Saturday, December 30, 2006

What was that bang? checks in on Brad Childress

Listen, folks, I haven't been happy with the 2006 Viking season at all either, but let's give Mr. Childress a break. He's a first-time, first-year head coach. And while we should have high expectations for him, the real serious ripping of such a coach shouldn't begin until year 2. I know, he took over a 9-7 team and made them worse. But if they wanted to make a 9-7 team remain a 9-7 team, they could have hired an experienced coach to maintain everything. They hired a new guy to put in a new system. That usually comes with some suckitude in year one. Not always--Saints fans that are actually back living in their homes should be pretty happy (though that's certainly got as much to do with Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, and Marques Colston, four very good offensive players who combined for 4 games in 2005, and the fact that the Saints were vagabonds last year, as it does with their coach. Sean Payton has done a good job, but his work shouldn't be measured by the improvement of the 2006 Saints over the 2005 Saints--it's practically a different team and in a very different situation). But there's going to be a growing period.

It was great reading newspapers to see fans write in that Childress should have been fired midseason. Yep, he's a bum, let's fire him after week 9 and promote Mike Tomlin, who clearly knows what he's doing. Forget the fact that Childress hired Tomlin to put in the defense he wanted. Forget the fact that this is the NFL, and you don't run a team successfully by giving up on the coach halfway through a season.

Maybe Childress is a bum that deserves to be run out of town, maybe Childress is the coach to lead the Vikes back to the Super Bowl (and win the sucker this time). I don't know, and you know what? You don't either. Your high expectations for 2006 were not met. Fine. Go into 2007 with some skepticism and concern--it's probably a better approach. And if the same problems of 2006 continue into 2007, I'll start posting daily about Brad Childress's suckitude. But I'll wait until sometime in 2007.

All, and I mean all, we can hope for in week 17 is for Tarvaris Jackson to be productive. Nothing else matters.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The State of the Blog

(This is a rambling and narcissistic examination of what PV is and what it will be--feel free to ignore this post entirely if you're looking for specific sports takes, but feel free to read if you're interesting in blogging and where this blog is going in particular. The football season is winding down, the Vikings are already eliminated, and the new year is coming--it's a good time to take stock and make any desired changes).

The internet is an existentialist and postmodernist dream. Not only can you create and define a new identity, but you can create multiple identities. And then at any point, you can change everything. You can eliminate anything, transform anything, evolve into anything.

I started this blog not so much out of a great desire to write about sports, but out of a desire to write. I like to share ideas, formulate arguments, examine language, and engage in dialogue. Sports, professional coverage of sports, and the sports blogosphere provides a great opportunity to engage in these activities. There are a lot of people out there similarly interested in expressing ideas about sports. It's also a lot of fun.

So here's the question for now: Where do we go from here?

This blog has always been and will always be titled "Pacifist Viking." That title is important. For ten months I've been writing here under this nom de plume, though "What was that bang?" was added as a contributor (he suggested that the tone of PV was too mellow and anxious, and that it lacked energy and emotion. While this accusation might surprise anybody who has watched a Viking game with me--lots of yelling, seething, and jumping around--I re-read some posts and I could see his point. So I invited him on board to share some of his positivity about the Purple). But though I'm still a pacifist and still a viking (and will still probably use that name elsewhere), I'm evolving and transforming into a new identity, "Vegan Viking." I'll still focus this blog on the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings in particular, but I'm going to try and expand into broader sports discussion and analysis (of course, since I have neither internet nor ESPN in my home, spectating the broader sports world is itself a bit of a challenge--we'll see how this evolution goes). I'll try to give unique and eccentric takes on whatever I can in the sports world, because that's why blogs exist. If you want pseudo-objective takes from non-fans, you don't need to read blogs. And as I play around and experiment with different styles and angles (though with many of the same old angles--even though one commenter said I have "given up my licence" (CLICHE! CLICHE!) to criticize the overuse of cliched metaphors by Peter King and other lousy sportswriters, we'll assume that I still do have my license, or at any rate will criticize without licence and see if I get pulled over), I'll still try to focus on the Vikes and football and what I've done in the past. But I don't want to get stagnant, so I'm going to try and push the writing in new directions (I feel a little like Barney of the Be Sharps in that statement).

We'll see if there's a change at all. Sometimes intended transformations lead to more of the same--Vegan Viking may become Vegetarian Viking or may revert back to Pacifist Viking. Regardless of how the new angles go, What was that bang? has expressed a desire and intention to write more often here about the Vikings in particular. So whatever I write about, we'll still have his overly optimistic yet angry takes on what our beloved Purple is up to.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Be a pretentious football fan: read statistical websites

I know that title sounds sarcastic, but it's not. You will be smarter if you read websites like Football Outsiders and Cold, Hard Football Facts.

Cold, Hard Football Facts has an article about the Viking run D you should read. Here's a key passage:

With just one game left in the 2006 season, the Vikings have held their 15 opponents to a mere 817 yards on 312 attempts. That's an average of 2.62 yards per carry. You have to go all the way back to the 1951 Giants, who surrendered 2.3 yards per rush attempt, to find a defense that was tougher against the run.

Here's how the Vikings now stack up against the greatest run defenses of the Super Bowl Era. As we discussed last week, one thing will jump out: Most of these teams were not very good. Note the 2000 Chargers. Only four defenses in the Super Bowl Era were tougher to run against. The 2000 Chargers went 1-15.

Kinda punctures a big hole in the whole "you must stop the run to win" theory. The truth is that you must do a lot of things well to win. No matter how well you do one thing, like stop the run, it won't help you if you suck in several other areas.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fantasy Football Rule #1: Don't out-think yourself

A variation of Ockham's Razor should be applied to all fantasy football decisions: the simplest, easiest choice is also the best. Don't out-think yourself; do what is logical and obvious rather than trying to be clever or smart.

