On Monday, the Vikings players held their final team meetings of the 2010 season, marking the end of a crazy, unpredictable 2010 season that began with so much promise, but ended with unequivocal disappointment.
As they cleaned out their lockers, taking some gear and leaving others, they were bombarded with media questions to try to explain what they saw from the inside of Team Turmoil. For many of them, it was difficult to put into words. Linebacker Ben Leber was asked to define the season in one word and the word he chose was "wacky."
"It's just been wacky," Leber said. "There were a lot of positives, but a lot of negatives – a lot of things nobody has ever had to deal with before. The dome collapse was like icing on the cake. It was like, what else is going to go wrong? Is the bus going to get a flat tire on the way to the airport? You knew that somehow something was going to go wrong. But, I'm proud of how we kept focused and pushing forward. In some ways, it brought us closer together."
The list of calamities that befell the Vikings was hard to fathom when tallied up, one bleeding into the next. Some stood out more in the minds of the Vikings players – the collapse of the Metrodome, being nomads the final month of the season, the end of Brett Favre's consecutive starts streak and being stuck in Philadelphia for four days as a blizzard half the size of the one that collapsed the Dome hit the eastern seaboard. They actually got too numerous for all players to recall.
"It certainly was crazy and there is some relief that it's over, as there is with any season – good seasons also," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "I completely forgot until someone reminded me the other day that even our Jets game was delayed by rain and lightning. It seems like a year-and-a-half ago. There were some crazy things. To remember all of them will certainly take some time."
At times, Kevin Williams said, it seemed like the Vikings were cursed, as the incidents piled one atop the next. But, he added, there wasn't anyone around the league feeling sorry for the Vikings. Football is a cutthroat business and you have to absorb the punches and keep fighting.
"We had a lot of firsts and a lot of changes this year," Williams said. "It's disappointing that we didn't get into the playoffs, but you have to keep building and try to do better next year. You can't make excuses about things that happened this year. We just didn't get it done. We have to regroup and try to come back next year."
The woes the Vikings went through in 2010 began before lightning and rain forced two evacuations of the Meadowlands. The Vikings came into 2010 brimming with confidence that they would build on what they started in 2009 and finish the deal with a trip to Dallas in February for the Super Bowl. They may make it, but they will have tickets to watch from the stands, not be the center of attention.
It didn't take long for the Vikings to realize that 2009 was a memory getting farther in the rearview mirror all the time. In fact, Chad Greenway said the genesis of the Vikings' disappointing 2010 season began before 30 other NFL teams had even played – during the Kickoff Weekend season opener on a Thursday night in New Orleans. He said the problems the Vikings had against the defending champions continued throughout the season.
"It was just the fact that we weren't finishing games," Greenway said. "You could start with Game One (at New Orleans). We weren't able to put up points on offense and defensively we weren't able to hold them. It was just little things. In the very first game, defensively we weren't able to get off the field in the four-minute situation and get the ball back to the offense – little things that we did in '09 that weren't doing this year."
Despite their 6-10 record, which had them finish in last place in their division for the first time in 20 years, Bryant McKinnie said he was proud of how well the Vikings were able to hold up under the less-than-ideal (or expected) circumstances.
"I felt like people did a good job," McKinnie said. "I feel like if you put any other team in those situations, I don't know if they would have done as well as we did, which was just basically to maintain and fight and fight and fight week after week."
From the poor start to a series of injuries to Brett Favre to the surprise arrival and even more surprising departure of Randy Moss to the firing of Brad Childress to the collapse of the Metrodome, it was something the rest of the league was watching in disbelief. Lorenzo Booker was one of those players. In exile in the UFL, he came to the Vikings with knowledge of the chaos that was surrounding the team, but said being in the eye of hurricane was even more bizarre.
"It was strange to watch from a distance, but I think things actually got worse after I arrived," Booker said. "It wasn't normal adversity. I don't think there was any team that faced more adversity than us. Having to basically be journeymen the last month, playing wherever we could on whatever day we could, that's tough to do. It was tough on our families. We were still able to play pretty well, all things considered."
Of all the incidents that happened, most players agreed that the stadium collapse stood out as the most unbelievable. Players shook their heads in a strange anticipation of what plague would follow them next.
"I felt like it was something (different) pretty much every week," McKinnie said. "You couldn't really think like that. You didn't even have time to say ‘What's next?' because something next always happened. It's over with, thank goodness, and now we can get a fresh start. Honestly, it is a relief. I'm glad it's over. It was a rollercoaster ride with a whole bunch of emotions. When you think back at all the stuff that took place this season, it really is unbelievable what took place. Everybody was able to hang in there and continue to fight, but this was definitely a long journey."
Despite it all, the Vikings believed that, if they could get on a run in their final five games of the season, they still had a chance to make the playoffs. It wouldn't be easy, but it was possible. Few stadiums created more of a home-field advantage than the Metrodome and they were going to be there for three straight games … until the roof came crashing down in the wee hours of the morning of Dec. 12. That took away the one ace in the hole the Vikings still had. The Metrodome collapse cracked their aces and, in a season where it was clear the Vikings were going "all in" on a Super Bowl-or-bust season, they crapped out and were sent to the rail.
"When it got to that last month, where the Dome caves in, we were definitely at a disadvantage for that Giants game and the Bears game," Longwell said. "You feel like there were chances there that, if we were at home, we still had a good shot at the season and a chance to make the playoffs in the last couple of weeks. You felt like it was kind of stacked against you when it got to the end. The Philly thing was kind of the cherry on top. We're creatures of habit and you're set to play a game on a certain day at a certain time and a certain place. When you throw that off, it's hard. That's why playing at home is such a big advantage. You look at the Giants game in Detroit. They throw a couple of picks early. When you're coming out for your next drive at the dome, those fans are nuts and loud. It's hard for their offense to function. In Detroit, it wasn't that way. Playing at TCF played into the Bears' hands. We lost that home-field advantage and ultimately, it affected our playoff run."
The byproduct of the fall from grace in 2010 was that, after an offseason in which no team had more stability than the Vikings – returning all 22 starters and just as many key special teamers and top backups – they will enter the 2011 season with a lot of questions. There are going to be a lot of new faces and new responsibilities for those who remain, and the Vikings of 2011 will likely be very different.
"It could be," Williams said. "We have a lot of free agents. We knew this year was a good chance to get back where we were last year, but things didn't go the way we planned. Sometimes that happens. We'll see who comes back and we'll start from Square One again."
Perhaps starting from Square One is the answer. Just as the Vikings were accused early on of believing they could simply step on the field with Brett Favre and his band of merry men and recreate the magic of 2009, they had to forget about their success the previous year. They find themselves on the flip side of that coin now. As they head their separate ways to reflect on the improbable 2010 season, they do so with the knowledge that they have to erase the memory of 2010.
"I think at this point, we're just moving on to 2011," Farwell said. "You can't dissect the whole season at this point. We have to move forward and, as a group, come in shape, ready to go and be motivated. After a season like this, we're going to be motivated in the offseason and will come back ready to prove that we are a good football team."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.
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