Friday, March 31, 2006

Why I want Favre to retire...desperately.

I'll keep this simple: I desperately want Shitdick to retire. Here's why:

1. I don't want him to break Marino's all-time TD pass record. That record is pretty hallowed to me...if Shitdick broke it, I'd have to re-examine existence (plus, we'd have to listen to broadcasters coo about him no matter how many interceptions he throws).

2. I don't want any possibility of Favre winning another Super Bowl. I know the Packers are nowhere near contention, but I can't deal with the possibility. And if the Packers win their 13th championship before the Vikings win their 1st, I'm going to have to get a passport, buy a plane ticket to Tibet, find a Buddhist Monastery, and find somebody to explain to me why God is so evil. Whatever answer they gave me, I'd probably stay there and never watch football again. Plus, I don't want to listen to broadcasters coo about him if he does win another Super Bowl.

3. The Vikings beat the Packers the last three times they faced each other, and I want that to be my lasting memory of Shitdick. I also like the idea of him finishing up 4-12 with 29 interceptions.

4. I can't stand another season of broadcasters talking about Favre's retirement. It's not like you can avoid it by not watching Packer games--it's like Dick Vitale bringing up Duke no matter what teams he's covering; announcers find a way to work it in everywhere.

Now, it might be nice to have him come back, face more losing, embarrass himself some more (his play got really bad in the second half of the year), throw some more dreadful interceptions, and cost his team some more wins with his "gunslinger" mentality. Plus, I don't even know if he has the 24 TDs in him (that's what it will take to catch Marino's 420). But I've had enough of Shitdick to last me--I'm ready to move on. I can't put the hatred aside until he's no longer in uniform. Then I still won't be able to put the hatred aside, but it won't consume me.

"Respect," shout the old men.

You know the Adam Sandler bit called "Respect," I think on his CD "They're all going to laugh at you"?

All those guys need to be around anytime UCLA is discussed.

Check out Bruins Nation for a discussion under "Coach K = Wooden?" and a link to a very good LA Times article by Chris Dufresne (an article I'm having trouble linking to).

John Wooden is "hands down" the greatest coach in the history of college basketball. "THE HANDS ARE DOWN," shouts Abe.

Sports Fan = Masochist

There are 32 teams in the NFL, and since only 1 team can win a championship per season, each season approximately 97% of fans will be disappointed at the end of the year.

In a single decade, if there are no repeat champions (and every decade has featured multiple repeat champions so far), a minimum of approximately 69% of fans will not see their team win a championship. You can watch football for ten years, and there is over a 2/3 chance that your favorite team won't win a title in that time.

There are 16 NFL teams that have never won a Super Bowl in their current city. So if each of these teams takes turns winning the Super Bowl, and there are no repeats, and no teams that have previously won the Super Bowl win, you could wait 16 years before seeing your favorite team win. And there are always repeats, and there are the 16 teams that have won Super Bowls competing, too.

You have a 3% chance of seeing your favorite football team win a Super Bowl in the 2006 season. Yet you will probably watch every game, celebrating victories and mourning defeats, thinking about the team during the week, attaching all sorts of emotions to your team. And in the end, there's a 97% chance they will make you unhappy.

There are plenty of Viking fans around who have been watching the team fail to win a championship for its entire 45 year history. And there are many more that will devote much of their lives to the Vikings for the next 45 years regardless of whether or not the team wins a Super Bowl in that time.

Every sports fan must hate himself/herself to put up with this.

And yet...would you have it any other way?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The future Viking QB

According to the Trib, Brad Childress says the Vikings will certainly be taking a QB in the draft (but since Childress talking about Culpepper still seems to be the lead story for the Vikes, you have to find that information in the middle of a lot of pointlessness about a player who isn't a Viking anymore).

Childress also suggests they won't be taking a big-name early pick, but a developmental quarterback later in the draft (though why would anybody trust anything anybody says before a draft?).

I do think the Vikes should take a QB with a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Yes, it would be exciting to trade up and get a player like Matt Leinart. But quarterback is a crapshoot. Draft a QB in the later rounds, and you never know--he just might win a Super Bowl. And if he doesn't turn out, all you've done is use a later round draft pick. But if you draft a QB in the first round, you've got maybe--maybe--a 50/50 shot of him being any good at all. If he is good, great. If he's not good, then you've just wasted a first round pick and probably set your franchise back several years trying to make it work.

With quarterback such an unpredictable position, I support trying to use later, low-risk picks to try and win the crapshoot, while using first round picks on more dependable positions (relatively speaking). Unless you think you've got a can't miss QB, use your first rounders on something else.

Just look at first round QBs: it's totally hit-or-miss. In 1999, 5 QBs went in the first round: 2 became Pro Bowlers, one was mediocre, and the other two completely sucked. In 2000, the best QB drafted was a sixth-rounder. In 2001, the Chargers missed risking an early pick on Ron Mexico, ended up with the best RB in the league, and still managed to get a Pro Bowl QB at the beginning of the second round. 2002 featured three first-round QBs, but third-rounder Josh McCown has shown as much promise as any of those three. '03, '04, and '05 are still too early to judge.

Nothing is guaranteed in the draft--no matter what player or position you draft, you could end up with a dud. But quarterback is especially risky. If you blow an early pick on a defensive lineman or a wide receiver...well, it's a blown pick, but you're basically just getting no contribution. If you blow an early pick on a quarterback, chances are he's losing you games. It's a devestating risk.

If the Vikes trade up for Leinart because they think he's a sure-thing, I'll support it. If they trade up for Vince Young, I'll be nervous (a QB like him seems like a great potential pick, not a sure-thing pick). If they trade up for Jay Cutler, I'll probably scream and throw objects in anger (while maintaining my blind hopeful optimism inside). If they draft a QB in the second or third round, it won't be terribly exciting, but I'll smile and quietly hope they've just drafted the QB that will lead the Vikings to Super Bowl glory.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Greatest Viking

According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are 5 Vikings in the Hall "who made the major part of their primary contribution for" the Vikings: Page, Eller, Tarkenton, Yary, and Krause. There are a lot of great Vikings not in the HOF right now--Mick Tinglehoff and Jim Marshall probably should be HOFers, Cris Carter will be, Randy Moss should be, and other players such as Chuck Foreman made significant contributions to the team but aren't really HOF material. And despite never winning a title, the Vikings have a very rich history, playing in 4 Super Bowls winning 16 division titles.

So who is the greatest Viking ever?

For my money, it's Alan Page. Page was the first defensive player to win NFL MVP in 1971. He was the anchor of the Purple People Eaters. He played in all four Super Bowls. His quickness allowed him to do a lot of things that we'll never see defensive tackles do anymore. He was consistently the best defensive player on a team that more often than not relied on defense to win games.
I rank him ahead of Tarkenton because he played in all four Super Bowls, and because he was a more dominant DT than Tarkenton was a QB.

Tarkenton is wonderful. He retired the all-time leader in completions, attempts, passing yards, and passing TDs, he was the second Viking to win MVP (1975, and unless I'm mistaken, we're still waiting for the third), and his style of play was unique. But the Vikings first achieved success with Page as their best player, not Tarkenton.

Alan Page is the signature player in the Vikings' history.