I could have drafted Ladanian Tomlinson with the #2 pick before this season. That was a smart, safe pick. But I was all hyped up on Clinton Portis: he's consistently good, he'd have Al Saunders' system, and I wanted to be the one smart enough to get him. So I traded down to gain an earlier 3rd round pick and took Clinton Portis at #4. This trade helped my brother to what looks like an easy championship, and it clearly cost me.

Don't try to be clever at draft time. If you have to make the obvious choice, just do it. You'll look smarter when you actually win.

The same rule applies to starting lineups. Don't overthink matchups. This week, I thought Shaun Alexander, who had been struggling, would lay a total dud against the good Charger defense. Meanwhile, Travis Henry was going against Buffalo, a team that had some weaknesses against the run. Well, Henry did have 135 yards. But Alexander had 140 yards and 2 TDs. Don't ever talk yourself out of an obvious stud.

This is the #1 rule of Fantasy Football. Other rules will follow.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What now?

The Vikings are out of playoff contention; for all intents and purposes, week 17 doesn't matter for them. It's a detestable situation: a Viking game that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if they win or lose; 6-10 or 7-9 isn't going to change a damn thing about the respectability of the season. Losing to get a better draft pick doesn't really pay off; the Vikes will pick somewhere between #7 and #13 and it truly doesn't matter where. Troy Williamson was the #7 pick, so what does it matter if the Vikes pick a few picks later or earlier? It doesn't. Well, it does, but there is no way I, you, or any of the Viking brass really know how it will. So there's no reason to root for a Viking loss.

When the Vikings are playing, it's better if they win than if they lose. That's all we can say. But nobody should really care. And that's what sucks. It feels like life to be watching the Vikings and Packers play and to feel the tension, anxiety, and hatred over the outcome. It feels like death to watch the Vikings when you don't actually care who wins.

Friday, December 22, 2006


In the past, the Vikings have had drama, and even an aura of tragicomedy. Think of the personalities, for better or worse, that have been with the Vikes in the past 15 years: Dennis Green, Cris Carter, Red McCombs, Robert Smith, Randy Moss, Mike Tice, John Randle. There was always a story, a narrative, a grand drama being played out. Now the Vikings are just a deeply flawed team. I want to say "bad team," but that doesn't quite suit it. This is a flawed team, and all it's flaws can easily be identified on the field; problems covering the pass (especially from the slot and middle of the field in general), no pass rush, penalties, conservative play-calling, no playmakers on offense. All very tangible problems. Fixable problems, even. None of the sense of grand tragedy that accompanied Gary Anderson's missed kick, Nate Poole's catch, 41-0, or a bawdy boat scandal. Just a flawed team. That's what we have now, for better or worse.

The quick game notes:

--Coverage of the game went about like this: Brett Favre Brett Favre Brett Favre Brett Favre.

--Troy Williamson consistently makes me scream.

--Jim Marshall played in 282 consecutive games. Don't forget this.

--Donald Driver is the only Packer that you MUST consistently cover. And somehow, against the Vikings, he finds himself covered by linebackers.

--Much like Fox Mulder, "I want to believe." In this case, I want to believe Brad Childress is the coach that can get the Vikings back to the Super Bowl. But 3 first downs! Three first downs!

--With 0 TDs and 2 INTs, Brett Favre remains 7 TDs away from Marino's record and 5 INTs away from George Blanda's record.

--I want Favre to retire in part to preserve Marino's record, and in part so I can learn to stop hating. The hatred and frustration is turning my sportsfan soul cold and black.

--The Vikings have ZERO pass rush. ZERO.

--No, the Viking run defense isn't great just because teams throw on them more than run on them. Look at the yards per attempt, people! It's not that hard.

--Aaron Kampman destroyed the Viking offensive line.

--I was glad to see Collinsworth slurping up Antoine Winfield. Winfield does get beat in coverage more than you'd like a CB to get beat, but he is the best tackling DB in the league. Maybe the best open field tackler in the league, period. He did all he could to win that game. So did Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. BUT THREE FIRST DOWNS!?!?

"Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now" by A.E. Housman
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Of my threescore years and ten, forty-four will not come again. And so I'm left with forty-four chances to see the Vikings win a Super Bowl. If I'm lucky.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thursday Night Madness

Locally, it looks like the Viking-Packer game will be broadcast on the ABC affiliate, KSTP.

Is this cold rain going to make its way to Green Bay tonight? Tarvaris could have a wet and wild debut start. A rainy dirty game should be fun to watch; Chester Taylor can run bonkers.

What is Jackson's nickname to be? We've flirted with Tito and the Dart. Starvaris really sounds more like "starve" than "star." Well, Tarvaris Jackson is probably fine.

I don't even get ESPN and this week I've had limited internet access, and I'm already sick of hearing about how this may be Brett Favre's last game at Lambeau. I think I was sick of it last season when I watched what may have been Favre's last game at Lambeau. Actually, I was sort of sick of it the year before when I watched what might have been Favre's last game at Lambeau. And something tells me next year I'll be sick of it again when I watch what may be Favre's last game at Lambeau.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Unpleasantness in Minnesota

Don't worry, Californians and North Carolinians coming to visit; it's like a sauna up here. But apart from the (much too late) news that Tarvaris Jackson is starting Thursday, Minnesota is not pleasant right now.

Allen Iverson was traded to the Nuggets for a decent player, an average player, and two first round draft picks. The T-Wolves didn't have the draft picks to make it worth the Sixers while. Why? Because essentially, Kevin McHale traded Sam Cassell, Wally Szerbiak, and two first round picks for Marko Jaric, Ricky Davis, and Mark Blount. I say McHale is a worse GM than Isaiah Thomas, and he's near Matt Millen territory (only KG has propped the franchise up and prevented total disaster). I'm pretty sure Iverson is better than Jaric, Davis, and Blount. That could have been us had McHale not pissed away the draft picks. McHale is personally sucking the life out of interest in basketball in this state.

