Vikings' start has other fans venting

A weekend without Vikings football allowed time to catch the reaction of fans in Green Bay and Chicago. It wasn't pretty, as jobs are being called for and venom unleashed on the airwaves.

Sunday gave a lot of Vikings fans a chance to see how the other half lives as a weekend of football came and went with no Minnesota game to look forward to. However, for those who opted to tune in their A.M. radio dial, they got an earful.

Like many Minnesotans, I spent the weekend in the deep woods of Northern Minnesota commemorating the annual start of the deer hunting season. As it turned out, the slaughter of Minnesota deer was nothing compared to the slaughter of NFC North coaches by their own fan bases.

Somehow without even playing, the Vikings made significant gains toward winning the NFC North. All three of their division rivals played and all three lost to conference opponents. Thanks to the those losses, the Vikings have a three-game lead in the NFC North and have clear-cut tie-breaker advantages over the other three teams, which essentially gives them a four-game lead with eight games to play in the regular season. As would be expected, Vikings fans remain giddy about their Super Bowl chances. But the distinct impression is that both the Bears and Packers are almost ready to pack in the 2009 season and write it off as an abject failure.

In search of a radio signal that would allow those in the group of hunters I was hanging out with to get some score updates, we stumbled across both a station carrying the Bears and Packers and, perhaps more importantly, the post-game call-in shows – where fans are allowed to vent and let their feelings and concerns about their team be heard. What followed after the Bears got their butts handed to them by Arizona and the Packers allowed the Buccaneers to win their first game in eight tries was something to behold. It would seem a full-fledged fan mutiny is underway.

What made the blood-letting of the fans so interesting (other than the humor of it), is that most of them – whether Bears fans or Packers fans – came into the season convinced their team was going to win the NFC North. The Bears made a hug splash by trading for Jay Cutler, who gave Chicago its first legitimate NFL quarterback since Jim McMahon in the mid 1980s and their first top-end numbers producers since Sid Luckman in the 1950s. It has been a long QB drought in Chicago and hopes were expectedly high. Being 4-4 through eight games wasn't what they had in mind.

The same was true in Green Bay, where the Packers were something of a sleeper pick to make a deep playoff run, especially after a strong preseason showing. After Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay, the Pack is 4-4 as well and their fans are despondent.

The answer, according to Bears fans – at least those who didn't have to be dumped by the seven-second delay for using foul language – is to fire Lovie Smith. It would seem Smith has come off to fans (and even one post-game show host) as both arrogant and ignorant. After taking the Bears to the Super Bowl, Smith and Chicago haven't been back to the playoffs since and they don't look like a team ready to go back any time soon. Instead of breaking down what they've done over the last three games that have seen them get housed twice in the last three weeks (by Arizona and Cincinnati), the big question for fans wasn't whether Smith will be fired at the end of the season, but who will be his replacement? Fans checked in with choices ranging from Bill Cowher to Jon Gruden to Tony Dungy, but it would seem the only thing they could all agree on was that Smith has to go.

In Green Bay, the tone of the ‘Sconnies was more subdued and, from the sounds of things, more alcohol-related. Being swept by the Vikings was a stomach punch many of them weren't expecting, but a loss to the previously winless Buccaneers and a rookie quarterback making his pro debut was a stunner. Their malaise was obvious and, while they weren't necessarily calling for Mike McCarthy's head on a platter, the same fate wasn't coming for general manager Ted Thompson. By and large, fans were saying that letting Brett Favre go was now a massive mistake (even though Aaron Rodgers has done his part to keep the team successful) and that Thompson is the biggest idiot on the planet.

It's funny how the twists of fate can change the fan reaction to their team. Without even playing, not only did the Vikings gain ground in defense of their NFC North title, but it would appear that they have successfully shown enough to get the fans of both the Packers and Bears to wave the white flag of surrender.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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