late afternoon, when a co-worker not-so-gently coerced me into looking for tickets. I posted an inquiry on Facebook and within 15 minutes we had two upper level tickets for $40 a pop. We darted to Target to buy long johns, wool socks and hand warmers. We caught a few pre-game drinks at Sally’s nearby the stadium. We gaped at the stadium itself, illuminated by the falling snow and electricity of a fan base that had been subjected to indoor football for three decades.

Of course, the Vikings got smoked 40-14.

The game was meaningless to the Vikings, but it wasn’t without intrigue. It was their first outdoor home game since December 20, 1981. It may have been Brett Favre’s last start, despite being ruled out 48 hours to kickoff with a bum shoulder. It was a night the franchise celebrated it’s 50 best players in the team’s 50-year history.

It was a spectacle, albeit a drunken one. We sat by a gang of buffoons who felt it necessary to throw snowballs at innocent Bears fans while yelling things I’ve never before heard at a sporting event. (“Run like you’re a second grader!” and “F_ck you, Chicago!”) We saw paramedics working on several fallen comrades throughout the stadium. We saw liquor-dispensing gadgets that must’ve been invented by Q from the James Bond movies.

Was it cold? It was tolerable. There was a light snow which turned to drizzle, very little wind and the temperature hovered in the 20s all night. On TV, the field appeared a sheet of ice and the players appeared on the verge of frost bite. Someday, I’ll feel inclined to fudge the details — just as generations before me did with Metropolitan Stadium folklore — and say it was in fact a blizzard, the wind was whipping and it was so cold, you could see your breath turn to snow if not for the zero visibility.

The question was asked last night where the TCF Bank Stadium game would rank on my list of all-time best fan experiences. I have been privileged to see a lot of great players and a lot of great teams in some of the most historic sports arenas in the country. (To clarify, I’m not talking about the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.) I would rank last night’s game as the best fan experience of my life. It brought together past, present and future in football’s version of Back To The Future. It felt like a game at the Met, but it also felt like a game at the Vikings’ next outdoor stadium (if it ever gets built).

You buy a ticket to see something memorable. You might see a 40-14 drubbing. You might see the greatest quarterback of all time make the last start of his career. You might see shirtless men in 20-degree weather. You might see something no one’s seen for 29 years.

Last night, I saw it all.

Kluwe Cries Foul in Fear of Player Safety at TCF Bank Stadium

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is worried about player safety tonight.

Yesterday, after the Vikings held a walkthrough at TCF Bank Stadium to test field conditions, Kluwe tweeted the field was “unplayable,” adding, “The field is as hard as concrete an hour and a half after they took the tarp off, and anyone that hits their head is getting a concussion.”

Thousands of people — many of whom were temp workers – worked around the clock the past week to help remove the 17 inches of snow that fell on the Twin Cities last weekend. A few weeks previous, TCF Bank Stadium had been winterized and put into hibernation until spring, but when the Vikings faced playing a second straight home game outside of Minneapolis, a deal was made to revive/thaw the field for one more game. In Minneapolis, it’s being considered the sporting event of the year, even if the Vikings are 5-8 and out of the playoff picture.

Back to Kluwe. He’s right in that the NFL should’ve considered moving the game if player safety is the concern they claim it is. However, everyone outside of Kluwe — who won’t be a part of more than eight or nine plays — claims the field is hard, but playable. Maybe everyone else is playing tough guy, though.

You know what drives me up the wall? Football players who refuse to wear long sleeves when it’s freezing out. They have no problem gathering around the portable heater or heated bench on the sideline, but when they’re in the game, they wouldn’t be caught dead whilst properly dressed for the conditions. Wearing long sleeves in a commercial? Well, money talks:

Luckily for both teams, it’s supposed to snow 4-6 inches today and overnight. That could create more padding on the field, but more importantly, it’ll keep the temperature up. (Pardon the meteorological nerdery.) Monday’s forecast has gotten a little warmer each day since TCF Bank Stadium was officially named the site of tonight’s game. Originally, the guess was anywhere from 5-10 degrees at kickoff with something like a (-15) wind chill. If that was the case, players could’ve suffered frost bite to exposed skin in 45 minutes or less.

