Vikings' 50th season is a critical year

The Vikings came close to getting back to the Super Bowl last year and now return to what could be the most pivotal season in franchise history. Getting to and winning the Super Bowl could help secure the Vikings in Minnesota for decades to come.

A week from today, the Vikings open training camp and start the process of erasing the memory of how close they came to getting back to the Super Bowl after a three-and-a-half decade drought. There are likely as many Vikings fans that have never seen them in a Super Bowl than there are those who have. To say 2010 is a big season in the history of the franchise is an understatement.

Much will be made in the coming months about this being the 50th anniversary season of the Vikings. Why? Because this is perhaps the most critical season in the history of the franchise. From the time the Vikings came to Minnesota, about the only time there was ever the fear of the Vikings leaving was when Mike Lynn starting huffing and puffing about moving the franchise to Memphis in the late 1970s – and that didn't seem realistic.

Much of the discussion in the last couple of months has centered on Brett Favre and whether or not he will return to the Vikings. It goes without saying that there isn't likely any legitimate football mind that would say the Vikings would be a better team without Favre than with him (at least not anymore). But, when analyzed closely, the Vikings are much more than a team built around a 40-year-old quarterback. Granted, he's the missing piece of the puzzle between being a good football team and a great football team. What the Vikings need right now is a great football team.

With the economy slowly – very slowly – showing glimpses of promise, the State of Minnesota still finds itself in hard times. Although it seems the road construction industry is booming like never before (it's hard to drive more than 10 miles without finding some form of road construction project), the state is facing a deficit in a make-or-break Legislative session in 2011. It won't be easy to convince comfortable career politicians from Greater Minnesota that kiss babies, shake hands and wave in mid-summer parades to pony up the money to assure that the Vikings stay in Minnesota for the next 50 years. Despite having a franchise that has been as identifiable with the state as any pro sports team – although the Twins and Lakers both won the world championship in their respective sports – the team's future in Minnesota is in jeopardy. The good times may be coming to an end soon if the Legislature doesn't take the threat of leaving seriously. To date, most of the legislators haven't gotten serious. The best way to grease the skids for the 2011 legislative session is to have the kind of year that gets fans energized about the team and hammering the point home to legislators how important the Vikings are to the day-to-day life of Minnesotans. A wild card playoff spot and a first-round playoff exit isn't enough. This has to be a big season that creates a buzz that rumbles through the 10,000 lakes and the halls of the Legislature in St. Paul.

It's not going to come easy. The Packers have become the chic choice by many analysts to be the team to beat in the NFC. If Favre needed any more impetus to return, continuing to hear that the Packers are going to the Super Bowl and he could prevent it like he did last year when he beat them twice and sent them on the road in the first round of the playoffs could be enough. If that serves as any motivation, he will be primed for a big year and so will the Vikings.

With a veteran team ready to hit the ground running next Friday, the Vikings will be looking at their time in Mankato as boot camp as they prepare to go to war. All signs point to Favre joining them after their basic training and leading them into battle. With as much riding on the 2010 season, there is likely to be more of a sense of urgency this year than there has been in a decade. The window of opportunity for a Super Bowl run has been limited in recent NFL history. With a team loaded with veterans, the Vikings know the chance of winning a Super Bowl with the current cast has only a year or two to get accomplished. The time is now. A successful season for the Vikings could well translate into a solution to a stadium problem that has been hanging over the Vikings for almost 15 years.

As if there wasn't enough pressure on the Vikings to continue their upward momentum, how about the reality that their future in Minnesota is almost literally on the clock? There is the sentiment that 2010 might be a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality. Get there, and a stadium deal will likely get done. Don't and all bets are off.

It all gets started in a week. To many, training camp and the preseason are meaningless. Considering what is at stake in 2010, it may well be the most meaningful training camp and preseason for the franchise in decades. How they respond to all the pressure will be critical.

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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