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Zulgad: Worried history will repeat itself for Vikings? Let me put your mind at ease

You could feel the apprehension begin to set in almost as soon as the New Orleans Saints beat Carolina on Sunday.

It’s not that Vikings fans don’t want to exude the confidence of Patriots fans. It’s not that Vikings fans are eager to be thinking about field-goal attempts sailing wide left or seeing their quarterback throw an interception at a crucial moment. But it’s impossible to purge these thoughts from one’s mind when that’s all you’ve known for so many years.

Gary Anderson’s missed field goal stands out as the moment that caused the magical 1998 season to crash and burn only one game from the Super Bowl. Brett Favre’s forced pass into the middle of the field, and the unforgivable 12-men in the huddle penalty right before, are among the toughest memories from the 2009 NFC title game loss in New Orleans. Blair Walsh’s miss wide left in 2015 isn’t quite as painful, considering it came in a first-round playoff game, but that moment served as a painful reminder of past postseason failures.

So it makes sense that Vikings fans are uptight this week. Coach Mike Zimmer guided this team to a 13-3 record, the second-most victories in a single season in franchise history, but now comes the tough part. Getting past both the real and mental hurdles, beginning with Minnesota’s game against the Saints on Sunday in the NFC Divisional playoffs at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Allow me to offer this positive spin on matters — and no, this is not a joke. I’m being sincere.

This Vikings team is unlike any we’ve seen in many, many years and if you’re a fan whose loyalty dates to the beginning of the Randy Moss era, and thus the 1998 season, this team is very different than the one that has broken your heart on at least two occasions.

The 1998 and 2009 Vikings had solid defenses but those teams were built around offense.

This was especially true in 1998, when Denny Green’s team scored a then-NFL record 556 points with Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter, Moss and others leading the way. The Vikings were second in total offense that season and first in passing. The defense finished 13th in yards given up but were only 19th against the pass.

In 2009, Vikings were able to recruit Brett Favre to come play for them and the old gunslinger put together an MVP-type season in leading the Vikings to the No. 5 ranking in the NFL in total offense. The Vikings actually finished sixth in total defense that season, in large part because the outstanding run defense ranked second in the league. But there was never any question that team would go as Favre went and when Tracy Porter picked off Favre’s pass late in regulation, forcing an overtime in which the Saints would win, Minnesota’s season was sunk.

The Zimmer-led 2015 Vikings were more comparable to this team, but this is a more mature and well-crafted group of players who rely on a defense that makes life miserable on opponents.

I’m not old enough to remember the Vikings’ great Purple People Eaters defenses of the late 1960s and into the ’70s, but what Zimmer has put together this season is the best and most complete Vikings defense many of us have seen.

Led by Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings were No. 1 in the NFL in total and scoring defense and No. 2 in passing and rushing yards against.

This assures the Vikings of nothing in the playoffs, especially if the path to a Super Bowl championship includes having to beat New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and New England’s Tom Brady. But there is a bit more comfort in knowing the Vikings have a coach who is considered one of the NFL’s best defensive minds and is going to have as good of chance as anyone, especially when you consider his personnel, to slow even upper-echelon quarterbacks.

This isn’t to say the Vikings don’t have a good offense. Coordinator Pat Shurmur has done such a good job that it appears he will be named an NFL head coach at some point soon. The Vikings finished 11th in total offense and 10th in scoring offense.

Career backup Case Keenum stepped in for the injured Sam Bradford one game into the season and has proven to be a godsend who is headed for a big payday. Keenum’s success has been due in part to strong running back and wide receiver duos and a much-improved offensive line.

The Vikings will need that offense to be productive and mistake free on Sunday. They also will need Keenum and Co., to possess the ball for enough time so as to keep the defense fresh.

But they won’t be relied upon to win the game for these Vikings. That task will fall to what has proven to be a dominant defense.

Vikings’ fans should take comfort in knowing that’s the case.

  • Cman

    I think this article is spot on in that this is a different team. I’ve been saying the entire season that if they play their game, they can beat any team in the league.

    For us long time fans (25 years here) I think I can speak for all when I say, until this franchise proves otherwise, you got to be concerned that they will fall on their face and blow every opportunity that comes their way. I hate that feeling, but we have been let down time after time after time. They can win the SB this year, but will they? God I hope so.

    • badzeitgeist

      All of this talk of how long people have been fans is really making me feel old. I had to think about it and count — I started following the Vikings and collecting their football cards in the 1973 season. 45 freaking years ago.

      • Cman

        Haha. I’m not even 40 yet, but I’ve been a fan since I was 14-15 years old.

        • badzeitgeist

          Oh sure, rub it in.

          • Cman

            Haha, I hear the same crap from 20 year olds. I’ll be a Vikes fan till I die, and if they have tv’s wherever I end up, I’ll watch them there as well.