And once again Pat Williams was not voted to the Pro Bowl. Last year he was noticeably dominant; he surprisingly became one of my favorite Vikings, and Dr. Z said he'd never seen such a dominant season from a nose tackle. This year Pat Williams (not Kevin Williams, who did make the Pro Bowl) was the anchor of a run defense that is historically good. This is the best interior defensive lineman I've ever seen. I wish the rest of the NFL could appreciate him like Minnesotans have been able to.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lambeau and December means hearing about bratwurst, cold, and Favre

A Bit More Humid tells me he's seen commercials on My29 for this game. I'll assume he was watching "The Simpsons" and not "Wicked Wicked Games" or "Watch Over Me" when he saw this commercial.

So it looks like the game will be on the PV household TV. This means we get to listen to the NFL Network announcers yuk it up about how cold it is. I've written before about this inevitability; when broadcasters come to cold-weather locations, they can't stop talking about the cold. You'd think they've come to cover the weather and not a football game.

As somebody who has spent every day of every winter of his life in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, or North Dakota, as somebody who brought the recycling out to the curb today with sandals and no socks, and as somebody who was just standing in front of the library in fingerless gloves doing the NY Times Crossword, let me fill our warm-weather friends in on dealing with the cold.

If you're engaged in athletic activity, the cold really has less effect on you than one might think. The broadcasters are just standing around, and that's going to get a person feeling pretty cold. The players who are running around are probably MUCH less affected than the announcers or the fans. Move around in the cold, and you might actually feel good; stand around in the cold, and eventually you're going to feel pretty lousy.

Admittedly, I've never played football in the very cold; I bet it hurts. But I've played a ton of basketball outside. If it's over 20 degrees, it takes about 5-10 minutes of moving around to get the fingers warmed up; after that, weather is not a factor. If it gets down into single digits, it's incredibly difficult to get the fingers loosened up. The key, then, is the fingers; players either need to protect them with gloves, keep them moving, or for QBs and WRs, keep them covered up between plays.

While the announcers cannot stop thinking about the cold, the players are professionals and will likely not be affected by it once the game starts. Bud Grant knew that thinking about the cold itself can be a distraction; that's why he banned heaters from the Viking sidelines when they played in the Met. It's a factor, but it really shouldn't be as big a deal as the announcers make it.

Take it from me, resident cold weather snob. When Blue Viking Devil comes up to visit from North Carolina this week, I'll probably wear shorts and a t-shirt just to mock him.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Vikings-Packers: anecdote of a rivalry

Fan rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin is interesting. For one thing, the Twin Cities is right near the WI border (several WI communities are considered part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area), while the big Wisconsin teams are over on the east side of WI, away from Minnesota. The near proximity of Wisconsin fans, combined with the fact that a good number of Wisconsinites move to the Twin Cities (for various reasons) means there are more WI sports fans near the heavy MN fanbase than there are MN fans near the heavy WI fanbase. I've had the particular joy of attending and working at UW-River Falls, where roughly half the students are from MN and half are from WI, so the Packer-Viking rivalry has a particular bite to it.

Anyway, here's the anecdote as we get ready for a seemingly meaningless Thursday game that is actually full of meaning for fans.

A few years ago I was at a Timberwolves game, and one of the inane activities they during a break time (probably halftime) was to pull random fans out and have them do some silly contest. The PA announcer gave the random individuals' names and hometowns to the Target Center crowd. One woman was from Hudson, WI (a WI town right across the river). At the mention of "Wisconsin," she was roundly, loudly booed. If I remember correctly, this booing was sustained during her participation in said inane contest. Now, the booing was, I think, light-hearted--the woman was laughing and it's not like people started throwing whiskey bottles at her or anything. But it was there.

What I'm saying is, as fans this game means something. A whole lot, actually. The proximity of the fanbases for the teams means that for fans, the winner of a Thursday night game between pointless 6-8 teams means way too much to our happiness.

In place of actually writing details about the Viking game

Out of the comfort zone
After watching the previous 13 Viking games this season in my living room, I watched most of Sunday's loss to the Jet's at my wife's grandmother's house. This made the watching experience very different. The day featured some things I don't usually associate with football Sundays (the sentence "If you enjoy Bible word searches, you'll love 101 Bible Word Searches, Volume 2" usually doesn't come up in my life in any way, shape, or form), some creepiness (the reindeer decorations in the yard looked like the horse costumes in "Equus") and people unfamiliar with my ways (when my father-in-law grabbed my pen without asking, I stared in disbelief for a few seconds before shouting "What are you doing!?!" My wife thinks I would have sounded less crazy if I would have said, "Excuse me, but I have obsessive compulsive disorder and I'm rather finicky about people touching my pens. Could I please have my pen back?"). All in all, it was a day.

A.E. Housman and the annual melancholic ode to mortality and the Vikings
Well, the Vikes aren't quite eliminated from playoff contention. Perhaps Tarvaris Jackson will take over, everything will roll the Vikings way, they'll get into the playoffs, and Tarvaris Jackson will surprise everybody and lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl championship this year. Maybe. And maybe I can go and catch a falling star, and get with child a mandrake root. But regardless of the improbabilities, the A.E. Housman ode to the Vikings gets pushed back at least a week.

Short Packer Week
Brett Favre broke Dan Marino's record for career completions. He also threw 0 TD passes to remain 7 away from Marino's career TD record mark, and threw 3 INTs to move into second place all-time and come within 7 of George Blanda's career mark.

And now the Vikes and Packers, both 6-8 and relatively pointless, get ready to play on a short week in a game that may or may not be on broadcast TV in the Twin Cities.

Ladanian Tomlinson made further claim to the award with another spectacular game. He's the best player on the best team, he's just broken the long-standing (and overrated) single season points record, he's played spectacular consistently, and he may even break Marshall Faulk's yards from scrimmage record. I've written that simply breaking the single season TD record isn't as great an accomplishment as you might think--however, obliterating it the way he is doing is quite fantastic. He'll have to do next to nothing for the last two weeks to lose this trophy.

