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NFL

The Vikings Are A Party

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: Patrick Peterson #7 of the Minnesota Vikings and Camryn Bynum #24 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrate after Peterson's game winning interception in overtime against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)
Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

The fact that I’m a fan of the Minnesota Vikings means that everything I’m about to tell you is a potential byproduct of self-induced delusion. For three hours every weekend, I am a different person than I am the other 165 hours of the week. Whether I’m not myself or whether I am my truest self during this short window of time is a question that I can’t answer; all I know is that it’s best that I keep that particular version of myself hidden for as long as I can. For everyone’s sake and my own. When the Minnesota Vikings are playing football, my id is right out there on the field with them. I make such an unholy racket that the dog goes and hides under the table. My children take videos of me rooting specifically so that they can make fun of me for it. It’s funny to watch me lose my shit over a team that keeps feeding me more shit every year. I still love them to death, despite myself. I still talk myself into them.

So when I watched my team go into Buffalo yesterday and win one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen, I told myself that I believe in them fully. When you do this as a Vikings fan—or as a fan of any other snakebitten franchise—you’re asking for a pie in the face. The Vikings have fallen off the precipice so many times, with such unceasing regularity, that it’s more common for me to be harassed by OTHER Vikings fans for being hopeful, rather than opposing fans doing likewise in a bit of mandatory sports trolling.

But in football, history only means what you want it to mean. If you have titles, you get to wrap your morals and your best practices around your tradition. You win games because you’ve won them before. If your trophy case is barren, you have to scrounge around in the dark, like a teenage boy desperate to find confidence but at a loss as to where to even start looking for it. Prior to this season, it was easy to say that the Vikings needed to look elsewhere to un-tether themselves from the burdens of their own, weighted history. They had an aging roster. They had a quarterback who, when he decided to have a lousy game, fully committed to it. They had an offensive line as hollow on the inside as a common donut. And they had the worst two-minute defense in football.

They barely changed any of that. When owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, the former of whom has become quite the locker room dancer, cleaned out the coaching staff and front office, they gave new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and new head coach Kevin O’Connell orders to leave the roster largely intact. Adofo-Mensah would later call this approach a “competitive rebuild.” His two signature moves up until now—signing edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and trading for tight end T.J. Hockenson—put the “rebuilding” part of that crude equation so far into the distance that it’s now barely visible. Given that these Vikings lost a combined 18 games in the two seasons prior, you’d have been a fool to believe that anything was going to be different for Minnesota in 2022.

Everything, right now, is different. Everything is a great fucking time, man.

Vikings radio announcer Paul Allen makes John Sterling sound like Walter fucking Cronkite.

Prior to yesterday, the case for Minnesota being fraudulent was so evident as to be a given. They had only beaten one winning team, and that was a Miami team whose quarterback had been decapitated two weeks prior. Despite being 7-1, the Vikings’ point differential was the rough equivalent of a team like the 4-4 Niners. They had to come from 10 points down in the fourth just to beat both the Lions and the Commanders: two truly putrid teams. They needed not just one doink to beat the Saints in London, but two. When they DID play an excellent team, the Eagles, they got humiliated. History, had these Vikings chosen to believe it, would make itself known in the back half of a schedule that promised to be daunting. Far more games like that Eagles loss awaited them.

And for three quarters yesterday, Week 2 appeared to be repeating itself nearly to the down. The Vikings were behind by 17 in the second half. Kirk Cousins had already thrown two of his signature backbreaking picks, the latter of which happened because he legit mistook a Bills player for one of his own. They were down both a starting corner and his backup. They’d also lost their burgeoning All-Pro left tackle for the final stretch. Cheering for this team means watching the same movie a great many times over. That’s the narrative you lean on, either out of self-defense or earned cynicism. Under a head coach as poisonous as late-stage Zimmer was, it was not only easy for everyone on this team to hit their failure marks right on cue, but for fans like me to brace for it happening.

Not so, under O’Connell. It was easy to think of both O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah as fresh coats of polish on a desiccating turd, but that line of thinking ignores the overhaul both men have made in terms of preparation, scheduling, player health, situational mastery, expanded coaching staffs, and locker room mood. That last part tends to fall under convenient narrative terms like “chemistry,” with cheery failures like Rick Neuheisel trying to fabricate team bonding by taking all of their players out apple picking for a day during training camp. But the bonds these Vikings have are of the on-field variety. They LOVE playing together, and they don’t let the past get in the way of that joy.

Every time I’ve seen a Typical Vikings Moment happen this season—blowing a sizable lead against Arizona, having a guaranteed Cam Bynum pick become a Commanders go-ahead touchdown because the back judge got in the way, Gabe Davis catching a late first down yesterday that he clearly did not catch—they have NOT fulfilled their usual destiny and gone on to lose. They won those games anyway, and not by accident. They forced critical turnovers, or completed impossible passes, or did something else undeniably cool. And then … they fucking PARTIED.

No player alive could benefit more, both on the field and off, from adopting an alter ego than Kirk Cousins. But I digress. The point is that it’s no coincidence that Cousins is having his best season record-wise while also having one of his worst stats-wise. O’Connell has given him license to make mistakes, especially if it means forcing a ball to an otherwordly Justin Jefferson, and then the positive reinforcement to quickly recover from those mistakes. He treats the rest of this roster no differently. O’Connell believes in this team, they believe in each other, and everything good follows from there. It’s incredible what simply infusing some basic empathy and happiness can do to an otherwise moribund football team. The Wilfs thought a culture change was all the Vikings needed, and they’ve proven shockingly correct in that assessment.

It’s what made yesterday’s game surprising in one of a couple dozen ways. It’s not often that you see a redux of The Miracle At The Meadowlands, much less one that represents the third-to-last score in the game. But what was even more surprising was watching a team for whom tragedy feels preordained (Bills fans also know this feeling all too well) decide that THEY had the final say in the outcome, and not some nebulous football god who doesn’t even exist. Destiny is what you make of it. Intangibles are tangible. And in the moments where game plans mean nothing and football was stripped down to its elemental form, this team won. I couldn’t believe it. But then again, maybe I should have. The Vikings certainly did.

I believe now. I fucking love this team.