      • Drediock

        Im in NJ. My father took me to see the Vikings play the Giants at Yankee Stadium October 31st 1971. I was 10 years old. I also found out that the Vikes played their first game just a couple days before my birth.
        The Vikings won that game 17-10 and I walked away from that game a die hard purple bleeding Vikings fan and been one ever since. I wasnt fortunate like a lot of you to be able to get a ton of Viking news and info for the next 30 years. I shared in the same joys and sorrows as every other fan. And I would scour the papers and sports publications for anything I could find. when I got older I was given as a gift a subscription to Vikings Update which I would receive a week late but would read every article. I’d watch the TV highlights over and over on different channels just to see the Viking highlights. I hated when they didnt have a good season because that meant next year I’d hardly get to see them at all. Once I got married Sunday night dinners revolved around Viking wins or losses. If they won. Even during the hard times of our early years We’d have steak topped off with an entire pint of Ice cream for dessert. If we lost. Dinner wasnt cooked but for my son.(that tradition has since gone by the wayside) Im 56 now and getting info as well as watching the Vikes is much easier now. I havent missed a game in several years.

        My now grown son and I as he put it “finally made it to mecca” for the first time last year for the Lions game when he took me as a birthday gift. We didnt venture far out of The Twin Cities as we were only there for the weekend. But, Damn fine state you people have there.
        Good people. and while at the game I saw some good natured ribbing of Lions fans. i didnt see much if any of the nasty vicious vindictiveness I see shown to fans of opposing teams at and around the stadium that I see at Giants, Jets, Eagles games. Trust me. Ive been a target more then once. They even get nasty to children wearing opposing colors
        One of my first impressions was “what a great place this would be to raise a family” If I were to do it all over again. I would move there.
        The only thing I would find it hard to adjust to is the lack of cussing. Completely unsettling for someone from this tri state area where F isnt a cuss word. its a comma and most of us speak like Jerry Burns You folk need to learn how to expand your colorful repertoire
        Fantastic stadium. Be proud of it. It makes the newer Giants stadium (which is what we call it here) look like an absolute dump. which is ok because that is where most giants fans belong. But thats a tale for another post.
        We lost that game but still had a great time.Cant wait to make it back again

        • IrreverentOne

          Been a Viking believer since 1961. Been through the very, very good times. Been through the very, very bad times. If the football gods had any sense of history and could appreciate irony Buffalo would win the AFC championship and our Vikings would prevail in the NFC. The Super Bowl game would end, in overtime, with Case tossing a TD pass to Thielen and the uproar from the fans would be heard in Green Bay.

      • incentcar

        Age 7, which for me was 1964. Being a New Englander have only gotten to see them live 3 times. Result: 2 OT losses at Foxboro Stadium, and the last minute loss to Buffalo in 2014. My deepest wound has to still be the Hail Mary by Staubach. i think they can win the next two. That should be quite a high when it happens.

  • Louis

    Better defense than 1987/88 team. Offensive losses may hurt in the playoffs, though. Could miss the rookies bad on offense in playoffs, we shall see. 1969 team, for comparison?

    • SM

      1992 team seems better match to 2017 than ’88. Under D. Green by then, the offense was much more focused than ’88 group which gave up a ton of sacks and INTs. Vikes took the division in 92 and second place to GB in 88, who swept them.

      • Louis

        In 1969, vikes had one of greatest defenses ever-4th best in history? And qb was Joe kapp. This is like that. Great d, qb with journeyman skills overachieving. Only NFL title for vikes: 1969

        • SM

          Yep, in 50 years, I am sure there is more than one similar team. You pick 69, I pick a more modern.’92 team.

  • linus

    In a weird way, the Vikings might be better off against the Saints with Keenum this year than they were with Favre in the ’09 season. In both years, the Vikings were/are statistically the superior team overall, with the lone exception being turnovers, where the Saints have a sizable edge. So as long as the Vikings don’t turn it over, they should win the game, and the one area where Keenum may be better than Favre (who threw ~60 more interceptions than any other QB in league history) is in avoiding turnovers.

  • Joe Blow

    Is it bring your whiskey to work day at the office? Positivity has never felt so weird. I suppose…careful what you wish for. Lol.

  • Gordon Guffey

    Judd you bad past Coller as a reporter like he was running backwards ~ It use to be the other way around ~ However you saw the light long before Coller and others this season ~ I tip my hat to you Sir ~ Great read ~

  • Justin Fuchs

    The Vikings have the golden opportunity to beat Brees again, Ryan again, and finally put the cherry on top of a awesome season to beat Brady. This is set up to be either the Super Bowl win we’ve been waiting for in the last 60 years or we are set up for the worst choke job in the history of choke jobs.

    • SM

      Or lose a very close well played game. Which ain’t a choke like INT, 3 fumbles or FG try shanked wide left.

