It’s no fun being 0-3. Not since the 2013 quarterback carousel of Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and sleep paralysis demon Josh Freeman have the Minnesota Vikings started a season with three consecutive losses. That season didn’t exactly turn around. At the time, there was plenty of reason to be optimistic if you wanted to look for it — Cordarrelle Patterson was an explosive rookie receiver, for example. But Patterson never evolved beyond a gadget player in Minnesota and is now a backup running back for a division rival. So why bother falling for the same optimism in a dying season, just because Justin Jefferson had a breakout game?
Logically, it’s easy to separate the two examples. Jefferson had a phenomenal 175-yard game as a traditional receiver winning in a traditional, stable way. Jefferson’s production, thus far, is bigger and predicts future success better than Patterson’s gadget highlights. It’s far too early to seal any envelopes, but it lacks the signals of deception that Patterson’s rookie year had. From pure objectivity, that is a reliable positive.
But this isn’t a logical question. It’s an emotional one. Vikings fans are famously tortured, which changes our perspective. Why buy into another exciting young player, when so many have failed to make good on those expectations? Why buy into a 59th Vikings season when the previous 58 let us down in excruciating fashion? There isn’t really a good answer to this, but if you’re a born-and-bred Vikings fan, baptized in purple Kool Aid, you probably don’t have a choice.
When you get your hopes up for the 59th time, and get your heart broken for the 59th time, it’s easy to feel a fool. If there were signals that things may not work out, like a young group of corners or a struggling offensive line that only got worse, it can especially sting. But hope is an annual tradition in the NFL. Even fans of the worst teams will find a way to predict a respectable 9-7 season where rookies develop and the coach shows their mettle. This has been psychologically studied, and it is unavoidable. It’s not a logical process, and we shouldn’t expect it to be one. Hope is part of the fun, whether or not it makes sense to have it.
In these times, remember that more than likely, you didn’t choose to get your hopes up, it’s just a part of the experience. That doesn’t make you a fool, it makes you a fan. If you like being a fan, you’ll keep being a fan. No matter how upset Sunday’s loss made you, you’ll be right with me next July talking yourself into 9-7 for 2021. And that’s perfectly natural. The failure of the Vikings is not a failure of someone who is a fan of the Vikings. While that seems obvious, it’s all too easy to convince yourself that your disappointment is your own fault, just for getting your hopes up. So we should say that out loud more. Hope isn’t a take, it’s an emotion, and it’s okay to have emotions with regard to sports.
Perhaps someday, the Vikings will win a Super Bowl and make good on all the faith you’ve poured into your fandom over the course of your lives. Perhaps the NFL folds as part of a descent into a militarized dystopia before the magical season. We don’t need to be correct about which outcome happens, we can freely choose the one we want and hope for it. Nobody is keeping score.
The Vikings are 0-3, but Justin Jefferson looked amazing. It may not be responsible, or even correct, to focus on Jefferson over the perpetual offensive line woes or the looming specter of a head coaching search. But you don’t need to be responsible. You’re fans. So watch the highlights, enjoy the 71-yard touchdown, and talk yourself into the moral victory. The Vikings looked better in Week 3, even though they fell short. That might not be enough to win a championship, but it’s enough to let yourself enjoy football again, if only for a little while. Don’t feel the need to punish yourself any more than the Vikings punish you already.