The Minnesota Vikings are 7-1. Can you feel the excitement? Frankly, I can't.
There is the Sunday buzz in the stadiums where the Vikings are playing, especially the Metrodome, but I don't hear the same enthusiasm about the 2009 Vikings that accompanied the 1998 version. Frankly, I can't figure it out.
With a solid 2½-game lead over the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears in the NFC North, it's astounding to think that between 3,000 and 4,000 tickets still remained for the team's next two home games. Granted, they aren't playing the cream of the NFL crop with the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks, but fans have been clamoring for the Vikings to show a killer instinct against lesser opponents and those two teams would provide an ideal opportunity.
Hard-core fans remain. I know. I'm interacting with them often on the subscriber message board, but it seems like the mid-range and fringe fan base have gone cool on attending games. Why? That's what I want to know. Here are a couple of my top guesses:
1) Brad Childress: The coach's 2006 introduction speech to fans in January 2006 talked about the Vikings being the plumb job opening in the NFL. And then there was this: "We'll go ashore, burn the boats, and never look back. Today we are going ashore."
Since those words, however, Childress has been mocked for his flat-line approach to press conferences and saying he knew his scheme could be a "kick-ass offense." With the right players in place and Brett Favre taking hold of the on-field control, the offense has become just what Childress said it could be. The Vikings are second in the league in scoring, but I get the feeling that Vikings fans will have a hard time embracing Childress until he becomes the first coach in franchise history to win a Super Bowl, if he is indeed able to burn that boat and go ashore. Right now, it seems there is a lack of confidence in Childress being that guy.
2) The stadium: The Minnesota Gophers have a fancy new outdoor stadium that is attracting the outdoor football crowd. Unfortunately, the Gophers haven't seemed to get any closer to a finished product in, what, their 40th rebuilding year? Still, new homes attract people. Sterile football environments like the Metrodome might be going the way of 1980s big hair. The competition for the shrinking discretionary entertainment dollar may be getting more fierce, and a sterile atmosphere dampens the fun.
3) HD TV: Television ratings are soaring for the NFL, and the Vikings have been involved in a couple of the biggest ratings draws this year – both centering on Favre's matchups with his old Packers teammates. The increasing popularity of big screens and high definition could be keeping fans at home in front of a $3,000 piece of equipment rather than heading to a stadium that might be worth three of those TVs combined.
It's certainly not the NFL product as a whole that is suffering. The league has implemented only nine blackouts in nine weeks. But the Vikings, with the second-best record in the league, have tested the league's blackout threshold.
So I want to know why you think the Vikings have had issues drawing sellout crowds and aren't heading back to the days of a season-ticket waiting list? Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll compile some of them for later.
With players like Favre, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Jared Allen and Antoine Winfield, there should be more excitement about the team. Things could certainly be worse.
You could have the owner trying to meet with disgruntled fans threatening to make a statement with a late-arriving crowd during a nationally televised game (the Browns), an owner saying he's embarrassed about the on-field product (the Redskins) or a wide receiver pouting about any number of issues (T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Roy Williams), or a head coach accused of abusing women (the Raiders).
All the Vikings have are top players running the ball, throwing the ball and sacking opposing quarterbacks. Are you longing for the days for the days of the arrests and national stories about the bad guys in Minnesota?
NOT TO BE SEEN: 4 to 84
Vikings fans, consider yourself fortunate for what might have been. More and more evidence seems to be surfacing that if Packers general manager Ted Thompson looked at things as well as Bill Belichick does, Brett Favre and Randy Moss would be lighting up Lambeau, wearing green and gold.
In his column last week for the National Football Post, former Packers vice president Andrew Brandt confirmed the sentiment that Favre badly wanted Randy Moss when the Oakland Raiders were trying to trade him.
"Brett had no business making personnel decisions for the team but felt his suggestions had merit. He would bend my ear for hours about getting Randy Moss or other veteran players who became available. Whenever Brett would make these comments, I would tell him to trust the young guys we had such as Greg Jennings. Brett replied that he didn't have time to wait; I would tell him he didn't have to wait," Brandt wrote.
"After so many tirades about how we weren't going after this guy or that guy in free agency or trade, I would say to Brett, "What part of Ted Thompson's philosophy do you not understand?" He would just shrug and walk away."
That echoed the sentiments that Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jerry Kramer had for Ross Bernstein in his recently published flip book on the Favre perspective from both sides of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
"As for why he chose to go the Vikings of all places, from the way I see it, it's pretty simple — he's pissed. He felt like he was mistreated," the former Packers great told Bernstein. "A lot of this goes back to his feud with Ted over getting Randy Moss a few years back. Brett had Randy halfway talked into it, but Ted didn't pull the trigger, for whatever the reason. Brett was all excited about that and when that didn't happen, that was the beginning of the end in my eyes.
"Can you believe that they thought a fourth-round draft pick was more valuable than Randy Moss? That was what it cost New England to get him, that's it. Unbelievable. Maybe Ted thought Moss couldn't behave himself up here after that whole mooning incident on Monday night a few years back. Who knows? Well, Brett was pissed about that because he wanted to get in another veteran receiver who he could lean on. The Packers had been going with a lot of younger players at that point and he wanted to get some people in there who he thought could help the team win right now — because that is what Brett Favre is all about, winning. I am sure every time he saw Tom Brady hit Moss for a touchdown that season it got him madder and madder. Eventually he probably just snapped and said ‘to hell with it.'"
Ironically, I couldn't help but wonder about that a few weeks ago when Favre was describing the trust he has already formed with receiver Sidney Rice. Rice has the ball skills and leaping ability of Moss, even if he doesn't have the unbelievable deep speed Moss had.
Now that the "revenge" portion of the schedule is over, we'll find out just how much of Favre's decision to play for the Vikings was about sticking it to Ted Thompson and how much was about trying to quench his thirst for the football juice.
Either way, it's apparent the competitive fires are still rolling.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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