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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings essay: A boy and his dad

By Derek Wetmore

Editor’s note: Scott Korzenowski is a longtime sports columnist and attorney in the Twin Cities area. He’s the host of Sunday Morning Sports Talk on 1500ESPN, and this is a guest column.

Not long before the heartbreak of the Chiefs and Hank Stram, there was a boy and his dad sitting behind home plate at Met Stadium on a cold late December day in 1969 preparing to watch Joe Kapp and Alan Page lead the Vikings to what the boy was certain was going to be a memorable and significant victory over Roman Gabriel and the Los Angeles Rams.

The boy and his dad started the day at a watering hole in Northeast Minneapolis. They ate breakfast. The boy drank hot chocolate; the dad drank something just as warm, but with a little bit more of a kick. They took a bus to Met Stadium. Once there and in their seats they befriended a young couple from Los Angeles wearing rain coats, fancy leather dress gloves and totes. The dad said, “You two are going to need some help.” The boy and his dad gave them their blankets, and the dad shared his Thermos full of coffee and magic.

At that point, the boy truly believed the Vikings were unbeatable, and just about the surest thing, and not just in sports either, but in life. So even though the Vikings trailed 17-7 at the half, the boy wasn’t the least bit worried. The Vikings were going to win, because, in his extremely limited experience, they always did. And on this day, they did just that, grinding out a 22-20 victory when Alan Page intercepted Roman Gabriel’s final pass attempt.

The boy and his dad filed out and climbed into the bus. The people on that bus were now acting differently than they had on the trip the stadium, and the boy figured it was only because the Vikings had won. The passengers in the bus had become loud, boisterous, and were jumping and singing, and when the song leader pumped his fist into the air during the refrain of “Skol Vikings,” he punched a hole through the interior ceiling off the bus. The dad smiled and said, “Well son, you’re getting quite an education today.”

Just three weeks later, while watching Super Bowl IV with family friends, the boy soon learned what every Vikings fan since has come to know, the Vikings are a sure thing, but not in the way the boy originally had thought. The only thing sure about the Vikings, the boy learned, is that they are going to win just enough to make you hurt.

So it came as no surprise to the boy who now has become a 57-year old man that, as the Vikings lined up for what would become the final play against the Saints on Sunday, the wife of the man said: “The Vikings are going to lose, aren’t they.” The man actually had come to peace with this eventuality. He had become calm and somewhat relieved that at least this team had the common decency to end early this chapter in the man’s 48-year sporting despair. In the pantheon of Vikings defeats, this one was not nearly as depressing as the four Super Bowls, as sudden as the Hail Mary, nor as shocking as “wide left” or “12-men in the huddle.”

But instead of simply saying, “Yes, they are going to lose today,” the man said, “Yes, unless there is a miracle.” The man is not sure why he said that, because the man certainly wasn’t expecting a miracle; nobody expects a miracle, do they? Especially when it involves the Vikings. But as Case Keenum’s pass sailed down field and into Stephon Diggs’ outstretched hands as he rose up to catch it, and then as Diggs came down, pirouetted, and suddenly started running straight into Vikings lore, the man stood up, raised his arms, and suddenly felt the presence of the person who had infected the man with a love for this team so many years earlier, his dad. The man, once again, had become the boy.

The man harkened back to December 1980 when the Vikings trailed the Browns 23-9 midway through the fourth quarter. The dad hated getting stuck in the parking lot at the old Met and wanted to “beat the traffic,” but the boy wanted to stay, so he suggested they move from their seats in the third-base bleachers behind the north end zone to the permanent portion of the stadium along the first-base side, where they could sit in two of the many deserted seats right on the 50. The dad complied.

The Vikings scored with about five minutes left, but Rick Danmeier missed his second extra-point of the day (the precursor to Kai Forbath?), to cut the lead to just eight at 23-15. Because two-point conversions were not then legal, the deserters multiplied. The Browns were running out the clock and then, with just over two minutes remaining, inexplicably tried a pass that Bobby Bryant intercepted. Tommy Kramer moved the Vikings down the field and connected with Ahmad Rashad (a true harbinger) with 1:35 left to get the Vikings within one at 23-22.

The Vikings’ on-side kick failed, and the Browns ran three plays. By the time they punted, the Vikings had only 14 seconds at their disposal and 80 yards to cover.

Kramer stepped back and threw a little hook pass to Stu Voigt. The boy and his dad screamed bloody murder, and wondered aloud whether Bud Grant and his offensive coordinator Jerry Burns had lost their collective minds. And then the boy and his dad heard a roar and they looked up and there was Teddy Brown running free up the left sidelines. After catching the pass, Voigt had pitched it to Brown. Realizing he couldn’t get the ball all the way into the end zone, Brown intentionally ran out of bounds on the Browns’ 46, leaving the Vikings five seconds and one more play.

Kramer then stepped back and threw the Vikings’ own version of the Hail Mary, which a Browns defender tipped before Rashad pulled it in around his waist while backing into the north end zone.

On the way out of the stadium, the boy and his dad rejoiced with the remaining thousands as everybody sang “Skol Vikings” in the massive ramps outside the west side of the old Met. This time, nobody damaged anything the boy could see.

But as the man stood in his living room this past Sunday with his arms raised while proclaiming out loud at least a dozen times: “It’s a miracle, a Minnesota miracle,” his heart warmed because he realized that this moment, this inexplicable, unexpected, miraculous moment, somehow represented a reprieve from the final Vikings’ moment the man had shared with his dad 14 years earlier.

It was December 2003, and the man had just returned home from a trip to California where he had spent the week with his dying dad. His dad was still alive when the man left, but the man knew his dad’s time was short. But it was a Sunday and the man did what he had done most every Sunday for years, many with his dad; the man sat down to watch the Vikings. They were playing the woeful Cardinals, and a victory would qualify the Vikings for the playoffs.

The Cardinals were driving for a winning score when the Vikings sacked Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown 27 yards from the end zone. The Cardinals couldn’t score, could they? After all, the Cardinals had no time outs and were scrambled just to get to the line of scrimmage. With seemingly no plan or organization, the Cardinals managed to snap it with just a few seconds remaining. McCown rolled right, cocked his arm, and delivered a strike to Nate Poole in the back right corner of the end zone creating a snapshot in time that, until Sunday night, pretty much epitomized this franchise’s late-game fortunes.

No longer the boy who watched the Vikings beat the Rams at the old Met 34 years earlier, the man, now scarred and jaded from years of Viking fandom, shrugged and accepted the inevitable fate. But then the phone rang. It was the man’s dad. He, too had watched the game, and they reminisced, they commiserated, they laughed, and they both knew this would be the last Vikings game the two of them would ever discuss, at least on Earth.

It’s now 14 years since the dad’s death, and just like the squad whose miracle victory over the Browns in 1980 earned it a playoff trip to Philadelphia, this year’s Vikings are inexplicably heading to the City of Brotherly Love hoping for a Super Bowl coronation.

But the 1980 Vikings advanced no further than Philadelphia that year, and it’s probably inevitable this year’s Vikings won’t win it all either. But whether the Vikings do or not, the man finally has learned that championships aren’t really the point of the man’s lifelong irrational journey with this team.

No, the point is that Sunday’s miracle was just that, and not simply because the Vikings won a game they should have lost for one of the few times in their history. Sunday’s game was a miracle because this exciting, wonderful and resilient team gave this man something far more valuable than a chance at watching his team reach and win the elusive Super Bowl; it gave this man one more chance to be the boy watching his favorite team, and realizing that his dad has always been there.

The post Vikings essay: A boy and his dad appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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