Are these gaffes worthy of guffaws, turning the Vikings from an up-and-coming preseason possibility into the regular-season laughingstock? It appears to be on the verge of that with too many things turning reminiscent of 2010.
Back in 2009, when Brett Favre first showed up riding shotgun with Chilly as the chauffeur, the spectacle was in full force. It was, simply put, surreal. Helicopters hovered overhead during his first practice. As word first leaked that he was landing soon, fans started showing up and lining the entrance to Winter Park. And the most indelible image of all: someone in a parrot costume. No, really, someone, for some inexplicable reason, felt a red parrot suit, complete from bill to feet, was the proper attire.
That turned out to be quite the successful season, but the hangover was wicked. The next year turned into a soap opera.
On Oct. 6, 2010, the Vikings' desperation showed. Sidney Rice was still out after August hip surgery, meaning Favre's top target from 2009, along with the magic in his throwing arm, were both missing, and Brad Childress had an idea: He could manage Randy Moss. Or so he thought. Instead, the mismanagement of Moss was the final straw in the Chilly cocktail. After he dumped Moss, ownership dumped Childress.
Enter Leslie Frazier, who was then the interim head coach. He navigated the Vikings through the rest of the tumultuous season and compiled a 3-3 record in what proved to be a season with stressful storylines instead of a storybook season.
On Dec. 12, 2010, the Metrodome collapsed. Their opponent that weekend, the New York Giants, had to be rerouted to Kansas City on Saturday instead of spending the night in Minneapolis. After a snowstorm dumped more than a foot snow on the Metrodome roof, it collapsed, sending the delayed game to Detroit. Maybe it is something about the Giants – the antagonists in the infamous 41-0 NFC Championship Game, perhaps the biggest sign of players quitting in franchise history – that adds the spice in a Vikings season.
Two weeks later, the Vikings were supposed to play the Philadelphia Eagles. That game, too, was delayed, although this time it was hardly necessary. The threat of a storm caused the delay when the reality was that only a few inches fell in Philly. What was supposed to be a Monday night game turned into the only Tuesday night game in Vikings history.
This time, you can almost feel the desperation again.
While Favre led the 2009 Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, Christian Ponder led them to their next playoff appearance in 2012, even if he wasn't able to play in that wild card game 10 months ago against the Packers. The Vikings kept trying to convince Favre to come back during the 2010 offseason, eventually raising his salary during training camp. But it was clear when he arrived that his competitive fire had been stamped out. He wasn't playing to spite Ted Thompson anymore in 2010. He wasn't playing to prove doubters wrong. He wasn't even playing for himself. He was playing because he felt a sense of obligation to his 2009 teammates and because the money was just too good. His first press conference in 2010 didn't sound like it came from a motivated man anymore and the season was a testament to that.
This offseason, instead of working on convincing Favre to return, the coaching staff and general manager Rick Spielman sounded more like they were trying to convince themselves and the public that Ponder's final three or four games of 2012 were proof of his improvement. He had turned a corner, they thought. Turned out, he was hit by a bus just around that corner. His first three games this year produced two touchdowns and five interceptions.
The off-the-field distractions haven't been the issue in 2013, but it's still early. Instead, it seems that just about everything that could wrong on the field has.
On offense, Ponder's interception-prone ways and rib injury were enough to make the move to Matt Cassel. He had his moments, but the Vikings signaled the end of the Ponder era when Josh Freeman, a Spielman favorite since scouting him prior to the 2009 draft, became available. When the troubled Tampa Bay Bucs released Freeman, Spielman pounced and sent a jilting message to both Ponder and Cassel.
Freeman's foray onto the field produced perhaps the most erratic display of accuracy ever witnessed in a Vikings uniform. He had 16 overthrows and numerous other passes that were off target or simply led his receivers into dangerous collisions. Both Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings were laid out in the middle of the field, lucky that neither of them were injured or knocked out, although their eyeballs were rolling plenty at the understandable frustration of that passing performance.
On defense, the remains of a once-proud group of defenders – Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway – are left to witness a unit that finds itself in the bottom third of the league and now without their biggest playmaker, safety Harrison Smith. Without him, the secondary has more dropped interceptions than converted opportunities in the last two weeks. Just as Freeman was taking his historical spot next to Spergon Wynn, the secondary was becoming reminiscent of the Wasswa Serwanga days.
And the once-reliable special teams have contributed the gaffes, too. Last year, Mike Priefer's special teams were deemed the best in the league by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, who annually ranks special teams around the league with detailed analysis. This year, they have a kickoff return and punt return for touchdowns. But they also lost two fumbles on returns Monday night and gave up two near touchdowns to Devin Hester, as well as a converted touchdown on a fake field goal to the Cleveland Browns and a converted first down on a fake punt.
It's been an undisciplined group all around, from interceptions and inaccuracy on offense, to lost tackles, gap control and interceptions on defense, to unforgettable lapses in concentration or execution on special teams.
In 2010, it was a series of off-the-field and personnel decisions that led to the acrimonious departure of Brad Childress. Three years later, it's mainly a quarterback carousel that is bordering somewhere between comedic and pathetic. Three games of Ponder gave way to two from Cassel to one for Freeman and then back to Ponder this week. It's almost like a pitching rotation in baseball.
It's looking nearly impossible for Frazier to keep his job less than 10 months after he and others were disappointed that the Vikings only picked up the option year on his contract rather than extending him beyond the 2014 season.
Let us know when the parrot suit shows up. That will be the final sign of change in the air.
The hype leaders of the NFL were in full force this week when it came to Vikings speculation. Two examples of that:
"I played safety at a high level for a long time and I was bangin' and I never missed a game because of a concussion so it just seems like an excuse to me."
The headline – "Rodney Harrison thinks Josh Freeman is faking his concussion" – drew fans in, but Harrison really doesn't have any proof that Freeman was faking it and doesn't pretend to, even allowing "if he has one." Without proof, it's irresponsible of Harrison to imply that a concussion is an "excuse." Look no further than Brett Favre, one of the toughest players the NFL has ever seen, talking about the possibility that the hits in football are having an adverse effect on his memory.
Sporting News' Ross Tucker, another former player, also dipped his toe into the accusatory waters, even citing Favre.
"To be clear, I am not accusing Freeman of lying about having a concussion," Tucker wrote. "I would never do that. However, the curious timing of how everything went down is sure to create more questions than answers.
"… Some of the guys in that locker room played with Brett Favre and they likely believe that Favre, or other guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, would have never said a word and would lace up the cleats on Sunday.
"Simply put, they are going to believe that Josh Freeman tapped out and that might make it very difficult for him to ever win over a locker room that he has only been in for less than three weeks."
Leslie Frazier said he isn't thinking about the trade deadline: "Not on my mind. I want to get these guys that we have going and get a win. I'm not thinking about trades or what's out there."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.