Drew Brees didn't do much toward achieving the "if" qualifications I attached to his MVP candidacy. I wrote that if he breaks Dan Marino's single season yardage record (5,084) and the Saints go at least 11-5, he'd deserve MVP. The Saints will now have to win their last two games to go 11-5 (still very possible), but it appears Brees will join Warren Moon, Rich Gannon, and Daunte Culpepper as QBs who looked capable of breaking the 5,000 mark but ultimately came up short.

That record, by the way, is incredibly unlikely to fall. To break it, a healthy QB needs to be spectacular, play with spectacular offensive teammates in a pass-first offense, but still be behind in enough games to be required to throw a lot. I don't know when that combination will happen again. Occasionally a QB will come along with a great season and look like he could achieve it, but he ultimately comes up short.

MVPs seal their candidacy in the last few weeks of a season. Even if the Colts win out, Peyton Manning won't be MVP this season--he just had another typical Manning season. Brees will likely come short of Marino's record, so his statistical prowess won't be great enough to command the record. But Tomlinson has already achieved enough at this point to deserve the MVP award. 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 31 TDs on a 12 win team is now enough to convince me--and he's got two more games to make that look even more impressive.

The most absurd thing I heard on TV Sunday (and keep in mind, it was usually too noisy for me to hear Dan Dierdorf)
On the commercial for 60 Minutes, it was said of Larry the Cable Guy that "everybody calls him funny" and that he's "America's hottest comic." I thought my brain was just going to fall right out of its skull, but somehow it remained where it is.

And just a note, this week begins a month of inconsistent blogging. I should be able to blog a couple times a week over the next month. Just so you know.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Saturday night NFL notes

Vikings resign E.J. Henderson
Via PFT's link to the Strib, E.J. Henderson has signed a 5 year extention with the Vikes.

This is SPECTACULAR news. Henderson's improved play in 2006 has been a major factor in the Vikings' dominant run defense. He's really come into his own as a player, and ensuring that he's sticking with the Purple (and will not reach unrestricted FA this off-season) is a great move.

Let's put Ladanian Tomlinson's TD record in perpective

Yes, he's got three more games to add to the record of 29 TDs. But is it that great a record? It has been repeatedly broken in recent years, suggesting it is not a terribly difficult record to break (relatively speaking). After Emmitt Smith broke the record in 1995 with 25 TDs, the record was broken again in 2000 by Marshall Faulk (26), in 2003 by Priest Holmes (27), and Shaun Alexander in 2005 (28) before Tomlinson broke the record again in 2006.

So 4 times in 7 years, including 3 of the last 4, the single-season TD record has been broken.

When Peyton Manning threw 49 TD passes in 2004, he was breaking Dan Marino's mark of 48 that had stood since 1984. And if Drew Brees can throw for more than 5,084 yards this season (there's an outside shot), he'll have broken Dan Marino's single-season record that has also stood since 1984 (that's one that a lot of QBs have looked capable of in different seasons, but they've always come up short).

Tomlinson has broken a a one-year old record (that had broken a two-year old record that had broken a three-year old record). That's a good thing to do, but it's not exactly other-worldly and it's not a guarantee of an MVP trophy.

There are still three games to go. If Brees breaks Marino's yardage record and the Saints win at least 2 of the next 3, I'd choose him as MVP.

For the record: I like Michael Irvin, but I don't like Terrell Owens

Michael Irvin was one of my favorite players growing up. I loved to watch him play. For the 1990s, Jerry Rice was the best WR in the league, but either Michael Irvin or Cris Carter were second, in my estimation. And Irvin was THEE dominant receiver on a team that won three Super Bowls.

You might think, based on some things I've written lately, that I support Terrell Owens. But I don't like Terrell Owens. However, it has nothing to do with his lack of effort, his selfishness, or his arrogance. I'm lazy, selfish, and arrogant.

I just think T.O. is mean. In the way he has treated Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Gregg Knapp, and Brad Childress, among others, he has been mean. A lot of athletes are arrogant jerks; however, Owens seems to be a player who has chosen particular players to show a real mean-spiritedness toward. As Dr. Z wrote in September about Owens, "he has a mean streak to go with everything else. He didn't attack Donovan McNabb or offensive coach Brad Childress until they were at their lowest ebb, at their most vulnerable. Same thing with his quarterback in San Francisco, Jeff Garcia." I tend not to like mean people.

Friday, December 15, 2006

National Friday League, week 15

Three weeks of widespread football left. The NFL is trying to spread this out by making games occur on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, but only one of those days will feature games televised in the Pacifist Viking household.

By the way, does anybody know if/where the Viking-Packer game next Thursday will be televised locally? I understand that the game should be on broadcast locally, but I have seen zero commercial featuring the game. It might be on some network I rarely if ever watch, of course, like ABC. What's on ABC that one can possibly watch? Actually, I caught that show "Help Me Help You" earlier this week. I was hooked when the following dialogue occurred (slightly paraphrased according to my memory:

Ted Danson: Back in college I literally had to beat women back with a stick.

Tim Meadows: Literally.

Ted Danson: You heard me.

Tim Meadows: Women were attacking you and you had to beat them back with a stick. A stick. Hitting their flesh with wood.

Yes, it is funny. It also featured a guy egging a house and saying, "I don't know if I should be doing this, I'm vegan." No, buddy, you probably shouldn't be. Speaking of being vegan, I'm thinking of braving that last frontier in 2007. And since it has come up on this blog, if you're interested (and you probably aren't) in some of my further explorations on vegetarianism, you can read some of my other writings at my other blog: "Vegetarianism," "'Nature, red in tooth and claw'," "Amateur Theologian: Did people eat meat before the Fall?," and "The Thick Skin of a Vegetarian."