And until they win a Super Bowl, I won't rank any other player ahead of him.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Parity, Mediocrity, and Juggernauts

In the last few NFL seasons, we have not had what one could possibly call "parity." Particularly in 2005, as sports writers such as Dr. Z and Bill Simmons pointed out, you had a big chunk of good teams, a big chunk of bad teams, and not a lot of mediocre teams. This isn't exactly Pete Rozelle's dream of "any given Sunday" with everybody finishing around 8-8. 2005 featured the opposite of parity--you had a lot of good teams who, most weeks, faced far inferior competition and easily beat them. 2004 featured much the same thing. Instead of a bell curve, you have a dumbell curve.

And at the top, as I attempted to show below, we don't see the signs of parity. Teams that make it to the Super Bowl usually do so during the beginning, middle, or end of a successful run of contention. That is what is important, I think. It's good that the current system allows teams to rebuild quickly; the bad teams can get good again quickly. But I don't see any evidence that the Champions are diluted in today's NFL. Indeed, the 2003 Patriots went 10-0 against teams with 10+ wins. I think that team (and the '04 team) could compete with Lombardi's Packers, Noll's Steelers, or Walsh's 49ers. I don't know that they were better than those teams...but they would compete.

That said, there are some signs of parity. Looking through records at, I struggled with the methodology I should use. I didn't want to separate eras arbitrarily to compare, because the cutoff would alter the results (for example, if I want to look at the number of teams that make the playoffs in a given era, and I decide to cut off eras at '70-'79 and '80-89, I can't deal accurately with a team that might have made the playoffs in '79 and '80 because they would each count for one playoff appearance in each era, when in actuality those appearances should be looked at together). Furthermore, since the league merger in 1970, expansion of the league and the playoff format makes using playoff appearances difficult. From '76-'77, only 29% of teams in the league made the playoffs. From '90-'94, 43% of teams in the league made the playoffs (Peter King provides a nice graph). Today, 38% of teams make the playoffs, compared to 31% at the merger.

I decided to examine a certain phenomenon in assessing the "parity" of the NFL: Isolated Playoff Appearances (IPA). An IPA occurs when a team makes the playoffs, but had not made the playoffs in the previous 2 years and does not make the playoffs in the next 2 years. I examined occurances since the merger, but can only count from 1972-2003 ('72 because it doesn't make sense to try stretch the statistics back before the merger, '03 because we can't know whether '04 or '05 playoff teams can count). I excluded the 1982 season because 16 of 28 (57%) of teams made the playoffs (even though would have only added two Isolated Playoff Appearances). I included the second-year Panthers' '96 playoff appearance, because since they didn't even exist in two years previously, it's a good example of an Isolated Playoff Appearance).

I think this is a fair measuring stick for parity. We know that teams can quickly rebuild--but truly rebuilt teams won't have an Isolated Playoff Appearance, as they'll compete for several years. But in a parity-driven league, a poor team can have one decent (or lucky) year before playing like a poor team again.

My findings show that there is a certain level of parity.

1972-1979: 2 Isolated Playoff Appearances
1980-1989: 5 Isolated Playoff Appearances
1990-1999: 13 Isolated Playoff Appearances
2000-2003: 5 Isolated Playoff Appearances

In the '70s and '80s, IPAs were uncommon. The '90s saw a boom in IPAs, and the '00s seem to be continuing that trend.

There are signs of parity, but not at the level most people talk about parity.

(note: I only see usefulness in comparing the different NFL eras--it is simply not useful to compare different sport leagues. The nature of the NFL game itself (more players, more injuries, shorter careers) means that there will be a higher level of parity than, say, basketball.)

The myth of NFL parity

We hear it all the time--the NFL is a league of parity. There are no juggernauts. Any team can come out of nowhere and end up in the Super Bowl. Indeed, teams like the '99 Rams, '01 Patriots, and '03 Panthers make it seem as if a bad team can suddenly make a run to championship contention overnight.

There's a great deal of myth here. Yes, in the NFL, any team has a good opportunity to compete regardless of location. Yes, free agency makes fast rebuilding projects possible.

But this isn't a parity-driven league--good teams tend to stay good for a number of years. Let's look at the last 7 Super Bowls to see.

1999 St. Louis d. Tennessee
The Rams did come out of nowhere, but it was in fact the beginning of a pretty successful run. From '99-'04, the Rams were in the playoffs 5 of 6 years, and went to another Super Bowl. Including '99, the Titans went to the playoffs 4 of 5 years through '03.

2000 Ravens d. Giants
Here's a case of potential flash-in-the-pan teams. The Ravens hadn't been to the playoffs since moving to Baltimore, and would appear in the playoffs again in '01 before rebuilding. The Giants had previously made the playoffs in '97, and would make it again in '02 before tearing it apart and rebuilding.

2001 Patriots d. Rams
The Rams are already spoken of. The Patriots seemed to come out of nowhere, but this was really just the beginning of a dynastic run. They've followed the '01 Super Bowl season with four straight winning seasons, three playoff appearances, and two more Super Bowl wins.

2002 Buccaneers d. Raiders
Before winning this Super Bowl, the Bucs were in the '97, '99, '00, and '01 playoffs, including the '99 NFC title game. Before losing this Super Bowl, the Raiders were in the playoffs in '00 and '01, including the '01 AFC title game. This matchup culminated the runs of two teams that were in contention for a while.

2003 Patriots d. Panthers
The Patriots are in the middle of their run here. The Panthers recovered very quickly from a 1-15 season in '01, but since then, it appears that John Fox has built a winning football team. The Panthers were back in the '05 NFC title game, and don't appear to be going anywhere.

2004 Patriots d. Eagles
The Patriots again. Before 2004, the Eagles were in the playoffs 4 straight years and in the NFC championship game three straight years.

2005 Steelers d. Seahawks
The Steelers had been to the playoffs in '01, '02, and '04, including hosting the AFC championship game in '01 and '04. For the Seahawks, 'o5 was their third straight playoff appearance.

This list of Super Bowl teams isn't a great deal different than any other era. Teams that are good stay good for a few years, breaking through to the Super Bowl one or more times during their runs of contention. The NFL from '99-'01 actually compares pretty well to the NFL from '80-'82. At that time, the Steelers' dynasty had pretty much wrapped up. The Cowboys were still contending under Danny White (they did lose the NFC title game all three of those years), but their run of championships was over. The Vikings were done losing Super Bowls for a while. And during this time, the Raiders became the first wild card team to win a Super Bowl, defeating the Eagles (who were in the middle of four straight playoff appearances). The Raiders won with a different coach and QB than they won with in '76--one could argue it was a different team. In '81, the 49ers made it to their first Super Bowl and won. They hadn't made the playoffs since '72--you could argue that they came out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl. Of course, we found out they were to be the dominant team of the '80s (actually, from '81 to '97 they were in the NFC title game 10 times). Then in '82 the R*dsk*ns, who hadn't been to the playoffs since '76, won the Super Bowl in a strike shortened season.

If you look at the period from '80-'82, you'd think you were watching a league of parity, where teams can come out of nowhere to win a Super Bowl. In fact, the Raiders were in the middle of winning their 2nd of 3 Super Bowls in 8 years, the 49ers won their 1st of 5 Super Bowls in the next 14 years (4 in 9), and the Redskins would be playing in 4 Super Bowls, winning 3, in a 10 year period.

