The difference in the Vikings locker is palpable for those who endured the 3-13 record last year. At this time in 2011, the Vikings were 0-4 and had two teams in their own division that were 4-0. Their chances to win the NFC North were all but dead and their playoff hopes were a flickering candle in high wind conditions only one month into the season. They wouldn't admit it publicly, but when Oct. 1 rolled around, the Vikings were essentially out of the playoffs and there were still 12 games left on the schedule.
Flash forward one year and the difference between the Vikings locker room is night and day. There is a lot of joking and camaraderie going on that was lacking last year. Success will do that and the Vikings hope it will be the impetus that propels them forward as they move on with the 2012 season.
"The attitude around the facility is way better," Toby Gerhart said. "Everybody is happy. Everybody is hanging out. Everybody is excited to come to work. When you're 3-13, that last week or so nobody wanted to be here. You still did your job and prepared to try to win that game, but it was just another week of dealing with being a team at the bottom. Now, everybody is excited to get into work, get better and continue moving forward. Everybody is laughing and having fun and I think that makes our football better and you play better when you're enjoying it. We've got our swagger back."
What has helped the young Vikings team make the transition from the bottom to the top of the NFC North is that they had a full offseason of working together and are seeing the fruits of their labor pay off on game day.
"It's a great feeling, just to know some of this hard work is paying off," Percy Harvin said. "We've been in a lot of the situations we've (practiced), as far as the two-minute (drill) – me catching it and getting out of bounds. We've worked that so many times in practice, it gets on our nerves sometimes. To see some of the stuff actually unfold on the field that we worked on is benefiting us."
The conventional wisdom that made its way around the NFL when the Vikings were 2-1 was if they played San Francisco 10 times, they might win one or two and it just so happened that they got one of those wins when they hosted them at the Metrodome. While the national media hasn't caught Vikings fever, other players who study Vikings game tape are slowly but surely becoming believers.
"We're showing people we're not a surprise team anymore," defensive lineman Everson Griffen said. "We come out and compete every week. Once you do that, teams recognize and respect that."
Griffen said that a lot of people viewed the Vikings' win over San Francisco as a fluke. Being able to back up that win with a victory on the road over the Detroit Lions, who needed a win badly to remain a frontrunner in the playoff chase, helped legitimize the Vikings. As big as the 49ers' win was, beating Detroit was even more important to silence the doubters.
"That just put the nail in the coffin," Griffen said. "It showed people who thought (the win over the 49ers) was a big fluke. Then we came out and beat Detroit. We've just got to keep it rolling. We can't dwell on the past with this win. People have big games. Now we've just got to move on to Tennessee and get that next victory."
Part of the Vikings' newfound success is that they aren't letting it go to their heads. They backed up the win over San Francisco with a dominant defensive performance against Detroit and a pair of huge special teams plays that put the Lions in a hole, but the Vikings aren't punching their playoff ticket yet. They're staying humble, mainly because head coach Leslie Frazier won't have it any other way. Even the best of performances can be mitigated by a poor outing the next week.
"Coach always says that to win this week and lose next week means nothing," Harvin said. "He's always said that. This win doesn't mean nothing if we go out and don't play good versus Tennessee. This team has done a great job of forgetting the wins and moving on to the next game."
The Vikings haven't forgotten the dark days of 2011, when it seems like they were bitten by Murphy's Law – whatever can go wrong will go wrong. They've flipped the script this year and hope to ride that same kind of positive wave that was a negative last year and keep their early roll going.
"Winning is contagious, infectious, whatever you want to call it," Gerhart said. "You have that confidence now that if something bad happens in a game you'll overcome it. Last year, when something bad happened, it was like, here we go again. There is something that happens – no worries, we've got your back. When you're winning that gives you confidence that you can overcome anything. I think we've got that now and our biggest thing is to keep that momentum going and keep that confidence high."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings: ‘We've got our swagger back'
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