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published Sunday, December 11th - 11:04pm

The notion that the 2011 Vikings could put together the worst season in the 51-year history of the franchise seemed preposterous. Two years earlier, the Vikings had more players (nine) named to the Pro Bowl than any NFC team - and Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Williams and Jared Allen still were around from that bunch.

Plus, another Pro Bowler from the 2009 season, Donovan McNabb, was brought in as a veteran quarterback to give rookie Christian Ponder some time to adjust to the faster NFL game.

There was skepticism over what McNabb had to offer after his unhappy experience in 2010 in Washington, but come on, did anyone think a quarterback not yet 35 would play so poorly that he would be shelved halfway through the sixth game of the season?

The Vikings opened with four narrow losses - at San Diego, Tampa Bay, Detroit, at Kansas City - and then blew out Arizona 34-10 in the Metrodome. The atmosphere was beyond weird, with McNabb getting booed as his team cruised to victory.

McNabb was benched the next week in a 38-10 blowout at Chicago, and Ponder's first two starts showed promise: a competitive 33-27 loss vs. Green Bay in the Metrodome, and then a 24-21 victory at Carolina.

This was the halfway point of the season and the Vikings were 2-6. What were you thinking ... maybe 5-11, to equal the 2001 season that wound up getting coach Dennis Green fired after a decade on the job?

Nobody could have imagined a second half of the schedule to put these Vikings in position to surpass the 3-13 team of 1984 as the worst ever for the lads in Purple.

The 2011 Twins tried to make similar history, but they had to settle for 63-99 record and the second worst record in their 51 seasons - behind the rookie-filled 1982 club that was 60-102.

I didn't see a chance for the 2011 Vikings to best Les Steckel's bunch, but now it's right there for them.

They have lost five in a row: a 45-7 embarrassment at Green Bay; a 27-21 loss in the Dome to an Oakland team determined to give away the game; a 24-14 loss in a dull affair in Atlanta; a 35-32 loss in which the Vikings made Denver lefty Tim Tebow look like Ken Stabler; and Sunday's 34-28 loss to the discombobulated Lions in Detroit.

The Vikings and Joe Webb are getting rave reviews for a late rally, but when a team and the quarterback of the future (Ponder) put on a display as amateurish as they did in the first half, no one should feel good about what has become of this football operation.

The three games between the 2011 Vikings and infamy are New Orleans on Sunday in the Metrodome, at Washington on Christmas Eve, and then on New Year's Day in the Dome against a Chicago team that figures to be out of playoff contention (with Caleb Hanie as its quarterback).

It was Jan. 1, 2006, when the Vikings closed a 9-7 season with a 34-10 victory over a Chicago team that already was in the playoffs. New owner Zygi Wilf responded by firing coach Mike Tice 20 minutes after the game.

Could the same fate befall Les Frazier, if the Vikings finish with an eight-game losing streak and surpass the '84 Vikings for the Purple's worst-ever record?

The '84 Vikings managed their third victory - 27-24 over Tampa Bay - in the 10th game of the season. They finished with a six-game losing streak against Green Bay (in Milwaukee), at Denver, in the Dome vs. Chicago and Washington, at San Francisco and in the Dome vs. Green Bay.

There were some excellent clubs - Denver, the Bears, the Redskins and the 49ers - but the point totals in that season-ending losing streak was ridiculous: 242 against and 79 for the Vikings.

Leo Lewis, the leading receiver on that '84 team, was on Reusse + Mackey last week and talked about the players losing most of their belief in what Steckel and the coaches were offering by the middle of that season.

The Vikings had kept some of Bud Grant's coaches, and Steckel had brought in less-experienced assistants and gave them the power, and it was chaos.

There's no way this situation is that bad - the players haven't quit in unison - and yet, remarkable, the 2011 Vikings could wind up more futile in the standings.

A few years ago, after a late loss, I asked Orville Thompson, the resident philosopher here in the Hubbard Building, "What do you think of those Vikes?''

And Orville came up with the perfect response: "They sure know how to make a fellow feel bad.''

I'm going to ask Orville about this Vikings team when I see him Monday, and the perfect response would be, "They sure know how to lose.''