That was a period of transition, just as '99-'01 was a year of transition. It was a period between the Dallas-San Francisco-Green Bay-Denver success of the '90s and the Patriots success of the 'oos.

It's still a league of juggernauts. Don't let anybody tell you differently. It's just that the NFL has a system in place to maintain competitive balance regardless of location, and the free agency system makes it easier for rebuilding teams to rebuild within a matter of a year or two. That's notable--but it's not led to a drastic change from the history of the NFL.

"Nobody roots for Goliath."

Everybody who doesn't root for UCLA, Florida, or LSU should be rooting for George Mason in this year's Final Four. Hell, I'm almost rooting for George Mason (almost). Quite a Final Four--the greatest program in college basketball history, two SEC football schools, and a commuter school from the Colonial Athletic Association (or some such title). If the Bruins win, it will be their 12th title; if any of the other teams win, it will be their first.

And which astounding UCLA record is more impressive? The 11 national titles? The 7 consecutive national titles? The 88 game winning streak? The 4 undefeated seasons?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Workers of the world...

Two moments of note on the day.

1. It was announced that the Vikings will open the 2006 season with a Monday night game.

2. I informally agreed, or at least said I'd be willing, to teach a Monday night class next fall semester.

Only later did I understand the consequences. But when you are an adjunct professor with nothing even resembling the word "seniority," you teach any class they're willing to give you.

And the first day of class isn't exactly an opportune time to say, "Hey everbody, your prof is obsessed with the Vikings, so we're just going to leave--right now--so I can go home and watch them."

This is why I keep a VCR. I'll likely be missing the Vikes' opening game of the 2006 season. I'll likely be missing the first meaningful game of the Brad Childress era. Though it's not official yet...

But the material conditions of existence do affect the life of a fan. There's a reason that despite my obsession and proximity I don't have season tickets for the Vikings.

Speaking of material conditions, I may not have cable in September anyway. In the past, any Viking game on ESPN was simulcast on a local broadcast network. Has anybody heard whether this is remaining the same with the new TV deal? I assume so. I hope so.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Writing History with an Unstable Reality

UCLA is advancing to its 16th Final Four after dominating the inside game, defeating Memphis, and...

Wait a, UCLA is advancing to its 15th Final Four according to NCAA records.

But no, add it up...

What's going on here?

Well, the Bruins are actually one of the final four teams left in the NCAA tournament for the 16th time. However, according to the NCAA records, the 1980 Bruins had vacated their appearance in the Final Four.

In the realm of "reality," the Bruins will be playing in their 16th Final Four. In the world of official record, in fact in the "history" of the NCAA, the Bruins will be one of the final four teams for a 15th time.

So you tell me: are the Bruins appearing in their 15th Final Four, or 16th? Who gets to decide what is "real"?

Who gets to decide what is "truth"? Because the Bruins did appear in the Final Four in 1980...only they didn't.

In this case, there is no truth. There is no concrete reality, no stable existence. We create our history. We essentially decide what is true and real.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Regrettably...easing up on Colin Cowherd

All over the internet, bloggers are (rightly) indignant that Colin Cowherd, a radio host for ESPN, used material borrowed from an internet source The M Zone without citing it.

It is wrong to borrow intellectual property without citing your source. Cowherd is pretty rotten for borrowing from somebody's blog and passing it off as his own.

However, do we all need to remove the logs from our own eyes before trying to remove something from the eyes of another?

At many of the blog entries I've read chastizing Cowherd for stealing material from the internet without identifying it, a photo is included of Cowherd. At none of these blogs have I seen citation material accompanying the photo.

All over the internet, we are "borrowing" images without citing the sources. I do it (guess what? I didn't take that photo below of the cute little Shakespearians). You probably do it.

What makes copying and pasting an image without citation acceptable, but repeating written material from a blog without citation reprehensible?

(update: I just emailed Deadspin asking about this, and they have a policy/agreement to use AP photos. That's interesting to know, and I appreciate the response to my query. I don't know if that applies to the rest of us)

(update II: Please don't take this commentary to mean I don't think Cowherd is a dickhead for this, or that I don't side with all the bloggers who are angry with him. I'm just trying to raise a point)

And Fortinbras strides in...

At the end of Hamlet, every important character is dead. Denmark is so diseased, corrupt, and rotten, that all the sickness needs to be purged with blood. And so, the sickness killed, a healthy, strong leader can come in and allow for rebirth and renewal. The catharsis of tragedy.

I think this is similar to what happens when a sports franchise decides to cut from the past and go in a new direction. At this point, Zygi Wilf has almost completely replaced the Viking management (Brezinski remains, like Horatio). The entire coaching staff has been changed (and with this new coaching staff comes a new offensive and defensive system). And in this purging, many players will stay, but many more need to be removed.

The Vikes have signed a whopping number of free agents. If they let Nate Burleson go to Seattle, they will have 5 first day draft picks. 5! The sheer number of new players that could be on the team, a team that went 9-7 last season, is staggering.

Let's look at the impact of these new players.

Steve Hutchinson, G: one of the best guards in the league, filling a clear need.

Jason Whittle, G: I don't know that he's particularly good, but again, interior blocking is a serious need.

Chester Taylor, RB: I consider him an upgrade over Michael Bennett. Seems like your floor is a solid running back, your ceiling is completely unknown.

Ryan Longwell, K: uuuuuughhh, ya need a kicker!

Ben Leber, LB: Linebacker has been a weakness for the Purple for years. I have to think there's more to be done in the draft at this position, too.

Mike McMahon, QB: Mike McMahon sucks. I don't have anything else to say about this disturbing signing.

Tank Williams, S: a 25 year old safety who has started 50+ regular season games and played in 4 playoff games replaces the likeable but aging Corey Chavous. I consider this an upgrade.

DeQuincy Scott, DL: he was signed for the veteran minimum, so he can't be that great. But defensive line depth is important, and the Vikes are implementing a new defense.

Tony Richardson, FB: a position that has rarely been used by the Vikings in the past 14 years. If you're going to essentially create a new position on your team, why not get a Pro Bowler?

And what's left? A first round pick, two second round picks, and probably two third round picks?

I think the Vikes need to consider just a few more things in the upcoming draft.

1. QB of the future. BJ turns 38 sometime next year. Mike McMahon sucks. There better be something in mind.

2. Upgrade at Linebacker. Childress says he has an in-house candidate to play MLB. I hope he's right. But this is a position that still needs work.

3. Offensive line depth and improvement. I'm excited about the offensive line for this year, as it features McKinnie, Birk, and Hutchinson. But overall, either guys like Marcus Johnson need to improve, or the Vikes need to fine a few more linemen.

And this is in addition to a team that has the following strengths.

1. A versatile, deep, young WR corp.

2. A young and potentially devestating defensive line.

3. A secondary comprised of talented, intelligent veterans.

So Fortinbras comes in to bring renewed life to Denmark. The old, corrupt, failing regime is gone (plus, Hamlet may have been fucking his ma). Let the Renaissance begin.

UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71

I'm not sure I've ever seen a team play so badly against a good opponent and still win a game. The Bruins didn't score a field goal until nearly 9 minutes into the game, they were down by 17 at halftime, and every time they made a run, Gonzaga would hit a shot or two to keep the Bruins down by double-digits.

Then, out of nowhere, UCLA scored the last 11 points of the game to win by 2.