This has been a rambling introduction, to be sure. Well, I've graded over 40 papers in the last week or so, and I'll be grading another 40 or so in the next week, along with 80+ exams, so forgive me for being frazzled. If I can't maintain a coherent organized line of logic, it is only because I've been reading freshman public policy arguments and I've got nothing left.

Vikings v. Jets
The Vikes have played rather poorly at home this season, notching a 3-3 record and playing their worst game against an AFC East team featuring a 3-4 defense. The Vikings have played pretty poorly in recent years against 3-4 teams. So I haven't been very confident in this game; it seems like the sort where the Viking offense will piddle around in suckitude against a defensive front they're not used to and they'll lose something like 17-9.

Then again, as the Ragnorak suggests today, there are reasons to think this matchup suits the Vikings. The Vikings can win against anybody if they force turnovers, and Chad Pennington has been turnover-prone this season. Furthermore, the Vikes can run, and the Jets have trouble stopping the run. The Vikes have a fair chance to win this game, move to 7-7, and then go play a night game in Green Bay where Brad Johnson can debilitate the Vikings' chances and end the team's playoff hopes.

What hopes can we have for the rest of the season?
I believe 9-7 will get the Vikings into the playoffs; most of the other playoff hopefuls have some tough games ahead (some against each other, which makes it even better). If the Vikings can beat the Jets (and the Jets should have ABSOLUTELY ZERO running game against the Vikes, so it's possible), then go win a game against a mediocre or worse Packer team (and Lambeau Field is one of the outdoore venues the Vikes have been consistently good at, winning 3 of their last 4 games there), and then win a home game against a St. Louis team that will be out of it and is struggling without Orlando Pace, the Vikings should be in the playoffs.

And with this run defense, what could the Vikings do in the playoffs? Who knows? The NFC is weak; there's hope. I am an eternal Viking optimist and will not be ready to wax eloquent on A.E. Housman until the Vikings are clearly out of the Super Bowl running.

(By the way, that Housman link goes to the first entry I wrote at this blog, and it's interesting to see 9 anonymous spam comments there. My favorite is "viagra viagra Its'not spam." Sure, and I'm not fat. If you bother clicking those links you are stupid in the brain).

Playoff Implication Games

Let's look at this week's important games. I'll only look at games between two playoff quality teams; of course playoff quality teams can get upset against eliminated teams, but there's no need to mention any of those games here.

San Francisco at Seattle
I predict a 24-14 49er victory.

But seriously, folks, there's now a reasonable chance that an 8-8 team will win the NFC West. Nobody wants that.

Dallas at Atlanta
I've considered benching Tony Romo on my fantasy team in favor of Eli Manning; I think DCs have seen enough of Romo. But Atlanta is HORRIBLE against #1 and #2 WRs. That means Owens and Glenn will run wild, and the Cowboys will cream the Falcos. Yes, the Falcos. I think they should change their name in honor of legendary fictional quarterback Steve Falco. And when the offseason comes, I'll find time to write about just how senseless that movie is.

Jacksonville at Tennessee
Well, Tennesee is a playoff longshot, but they're sort of in it, and this game intrigues me. Jacksonville is a scary team--by scary, I mean for gamblers. Who the hell knows what they'll do from week to week?

Jets at Vikings
Covered above

Pittsburgh at Carolina
Pittsburgh is sort of still in it too. Carolina is...but will probably be out of it by the end of Sunday. Look for Pittsburgh to beat the hell out of the Panthers and move to 7-7 and people can wonder how they would be doing if Roethlisberger hadn't had appendicitis.

Eagles at Giants
Two 7-6 teams; at the end of the day, one team will be 7-7 and the other will be 8-6. Of course you know that. But this is one of the things that helps the Vikings; it is very unlikely that two NFC Wild Card teams will go 10-6.

Kansas City at San Diego
For reasons I don't fully understand, I couldn't care less.

Cincinnati at Indianapolis
For the fourth or fifth time all year, I will regret not getting Monday Night Football. I think Cincinnati will win, continuing their playoff drive and continuing Indy's skid.

In the final three weeks, awards will be claimed by the deserving players. Ladanian Tomlinson should be the MVP, but Drew Brees or Peyton Manning might make strong arguments over the next three games. Who is the rookie of the year? Several contenders can demand the trophy. Defensive player of the year will probably go (undeserved) to Brian Urlacher. I haven't spilled as much virtual ink condemning Urlacher as I have Favre, but he is fast climbing my list of most detested NFC North rivals.

Anyway, I hope everybody enjoys the weekend. Except Packer and Bear fans.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Patrick Reusse scoffs at our fickleness

Oh, we fickle Viking fans! First we cheer a player, then we boo a player. We just don't understand football and we're never happy! What's wrong with us?

Patrick Reusse is back to let us have it again. In his column "Being hero or goat comes with territory for Vikings' Johnson," Reusse interviews Brad Johnson about going from...well...hero to goat (passages from Reusse's column in italics and quotes):

"Obviously, there are similarities in the Vikings' Game 14 situation, including that Brad Johnson will be the home team's quarterback. What's different is that in '05, the Purple Faithful was of a mood to host a parade down Fourth Street in Brad's honor. And now, the same crowd would like to pass their horned hats to buy Brad a bus ticket back home to Black Mountain, N.C."

The "mood" of the Purple Faithful changed. Who can account for "mood"? Mood has no reason behind it. See's definition of mood: Mood is just sort of something one has, an irrational feeling. How could the mood of the Purple Faithful change? Could it be that leading up to week 14 in '05, Johnson had just led the Vikings to 6 straight wins? Meanwhile, in '06 with a far superior defense, Johnson has led the Vikes to 6 wins in 13 games? Do the Purple Faithful have a "mood," or are we merely responding to objective data?

"Johnson had a quarterback rating of 88.9 in his 9 ½ games as a Vikings starter last season. The populace celebrated when Childress decided to dispose of Daunte Culpepper to Miami for a second-round draftee (tackle Ryan Cook).

