?As the Green Bay Packers prepare to take on their longtime rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, the two franchises couldn’t be heading in two more opposite directions.
The Packers, playing on one side of the Mississippi River, celebrated their fourth Super Bowl last season and are riding a 12-game win streak, while preparing yet another stock sale that allows fans the symbolic feeling of ownership while raking in millions of dollars for the franchise.
Meanwhile, the Vikings (after having gone all-in a few years ago in a playoff quest not unlike what we just saw from the Brewers) are 1-5 and are still in the midst of a series of unfortunate events, investing in failing elderly quarterbacks time and time again, and fielding players having brushes with the law.
Nowhere will you find the differences so stark but in the eyes of the fans. The Packers possess the most fervent and unified fan base in the NFL, which will be evident today when the Metrodome will sport as many green jerseys and purple ones. And again, the Vikings fans have imploded, turned on themselves, sworn off football forever, and (justifiably) have ripped the organization top to bottom.
And while the team in the smallest professional market in any American sport is as firmly rooted as any team could possibly be, the rumors of the Vikings moving the Los Angeles have never been more persistent…or real.
There something about Minneapolis…which, if you remove the sports teams, has to be one of the coolest cities in the nation. It’s a progressive city with all the amenities, and a honking huge mall to boot. But for some odd reason, this innovative, artsy, and highly educated city of 3,317,308 (the 16th largest market in the US) has trouble hanging on to sports team.
You all know that the Los Angeles Lakers is a misnomer, right? I mean, LA isn’t exactly renowned for all the lakes that dot the metro area. No, the Lakers were actually the Minneapolis Lakers through the 1940’s and 1950’s. Were they some horrible team that simply couldn’t hack it in the fledgling NBA? Far from it: the team possessed the league’s first superstar, George Mikan, and won five…five…NBA championships in the early 1950’s. That’s Boston Celtic numbers.
But, shortly after popular Mikan retired in 1954, the first glimpses of the fickle Minnesota fans began to rear their ugly heads. Despite making the playoffs several times and even making it to the Finals once in their final two years in the Gopher State, attendance dropped more and more. A private stock drive was even held in 1957, hoping to provide corporate support for the team that couldn’t fill the seats. But, in the end, the Lakers moved on to fertile soil and left the Gopher State without an NBA team for decades.
That not enough for you? Minneapolis is one of the premier hockey towns in America. When filming the “Mighty Ducks” movie franchise, there was never any shortage of hockey barns to film in over the entire trilogy. And the Minneapolis North Stars were a mainstay of the NHL since 1967. As had been said, “Only an idiot could lose money on hockey in Minnesota,” and once again, someone rose to the occasion.
The team was a popular sport in Minnesota, even making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice over its reign. But an ugly divorce took place after, once again, several seasons of poor attendance due to a string of losing campaigns, and a highly publicized sexual harassment lawsuit against the owner, Norman Green. This resulted in an ultimatum from his wife to choose between her and relocation of the team. In 1993, they moved to Texas and became the Dallas Stars.
Sound familiar, gang? Problems in the legal/justice system, poor attendance, fickle fans? Not much has changed over the years, and while Minneapolis has gotten expansion teams to replace both the Lakers and the North Stars, the Wild, Vikings, and Timberwolves placed 92nd, 106th, and 118th, respectively, on ESPN’s latest Ultimate Standings of all 122 professional sports teams.
Looking at the history, it’s not surprising to see why Viking fans have always had a bit of an inferiority complex with the Packers. They’ve never won a Super Bowl and even their cross-river “rivalry” pales in comparison to the Packer/Bear battles of old and new.
In many ways, the Vikings have been that poor sister of the NFC North, the team you put up with but don’t really take much time to worry about. The rivary took on a little bit of muster in the early 2000’s, when the Packers came down off their Super Bowl-era high and found a team in purple looking to avenge their losses of the 1990’s.
It was an interesting “point-of-view” discussion in those days. The Packers, after losing Mike Holmgren, were settling back down to earth after years of measuring their peers as the behemoths of the NFL: the Cowboys, the 49ers, the Broncos. For years, division rivals had simply been stepping stones on the way to the playoffs for the Packers. When the Sherman era started with the Packers mortal once again, the Vikings brought in Chris Hovan and a bunch of other thugs who had one intent: beat the Packers. Crush the Packers. Even if it is ugly (or illegal), defeat the Packers.
What became an obsession for the Vikings, to beat one team, contrasted with the approach the Packers took. The Vikings were a big game, a divisional rivalry, but not the end-all, be-all. In the end, the Vikings were so obsessed with the Packers’ success that they built a team around the quarterback position, then bet the farm that acquiring Brett Favre would be the ticket to the Super Bowl.
In the end, it almost worked. But like much of Vikings history, almost doesn’t get you much besides frustrated and disenchanted fans. And as Favre quickly declined, Brad Childress was fired, and the rest of the team continued to age and decline, the price paid for that obsession with the Packers became clear.
The Vikings are in pure rebuilding mode, with a fan base that is as un-energized as ever. And that’s the history of Minnesota sports teams: the Lakers made it to the NBA finals a few years before they moved (lost), the North Stars made it to the Stanley Cup a few years before they moved (lost), and the Vikings came within a Favre interception of making it to the Super Bowl in 2008. Is this history repeating itself?
Even their own fans can’t seem to put together much support in the face of seeing yet another one of their franchises taken away from them. I asked Tom Pelissero this week on Cheesehead Radio if he sensed any grassroots support churning to keep the Vikings in Minnesota. He responded by saying he figured a couple of the blogs were trying to get something organized.
Let’s say that word again: trying.
With the Packers and Yoda, there is no try. Only do.
For years, I have rooted against the Vikings, yet always defended the rivalry as being one we didn’t want to lose. While we may hate the Vikings and detest their fans, I fought on the side of history and keeping a Black and Blue rival in the NFC North. It is the history that defines the rivalry, and any team needs those rivalries to define themselves.
But, in the end, my words mean nothing. There’s a greater history at work besides the rivalry, and that is the willingness of Viking fans to step forward and do what it takes to NOT lose yet another team out of complacency. Do whatever it takes. Form support groups. Reach out to past legends…hell, you’ve retired more numbers than the Packers despite never touching a championship. Buy up season tickets. Vote for a new stadium. #occupyzygiwilfsoffice, anyone?
But if your fans can’t support a team, much less fight to keep it, the Packers are better off without you. I’m done fighting for you. It’s time for you all to fight for yourself. So, stick a sock in that stupid vuvuzela and decide how much a sport team means to your community.
If you’d like any idea of how that should look, take a peek over the Mississippi River. Or, look around you at all of the green and gold jerseys in your Metrodome today.