Kind of offsets Kluwe’s concerns about player safety, doesn’t it? Hard to ask the NFL to move a game hundreds of miles to Indianapolis or St. Louis for player safety when half your team refuses to put on a long-sleeve shirt like petulant children.

In 2002, I played in a high school football game where the temperature was 12 degrees. The field was actually frozen — our cleats were more like tap-dance shoes, unable to penetrate the rock-hard sod. We wore layer over layer and huddled around a propane space heater at every chance. On punts, the ball would bounce upward as if it’d landed in a parking lot. We won that game, no one suffered frost bite, and — most importantly — no one got a concussion.

It’s not something I would ever want to do again, but it wasn’t “unplayable” like Kluwe would probably claim.

The Metrodome Blizzard, Or, That Just Happened

A foot-and-a-half of snow fell on the Twin Cities before the Metrodome’s Teflon roof buckled early Sunday morning, providing one hell of a finale for the city’s fifth largest snowstorm on record.

There’s plenty of takeaways from this catastrophic event, and not the least of these is what happens to the Minnesota Vikings for their remaining home games. Yesterday’s bout with the New York Giants was pushed back on Saturday when officials feared the facility wouldn’t be safe for a noon start on Sunday. (Good looking out.) After the roof caved, the game was moved to tonight at Ford Field in Detroit, thus eliminating home-field advantage.

Now, there’s concern the dome won’t be repaired in time for next Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears, raising the possibility, however remote, the game will be moved to TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

Of course, the timing couldn’t be better. Better, because the Vikings are unlikely to make the playoffs, so they’ll avoid any playoff berth without a home. Also, if the Vikings should venture over to The Bank, it would give fans/voters a chance to see what outdoor football in late December is really about. The Vikings’ Metrodome lease expires after next season and ownership has said they will not renew as they wait for a stadium bill to pass. Given this weekend’s weather, perhaps ownership will think twice about romanticizing outdoor football.

Here’s what I’m taking away from The Blizzard That Did In The Dome:

  1. Most of residential Northeast Minneapolis was left to single-lane traffic, making it extremely difficult to back out of driveways or turn corners. It was more snow than the city could immediately handle, so discouraging all travel made sense. The problem is the city can say no travel, but that’s not practical because people need to go places. My heart goes out to anyone who got stuck on their way to work. There should be a state law forbidding employees be punished if they cannot make it to work while there’s a no travel advisory.
  2. Shoveling isn’t so bad. It’s a great workout and you get to see your progress along the way. We live on a corner which means we have to shovel more than most, but it’s pretty cool to see the sidewalk with four-foot mounds of snow surrounding it. It’s like walking through a maze.
  3. Twitter was nothing short of entertaining — at first. Starting Friday, locals went mad with hyperbole, making fun of the severe forecast and basically retelling the same stupid jokes over and over. Someone died in this storm. Someone lost their job because of this storm. Imagine if the Metrodome had collapsed during a game. This was not the storm for hyperbole — its severity couldn’t be overstated. So, ultimately, clowns who made jokes about the storm — myself included — wound up looking like ignorant, insensitive buffoons.
  4. I admit it was nice having the winter off from shoveling last year in Portland. However, the best thing about a storm like this weekend’s is you get to see strangers helping strangers. Make it a personal mandate to help someone else if someone has helped you. The only way we’ll survive this winter — which starts Dec. 21 — is by paying it forward.

In Defense of Brad Childress and Player Accountability

This photo was taken, appropriately, from firechilly.com, which was established in 2008.

The Minnesota Vikings eked out a 27-24 overtime victory yesterday against the Arizona Cardinals, despite trailing by 14 with under four minutes remaining. At least for now, head coach Brad Childress and the Vikings have life.

Thousands of fans missed out on the late-game theatrics because they’d long left the Metrodome before Ryan Longwell’s 35-yard field goal sealed the win. Of course, those fans were probably exhausted from spending a better part of the game booing at any and every chance. Those same fans probably came with their “FIRE CHILDRESS” signs and T-shirts, as if attending a protest and not a football game. Those same fans actually wanted their team to lose just so they could be adieu to the mustachioed one.

You know how other fans decry the Vikings fan base? Call them fair-weather fans? Easily on and off the bandwagon? This is why.

