What Winning and Losing Really Means

If ever there was an image to depict the 49 years of failure by the Minnesota Vikings, this is it. Will the 50th season be any different?

I was living in Portland, Ore. when the New Orleans Saints defeated my Minnesota Vikings in last year’s NFC Championship. Famously, the Vikings dominated the Saints for four quarters, but committed turnover after turnover, including a costly interception by quarterback Brett Favre just as the team was positioned for a game-winning field goal attempt in overtime:

I don’t want to relive it, but many Vikings fans will tonight when The Purple seek revenge against the Saints at the Superdome.

Back to living in Portland. I was as traumatized as most, but lucky for having lived and worked in a city that was largely apathetic to the NFL. If I’d lived in Minnesota, I doubt I would’ve gone to work. Misery loves company and all, but we fans of Minnesota pro sports have played that card too often. I would’ve spent the week in bed.

Last night, my girlfriend and I attended a Minnesota Twins game. (I went because the company I worked for was offered a spot in a suite. Beth went because upper deck tickets were just $4.) I got into a conversation with two women in their 30s who remember (fondly) the Minnesota Twins winning the 1991 World Series. One was at Game 7 while the other missed school to attend the World Series parade. That’s all I needed to hear, because it made me realize that’s all we Vikings fans really want: A celebration to break up the monotony. Something positive for a change. We want a parade.

As a sports fan, I’ve hedged my emotional investments after countless heartbreaks. You might argue it’s me getting older, wiser, more sensible, and realizing pro sports are merely entertainment. I don’t disagree.

However, I believe pro sports also bring about civic pride. There’s a reason we wear the team gear outside of season, kind of like a proclamation — This is where I’m from. This is what I’m about. A city like Minneapolis has a billion things to be proud of, but we can’t brag about our lakes, the arts scene and our best bicycling city title. Nothing could make us stick out our chests like a Super Bowl win. It’s not about pride in our town, but pride in our city. It just so happens pro sports are the best measuring stick.

I’ve argued, time and time again, sports matter because they don’t matter. We live at a time where everything matters — the economy, the housing market, the BP oil spill, the wars, etc. (And I don’t mean to underplay other issues using an et cetera, but that list could go on for days.) All the world’s seriousness stops outside of the stadium, never crosses the sidelines and can’t stop us from ejecting off our coaches when our favorite team scores a touchdown or hits a home run. That’s the beauty of it. The best part about pro sports is our team can lose and it doesn’t mean a damn thing.

The Vikings are five-point underdogs tonight. It’s possible the Saints throttle the Vikings and we’re left with the cold reminder brilliant seasons like last year’s are rare. It’s also possible they’ll go down to New Orleans and level revenge and have the Greater Twin Cities teeming with hope come Friday morning.

Either way, it’s better to be here, in Minneapolis, no matter suffering or celebrating. Although celebrating would be nice for a change.

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When I Was a Minnesota Viking

Every few weeks, I write a blog post for Idea Peepshow, the official blog of Fast Horse Inc., the consumer marketing agency where I’m currently an intern. Today, I wrote about my experience working for the Minnesota Vikings in 2007:

The Minnesota Vikings open training camp today in Mankato, kicking off the franchise’s 50th season of existence. Even as the National Football League continues to grow and refine its product, training camp remains the most savory fan experience, and that’s not by accident.

I worked as an assistant to the Minnesota Vikings sales and marketing team during the 2007 training camp. (That had less to do with my qualifications and more to do with knowing the right people from Mankato and my alma mater, Minnesota State University.) Nevertheless, I was able to finagle my way into a 100-hour-per-week job, acting as a small, temporary cog for the well-oiled Vikings machine …

Read more.

Today is What Sports Are All About

I’ve been on pins and needles all week, avoiding any undue trash talk regarding my beloved Minnesota Vikings. Commence eye-roll if you could care less about the NFL, but this Conference Championship weekend — arguably the best week of the football season.

Why not the Super Bowl? Because of the circus and theatrics that surround it. It’s the only sporting event where viewers are excited to see commercials. There’s classic, but safe rock performances at halftime — this year, The Who. Whichever network broadcasts the Super Bowl takes every opportunity to plug their shows. (“The Colts’ third-down is brought to you by N.C.I.S., the No. 1 show on television!”) The Super Bowl is the most hyperbolic event in the world. Am I the only one who finds it silly that 2 BILLION people worldwide watch it?

The Vikings fan experience was epitomized by a grueling loss in the 1998 NFC Championship game.