      When’s the last time these Vikes lost a fumble on offense? First Detroit game?

      • Justin Fuchs

        Maybe. It’s been a while since the Vikings lost a fumble.

  • styx rogan

    the curse can not be broken

  • Howard Markose

    Judd, you are so right. I have the jitters just as you described them. I turn 60 next month, and have been a die-hard Vikes fan for a half a century, having braved the chilling cold at games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington when the Purple People Eaters were at their best. Maybe, just maybe, this year will be different because we have a total package (defense AND offence) of healthy Vikings entering the playoffs. Go Vikes!

    • SM

      Skol, admire your dedication.

      FYI, both teams are missing OL starter, with a decent backup available. Any more OL injuries could tilt the balance either way.

  • Dennis Driscoll

    1969 I was 13. They broke my heart and I’ve had to live with that jackass Hank Stram and his Chinese fire drill ever since. I don’t need to review the litany of catastrophy since. Is this the year Lucy doesn’t pull the football away from Charlie Brown? Man, I hope so. But I just can’t myself go there. I will be watching the game with a Blair Walsh jersey with “wide right” written in magic marker above his name. I wish I could say I’m joking.

    • SM

      Bro, I remember… Biggest heartbreak was losing to Steelers, Franco ran all day long, and a close.score. And hated.getting.bombed by Raiders and that pompous A$$ coach. Madden was known to throw himself on the ground in a tantrum to protest a call.

      And a whole.lot.of people know the Vikes do NOT get into a long distance FG contest on Sunday.

      I bet Priefer had his kicking team out and checked what range the kid has this week. He missed that 53 yarder recently. Zimm didn’t call that for giggles.

    • gagu

      I hear ya. Losing to KC still burns my soul. Jackass is the perfect description of Stram. Losing to the Miami, Oakland, and Pittsburgh teams hurt, but they were legitimate powerhouses. While we could have won those games, we should have beat KC. Stram had a pretty good record as an AFL coach, but a losing record as an NFL coach. Madden, Shula, and Noll great coaches. Stram was an over-rated strutting peacock, and he pales in comparison to Bud Grant.

      • MR

        KC qualified for the AFL playoffs as a wild card in 1969, they didn’t even win their Division. The Vikings were heavy favorites to beat KC in the Super Bowl, but KC won in a stunning upset. The Vikings then beat KC in a regular-season game in 1970.
        Hank Stram became a commentator on pro football telecasts after he retired from coaching; when he did Viking games he always praised Bud Grant as a head coach. He wanted to get rid of his “strutting peacock” image.

  • MR

    Here is a statistical comparison of the Vikings defenses from 1988, 1992, 1998, 2009 and 2017:

    Yards allowed Turnovers forced Points allowed
    1988 4091 53 233
    1992 4515 42 249
    1998 5066 34 296
    2009 4888 24 312
    2017 4415 19 252

    One thing to keep in mind when looking at these stats is that rule changes in recent years have made it easier for offenses to gain yards and score points.

    • MR

      See this same post above, easier to read.

    • Paul David Smith

      This year’s Defense may actually be statistically underperforming in turnover generation. Perhaps in this case “regression to the mean” actually means we are due for an uptick in takeaways in the coming games. It’s a thought.

  • MR

    Here is a statistical comparison of the Vikings defenses from 1988, 1992, 1998, 2009 and 2017:

    Year………………Yards allowed…………………….Turnovers forced………………..Points allowed
    1988…………………..4091………………………………….. 53…………………………………….233
    1992…………………. 4515………………………………….. 42…………………………………… 249
    1998…………………. 5066………………………………….. 34…………………………………… 296
    2009…………………. 4888………………………………….. 24…………………………………… 312
    2017…………………. 4415………………………………….. 19…………………………………… 252

    One thing to keep in mind when looking at these stats is that rule changes in recent years have made it easier for offenses to gain yards and score points.

  • JonasGrumby

    Mr. Panic is reassuring us? Oh my!

  • Topgunn

    I was an AFL fan before I was an NFL fan growing up in the 60’s. The AFL was much more fun to watch. I liked the K.C. Chiefs before I became a Vikings fan. I have to say, it was REALLY annoying seeing Hank Stram strut up and down the sidelines in Super Bowl IV. But it was no fluke the Chiefs beat us. They had a tremendous defense with 3 future HOFers (Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier and Emmet Thomas) a a bunch of other REALLY good players. Their QB (Dawson) was better than ours (Kapp). Their RB (Mike Garrett a former Heisman Trophy winner) was better than Bill Brown and Dave Osborne. Their star WR (Otis Taylor) was better than OUR star WR (Gene Washington). The tougher loss was to the Steelers. I think we were the better team, we just had a bad game. The BEST team the Vikings have ever had, was 1975 (when Staubach beat us on our home field with “That Hail Mary” pass.


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