The good news for the Minnesota Vikings as they fly out to Philadelphia on Saturday is that the temperatures Sunday are expected to be in the mid-60s under cloudy skies with a negligible chance of rain.
It could be much worse.
It has been.
The Vikings and Eagles set a modern-era record in the malaise-laden season of 2010 when they played a National Football League game on a Tuesday night – the first Tuesday night game since World War II.
A couple former Vikings – Ben Leber and Cullen Loeffler – were part of that team that endured so much – from Jenn Sterger to dog food catering to a roof implosion that was the impetus for the palace the current Vikings play in.
There wasn’t much they hadn’t been through in 2010. They were 5-9 and eliminated from the playoffs. They played “home” games the previous two weeks in Detroit and at the University of Minnesota on a field not intended for use in late December. What else could go wrong?
When the Vikings took off on their charter flight to Philly, there were weather reports that a big storm with city-snarling potential was on its way. The first bands of snow and wind were imminent and Philadelphians were bracing for the worst – much like Minnesotans do when the local news team coverage warns of the latest Snowpocalypse.
“When we landed in Philly on Saturday, it was still relatively nice,” Loeffler said. “It had started snowing a little bit, but we heard there was a substantial system coming in. We were just thankful to have got in there and missed it in the air, but we thought things were going to be pretty ugly on the field that night and getting to the stadium would be an issue. But I always thought we would play the game. That’s just what you do. Sometimes you play games in really ugly conditions.”
And conditions were getting butt-ugly Saturday night. Loeffler recalled brief periods of sideways snow, high winds and almost no visibility. Players sporadically checked out to see if conditions were expected to get worse.
The entire time, they still expected to play the game Sunday night. When that changed, all bets were off for a team playing out the string of a monumentally disappointing season.
When snowbound red-blooded American men, who had been through a season none of them could have fathomed at training camp, are posed with yet another giant distraction, what do you do?
You party, dude!
“We had heard rumors on Saturday night that the game might get postponed,” Leber said. “We found out around 11 o’clock on Sunday morning when we were preparing for meetings that the game had been postponed all the way to Tuesday night. Let’s just say that when guys want to put together an impromptu party per se, it can get done rather quickly. Within 30 minutes, there were about 15 guys in my room and there was a bottle service coming up from room service pretty quickly.”
There was no possibility of heading home and coming back Tuesday afternoon to play the game. While Minnesota is familiar with removal of giant amounts of snow, Philadelphia gets gridlocked by much less. Snow-packed roads are a recipe for disaster for most of the country.
Fortunately for the Vikings, they weren’t sardined in an armory on cots. They were living pretty high on the hog as the storm rolled through.
“The one positive thing was that we were staying at the Four Seasons,” Loeffler said. “That place was fantastic. We were living it up pretty good there because pretty much everything we needed to ride out the time was in style and it was the only saving grace of the whole trip.”
The biggest issue many of the players had was that they had family back in Minnesota that had come for the holidays expecting they would be gone Saturday night and Sunday. When they were snowbound in Philly, that turned into four days.
Unfortunately, as Minnesotans can attest, weather forecasting remains an inexact science. Predictions of a foot of snow can turn into mere flurries. Philadelphia got hit with a snowstorm, but it was a storm that dropped three to six inches of snow – not the 10-15 inches that were expected.
Vikings players have driven through worse to get to practice at Winter Park. When Leber got up Monday to assess the damage outside his hotel window, he thought the city was pulling a prank on him.
“It was quite comical actually,” Leber said. “We woke up Monday morning expecting piles and piles of snow. I remember looking out the window and saying, ‘Is that it?’ They don’t cancel school in Minnesota for that amount of snow. I think we all thought that maybe the side of the hotel we were on didn’t get the drifts. It really was all about nothing. The NFL really freaked out about what turned out to be nothing at all. Even when we got to the game, a Philadelphia player was complaining about how cold it was and how much snow they got. I thought he was being sarcastic, but he was serious. To them, it was a big deal. To us, it literally was nothing.”
But, somehow, it was in keeping with the type of year the Vikings were having in 2010. When the Metrodome roof collapsed, the Vikings were sucking wind on their playoff lives. They had won two games to go from 3-7 to 5-7 and knew they had to run the table if they wanted any hope of making the playoffs.