I know fans who hoped the Vikings would sandbag it yesterday, purposely lose, just so that coach Childress would be fired. Never mind the Vikings are still technically in the playoff chase. Never mind an NFL lockout looms after this season, meaning the Vikings may not play a meaningful season for two years. Never mind the Vikings have the talent to win now, and only get better this week when star wide receiver Sidney Rice returns from injury. A division of Vikings fans wished failure for their team just to have a different coach at the helm, virtues be damned.

Childress has made for a convenient target all season, despite some serious shortcomings by players like Brett Favre, Jared Allen, Phil Loadholt and the entire defensive secondary. Then there’s the Randy Moss debacle. Childress turned fans’ disappointment to fury last week when he decided to waive the future Hall of Famer after a series of tirades and perceived poor effort on the field. Many felt he not only should’ve informed ownership of this decision, but he should’ve consulted the fans, as well.

Please. This isn’t the St. Louis Park Pee-Wee Football League. If Favre throws a pick-six, that’s Favre’s fault. If Asher Allen whiffs trying to tackle something called “Danny Woodhead,” that’s Allen’s fault. If the Vikings defensive line is made to look like an elementary school recess with it’s paddycake pass rush, that’s the defensive’s lines fault. Coaches are responsible for putting players in a position to succeed. Coach Childress put basically all of the same players in the same position last year on the way to a 12-4 season. Don’t kid yourself — that this team is 3-5 has nothing to do with a shift in strategy or philosophy, but rather execution. Until there was 3:34 left in yesterday’s game, the Vikings looked like a team waiting for something good to happen.

Then, finally, they made it happen.

Speaking on Vikings fans after the game, Childress said, “I think they came expecting to see an execution, and it ended up a pretty good football game at the end.”

Childress isn’t off the hook. In fact, nothing short of the most improbable Super Bowl win could bring Childress back for another go-round. I’m not arguing to bring Childress back, either.

As fans, consider who you’re shooting at before drawing your bow. In fact, make sure you’ve got more than one arrow, because this year’s futility has been a group effort. No matter how poorly Childress has coached — and his blunders are plentiful — it hasn’t impacted a single player’s ability to perform at a high level. Don’t kid yourself there.

“Do I always get along with my head coach, quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator? No,” Favre said. “Do I always agree with the plays that were called? No. Why should that factor in to me wanting to be the best player I can be?

“It is easy to point blame at this person and that person. To say the coach, coordinator, running back or quarterback is at fault is being a coward.”

Fans, take note.

In Minnesota, Melancholy Isn’t a Mood — It’s a Lifestyle

It’s 8 a.m. The streetlights are still on as the sun has yet to rise. Why should it? Why waste a sunny day as we Minnesotans wallow in our swelling melancholy?

The Vikings fell to 2-4 last night after losing 28-24 to the Green Bay Packers. Quarterback Brett Favre was — again — the storyline. He threw three interceptions that led to 14 points, effectively ending the 14-month honeymoon for Vikings fans like yours truly. Another season of wonder has turned to blunder.

This bleak feeling has become all too familiar of late, where on the local scene mediocrity has become the standard:

  • The Minnesota Twins? Swept from the playoffs by the Yankees.
  • The Minnesota Gophers? 1-7, already on their second coach of the season.
  • Brock Lesnar? UFC heavyweight title lost to Cain Valesquez after a first-round TKO Saturday night.
  • The Minnesota Wild? 3-3-1, but honestly, I had to look that up. I’m not a hockey fan.
  • The Minnesota Timberwolves? Their season doesn’t start for a few days, so right now, they’re the best team in town.

Last season, I was living in Portland as the Vikings stormed through the regular season and into the playoffs. I was back home for losses to the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers, so all told, the Vikings were 13-3 in games I watched 1,700 miles from Vikings territory. Last night, I got to thinking — would I rather live far from Minnesota and see the Vikings win or live here and see them lose?

Still undecided.