The trade meant the people's choice -- Steady Brad -- would be the Vikings quarterback again.

Johnson's quarterback rating after 13 games is 71.0. He had a career low of 10.3 two games back in Chicago."

Where to begin? First off, the point is that we Viking fans were wrong. "Steady Brad" was the "people's choice," but the people were foolish; we thought he'd be good but it turns out this year he stinks.

But was Johnson ever really "the people's choice"? Certainly, the crowd had soured on Culpepper, but an awful '05 combined with bizarre behavior (staying away from the team, coming to the Twin Cities just to demand more money, emailing the media to talk about it) suggest that Culpepper himself was responsible for that. Did the fan displeasure with Culpepper mean that we were in love with Johnson? Of course not; there was much speculation about which other QBs the Vikes should or could or would go after in the '06 offseason. The fact that the Vikes didn't doesn't mean that we thought Brad Johnson was a superhero.

"That Sunday in Chicago was ultra-tough for quarterbacks: cold, windy and outstanding defenses in their faces. Johnson was awful, and Grossman was awful, and then a week later -- in domes, against softer defenses -- both QBs were much more proficient.

Why wasn't a minute asterisk placed next to the Johnson/Grossman performances because of the conditions at Soldier Field?"


"A year ago, the public thought it saw a 37-year-old making the rapid reads that Culpepper could not, and throwing the ball with proper pizzazz. Now, the fans think they see a 38-year-old plagued by indecision and wobbly passes."

Isn't it possible that a QB's skills could deteriorate between 37 and 38? Plenty of aging QBs have seeming success then bottom out. Are we to think that Brad Johnson at 38 is the exact same QB he was at 37?

And of course, it wasn't "pizzazz" that impressed us about Johnson last season. After all, Reusse himself referred to "Steady Brad" earlier in the column, so clearly he knows this. It was the fact that in '05, Johnson played smart and limited turnovers, giving the team a chance to win. In '06, he has committed many AWFUL turnovers, hampering his team's chances to win. Should we ignore this?

""Honestly, I think I'm playing the same," Johnson said. "I think I've always played the same. A year ago, during the winning streak, when I made a mistake, it didn't cost us. The other team didn't make the interception, and if they did, it didn't get run back for a touchdown."

Well, Mr. Johnson, you're wrong. In 2005, you threw 12 TDs and 4 INTs in 9 and a half games. In 2006, you've thrown 8 TDs and 15 INTs in 13 games.

""And here's the biggest thing: We always seemed to be playing from ahead during that streak. We haven't been playing from ahead that often in the second half this season."

"It's a whole different game -- more manageable, many more options -- when you're ahead."

This quote is from Johnson again--and to be fair, it does have some validity. I say this not randomly, but after looking at the '05 and '06 results expecting to contradict it.

"And how comfortable is he with the transformation from '05 hero to '06 albatross?

"I'm a quarterback," he said. "That's what you sign up for.""

Reusse writes as if Johnson has magically transformed from "hero" to "albatross," as if those labels are based completely on fan perception, not in reality (for more on the meaning "albatross," see Samuel Taylor Coleridge's excellent poem ).

What bothers me in this column is not any particular statement so much as the overall tone and theme. In '05, Reusse was critical of Johnson and fan appreciation of him (nevermind that Johnson was the backup with no expectations having surprising success); this column's existence seems to be a suggestion of support for Johnson. So while Johnson plays well enough then has two bad games, Reusse attacks him and the fans; when Johnson is sucking and the fans don't like him, Reusse defends johnson and attacks the fans. I think we see the trend here.

It seems like another Reusse column intended to insult Viking fans. Choosing to write this column, and choosing to write it this way, seems like an attempt to point out the irrationality, the fickleness, and the unfairness of fan reaction to Johnson. In fact, there is a major difference in performance between '05 and '06 Johnson. But the fact that this column is written at all suggests that perhaps such is not the case.


The Vikes' Just-Short History
Cold Hard Football Facts has made a list of the top 10 pro football teams to fail to win a championship. As expected, the Vikes come up twice on the list: the 1969 team ranks #4, and the 1998 team ranks #2. Interestingly enough the 1975 Vikes might have been better than either of those teams--that's the team that got Hail Maryed by Roger Staubauch, Drew Pearson, and the referees.

Do you realize Allen Iverson is one of the greatest scorers in basketball history?
There are only four basketball players in the history of the NBA to lead the league in scoring four or more times: Michael Jordan (10), Wilt Chamberlain (7), George Gervin (4), and Allen Iverson (4). It's hard to compare actual basketball numbers across eras--the game has changed a lot since the time Wilt was able to average 50.4 ppg (1962, which he followed up with 44.8 ppg in '63) and 27.2 rpg (1961). However, a scoring title proves that a particular player, in a particular season with its own rules, trends, and strategies, was the best scorer. So Iverson's four scoring titles suggest he is one of the all-time greats.

And the Timberwolves should do everything save trade KG to acquire him.

Why don't the Lions play Josh McCown?
Josh McCown showed some real promise on some pretty awful Arizona Cardinal teams. Evidently the Lions liked his promise, since they are paying him $4 million in 2006. Their 2006 season is a total loss: at 2-11 they can lose out and go 2-14 or win out and go 5-11, and it really won't prove anything or lessen the embarrassment. And can the Lions really think that Jon Kitna, the 34 year old QB presiding over this 2-11 season, is the long-term answer at quarterback? McCown is 27 and might have a future--a future the Lions will never know about if they don't give him a shot at some real game play. $4 million is a lot to pay for a backup you have no intention of ever starting at QB (though evidently they've given him a whirl at WR).

(remembering that I am a Viking fan and the Lions play in the NFC North...)

Oh wait! I am completely wrong. McCown is a bum--don't bother trying to play him. Jon Kitna is the Lord and Savior of the Gridiron--he should be the Lions' starting QB for the next decade. Give Matt Millen time--he'll turn this debacle around eventually. Lions, Millen, and Kitna forever!