What followed was what passed for home games – a half-filled Ford Field adorned with purple to give the feel of it being a home game against the Giants and a game at TCF Bank Stadium on a frozen field because, at that time, the University of Minnesota football program was non-relevant enough and essentially mothballed its stadium in the winter.
For most teams, such a disruption in routine and schedule would throw them off their game. For the 2010 Vikings, it was just another day at the office.
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“It was one of those situations where it was just another adversity on top of stress,” Loeffler said. “In the previous weeks, the coaches had addressed Murphy’s Law a couple of times, because it was like how many times can strange things happen? By that time we know we could deal with it because of all the stuff we had been through.”
The Philadelphia non-blizzard was just the latest chapter in a season that started with high hopes. The Vikings were thought to be returning all 22 starters from a team that should have gone to the Super Bowl the previous year.
Those hopes got dashed early and the Vikings were making headlines all year for all the wrong reasons. The Philly debacle was just another chapter in that bizarre book.
“That whole season started off on the wrong foot,” Leber said. “We sent the Three Horsemen (Jared Allen, Steve Hutchinson and Ryan Longwell) down to Hattiesburg to get Brett. Then we had Favre’s scandal that brought tons of media to Winter Park. Then we had the Randy Moss deal that didn’t work out as hoped. Brad Childress got fired. The roof on our stadium collapsed. At some point it actually got to be a little comical, like what could happen next? We looked at the Philadelphia situation as just letting off some steam and having fun because that wasn’t a particularly fun season because of what had gone on. When the game got postponed, we had a full-on party. We stayed out late and figured if we’re going to go through this, we’re going to have some fun. It was crazy.”
There were some unsung heroes in the Pennsylvania panic. One thing that most travelers never have to deal with is a lack of available clothing. Even if you’re going on a two-day in-and-out in a city, you bring enough clothes to cover eventualities. Flights get delayed. It rains and clothes get drenched. You cover your bases.
Life in the NFL isn’t that way. When players are on a two-day road trip, they pack notoriously light – what they’re wearing now and what they’re wearing tomorrow. After all, they’re going from their vehicles to busses to the airport to busses to the hotel to busses to the stadium to busses back to the airport, where a private charter plane awaits. What could go wrong?
Oh, just about everything.
Fortunately, the Vikings equipment staffers are notorious over-packers. Players needed to get some clothes of their own – although Leber said some guys didn’t mind being “a little gamey” – so the equipment managers decked out the players so they often looked like a high school team touring a town at a state tournament.
“That was an issue because everyone travels light because you know there’s going to be a quick turnaround,” Loeffler said. “Most road trips are about 24 hours long. You get there the night before the game and, after the game is over, you take busses to the airport and fly out on a private plane. The one thing that saved us there were (equipment managers) Dennis Ryan, Aaron Neumann and Adam Groene. They had extra sets of team gear for something like this. They took care of us and we were all rolling around like a college team wearing their team gear around town. It kind of identified us as to who we were, but most of the guys didn’t have anything else to wear. It was Nike, so we were all looking good, but it was strange.”
The moral to the story was that, throughout all the dismal events of 2010 from the NFL perspective, sometimes a team that has no business winning actually wins.
The Eagles were heading to the playoffs. The Vikings were doing the Dead Man’s Float. Their head coach had been fired and their interim coach was likely following him and the rest of the staff out the door. Oh, yeah. There was also the little matter that both Favre and Tarvaris Jackson got hurt against Chicago and QB-turned-wide receiver-turned-QB Joe Webb was making his first career start.
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The Vikings won that game 24-14. Adrian Peterson ran for 118 yards and a touchdown. Webb threw for almost 200 yards, didn’t throw a pick and ran in a touchdown of his own. The Vikings defense blitzed on almost every play, including a strip-sack touchdown from Antoine Winfield.
For all the adversity of the 2010 season, that game saved Leslie Frazier’s job and became a coachable moment that if you play like you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain.
“Looking back on it, given what we had gone through, I think letting off that steam on Sunday helped us play a lot looser on Tuesday,” Leber said. “It wasn’t like we didn’t care. It was more like whatever happens is going to happen because we’ve dealt with everything else. You got the sense that they were the home team sleeping in their own beds and didn’t handle that transition like we did. We were more focused on the game and, considering everything we had been through, we just played free. I think there’s something to be said for that, the team that plays the most free and most aggressive.”