Still Bitter After All These Years

With the passing of Hank Stram over the Fourth of the July weekend, one might think that the Vikings players that were crushed by the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV would be over it. Guess again.

The NFL is a small fraternity. As time has gone on, even the most hated of rivals find a way to mend their fences and the stories of the good old days grow taller on down the line.

But, with the passing of Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram, it would seem that some old wounds will never heal.

Over the past couple of days, Twin Cities newspapers and television stations have caught up with former Vikings, including greats like Carl Eller, Paul Krause and Bill Brown, for comments on the passing of Stram. Even after 35 years, the bitterness of the Super Bowl IV loss remains.

The main point of contention with many of the players was Stram being miked during the Super Bowl and comments he made about the Vikings. While not being a Stram apologist, it may be time for some of the older Vikings to let it go.

The first thing that should be noted is that in January 1970, Stram likely had no idea how often his sideline comments for NFL Films would be replayed. At the time, there were only three channels on most TV sets and NFL Films broadcasts were typically team highlight packages or bloopers seen once a year or so on local television. Neither Stram nor NFL Films could have known at the time that his sideline antics would be replayed hundreds of times over the ensuing years -- hammering the nail in the Vikings' emotional coffin over and over again.

The second, and perhaps more important, aspect of the Stram comments were that they were deserved. The AFL had been seen as the snot-nosed kid brother by the established NFL. A year earlier when Joe Namath and the Jets beat the heavily favored Colts, it was viewed by almost all observers as nothing more than a fluke -- a one-time wonder. When the heavily favored Vikings did the job the following year to another AFL team, the league was legitimized and paved the way for a team like the Steelers to become the team of the decade.

The Vikings may have some reason for bitterness. The 1969 Vikings, had they won the Super Bowl, would have been viewed in the same breath as some of the most dominant teams in NFL history, including the perfect season of the Dolphins and the powerhouse 1985 season of the Bears. Instead, they were a footnote in history -- a team that led the NFL in scoring and least points allowed in the same season only to come up short in the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl failure became commonplace for the Vikings, but it began with Stram and the Chiefs. Was Stram a little obnoxious on that Sunday? You bet he was. But he probably didn't think he was going to win that game and, as the Vikings overhauled one of the best teams of the era to try to stop the trickery of the AFL, they became the hunted instead of the hunter.

Stram beat the Vikings at their own game and deserved credit, not sniping, as his eulogy.

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