More philosophy on effort in sports

Yesterday I used Marxism to try debunk one ethical argument about effort in sports. Today I would like to attack another common argument about the ethics of hard work in sports: the "he owes it to himself" argument.

I've heard this argument used against every "underachiever" from Ricky Williams to Darius Miles. The idea goes that a particular player is born with an immense amount of physical talent. By not putting forth his best effort, he is "wasting" that talent. The player "owes it to himself" to work hard and make the most of his talent--even if he doesn't like a particular sport that much, or even if he's happy getting paid millions and trying to enjoy his life. It is wrong (or unethical, or immoral) for such a talented player to "waste" his talent; if born with that talent, he has a responsibility to use it to the best of his ability.

This idea is a secularization of a religious concept. A Christian perspective on "talent" goes like this: everything you are, everything you are capable of, all your skills and talents, are a gift from God. You didn't do anything to earn them, they don't reflect on your own merit--they reflect on the beneficence of the Divine. Therefore, since God has given you this talent, you have a RESPONSIBILITY to use these talents for God's greater glory. You have a duty to use those talents--the effort of those talents and the fruits of those talents--for God. To waste a God-given talent is a sin.

In a secular world, we are often uncomfortable talking about what gifts come from God and what we owe God. Furthermore, we are rightly uncomfortable talking about millionaire adults playing a game with no real consequences doing their best to win to "serve God." Many of us think it is silly to talk about God in sports (If he wants you to win, does he want the other side to lose? Why does he care who wins a game--aren't there many other problems in the world to worry about?).

However, even a secularized sports world hasn't given up the ideology. Language of religion remains attached to talent: we talk about a player's "God-given abilities," we talk about a player being "blessed" with massive talent. When an announcer or commentator uses these terms, he is not usually (I assume) engaging in Christian theology or talking about the greater good of God. He is using that religious language to describe what is also often called "natural" talent.

But if the secular world now doubts that a person "owes" his talents to God, but we still maintain the ideology, to whom does he really "owe" his talents? We find other sources. "To himself." "To the fans." In the bourgeoise interpretation, "to the guy signing his paycheck." "To the sport." When in fact, no matter how much talent an individual player has, in a rational sense he owes nothing to himself, to the fans, or to the sport itself. If a person is "born with" (sort of a silly term itself--babies don't seem to have a lot of talent. Ricky Bobby likes to pray to the baby Jesus, though, the eight point, six ounce Jesus, learning colors from his Baby Einstein) a bunch of talent, there is no duty, responsibility, or debt to anybody. The person PLAYS A GAME--there's not a great deal of real responsibility in that.

Now, I do believe a player may "owe" effort to somebody in an ethical sense. In some cases, it could be argued he owes his coach the effort. In most cases, it can be argued that he owes his teammates the effort. Indeed, you can say that he can/should put in effort "for himself"; if a player is truly competitive and wants to win badly, he will/should put in as much effort as possible to win. But in that case the player would WANT to put in the effort, not feel he is morally, contractually, or ethically required to put in the effort.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bourgeoise Ideology and Sports

A distinct feature of Bourgeois ideology (or as Weber would have it, the Protestant Ethic) is that a moral value is attached to "hard work." If you work hard, you are morally good; if you do not work hard, you are morally bad. If somebody pays you for labor, you then owe that person your complete and total effort, %100, mind and body.

This leads to one of the major excesses of capitalism: the belief that to pay for labor is to purchase a man for a limited duration. By accepting a paycheck, you are no longer considered an independent person; you now owe your employer the total effort of your body and mind to the ends of the employer. You have sold your total effort for a set duration.

The excess is that you don't pay for goods and services; you pay for a man's efforts to your ends. The employee now owes his employer total effort, and if he is "morally good," he will provide that effort.

This is a dehumanizing ethic.

This ethic often gets extended into sports. This week Peter King comments on Terrell Owens saying "On the field sometimes, I'm not really into it. It's almost like I'm kind of faking it. I'm not happy, and it really was affecting my game."

King responds:

If there's anyone left on Planet Earth who supported Terrell Owens and rooted for him, I submit to you there is now officially no reason to do either for the rest of your life.

Terrell Owens got a $5 million bonus this year, and makes a salary of $5 million. He had a workout bonus of $1.1 million, which I doubt he qualified for because he had better things to do this offseason than, God forbid, actually work out regularly with his team to get ready for the season. So let's forego the workout bonus and just deal with the $10 million. If you divide $10 million by 17 (the number of weeks in the regular season that players get paid for), it comes out to $588,235.29 a week.

This is what he's saying to Jerry Jones: I am on the field for about 60 plays per week, and you pay me $588,235.29 for those 60 plays. On some of those plays, I'm not going to try very hard, because I'm just not into it.

Peter King, like many sports fans, has internalized the bourgeois ethic that places moral value on hard work, and that assumes that getting paid means you owe total effort. Thus, he tells us, regardless of whether Owens is happy, he has accepted money, and now he owes total effort. By failing to put forth total effort (by not accepting that getting paid means he has sold his mind and body for a set duration), Owens is "morally bad" and, according to King, nobody on planet earth should root for him.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Media idiots and smarties

Gregg Easterbrook: idiot
TMQ thinks that Peyton Manning does too many commercials, and this may prevent him from winning a Super Bowl. He should focus exclusively on football, TMQ says.

This is remarkably dumb. Manning works harder than perhaps any NFL player at studying film, understanding the nuances of the game, and trying to improve his own game. The suggestion that he isn't devoting enough time and attention to football is laughable. People have time for lives outside of their livelihoods. If Manning did no commercials, would he then spend that non-endorsement time studying football? Lifting weights? Perhaps he would devote the time to some non-football hobby. Devoting time to a non-football hobby (stamp collecting? water color painting? reading Neo-classical poetry? who knows) could take just as much time away from football as shilling, but of course, that would go unnoticed.

