Be honest. You never really thought the Minnesota Vikings would win Sunday’s game.
Not when they held a 3-0 lead at halftime. Not when they led 9-0 after three quarters. Not when they had a game-winning 27-yard field goal staring them in the face. You knew the impending result the whole time.
Sunday’s 10-9 loss to Seattle was as predictable as they come, especially if you’re a tried and true Vikings fan, still dining at the table with ghosts of defeats past.
The franchise has not been dominant by any means for the last 40 years, but they’ve made sure that whenever they are good enough to raise the collective hopes of the fan base, they squash those hopes in the most emotionally taxing way possible.
There was Darrin Nelson’s drop in the 1987 NFC Championship Game, Gary Anderson’s miss in ’98 and Brett Favre’s interception in ’09 – all of which robbed the Vikings of Super Bowl berths. The Vikings don’t want to lose alone; they want to make sure all of their fans feel the loss with them.
Minnesota is not like Detroit or Cleveland, long-time losing football cities that wait decades between playoff wins. No, the Vikings have baited their fans with decently frequent success and figuratively punched them in the gut over and over, to the point that an excruciating defeat is no longer shocking, yet its sting constantly feels fresh.
Battered Vikings fans have gotten used to the routine. And in this way, Sunday’s spine-tingler wasn’t surprising in the least. It was predictable.
Broadly speaking, the one-point loss fit the criteria of a typical Vikings postseason exit. It also fulfilled every preconceived concern the average fan had with this year’s team.
A strange love-hate relationship has been developing between fans and running back Adrian Peterson, who fumbled in the fourth quarter to set up Seattle’s go-ahead field goal. Long have fans forecasted that Peterson’s fumble-itis would again bite the Vikings in a critical spot, as it once did in the 2009 NFC Championship. Their prognostications proved to be accurate when Peterson was stripped by Kam Chancellor on Sunday.
It’s tough to know how much public perception leaks into a player’s mind. But oftentimes, public perception fuels media questioning and turns small issues into chronic problems. Peterson has been called a fumbler for the better part of the last decade. It’s become part of his identity, and he fumbled a league-high six times this season. So nobody should be shocked that he did exactly what we’ve come to expect. “I look back on that and say if I don’t put that ball on the ground, they’re not able to get that field goal and take the lead,” said Peterson. “That’s something that will haunt me throughout this offseason.”
The other culprit on Sunday? Blair Walsh. The once-heralded rookie who couldn’t seem to escape fans’ wrath after a rocky preseason. “It’s the never-ending preseason, huh?” Walsh asked on Dec. 30. “It never ends.” Fans called for competition in training camp. They begged for Walsh’s head on a platter after a miss in Denver that contributed to a 3-point loss. And they repeatedly voiced their distrust in Walsh for his tendency to miss 33-yard extra points.
His miss from 27 fit in well with the season’s narrative. “It’s a chip shot,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. “He’s got to make it.”
In two different games over the NFL playoff weekend, there were startling examples of how public stigmas can become self-actualizing. The Bengals – considered perennial one-and-dones, chokers, the “Bungles” – lost 18-16 to the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday night when RB Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball deep in Steelers territory with under two minutes left; then the Bengals committed two downright idiotic personal foul penalties to set up the game-winning field goal.‘Typical Bengals,’ the peanut gallery cried.
And on Sunday, of course, it was the Vikings’ turn to reinforce the negativity. The heartbreakers were at it again, fulfilling the prophecy so many thousands expected.