Farmar's steal is memorable. Game winning shots are exciting...but they've also been done. A lot. You don't get a lot of "down by 1, steal the ball, pass for an easy layup" game winners." Usually this is the point where you start fouling then get the ball back to set up for a game winning shot. The Bruins didn't foul--they did what they always do. They D'd up, baby! Gonzaga had numerous opportunities in the last three minutes to make one shot, a single shot, and basically bury UCLA. They didn't do it. Maybe they couldn't do it. Because these Bruins know how to play some defense.

Stealing to win is so unexpected. When waiting for a game winning shot, you know what you're about to see--either you're going to make it and win or miss it or lose. To steal the ball to score and win is unexpected, and when it happens, it lingers in memory (think Bird to DJ).

By the way, I hate CBS's coverage of the NCAA tourney. When I watch a basketball game, I don't want to watch parts--I want to watch from beginning to end to get a sense for the game. CBS takes you away from games you're watching when they think another game is more interesting. It sucks. Of course, I was hating watching the game, and the four minutes or so I missed accounted for almost no change in the game.

Next up: Memphis. An excellent game of contrasts.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Vikes now have a safety named "Tank"

Gotta be an OK thing, right?

Alright, well, Tank Williams has had a more successful career than I ever knew, and he's only 25.

DeQuincy Scott...well, depth at defensive line is a good thing.

I'm amazed at the sheer number of free agents the Vikings have signed so far. I suppose this is what happens when a new coach needs to institute his system, and he actually has an owner willing to support this building project financially. Red McCombs sucked.

Who do you love?

Do we root for the players...or is our loyalty strictly to the teams?

For years, I loved Randy Moss the football player. He was traded off the Vikings...and while I still root for him, my passion doesn't rise over his exploits. My real emotion stayed with the Vikings. I root for these players...but I really only root for them because they are Vikings. I'm loyal to a franchise, a logo, a color, more than a man.

Chester Taylor meant virtually nothing to me a few weeks ago. As a football fan, I knew who he was and what he could do, but if the Ravens were on and they called a play to Taylor, I couldn't care less. And now, when he takes a handoff in 2006, my heart will be in my stomach and I'll be hollering and screaming.

As fans, most of us don't really love the player as much as the color of jersey the player wears. If the player has some great performances wearing that color jersey, he begins to mean something more to us. If he doesn't...or he leaves early to go have exploits wearing another color...we'll either feel indiffernce or animosity.

This is complicated further by the fact that the particular franchise means more to a fan than to a player on the team. As fans, we grow up in a region, follow a team for years, and hear stories about the franchise's history. Players, however, don't have that lengthy connection. They usually grow up somewhere else and end up playing for a particular franchise without any will on their part (through the draft or trade). They have a home somewhere else, and no real connection or loyalty to a particular franchise. They're not here by choice. Certainly, I would hope, every member of the Vikings wants to win a Super Bowl in 2006 more than I want the Vikings to win a Super Bowl. But how many of them actually care about winning it while playing for the Vikings? Most of them didn't grow up rooting for the Purple and probably don't care a hell of a lot about which franchise pays their bills.

I'm a rube rooting for a freakin' color, and I'll root for anybody who wears that color. I might like other players in the league, but their success means half as much to me as the Vikings do.

Mike McMahon sucks

When, at whatever point it happens, he steps under center for the Purple, I'm going to hope for running plays and defensive turnovers. Also during this time I will be cutting my gin with rum.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fullback? We don't need no stinking fullback!

This, at least, was the attitude of the Vikings for the last 14 seasons. Denny Green usually used two TEs or three WRs instead of a FB, and Mike Tice's offense was pretty much the same. I always thought this hurt the Viking HBs. But you're not running the West Coast Offense without a FB, and now the Vikings won't be running their 2006 offense without former Pro Bowl FB Tony Richardson, who spent the last few years blocking for the likes of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. He's 34; he's no long-term answer at this "new" position. But in 2006, Chester Taylor could be following Tony Richardson through a hole plowed out by Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson. That's more encouraging than anything that was happening in the running game in 2005.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I may be a rube, but I have to ask:

When talking about your favorite sports team, is it acceptable or proper to say "we"?

Well, I won't.

Steve Hutchinson is now a Viking. Interior blocking was the Vikings' biggest weakness last season--it had a big part in Culpepper's struggles, and even BJ was running around much of the time because of it. Now, the Vikings have a Pro Bowl guard. That's a big step toward fixing a huge hole. Last week the Vikes also signed former Giant guard Jason Whittle. I have no idea what that means, other than that it is a different player than was on the team last season.

I hope the Vikes let Nate Burleson go. He's a fine player, but WR is the team's deepest position. If Burleson joins the Seahawks, the Vikes will have two 2nd rounders and two 3rd rounders in the draft. That's got to be pretty appealing to a first year coach trying to bring in players who can play the style of football he wants to play.

The draft becomes very intriguing right now.

Identity and the Fan (Giving up Free Will)

Follow the stream of consciousness here--it might actually get somewhere

Sometimes the way we choose to entertain ourselves is nothing but a way to entertain ourselves. But sometimes, not only the way we entertain ourselves but what we entertain ourselves with, becomes intimately tied to identity. I love the comedy of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, and throughout my life, a fair amount of my identity has been tied to being a fan of Seinfeld. I also like The Simpsons, and Aqua-Teen Hunger Force, and several other comedies. But those other comedies don't reveal anything about who I am (or, if you prefer, who I see myself as and present myself as). Seinfeld does. And even though I've started watching and enjoying Six Feet Under, it will never be a show that I tie to my identity like Nip/Tuck, simply because I have friends who have been watching Six Feet Under long before me.

So too can the individual define himself as a "football fan" or a "pro football fan" or a "Viking fan." I'm not talking here about "identification"--most fans "identify" with a team, i.e., they feel good when the team does well and bad when the team does poorly. I'm talking about when ones identity becomes tied to a particular team.

When I examine the ways in which I've mythologized the Minnesota Vikings, I find striking parallels to the personal spiritual struggles I find myself in (or, if you prefer, I mythologize about myself). I see the Vikings as a team with a glorious but flawed past. I see the Vikings' quest to win the Super Bowl as a chance to redeem that flawed past with a moment of supreme greatness, to give its existence the full meaning it does not currently have, to give the franchise and state a mark on history. It is practically a religious quest--for the Vikings to make sense in existence and fulfill their place in the relative eternity that is sports, they need to win the championship. I also see the Vikings as the perpetual losers, but those who always have high expectations and possibilities but that always disappoint in the end. And couldn't I just change a few words to explain how I view myself? (don't worry, I'm humble enough that "glorious" would be taken out of a description of my past).

I don't mean to be all narcissistic in this blog. I'm not a confessional poet trying to bear my sould via cyberspace. But I raise my example to ask philosophical questions about an individual's relationship with a team. Does an individual project his/her own feelings onto a team's identity? Does an individual alter his/her self-image to fit the indentity of the team? Or is the individual just a fan, with no further connection to the team whatsoever?

Certain fanbases develop national personas--fans of the Packers, the Red Sox, Duke basketball--that the national sports media loves to perpetuate and celebrate. But every team has some history, some identity, some persona. And every fan may or may not tie his/her identity to that particular team's identity.

