The Minnesota Vikings, widely advertised as a serious contender for the Super Bowl, rolled into the 2010 season on the crest of euphoria.
Today they are viewed as impostors. The bell is still tolling for their head coach, although events on the field in Chicago made him seem less the cause of the Vikings’ floundering than the victim of it. And their $20 million quarterback, a man for the ages in professional football, found himself moved to tears cherishing his memories in a post-game reverie.
Considerably more was needed at Soldier Field, and the Chicago Bears are not famous for sentiment. They also happen to be one of the more notable mediocrities of the NFL season despite their 6-3 record. Yet Sunday the Bears gleefully hammered the punchless Vikings 27-13 to deepen the gloom hanging over their season.
It was their sixth loss in nine games and on the surface might have poured more fuel on the Brad-Childress-must-go firestorm. But firestorms look pretty futile in the wake of a snowstorm back home. And today there has to be more resignation than fury from the hang-Childress posse. Sunday exposed a new problem for that crowd. The coach didn’t throw three interceptions in Chicago. He didn’t lose a fumble and finish with a microscopic quarterback rating of 44.5, and he didn’t transform the erratic Jay Cutler of the Bears into the next Peyton Manning.
But the dismal events for the Vikings have to be recorded for what they were: A football team living on its clippings and deluded by some of its locker room whiners who, as Pat Williams said earlier in the week, don’t have the guts to come out into the open. It is also part of the legacy of a great but declining quarterback who was not prepared physically for the start of the season but happily collaborated with the Viking brain trust in the annual will-he-or-won’t-he tease before rejoining the team. He has given what is available from his aching body and still-powerful arm. Add his competitive drive and joy of combat and 20 years of an incomparable savvy in how to win in the National Football League. But this is not the Favre of 2009.
He can’t be, with his scars and his bafflement over the relays of receivers who have been his new partners in the absence of Sidney Rice. The medics added another just before the game Sunday. Bernard Berrian said he was unable to perform. Percy Harvin was back, spectacular as ever. But Percy gets hurt. And he has migraines. And most of the time he decides to miss practice. These people, folks, are millionaires. On Sunday Adrian Peterson tried to ignite the running game. But the Bears of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers don’t make it easy to run and Adrian went 51 for 17, three yards a carry, for all of his passion and commitment.
‘You deal with it’
When it was over, Childress was asked about his future with the Vikings, which at this point might be described as limited. Childress didn’t sweat the answer. “You deal with it,” he said. “It’s not something you’re happy to deal with, but you deal with what’s out there. My name’s behind the Vikings team, and it all starts with me. So if it [speculation on a coaching change] gets directed there, it’s part of the equation.” This does not threaten Winston Churchill in the annals of oratory. But what else was he going to say? He’ll find out about his future “when I’m told.”
Favre was asked whether he might have second thoughts about returning to the Vikings this year after his prodigal season of 2009. “Had I known it would be like this,” he said, “sure, it would have been easier to make a decision.” But this was yesterday. Next Sunday they play the Green Bay Packers. Losing means the Vikings are all but out of it. Winning means Favre telling the world: “I knew it was the right decision all along.” With Brett Favre, he’s probably right either way.
The so-called out-of-control Vikings’ locker room has been overblown, at least until now, It’s a story line that has been nourished in part by Favre’s press conference asides and some of Favre’s friends in the internet and broadcast media.
But the elephant in the room in all of the fire-Childress speculation is the potential impact of the team’s performance on the Vikings’ campaign for hundreds of millions of dollars in public money to help build a new stadium.
It will reach the Legislature in the middle of an economic recession that has forced thousands of Minnesotans to lose their homes or jobs and threatened the savings of hundreds of thousands. The Wilf family that owns the Vikings believes it can make a reasonable case for a strong public involvement in the stadium. The Wilfs are not widely known in the community but have come across as progressive managers of the organization, maintaining trust in a strong staff. One thing they had counted on was another winning season by their football team to strengthen the pitch. If the season turns into a genuine dog — and it has a terrific start this direction — good luck with that scheme.
Which, in turn, might turn the Wilfs’ sight westward toward Los Angeles. All of this is wrapped in with the Vikings’ debacle of 2010. Unless it’s checked, or unless the club’s fan base finds some excitement to match the new stadium drumbeat, the whole package — Minnesota franchise, stadium et al — could come tumbling down.
Childress knows this glumly. The promise of an exciting new coach might be enough to mollify the season ticket buyers — either now or after the season. Childress gets zero hugs for creating excitement. But the annual upticks of his performance as the Vikings’ coach — records of 6-10, 8-8-10-6 and 12-2 last year — has been remarkable. He reached 10 wins two years ago without Favre. He asked his players to be accountable both on and off the field: “Don’t be the last guy who gets it,” he said, meaning they had to behave away from the football field as well as delivering performance on it. But he also became a stiff caricature for the bloggers, and he has no broad public support today.
And yesterday the Wilfs might have watched a young assistant coach turn around the moribund Dallas Cowboys in one week with their startling victory over the Giants.
So anything can happen from here to December, including the remote chance that the Vikings can still recover, run the table and make it to the playoffs from a 3-6 start with seven games remaining. But there isn’t the flimsiest chance of it happening unless they beat Green Bay at the Metrodome Sunday.
The Vikings didn’t fold Sunday, but they never did figure out how to corral Devin Hester’s kick runbacks or to put more pressure on Jay Cutler, who is capable of flying into some traumatic funks when the day turns sour. The Vikings rarely gave him that invitation. He threw touchdown passes to Greg Olsen, Hester and Kellen Davis, and the Bears dominated possession behind Cutler, Matt Forte and the Viking expatriate, Chester Taylor. Favre’s 53 yard hookup with Harvin and Ryan Longwell’s two field goals were the Vikings’ only response.
Harvin’s breakaways,Toby Gerhart’s early running bursts and Husain Abdullah’s two interceptions were some consolation for the Vikings but Favre managed only 170 yards through the air, and there was never any real hope of the 41-year-old quarterback matching his fourth-quarter finish of a week ago against Arizona. So Sunday it’s all on the table again, Favre vs. Green Bay. Maybe that IS a problem with the Vikings. It’s all Favre, all day.