This week, unless you are a night watchman guarding an empty warehouse without Internet access, it’s been hard not to hear about Sunday’s border battle between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers.
Theirs is a rivalry that has been fascinating over the years because, due the cyclical nature of the NFL, the rivalry games mean a lot to the locals, but more times than not, they have been two franchises in different directions at a time of one’s ascent and another’s fall.
Rare has been the time when both teams are at the top of their game. History has dictated that when one team is at the top of its game, the other is on the downside.
That franchise disparity has created an animosity between the fan bases in which one has its nose rubbed in it by the other with more egregious aggression. The ups and downs of NFL franchises have rarely been in sync for both organizations.
Players come and go, but the fan bases remain the same and multiply, which may explain why Minnesota and Wisconsin have the most bars per capita than just about anywhere in the country.
The teams have been at opposite ends of the spectrum for much of their history. From 1961-67, the Vikings never made the playoffs. During that same span, the Packers finished first or second every season, including five years with 11 or more wins.
The first year the Vikings went to the playoffs was in 1968. That season, the Packers finished third in the NFL Central Division with a 6-7-1 record.
What followed for the Vikings were what became known as the Purple Power Years. From 1969-76, the Vikings produced seven of eight seasons with double-digit wins, including five seasons in which they lost just two games. When added up, over eight years, the Vikings had a record of 87-24-1.
In that same span, the Packers finished third or fourth in the four-team division seven times, posting a record of 48-60-4.
The one year the Vikings didn’t win the division? It was 1972, when they went 7-7. That year the Packers would have their only 10-win season in between 1966 and 1989 – a massive drought that happened to coincide with the salad day of the Vikings. The one year the Vikings stunk it out, the Packers had their one good season in almost a quarter century.
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The first time the Vikings and Packers truly crossed paths and were both good was in 1989. Both teams finished 10-6. The Vikings made the playoffs. The Packers stayed home. New-world animosity between the fan bases reared its ugly head for the first time.
In 1993, three teams from the NFC North made the playoffs, including the Vikings and Packers. Both made the playoffs again in 1994.
Then the river diverged.
The Vikings backed into the 1996 playoffs despite losing to Green Bay in the final game of the season. That same season, Brett Favre cemented his legacy by winning a Super Bowl. Even though the Vikings made the playoffs – getting crushed by Dallas 40-15 in a game that wasn’t as close as that score would indicate – they weren’t even close to being in the same league.
The Vikings made the playoffs again in 1997, but the Packers went to the Super Bowl again that year, so even though the Vikings inexplicably won a playoff game in New Jersey they had no business winning, again, the Vikings were the hapless little brother in this scenario.
In 1998, the tables turned. The Packers were 11-5 and had no business riding the Vikings’ coattails. Randy Moss changed the landscape of the NFC North for years – forcing the other the division teams to draft defensive backs. The Pack was dispatched in the wild card round while the Vikings were on their bye week. There wasn’t legitimate competition.
In 1999-2000, the Vikings were a playoff team of high regard. The Packers quietly hovered around .500.
From 2001-03, the Vikings didn’t sniff the playoffs. Green Bay was dominant. Advantage Sconny.
In 2004, the Vikings and Packers met in the playoffs for the first time. Randy Moss gave an homage to Packers fans who have lined up to say goodbye to the team buses that Joe Buck took exception to. That was the first time that a Vikings-Packers game had true significance.
For the next four years, the Packers had one good season (2007) and the Vikings had one (2008).
In 2009, Aaron Rodgers made fans accept for the first two times that Brett Favre was Mr. Myagi and Aaron should fear the Cobra Kai. It was when the rivalry reached a fever pitch and things got ugly. As Favre donned purple, fan loyalty took a new and unhinged turn. Pack lives didn’t matter and, on the western side of Ol’ Mississipp’, Vikings fans celebrated a schadenfreude that came back to bite them.
From 2010-14, the Vikings went through three head coaches.
From 2010-14, the Packers ran roughshod through the NFC North.
The Vikings ended that streak on Jan.3, 2016 by taking the Packers out on their own fabled turf. Two to the head, Mob style.
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It’s hard to call a Week 2 game critical in the big picture of things, but whoever wins Sunday will be planting a flag claiming the NFC North for themselves, at least for that week.
When it comes to bragging rights among fan bases, it doesn’t get much bigger than this.
MacArthur Lane and Dave Osborn are getting their popcorn ready.
Have at it, boys.