And at the very least our moods get altered by the outcomes of games, and these moods tend to affect behavior--and isn't what we "do" an important part of who we "are"? In all honesty, if I were not a Viking fan, my life would have turned out differently. Is this a matter of choice, a matter of will?

But that's just the thing about being a sports fan. I believe in free will. I believe in choice. But I have absolutely no control over the success of the Vikings. And yet, I've tied my personal happiness to this entity over which I exert no control whatsoever! I am essentially a victim of fate or predestination or determinism as relates to the Vikings--they will do what they do regardless of my actions, and yet my happiness will be affected by what they do. In order to be a Viking fan, I have had to willingly give up my freedom over my own self--I have chosen to tie my happiness in life to the "fate" of the Minnesota Vikings.

I am an existentialist who believes in choice and hazard. And yet, I've chosen to connect myself to an entity in a way that denies my choice. Is there any wonder there I make a religious connection to fandom?

Sartre tells us the only limit to our freedom is that we are not free to choose not to be free. On this point, I respectfully disagree. I watched Gary Anderson miss that kick. I watched that 41-0 game (at least, admittedly, partway through the 3rd quarter). I watched a Cardinal quarterback that I hadn't heard of throw a TD to a Cardinal WR I hadn't heard of. Those are just the tragic moments--I've also bounded about in pure ecstatic joy. And all for something that I have no free will over whatsoever.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Existential Experiment: one year later

My loyalties to my favorite professional basketball and football teams are strong and based entirely on location. I love the Timberwolves, and the meaning of the Minnesota Vikings in my life probably exceeds the mere word "obsession." However, I've no strong loyalty to any college. I attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the University of St. Thomas--Division III schools with fairly non-descript athletic programs.

But I am an existentialist: I believe as an individual I can define myself and create my own identity; I create meaning for the world, and decide what things in the world matter to me.

Now, I really didn't choose to be a fan of the Vikings and Timberwolves (though I do choose how much they mean to me, and how closely my identity can be tied to them). But regarding college sports, could I choose a favorite school? At age 24, could I decide that I would start rooting for a particular college of my choice? So about a year ago, I chose a school: the UCLA Bruins.

And a year later, I have an answer to my question. Yes, I am able to choose and create loyalty out of nothing.

Living in Minnesota, I don't get to watch a lot of Pac-10 basketball or football. But I've followed the teams, watching them when I can. I've bought a hat and a sweatshirt (and considering I am a firm subscriber to the George Costanza school of cheapness, these purchases mean something). I immersed myself in the history of the basketball program. I now consider Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes, and Marques Johnson among my favorite all-time basketball players. I take a strange pride in knowing that the Bruins have 11 championships. The baby blue and gold makes me happy. I feel good when UCLA wins games. I'm disappointed when they lose. I even developed a slight distaste for Matt Leinart (and he's a left-handed QB!).

I feel a connection to this team, a connection that I created as a mere matter of will. The experiment has been an enjoyable success. I have essential made myself a Bruins fan.

This worked in part because I had no previous loyalty to any college athletics. I couldn't right now arbitrarily decide that I was going to start rooting for the Green Bay Packers (indeed, the mere thought makes me want to vomit into the bathtub and then get in the shower with it). But from nothing, I created a connection.

Go Jean-Paul!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Caffeine Musings

Sid Hartman talks with Brad Childress about Daunte Culpepper, and it reveals exactly what appeared to be the case all along.

The Star Tribune has a pretty solid balance among sports columnists: Hartman's homerism is a good contrast to Reusse, who's goal it seems is to openly antagonize Viking fans. And then you've got Souhan, making stupid jokes and vapid points, but who seems to have a childish rationality that Hartman and Reusse lack.

UCLA, as expected, dominated their opening game of the NCAA tournament. They have, after all, been to 40 tourneys, and Belmont was in their first. Throughout the season I've got the impression that this is the sort of team that can make a good run in the tourney. Their strength is in the backcourt of Afflalo and Farmar, and they're capable of playing some absolutely dominating defense. Man, I wish they were in the Minneapolis Region! I'd have my tickets already. Alas, the teams in the Minneapolis Region don't interest me terribly. Next up for the Bruins: Alabama. I think UCLA is the superior team.

Rooting for UCLA basketball is a pleasant contrast to rooting for the Vikings. When the Vikes lose, I've got nothing but emptiness. When the Bruins lose, there are still 11 banners to consider.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Destruction of an Offensive Juggernaut

There's a fair amount of criticism, national and local, against the Vikings for trading Daunte Culpepper. Let me take some time to defend the Vikings' move with a few different arguments.

1. Culpepper wanted out.
Daunte now says that the reason he requested a trade or release is because the Vikes never gave him clarity regarding his position with the team. But I think the Vikings' lack of clarity regarding Culpepper was only fair, given Culpepper's lack of clarity regarding the Vikings. After suffering his knee injury, Culpepper basically disappeared. When the Vikings hired a new coach, Culpepper came up to Minnesota but failed to meet with Brad Childress. And even though Culpepper needed to learn an new offense, he refused to come to Minnesota to rehab his injury. Daunte gave the Vikings every reason to believe that he no was no longer committed to the team.

Now, for many players, I would say, "So, you don't want to play for us? Well, tough shit. You're under contract, you're going to stay on our roster, and so if you want to make any money in the future, you might as well do your best to help us win games." But at quarterback? Do you really want a QB who isn't fully committed to your franchise? Who doesn't want to be there? No, QB is a unique position; you need a QB to be a leader for your franchise, and a QB who doesn't even want to play for your franchise can't be that leader.

2. Culpepper doesn't fit the new system.
"Daunte Culpepper" and "West Coast Offense" aren't phrases that really belong together, unless words like "not," "shouldn't," or "isn't" are involved. Culpepper isn't the type of QB who will have success with the new offense.

Now, you might say, "Who the hell is Brad Childress? What's he ever done to demand that the franchise be committed to his way of doing things? Wouldn't it be better off to build the team and the system around Daunte's skills, not trade Daunte because he doesn't fit a new system?" And I would say, "What has Daunte done to demand having the franchise, from 2006 onward, built around him?" He's 29 and he's won 2 playoff games. He shredded his knee in 2005 and may not be able to play until sometime during the middle of 2006. Do you really build the entire franchise around a guy who has shredded his knee, will be 30 before he's really recovered, and hasn't proven he can win much anyway?

And let's not forget that going into 2005, the entire team was built around Daunte. He became the leader; he became the man. That worked out to the tune of 2-5, with 12 INTs the first 5 games. Given the evidence of 2005 (and I recognize there was a lot else going on to contribute to Daunte's struggles), Culpepper is not a QB that you build a team around. He can be a successful QB with the right coaching and the right talent around him, but you don't cater your franchise to a 29 year old QB with a shredded knee and 2 playoff wins to his name.

3. Offensive Juggernauts brought us how many Super Bowls again?
It was fun with Daunte and Randy. Every year we went into the season with Super Bowl expectations. Every year we got to see some incredible offensive production.

And every year brought us brutal disappointment.

Had the Vikings kept Culpepper and Moss, it would have been the same story every year. High expectations. Incredible talent. Incredible offense. And no hardware to show for it.

