On Thursday, December 9, it sure looked like the Minnesota Vikings were going to play a boring game. Fresh off a humiliating 29–27 loss to the once-winless Detroit Lions — on a game-winning touchdown pass from Jared Goff, no less — the Vikings rattled off 29 unanswered points in the first half of the Fox primetime telecast against the Pittsburgh Steelers and seemed poised to put a lid on the past week’s discontents. The irony was not lost on the Steel City sideline: “Wow, man,” gasped Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, perhaps weighing the realization that even mediocre teams can be pretty darn good, on the best days of their lives.
Of course, that was before the second half, during which the Steelers rattled off twenty-two straight points, and spent the game’s fourth quarter within a touchdown of the lead, only for the Vikes to score once more, averting the biggest comeback in NFL history bringing the final tally to 36–28. No, that’s not a win the Vikings can hang their hats on, not like it was before the Steelers arose in the third quarter. But what is worth celebrating in this day and age, especially after you’ve lost to Jared Goff — worse yet, to the Lions?
No matter; armed with quarterback Kirk Cousins at the height of powers, running back Dalvin Cook at the height of his powers, Justin Jefferson at the germination of an elite wide-receiving career, and enough drama over the last month to end the institution of the American soap opera, the Minnesota Vikings are arguably the most exciting team in football.
Are they good? Don’t be ridiculous; the Vikings have 6 wins and 7 losses, putting them in a tie with 5 other teams for the final wild-card spot in the Super Bowl playoffs. If you follow a team in the orbit of that logjam — be they the bulwark-never-failing San Francisco 49ers, or the wonderful, inexplicable, semi-competent Philadelphia Eagles, or the half-quarterbacked latter-day New Orleans Saints — you will probably not watch the Vikings, not until the wintertime fate of your favorite team rests on their ability to wrap both glory and shame in a single 3-hour bear hug. Unless you’re as clairvoyant as Yours Truly, you may well ignore the Vikings until it’s much too late. No, the Minnesota Vikings are not good, nor are they singularly important in the brain-draining landscape of NFL football in 2021.
If you’re a fan of any other team, you might be justified in treating Cousins & Co. like some sort of athletic geek show, a motley crew whose suffering is both beneath your dignity and well below your conscience. If you’ve cast your lot with the burgeoning Cincinnati Bengals, or the, uh, upstart New England Patriots, or the Packers — who, speaking of clairvoyance, are absolutely going to win the Super Bowl in February — you’d probably best not infect your screens with the Kirk-Cook roller coaster. They’re not good. They’re not, strictly speaking, relevant. No one, not a single solitary soul, who desperately needs the Vikings to win or lose will be celebrating a Super Bowl anytime soon — and if you know that, you know not to watch.
No, no, no, no, no: The Vikings are for people who barely watch football at all, who can’t tell the difference between weak-side zone and strong-side power. They’re built for the eyes of those hostile to the sport, as a distraction from more important things. (Why would anyone care less about inflation than Aaron Rodgers’ vaccination status?) Every one of their games is so cut-and-dry, so needlessly stressful and hopelessly absorbing, that you need not know anything about football to fall into them like a two-year-old in a ball pit. They lost to a bad quarterback on the worst team on Earth, and then they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a game that they’d led 29–0.
If the Vikings were the subject of a major documentary mini-series — and God knows they should be — they’d be deflecting accusations that this is some sort of contrivance, a cynical ploy to ham It up for the camera. But they’re not. Instead, they’re the single most entertaining team in the single most-watched sport in America, mixing multicolored fireworks of brilliance and incompetence. How could anyone possibly care?
More importantly, how could they not?