This is probably me trying to minimize the majesty of the Super Bowl, because it would mean everything today if my Vikings somehow defeated the New Orleans Saints to advance. That’s a fickle matter in itself, because there’s every reason in the world to pull for New Orleans. Minnesota has never endured a tragedy on the scale of Hurricane Katrina. (No, the Jesse Ventura’s gubernatorial tenure doesn’t compare.) All week, the national media has made it apparent the Saints are not only favored to win, but they deserve to win. I understand sentimentality runs high, but neither win nor loss will help rebuild New Orleans’ 8th Ward. It may be a morale-booster, but football is football is football. New Orleans will be OK.

And you know what? If the Vikings lose, I’ll be OK, too. This is just sports, just pure entertainment. As a sports fan, you must revel in the inconsequentiality of it all. Vikings football, to me, is a tradition. I was raised a fan and spent every Sunday growing up glued to the TV, eating my dad’s chili, cheering on the Purple and Gold with my family. I interviewed and wrote about several Vikings as a college journalist and with the Mankato (MN) Free Press. I even worked for the Vikings’ sales & marketing team one summer, which meant living in the dorms with the Vikings during training camp. (I’ve stood between Pat Williams and Bryant McKinnie going through a lunch line. This was my closest brush with death.)

I have a sordid history with the Vikings. I sat in our family sports bar when I was 14 and watched the Vikings choke against the Atlanta Falcons in the 1998 NFC Championship game. I was absolutely demoralized again two years later during the NFC Championship game when they were throttled 41-0 by the New York Giants. The heartbreak experienced when the team you love loses is similar to what you go through the first time you’re ever dumped: You wonder why you ever cared and you wonder how you could ever care again.

It’s 2010 now. A decade has gone by since I’ve felt this feeling of hope, of anxiety, of boyishness. I’ve been giddily sipping my coffee all morning, listening to KFAN on my iPhone, reading up on all the latest news surrounding the game. A win today only ensures a chance at winning the Super Bowl. I can’t tell you, exactly, what it would mean to actually win the Super Bowl. I can’t think that far ahead.

This is the day you would want to introduce a skeptic to professional sports. If you consider how much of their lives have been devoted to football, you will better appreciate the raw emotion that comes with winning a conference title game and earning a Super Bowl bid. The players, too, are feeling hopeful, anxious and boyish as they take the field today for a chance to play out their dreams. On a very basic, human level, today, you get to understand why sports are good.

Not important, by any means, but good.

UPDATED at 7:58 p.m.

Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT)

I hate sports.

In Defense of Percy Harvin

percy_harvin

Harvin knocked out 19 reps at 225 bench press and ran a 4.41 40-yard time. However, it's not his physical ability that has raised concerns.

My beloved Minnesota Vikings selected Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin with the No. 22 pick Saturday. Despite their needs at receiver, the Vikings’ pick has been labeled risky due to Harvin’s history of character issues.

I was aware Harvin had tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine in March. So did Calvin Johnson, Gaines Adams and Amobi Okoye in 2007 and each haven’t spent a minute in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office. Harvin’s other blemishes? A single-game suspension during his senior football season for unsportsmanlike conduct; a two-game suspension for an altercation with a referee involving foul language; suspension from his high school track team and all Virginia High School League athletics for a scuffle during a baskeball team where the referees were forced to stop the game with time on the clock.

OK, so I wouldn’t file his transgressions under “Irrelevant,” but I think you could relate many of his problems to a lack of maturity. Let us not forget Harvin is just 20 years old.

If nothing else, Harvin is highly competitive. He has experienced great success at all levels, dating back to a Pop Warner National Championship in 2001. It’s fitting he should end up alongside Adrian Peterson, who shares similar work ethic and freak athletic abilities. Peterson could serve as a positive mentor for Harvin, who like Peterson enters the league with serious questiosn about his durability. Character issues can be ironed out.

This isn’t the first major risk the Vikings have taken, either. Before Randy Moss — the obvious comparison — there was Cris Carter, who was kicked off the Ohio State football team and struggled severely early on his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. As each grew older, they found focus and realize their abilities were too great to go to waste. So, too, should be the case with Harvin.

So often these “character issues” get blown out of proportion. Who among us doesn’t know someone who has done worse than Harvin or Carter or Moss? Who among us has a DUI or an assault charge? Would these mistakes cause others to question our character? The reality is few of us are angels. We shouldn’t expect anymore of professional athletes.