The team needs to go in a different direction. Year after year, offensive superpowers like the Colts, the Chiefs, and the Vikings get a lot of regular season press, and every year, teams that play good defense and special teams with offense that are good but not great win the Super Bowl. It's been proven over and over and over again: DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS.

The Vikings were never going to win a Super Bowl with an All-Star Offense. Every offseason, the question would be, "Is the defense good enough?" The idea would be that with this incredible offense, all that was needed was a mediocre defense to get to a championship.

But this was never going to happen. You simply don't win a Super Bowl with a mediocre defense. Only 3 teams have won a Super Bowl without a top-8 scoring defense (oddly enough, these teams were the '76, '80, and '83 Raiders). Every other Super Bowl winner has had a top-8 scoring defense. Most also had a top-8 scoring offense too. I don't deny that you need to score points to win games. But you aren't going to win with mediocre defense. Defense is particularly necessary in bad weather, in the playoffs, and on the road. Which leads to...

4. Daunte couldn't win games on the road.
Look at the Vikings' road record under Culpepper. It's absolutely atrocious. It's on the road when your offense is likely to struggle. It's outdoors in December and January, in Chicago and Philadelphia and Green Bay and New York, that your defense needs to step up and win you games.

It's also on the road, against a good defense, in bad weather conditions, when a championship-caliber QB needs to step up and make plays. And in these situations, when going was difficult and the team needed him to make plays, Daunte consistently failed. He's a great QB in good conditions with offensive talent around him against a mediocre defense. But he never demonstrated the ability to rise to the occasion in difficult circumstances. As a fan, I never had confidence that Culpepper could bring the team from behind, could go for a game-winning drive, could play well outdoors (anywhere other than Green Bay--which was nice, of course), could consistently make good plays and avoid mistakes against a good defense.

5. Just because the trade will help Culpepper, and help the Dolphins, doesn't mean it wasn't the right move for the Vikings.
Hey, if the Vikings can get to their first Super Bowl since before I was born, and they happen to face the Dolphins there...well, I'll cross that bridge when I get there. But until then, it doesn't matter how much this trade helps the Dolphins. It doesn't matter if Culpepper flourishes and performs brilliantly in Miami. What matters for the Vikings is not Culpepper, and not the Dolphins; what matters to the Vikings is the Vikings.

It wasn't going to work for Minnesota and Culpepper. Regardless of how good Culpepper can be with Miami, he probably wasn't going to be good for Minnesota again. So the Vikings had to do what was best for the Vikings.

Let's say Man X is dating Woman Y. And Man X realized he's never going to be happy with Woman Y. He can't keep dating Woman Y out of fear that if he dumps her, Woman Y will meet a new man, and make him very happy, and be very happy herself. He needs to break it off with Woman Y and wish her the best; if she is happy with another man, and she's able to make another man very happy, well, that's nothing to Man X. Man X needs to go about the business of finding a different woman who does make him happy.

I hope Daunte and the Dolphins are very happy together. But from this day forward, that has nothing to do with the Vikings.

I don't know what the future holds for the Vikings. When you root for a team that hasn't won a title in its 45 year history (but has been oh so close), you can become one of two types of fan.

1. The bitter, cynical, twisted, morose fan, always suspecting eventual failure and disappointment.

2. The desperately optimistic fan, with nothing to cling to in the past so all the fan can do is hope beyond reason for the future.

I'm the latter.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Briefly, the end of any era.

For years, the Vikings have had uber-talented offensive players filling out statbooks. Randy Moss joined Cris Carter as dominating receivers, Daunte Culpepper replaced Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham as the Viking QB who throws for 30+ TDs.

That's all over now. Should we be sad? Or should we look back and see that this era brought us 5 playoff wins, no Super Bowl, and a lot of disappointment?

I say, the latter. Defense wins championships. It's been fun...but it's time to move on.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Work, Contracts, and Ethics in sports

According to, the Vikings and Steve Hutchinson have put provisions into their contract that will make it extremely difficult for Seattle to match the offer. Also according to (one of my favorite sites, by the way), "the Seahawks are livid at Hutchinson and agent Tom Condon with this development. It's one thing, as they see it, for a guy to get the best offer he can on the open market. It's another thing to huddle with the new team in an effort to come up with an offer that the Seahawks can't or won't be able to match."

To which I say...WHAT?!?!?

First of all, everything that Hutchinson and the Vikings have done so far is strictly within the rules set up by the NFL system. Second of all, those rules are SO LIMITING TO THE FREEDOM OF THE INDIVIDUAL NFL PLAYERS, it is utterly ridiculous to begrudge a man for playing within the rules to exercise his own freedom.

Players have no control over who drafts them; if they want to play pro football, they have no choice over where they play (and when a player tries to exert some control over who can draft him, he is universally lambasted). Once drafted and signed, a player can be traded at any point against his will (and if the player tries to exert some will over being traded, again, he is universally lambasted). A player must play several years before becoming an unrestricted free agent, who can decide to go and play wherever he wants. However, once becoming a free agent, a team can use a Franchise or Transition tag to limit the player's ability to sign with another team.

I am fine with these restrictions. They are somewhat necessary for the competitive balance of the NFL, and therefore necessary in the long run to providing these players with more money. However, we can't deny that the NFL system provides rules that are quite restrictive to the freedom of the individual player. So why on earth would anybody be angry at a player for attempting to exert his own freedom WITHIN THE RULES OF THAT SYSTEM? If Hutchinson wants to join the Vikings, and doesn't want the Seahawks to match the offer, why on earth should we judge him for taking legal steps to assure that he can play where he wants to play?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Yes, it got bigger

Steve Hutchinson

I was surprised to learn Hutchinson is only 28--I thought he had been around longer than that. So if he signs a 7 year deal, there's a legitimate chance he'll be a productive offensive lineman for the entire term of his contract.

Interior blocking was BY FAR the biggest problem the Vikes had offensively last season. If Hutchinson joins the team, and lines up next to a healthy Matt Birk, that interior blocking gets something like a 200% upgrade.

Thank you, Zygi. There's no way Red McCombs would have allowed the Vikings to sign anybody to a contract this big. The Vikings are now fully committed to winning, from the top to the bottom of the organization.

Seattle can still match this offer--but is a team paying big money to Alexander, Jones, and Hasselbeck also going to pay a guard more money than any NFL guard has ever made? I assume Hutchinson is going to be joining the Purple.

After seeing players like LeCharles Bentley and Will Witherspoon sign elsewhere, I feared the Vikes were going to stick to players of the Ben Leber-Chester Taylor calibur. This is pretty exciting. An interior blocker doesn't really sound like a thrilling addition, but we all know how important offensive line play is.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Big day for Vikes (but it better get bigger)

Ryan Longwell
As the great David Akers says, "UGHAGHGAHGGhuyuu, you need a kicker!"

Ben Leber
I know little about Leber. But I know we need linebackers. If he's a linebacker with speed, who can make our new Cover-2 successful, then yippee. For a defense to be successful, you need some of these unheralded but fast players to do the job. And we need fast OLBs.

Chester Taylor
You need depth at running back (and currently, the Vikes don't have a lot of decent backs on the roster). You need running backs who can catch the ball (as the backup in a terrible offense, Taylor has 71 catches in the last two years). And a lot of teams that run the West Coast Offense have success with multiple backs with differest skills and styles. However, if they signed Taylor to be the "answer" at running back, then call me greatly disappointed. A good signing--in all likelihood, an affordable signing. But I hope the Vikes have bigger plans at RB.

