UPDATE: The National Football League this afternoon granted the Minnesota Vikings a final 24-hour extension to sell the remaining tickets for Sunday’s playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles. About 3,100 tickets still must be sold by 3:30 p.m. Saturday to prevent a local TV blackout of the game.
Kermit said it’s not easy being green. Members of the Vikings ticket-sales staff might argue about the even greater challenge of being purple.
Fact is, the folks trying to push the 8,000 tickets remaining (as of Friday morning) for Sunday’s NFC playoff game between the Vikings and the Eagles might have had more success packaging them with airfare, a night in a downtown Minneapolis hotel and some gift cards to local eateries — and goosing the price appropriately — for Philadelphia fans than offering them at face value to Vikings followers.
Green-clad visitors from the City of Brotherly Love could have a significant presence at the Metrodome as it is, given the slow pace at which available seats have been snatched up by those of us from the Cities of In-Law-Level Fondness.
Toward our sports teams, that is.
There still was hope that the NFL, factoring in the holidays, the always uncertain weather, the horrible economy and the strained households budgets throughout the land, could extend the official TV blackout deadline by another 24 hours. That would give the Vikings until 3:30 p.m. Saturday to sell the remaining tickets and keep the club’s first playoff game since 2004 available to viewers at home, in bars and elsewhere electronically. That the team already had blown through one 24-hour extension was something of an embarrassment; to Eagles fans and Philadelphia media, it was more of an amusement. There was more than a little mocking going on, apparently, of a market with two big cities unable, together, to sell out one important game of the nation’s most popular sport.
“Well, they’re not short on opinions,” said Vikings coach Brad Childress, who spent seven season with the Eagles (1999-2005) as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. “They have a passion, just like the people here have a passion.”
Uh, consider that last comment obligatory, because there is a vast difference between the ways Philadelphia sports fans follow their teams and how that gets done in Minnesota. A sportswriter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, filing reports from Winter Park the past three days, wondered how surprised folks back home should be at Vikings fans’ possible apathy.
Short answer: Not very. But, I told her, it’s more complicated than that.
In 22 years of living in the Twin Cities — after growing up in Chicago, then studying and working in Milwaukee — I contend that fans in Rust Belt markets and hardcore folks out East root differently from us. There, sports is lifeblood, something to live and die by, and when a local team — in this case, Eagles, Phillies, 76ers and Flyers, among the biggies — sputters or fails, the urgency to criticize, fix and purge is as strong as it is to cheer, praise and celebrate in good times. It’s the old fisherman’s or golfer’s creed: A bad day following the (fill in the blank) is better than a good day doing anything else.
Here, my experience tells me, it isn’t like that. The zeal in good times can be almost identical — nothing I have witnessed in any sport, in any venue, can match the atmosphere at the Metrodome in Octobers 1987 and 1991 for the Twins’ World Series titles. But in lean times, beyond an expected cluster of diehards, fans here tend to drift to the next-most alluring option. If it’s a different pro team, fine. If it is a Gophers sport or a high-school juggernaut, so be it. Sometimes it even is the Walker or the Guthrie or laps around Lakes Calhoun or Harriet.
There is an edge to those harsher places, too, that the Twin Cities lack. Or put another way: Here, people invent ways beyond sports to amuse themselves in the dead of winter, things like Holidazzle parades and winter carnivals. There, fans just go to sporting events and boo Santa Claus when he drops in.
Sportswriters in this market don’t generate nearly the same levels of hate mail — or, in new media, nutso website comments — as those in markets with bluer collars, longer pro sports histories or, maybe, simpler identities and egos. I’ve always felt that the Twin Cities is a saner sports market than many because of that. It also happens to be a can’t-sellout-the-big-game-until-the-last-moment sports market.
Childress talked on Wednesday about the difference, Philadelphia vs. Minnesota, in how fans in the respective cities hammer on their quarterbacks. Keep in mind that the Eagles have had Donovan McNabb, while Vikings fans have had to choose this season between Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte. Quality doesn’t get in the way of carping, it seems:
“It’s an all-encompassing thing, whether you live in Philadelphia, whether you live in New Jersey,” the Vikings coach said. “Wherever you go, you can say what you want, but it’s an Eagles town. … It’s there 24/7. It’s there anytime you go to a St. Patrick’s party or a Christmas party. Or the middle of the summertime. Or 25,000-strong at training camp at 8 o’clock in the morning with a beer and a colorful comment on somebody who drops the ball in a 1-on-1 drill. It’s unique from that standpoint. It’s a real, real strong passion.”
A ticket-buying passion, even if it means a January Sunday in Minneapolis.