There is a feeling around the locker room of Winter Park that is as upbeat as it has been since Christmas 2009, when the Vikings were riding high and Packers fans were cursing Brett Favre on an hourly basis. The previous two Decembers were markedly different.
In 2010, the Vikings played home games at Detroit and the U of M's TCF Bank Stadium because the Metrodome roof opted to get closer to the ground than 1980s technology would have dictated. 2011 was a scorched Earth season that burned like a burrito delivered to your table by a waiter wearing a welder's helmet.
2012 is unique from any of the last three seasons. There isn't the swagger of 2009. There isn't the gob-smacked confusion of 2010. There isn't the funeral procession of 2011. There is a new-look excitement to the holiday season this time around. The Vikings are living week to week, much like many Minnesotans during these lean economic times. When you have nothing to lose, there is plenty to be gained. Priests have been on speed dial to provide last rites to the 2012 season since Dec. 2. The candlelight vigil continues and the Vikings have been reduced from critical to guarded condition.
Chad Greenway has been through the gamut of the Vikings' recent experience. He was around for the rise from mediocrity to dominance from 2007-09. He saw the slide in 2010. He witnessed the NFL equivalent to the economic cliff in 2011. A year later, talking playoffs is a welcome change of pace from the last couple of years and a night-and-day difference from this time a year ago – even before Adrian Peterson's career was opined to be over.
"It's so much better that it's ridiculous," Greenway said. "Just to be able to come to work and know you have something to fight for and to play for and that you put yourself in the position to be here. It means more this year just coming from where we've been the last two years. Being back in this position makes it even more fun."
Last year, the Vikings were realistically out of playoff contention by Halloween. By Thanksgiving, the turkey was cooked. By Christmas, the only question was whether the Vikings could get in line for the No. 2 pick in the draft. This season has brought back the week-to-week drama of an NFL season. Instead of looking backward at where they failed as they played out the remainder of the schedule the last two seasons, the Vikings are back into the mode of living check to check – forgetting the past and ignoring the future.
"It doesn't matter what happened last week or next week," Greenway said. "It's just about one-game seasons. The more we can stay focused on that – we have to – if we don't, we know what the end result will be. We're most likely out of the picture, so one game at a time and that's our season."
The Vikings will be facing long odds Sunday in Houston because the Texans are one of the favorites to go to the Super Bowl and have as much or more to play for than the Vikings. They can make sure that the only way any AFC team represents the conference in the Super Bowl is to take the Texans down on their home turf. The Vikings hope to be a precursor to that, providing the blueprint of how to beat Houston at home, much like they provided the spark to the burning of the Eagles franchise late in 2010.
There is a renewed spirit in the Vikings locker room for those who witnessed the rise and fall of the franchise over the last five years. For players like Greenway, who have experienced the peaks and valleys of the franchise, it's refreshing to know that as most Christmas presents have been bought and wrapped, there is still a legitimate chance that the Vikings make the playoffs. It's there for the taking. It won't be easy, but worthwhile things seldom are – and Greenway is ready to continue the Vikings' day-to-day existence.
"This is what you play for," Greenway said. "These are the type of games that you want to be in – these types of situations. The last two years, we haven't been. We've been playing meaningless games and answering the same questions from you guys (in the media) every week as to what's going on and we didn't have any answers. It's just fun to be where we're at right now. We're going to enjoy it and let it hang out and go out and play ball. If we can play well and get in, we know we earned it."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.