A busy day, and our first indication of the direction Childress is taking the team. I'm happy with these signings--I think you have to build a team with solid players like this. But with the team going into free agency $30+ million under the cap, I would hope there are some bigger players to sign, too.

Koren Robinson

note: I'll provide my comments on every transaction the Vikings make during the offseason.

It never makes as big a splash when a team simply re-signs its own players, but for success in the NFL, sometimes those are the most important moves.

Signing Koren Robinson is a huge deal. He's 25. He was a Pro Bowl Kick Returner (and Returner has been one of the Viking weak spots for years). He adds talent and depth to the Wide Receiver position.

He's a playmaker. I can think of four games last season that the Vikes could have easily lost without his plays: at home v. the Packers, when his solid kick return was important in setting up the 56 yard field goal that had me running around the apartment; at the Giants, when his kick return for a TD was critically important in a game where the Vikes couldn't move the ball on offense; at Green Bay, where he caught a long pass from BJ to set up a short game-winning field goal (I was drunk at the Purple People Eatery--if somebody else caught this pass, forgive me); and at Detroit, where he had 100+ receiving yards and a TD.

You want to hang on to players as versatile as Robinson. And at 25, he seems to have wrestled himself free from some of the personal demons that held him back in the past. I'm excited to have him on the Vikings; I would have been very disappointed if he left.

The team is in the process of creating a new identity. Childress's new coaching staff is, of course, the key to that new identity. But it started being formed as soon as Daunte Culpepper went down with injury last year, and other players like Robinson, Pat Williams, and Darren Sharper were helping the Vikes win games.

So, yay for Koren Robinson.

Friday, March 10, 2006

What do you say about a 29 year old QB who has won 2 playoff games?

In 2004, after watching the Vikings lose to the Packers 34-31, in what felt like the millionth 34-31ish loss I'd witnessed as a Viking fan, I wrote the following email to Viking fan friend Justin and Packer fan friend Rob:

I have finally been converted--defense wins
Unless the young defenders come around, the Vikings
will not win a Super Bowl for years.
With very few exceptions, teams that win the Super
Bowl are great defensive teams. Rarely does a
juggernaut offense win a Super Bowl with a mediocre
defense (Denver in '97 is probably the exception).
Rams in '99? Actually a solid D. 49ers? Great
defenses--the '94 team was the best team I ever saw
because of an unstoppable offense and a defense that
had brought every aging defensive star in the league
together for one last run. Dallas? Defense. Even
Shitdick won the Super Bowl he won when Green Bay had
the #1 defense in the league (and also had the best
special teams). Not to take anything away from
Shitdick--to win the Super Bowl, you also need clutch
offensive players who make plays when you need to.
People think Shitdick is God's gift to quarterbacking,
but he can't lead a team to a championship with an
average defense. Great offenses with mediocre
defenses just do not win the Super Bowl. Rarely do
they even get there. They might go 15-1, but they
won't stop Chris Chandler in the playoffs.
It doesn't necessarily need to be a great defense, but
it has to be the focus. An above-average offense with
clutch players can get you a championship with a great
defense. A great quarterback helps, but a great QB
won't win a title without a good/solid defense.
They talk about teams with a culture of losing, and
when a new coach takes over, the coach has to change
that. The Vikings have a culture of terrible defense,
and it won't work to keep incredible offensive stars
and spend each off-season saying "do we finally have
the pieces for a decent defense?" You need to change
the culture so it's about defense, not just improving
awfulness in order to be semi-decent so the offense
can win for you.
We have a culture of awful defense. On the radio,
Mike Morris was trying to say that the defense really
stepped up on Sunday because they made stops in the
4th quarter. Well, that was good. But when your
defense gives up 140+ rushing yards, 4 passing TDs,
and 34 points, you don't get good and excited because
they forced a 3 and out so the Vikes could get the
ball and tie it. That's nothing to write home about.
Especially when in the last 3 weeks your team has
given up 34, 31, and 34 (don't get too excited, GB
fans--everybody scores on the Vikings, and your
defense sucks too).
So, I've been converted. I've always loved great
offense. I've been blessed as a MN fan to watch one
of the greatest offenses ever, and to have been able
to watch the greatest WR ever to play. I love
watching that high-scoring offense. But it is
atrocious to continually watch a terrible, terrible
defense. When your defense sucks and you watch them,
you just sit in worry. You expect every pass to be
completed, every run to break outside and long. Every
time you get a 3rd down stop you want to jump with
joy. It sucks. I would more than happily give up
watching great offense to see a championship team. I
would watch an average offense that makes plays when
needed and a great defense any day. I can't stomach
watching the Vikings play defense anymore. Why are
WRs that open? Why can't the linebackers ever catch
the RBs? It is painful watching a super offense and
a terrible, terrible defense. If I were running the
team, I would sign NO extentions, NO long-term
contracts to any offensive players besides Culpepper
and Moss. Try and get the O-lineman signed up for a
while so the line is good. Then try to make due with
what you've got. Don't worry about putting all sorts
of pieces together to have a dominant, high-scoring,
unstoppable offense. Use the focus to put together a
real big league defense. Let your two playmakers play
behind a solid line and make plays. What could we
have used the Marcus Robinson money for? A linebacker
who can tackle? A safety who can catch easy
interceptions? Who cares. Put solid pieces in place
for a decent offense--it's really not that hard, esp.
when you already have Cully and Moss. Then spend the
energy, time, and money on defense. Antoine Winfield
is great. But he's one man. We need Udeze to step
up, KW to be consistent, Chavous and Russell to
actually catch the ball, Brian Williams to cover
consistently, and the linebackers to ACTUALLY TACKLE
SOMEBODY. The linebackers suck. There's no pass
rush. And the secondary is vulnerable. If there's
not big improvement soon, no Super Bowl there.
By the way, the NFL should forbid the Wisconsin band
from every coming near a stadium again. "Where You At
MOCKING INJURED PLAYERS? Where is the outrage?
I respect fans of no team that has won a Super Bowl.
None. They can't know this sort of agony. Teams that
haven't won a title since before they started playing
Super Bowls, them I'll still respect. And the teams
that have never won a Super Bowl.
I'll never feel bad at all for any fan of any team
that has ever won the Super Bowl. I will always root
for the fans of teams that have never seen their
favorite team win one. Because as long as the Vikings
are playing awful defense, somebody else's fans may as
well get the chance to experience the joy I only dream
about. Rob, I wish you could actually describe it to
me. I wish I could actually understand. But I can't
and I fear I never will.
As you can see, I was quite bitter. And almost everything I wrote there, I still believe. The Vikings traded away Randy Moss, and now Daunte Culpepper (a 29 yr. old QB with 2 playoff wins) is writing his ticket out of town. I can deal with that. Bring back the Black and Blue Division. Bring back the Purple People Eaters. Bring us some DEFENSE.

As our beloved Vikings prepare for Free Agency and the Draft, its clear the team has needs at Running Back, Quarterback, and Offensive Line. Those are important positions and must be dealt with. But there is a HUGE need at linebacker. There's no reason Will Witherspoon shouldn't don purple next season. Keep the focus on the defense. With a secondary including Sharper and Winfield (and Smoot and Williams, I guess), and a young d-line featuring Udeze, KW, PW, James, and others, some good linebackers could really turn this defense into a contender.

