Sunday, January 21, 2018

Memories from a Cautiously Optimistic Vikings Fan

Sports fans in America love rooting for the underdog. Just over a year ago, the Chicago Cubs had many people pulling for them (myself included) as they won their first World Series in 108 years. Now another franchise with a reputation of losing big games has a chance of finally winning it all. It happens to be my favorite football team.

The Minnesota Vikings began playing in 1961 as an NFL expansion team. Eight years later, they appeared in their first Super Bowl but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. Three years after that, I started watching Vikings games on TV while growing up in Moorhead, Minnesota. The following season, they reached Super Bowl VIII, which was played on my tenth birthday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Super Sunday for me as the Vikings lost to the Miami Dolphins.

Nevertheless, I remained a Minnesota Vikings fan with quarterback Fran Tarkenton as my favorite player. Throughout the rest of the 1970s, I watched almost every Vikings game on TV. They consistently won their division but never went all the way through the playoffs. Among the disappointments I endured seeing were two more Super Bowl losses and the infamous Hail Mary game against the Dallas Cowboys. By the end of the decade, I was watching fewer games and spending more time at the roller rink.

In December 1980, I was home one Sunday afternoon watching the Minnesota Vikings play poorly against the Cleveland Browns. I left the living room just before the game was over. Suddenly, I heard Mom and Dad cheering as Ahmad Rashad caught a winning touchdown with no time left. Since then, my parents jokingly asked me to leave the room whenever the Vikings faced defeat. They often seemed to play better when I wasn’t watching them. Similar incidents happened with come-from-behind playoff wins over the New York Giants in 1997 and last week’s “Minneapolis Miracle” against the New Orleans Saints. I had been watching the latter game from a restaurant but left early thinking the Vikings would let that game slip away.

Dad had talked of us seeing a Minnesota Vikings game as a family but that never happened (he passed away last month). My parents went to a game by themselves in 1984 when the Vikings had one of their worst seasons ever. They barely won that contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I attended my first Vikings game two years later after moving to Minneapolis. One night I was at a club where the disc jockey announced he had two free Vikings tickets for the first person who could tell him who played keyboards on the Beatles’ song “Get Back.” I knew the answer was Billy Preston and rushed to the DJ booth to claim the tickets. A college classmate went with me the next night to see the Vikings beat the Dolphins in a preseason game.

Due to the high prices plus preferring the comfort and convenience of seeing games on TV, I never sought to buy Vikings tickets. Still, I’ve been to a few other games. In 1999, a friend’s mother had season tickets and offered to let her son and me attend the home opener. The Vikings lost that one to the Oakland Raiders.

Starting in 2013, I’ve spent part of the year living with a Vikings fan who’s also an occasional evangelist. As Mr. Minnesota, my roommate dances around near the stadium in a Mask-like outfit attracting crowds and then hands out specially-designed gospel tracts. In exchange for filming him, Mr. Minnesota bought both of us tickets for that day’s game if he found a pair from a scalper who wasn’t charging too much money. I haven’t been to a winning game with Mr. Minnesota except for one.

Prior to a Vikings game against the Houston Texans in 2016, I approached a homeless man sitting near the stadium displaying a sign asking for help. After offering him a bag of Doritos, this man offered me a ticket someone had given him. Mr. Minnesota later bought one off the street. Both of us got to see the Vikings win 31-13. At that point, they were 5-0 for the season but then slumped to finish with an 8-8 record.

This season I initially shied away from watching NFL games in response to many players not honoring the national anthem. Gradually I relented as the Minnesota Vikings played better than expected and finished the regular season at 13-3. I’m still a bit reluctant to watch today’s NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles. As much as I want to see the Vikings win, I don’t want to get my emotions stirred up and then experience another letdown. The Vikings have lost in their last five NFC Championship appearances including two in overtime. But if they win today, the Vikings will compete in their first Super Bowl in 41 years…and in their home stadium to boot!

Here’s something else worth noting. Back in late 1976, I had a dream of having been in some kind of coma and then asked my mother if the Vikings had won the Super Bowl. She said they did by beating the New England Patriots. In real life, the Vikings eventually lost that season’s Super Bowl to the Raiders who had narrowly beaten the Patriots in an earlier playoff game. However, this dream would become prophetic if both the Vikings and Patriots win their respective games today and then if the Vikings come out victorious in Super Bowl LII.

Regardless, I won’t base my happiness on the outcome of a football game. Some might call me a fair-weather fan but I disagree. The Minnesota Vikings will always be my favorite team. But even former head coach Bud Grant told one interviewer, “Football is entertainment. It’s not life or death.” In response to his being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Bud stated, “We’re stars. We’re not heroes. We’ve done nothing heroic.”

As Christians, we can always be winners. In fact, Romans 8:37 says we are more than conquerors. After throwing last week’s winning touchdown pass, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum told a Fox Sports reporter that the most important moment of his life was meeting his Lord and Savior. Go Team Jesus!

“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” - Colossians 3:2 (KJV)

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