Commentary: Changing for a Championship

The Vikings have been on the brink of the playoffs for the last five years, making it once. But now they seem to be going after successful models that can win for the long haul.

Obviously, Vikings fans want what all sports fans want – a championship. But, how to get it? And what will the fans accept short of winning the Super Bowl? Some thoughts on the past, present and future.

The Vikings have a long history of regular-season excellence and postseason futility. In fact, since the 1970 merger between the NFL and AFL, the Vikings are the fifth most winning team in the regular season, victorious more than 57 percent of the time. In that same time frame, the Vikings have a losing record in the playoffs, going 16-21 (18-24 all-time). Of the top 10 teams in winning percentage, only the Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars have failed to win a Super Bowl (however, the Jaguars have only been in existence since the 1990s).

In the Bud Grant era, the team reached the playoffs on a regular basis and lost four Super Bowls in an eight-year span – the AFC was a much stronger conference at that point in time. The team had a drought through most of the 1980s but, the late '80s brought in the Jerry Burns era and a return to the playoffs for three seasons, all of which ended with losses to the eventual Super Bowl champions. 1987 was very disappointing, when the Vikings lost a close game at Washington and then saw the Redskins go on to crush Denver in the Super Bowl. The team fell apart after '89 as players bickered with management over money, and the Hershel Walker trade weakened the defense and team morale.

Enter Denny Green in '92. Green turned the team around, reaching the playoffs four times – and lost in the first round each time. The Vikings at that time were simply not competitive with the top teams in the league who spent more money on players in the free-agent market. Things changed when Red McCombs came in and the Vikings drafted Randy Moss, becoming an instant Super Bowl contender. But the team never got beyond the NFC Championship game, losing a heartbreaking NFC title game at home in '98 and a demoralizing 41-0 shocker at New York in 2000. Green's days with the team were numbered at that point, although he stayed one more year. He ended his Vikings stay with a 4-8 playoff record.

The Vikings from 1987 through 2000 made the playoffs 11 times, going 7-11 with three losses in the NFC title game. More recently, they've had only one playoff appearance since Green left. The one playoff team under Mike Tice was an 8-8 team.

The problem for Vikings fans now is that the franchise has settled into being a borderline team – either just outside the playoffs, or making the playoffs and losing early. That was the norm under Denny Green for the most part and now the team is trying to get back to the playoffs. They've finished seventh in the NFC (top six teams make the playoffs) three times in the last four years.

What do Vikings fans want? Will they be satisfied with sneaking into the playoffs and losing as the team has done in the past? Would the fans rather build for the long haul? I don't know how much good comes from getting in and losing the first game of the playoffs.

It seems the team is poised to do good things and the ownership and management have talked about building the organization to contend on a consistent basis, not a quick fix. Owner Zygi Wilf and head coach Brad Childress seem to be building the Vikings along the models provided by the Eagles and Patriots, two teams who are usually in the playoff hunt.

By focusing on finding players who are coachable (not just "good character" guys who are good PR because they don't get into trouble off the field), the team can build a foundation to stay in contention year after year. The emphasis on signing young players who can develop instead of targeting stars in free agency gives the team a chance to find bargains, which helps them manage the salary cap while developing new talent. It doesn't always work, but a miss on an inexpensive free agent is a minor hit, while a success can be a huge addition to the team, i.e. Chester Taylor when they rescued him from the bench in Baltimore.

Fans want to see the Vikings can find postseason success and an eventual Super Bowl championship. They've had better-than-average teams for a long time – a truly great one would be a welcome change. The fans deserve it.

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