It's a new era for Viking fans. I trust Childress. My wife is mildly depressed because the Vikings no longer feature Daunte and Randy. She's upset that she won't go into every year thinking we're going to win the Super Bowl. Well, we never were going to win a Super Bowl with a juggernaut offense and no defense. So if she'll just give me a chance, I'll happily convince her that the Lombardi Trophy is in our near future.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Daunte Culpepper may be completely crazy...

Then again, maybe not. Culpepper has been communicating with the media primarily through email. That's right, email. This recent trade demand email is only the latest; he's been writing emails to the Trib for a while. In these emails, in my opinion, he comes off as a slightly deranged human being who is still capable of using reason.

Then again, have you ever offended somebody over email, message board, or blog? Probably. The internet is an easy forum for saying bizarre or hurtful things. It's writing, so tone becomes difficult. But to write a letter takes time, effort, and thought. To launch out an email takes a few flicks on the keyboard and a click on "send." Emails are usually sent without a great deal of thought; our immediate reaction, our emotional response, to something we hear or read, gets sent off in seconds.

So Culpepper may not be completely crazy. He may just be appearing crazy because of the email medium. But...I think he's probably a little crazy. Dave Chappelle says calling people crazy is a way to dismiss people we don't understand, and I think he's probably right. So I shouldn't call Culpepper crazy...maybe a little crazed?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Meet Mrs. Bundren"

Kirby Puckett’s death should make us consider the idea of identity, narrative, and reality. 99% of the stories we hear about Puckett are overwhelmingly positive. Not only was he a great baseball player, but most stories indicate that he was a great man, a great friend, a man truly concerned for others. For most of us, especially in Minnesota, that is enough. But for some, that 1% of darkness becomes the major factor in considering the meaning of Puckett. I don’t feel that 1% taints Puckett’s legacy. In fact, it can be added to his narrative; Puckett was not a saint, but a human being. He had problems, he made mistakes—and yet he was still able to inspire nearly everybody he came in contact with.

So who is Puckett? Is he the bubbly, smiling, energetic ballplayer who inspired a franchise and a state for over a decade? Or is the overweight retired player with a host of personal issues and a shadow hanging over him? The truth is, he is both. Identity is not a stable thing—we change, we behave differently in different situations, and it is our desire to create a coherent narrative that makes us attempt to create a coherent identity. But none of us have a coherent identity.

Then again, it’s easier to ignore, or explain away, or minimize, the darkness of Puckett. That’s not always the case; no matter what OJ Simpson does, he’ll be defined by the dark spots of his life.

We can expand these considerations out in two directions.

First, how do we make sense of sports? Sports contain a lot of raw “text,” but most of a sport is understood by the way we make sense of that text. And sometimes, in an effort to create a coherent narrative, we ignore Let us illustrate with an example of my least favorite athlete of all-time. There’s a clear narrative for Brett Favre, and most commentators are loathe to contradict it. It seems football writers and broadcasters have made a unanimous agreement to never place “Favre” and “Vicodin” in the same sentence. And even though Favre has been wavering on retirement for years (possibly to the detriment of his team), this cannot be used to contradict our understanding that Favre loves the game so much, he’d play it for free. Even his in-game mistakes are explained away to fit his narrative. Favre throws a team-crippling interception into double-coverage in the endzone; well, that’s because he’s a “gunslinger.” Favre throws an underhand pass well past the line of scrimmage to avoid taking a hit; well, that’s just proof how much fun Favre has playing the game. Our narrative distorts reality. A narrative is necessary to understand the world we live in; we have a desire for meaning. But should that narrative be created to the detriment of understanding truth?

Second, how do we make sense of our own lives?

Look at pictures of your grandfather from different points in his life. Is he the child, a member of a family? Is he the young man wearing a uniform? Is he the middle-aged father surrounded by his family? Is he the person doing a certain job? Is he the old man retired and resting and wrinkled? The bedridden man in the nursing home?

Look at yourself. Are you the person you act like around your peers? Your parents? Your grandparents? Your employers? Your church members? Kids? On the internet? Your identity is not stable; you adapt your “self” to fit certain roles for certain situations.

So how does one make sense of one’s life? Freud suggests that the end is what gives meaning to the whole; it is only in death that a proper narrative can be made for a person. Perhaps this is true; it’s difficult to define the meaning of a work of literature until we know how it ends, so how do we define the meaning of a life until it is complete?

So who am I? And who are you? And does it matter?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Every Minnesotan understands

You won't hear me comment on baseball much (and I won't say much now, either, as many more knowledgable and eloquent people are saying more than I could). But everybody who grew up in Minnesota knows what Kirby Puckett means to us. I use the present tense because he still means more to us than any athlete who has ever played here. He's the guy who helped hang the only two pro championship banners for this state in the last fifty years. But had he never done that, he'd still be the premiere Minnesota sports presence. You didn't grow up in Minnesota without loving Kirby Puckett. His game and his personality were larger than life.

We miss him already.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Are the 1980s Lakers underrrated?

The NBA narrative for the 1980s is well-known: it was Magic v. Bird, Lakers v. Celtics, a golden age of basketball in which these two superstars invigorated the NBA and made basketball an aesthetic team game.

That narrative is, mostly, accurate. During the playing days of Bird and Magic, the Lakers and Celtics went to a combined 14 NBA Finals and won a combined 8 titles. However, that narrative also implies a sort of equality between the two players, and the two teams. I think it is fair to imply equality between Magic and Bird; for all sorts of reasons, I wouldn't try to edge one over the other in an argument for all-time greatness.

But equality between the teams?

The Celtics went to 5 NBA Finals and won 3 championships. That's a healthy amount of success, especially when the Celtics not only had to deal with the Lakers in the Finals, but had to pass the Sixers first and then the Pistons just to get to the Finals.

During Magic Johnson's reign, the Lakers went to 9 NBA Finals and won 5 championships. In a period of 9 years, they went to 7 NBA Finals and won those 5 titles. And in the three times the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals in the 1980s, the Lakers won twice.

The Lakers' 80s success was almost twice as good as the Celtics' success. By any standard, the Lakers were the Dynasty of the 1980s. And yet, the narrative of Magic v. Bird for the 1980s persists. I just feel that this narrative doesn't give sufficient appreciation to the success of the Lakers.

The NFL equivalent could be the Cowboys and Steelers in the 1970s. From 70-79, the Cowboys and Steelers went to 9 Super Bowls and won 6. But the grand narrative of the 70s in the NFL is the Steel Curtain's domination. This is fair: the Steelers won twice as many championships as the Cowboys in this era (4 to 2) and twice beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl (granted, in Super Bowl X the Steelers should have been losing to the Vikings, but Drew Pearson pushed off of Nate Wright, and alas, my beloved Purple still remain without a title).

The Lakers should be recognized as the dominant team of the 1980s; instead, we have written a narrative that gives the Celtics equality with them. Those Celtics are no slouches and deserve respect. But the Lakers won 5 titles. They had one of the greatest guard-center combos in history. They had numerous very good players who thrived together (do any of the kids even know who Jamaal Wilkes is?). The Lakers are the Dynasty of the 80s.

and I think Kareem himself is underrated historically, but that's an argument for a different post.