Misery loves Minnesota sports. It’s Monday morning agony like this that defines Vikings fan experience. We’ve gotten used to losing, or, as used to it as one can get. Still, you have to wonder what it was like living in a place like Boston the past decade. In the aughts alone, they saw their New England Patriots win three Super Bowls, their Boston Red Sox win two World Series and their Boston Celtics win an NBA title. A Minnesota pro sports franchise hasn’t advanced to a title game, no less won a championship, since 1991 when the Twins won the World Series.

We’re the punchline and the punching bag.

Last night, I tweeted, “So, how about that Minneapolis arts scene?” What I meant was we, as a fan base, should probably look beyond sports for joy. I know it’s a hard transition, but season tickets at the Guthrie Theatre must be cheaper than season tickets at Target Field. As foodies and provincial microbrew drinkers already know, there’s plenty of fine establishments where you can get full and get a buzz for the price of nachos and a Coors Light at a Vikings game. Here’s a bonus: When an artist snaps a photo of his penis, it’s just art!

That’s not going to happen though. You and I will go on in hopeless support of our fledgling pro franchises, just as anyone with Stockholm syndrome would. The highs will be high, the lows will be low, but failure will find us like a shock collar the moment we’ve wandered too far from reality.

Go on in gloom this Monday, which should be nothing other than dark, cold and miserable. What could be more befitting of the Minnesota sports fan experience?

Football Players Less Like Nitschke, More Like Nietzsche

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, at the end of the day, is not a wordsmith, and it is what it is.

As my Minnesota Vikings flailed through an unsightly 14-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins yesterday, I started preparing myself for a season of disappointment. Going back to 1990, only about 10 percent of 160 teams to start 0-2 made the playoffs. It’s Sept. 20 and I’m ready to write the eulogy on the 2010 season. It’s going to be a long winter.

It may also be a season full of idioms like “it is what it is” and “at the end of the day.” These are two of the most common phrases used by sports types when explaining failure. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is famous for using both in failures both athletic and political:

On Sept. 19, 2009, regarding the lasting effects from a cheap shot the previous season by Lions offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus: “Yeah, it stinks. My knee still clicks, but it is what it is.”

On Aug. 15, 2010, responding to New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams vow to aggressively pursue Brett Favre in the season-opener: “Those are just meathead comments. You know what, it is what it is. People trying to get their team fired up. They’re trying not to let a successful season get to them … at the end of the day people are going to talk with their pads and we’ll see how things happen down in New Orleans.”

On Nov. 6, 2008, following Barack Obama’s victory over Sen. John McCain in the presidential election: “It is what it is and McCain, I still love you, and Obama, you better do what you promised because the whole country is watching.”

What Allen lacks in prose he makes made up for in mullet. (Perhaps with Allen’s mullet went the Vikings’ 2010 hopes and dreams?)

I equally despise the cliche “at a loss for words,” but I’d rather that be the case than resorting to dumb ones. It is what it is? At the end of the day? What does that even mean? Let’s take a look:

“It is what it is.”

According to Urban Dictionary — the foremost authority on these things — “this incredibly versatile phrase can be literally translated as ‘f*ck it.'” Fitting. I’ve always felt it’s a phrase existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche would appreciate:

Jared Allen: “We worked our tails off, but Rodgers is a great quarterback, man, and it is what it is.”

Friedrich Nietzsche: “You bet your ass, it is.”

“At the end of the day.”

Urban Dictionary says, “A saying mostly used by people trying to prove points without having any other intelligent way of expressing it.” Far be it from a bunch of oversized grunts to intellectualize why they’re horrible at a boy’s game. Is the “day” metaphorical? Does it end at midnight or is that subject to change? And what’s going on at the end of the day? What’s the difference between then and now? What changed from the start of the day? Will things be the same tomorrow? Why do you not kick a chip-shot 43-yard field goal on 4th and 2 on the opening drive? Was that a call you’d make differently at the end of the day? Are you the Antichrist? Are you talking 2012 shit, like End of Days? Have you seen End of Days? Not Schwarzenegger’s best work, but it is what it is. Wait, dammit!

If I spend the next four months in a fetal position, it’s not because I can’t stand watching a season wither away. Again, I’m a Vikings fan. What I can’t stand is the nonsensical blubbering you get from the world’s most elite athletes, who can bench press 400 pounds but can’t parse a meaningful phrase even if their contract bonus depended on it.