Some people complained that when Jesse Palmer did "The Bachelor" that he should have been devoting more time to football. That's silly. I assume players take off-season vacations. Many of them have families. They do all sorts of non-football activities that don't really get criticized because they don't get publicized (exceptions include trying to play another sport or riding a motorcycle, activities that potentially affect performance).

TMQ comes up with this bit of genius: "Manning films most commercials during the offseason, but even film work "in the can" generates distractions during money time. Colts' players snap on the television, they see Peyton hawking Gatorade, it's not conducive to concentration or team harmony." Do I even need to point out the idiocy of this? If a single Colt player is unable to properly work out, practice, or execute a play because Manning is shilling, that player sucks in the brain. I'm willing to guess Colt players are more likely to get distracted by all sorts of non-Manning things in their lives (like, for Nick Harper, getting stabbed).

This bit of moronical commentary earns TMQ a label as media idiot.

Dan LeBatard: Smartie
In his interview with The Big Lead, here's what Dan LeBatard said about the idea of a "double standard":

And I’m just as tired of hearing white people bitch about the double standard here as white people are of hearing cries of racism. Yes, black people can say things white people can’t. But Jimmy The Greek and Al Campanis don’t make up for slavery, OK? They don’t make up for the fact that just about every person in a position of power in sports is white and hiring other white people. They don’t make up for the fact that 6 of 1 million college-football coaches are black because all the people in power and making the decisions are white and they tend to hire other white people because if you looked around the room at their parties and galas and weddings, all you would see is white people. This isn’t racism. Its human nature. We gravitate toward those with similar interests, experiences, etc. But black people are in an unequal position because of it. So, yes, there’s a double standard. Black people can say things that white people can’t. But I’m OK with that double standard given what has to be endured to arrive at it.

Now here's what I wrote last month about a double standard:

Here's why it's silly to complain about a "double standard" that supposedly benefits black people. In America's history, there has always been a double standard, and that double standard has overwhelmingly been to the advantage of white people. If you even want to argue with this point, you have a terrible grasp of American history. What happened to the Native Americans? What was slavery? What happened after slavery was abolished? What was the experience of Asian Americans in America? How long ago was the Civil Rights movement? Who holds most of the positions of power and prestige in America? It's quite obvious that there has always been a double standard that has favored white people. And if that means that people like Charles Barkley and Michael Irvin can now say things that would get white people in trouble, so be it.

Since Dan LeBatard says something on this topic similar to what I say, he earns the label media smartie.

Patrick Reusse: idiot
I've contended, with evidence, that Patrick Reusse likes to make fun of Viking fans. Well, this weekend Reusse wrote a column titled "Viking diehards need to look in mirror." In it, he blames Viking fans for having high expectations for the team year after year, then looking for somebody to blame when those expectations are not met. Perhaps we should thank a paid newspaper columnist for telling us all to settle down. After all, Reusse is where Viking fans look for self-improvement--if we listened to Reusse, we wouldn't be "such saps." But I wonder, would it be out of line to ask a paid newspaper columnist to provide us some sort of insight into the events on the field? Is making fun of the Vikings and their fans really enough to earn a paycheck from the Strib? I've yet to see Reusse bring a real piece of football insight, but he does a wonderful job making fun of us.

So Patrick Reusse, in his continuing condescension of Viking fans, gets the label media idiot.

Carolina Panthers: Paper Champions

This just just an excuse to not grade papers for a second
Remember when some member of the Pittsburgh Steelers referred to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as "Paper Champions"? Every summer, magazines would predict big things for the Bucs, but the Bucs never turned that into a championship (at least not yet--eventually they did). They were "paper champions"--pre-season darlings of the media, expected to do big things, but champions of nothing.

The new Paper Champions are quite clearly the Carolina Panthers. Ever since they went to the Super Bowl in 2003, they've been early NFC favorites. Various magazines (SI in 2005 and 2006) have predicted Carolina to be in the Super Bowl. In 2004, they bumbled to 7-9. In 2005, they went 11-5, but actually failed to win their division. They won two road playoff games before getting pelted by the Seahawks. Now, in 2006, after a rough Steve Smith-less start then a promising run, they are stumbling around at 6-7.

Paper Champions.

On (the now abandoned) synthetic NBA ball

Yes, I'm disappointed that the NBA is switching back to the leather basketball. You can probably guess why if you read my original take on the cruelty-free ball. Of course, you can guess that I'm disappointed that cows will die so that their skins will be used for a game. That's a given. But I understand that if players are reporting cuts due to the ball, something has to change.

But I'm also disappointed that the animal cruelty issue isn't even a part of the conversation. In the blogs I've read about the ball (like here, here, and here), nobody has mentioned the fact that one ball is made from the skin of a dead animal and the other is not. In ESPN's article, there is no mention that one ball requires the killing of animals and the other does not. I would at least like it to be part of the conversation. Instead, the animal rights issue is basically ignored. The issue is presented as a conflict between Stern and the players, and the two balls are treated as morally similar. But they're not. And while I know most of you disagree with me and don't care if an animal's skin is used for a game, at least I wish there was explicit understanding of this fact. It should be something that is acknowledged, at the very least.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Another Sunday Lost to Spectating (week 14)

The Vikings beat the Lions as they always do. That's 10 straight victories. During these five years of dominance, the Vikes have hardly been a dominant team overall--their best record during this period was 9-7. It's just that the Lions are SO awful.

But that's not what really matters. What really matters is that the Timberwolves do everything in their power to acquire Allen Iverson. That would make my decade. Seriously. I wouldn't complain about anything anymore until 2010. There are only two local teams I care about, and I've never even seen one of them play in a championship round. All I want is to see KG-AI.

Anyway, on to the nuggets of wonderment.

FOX and Matt Millen
My dad, who could not watch the game, later called to discuss it. He asked about any fan expressions against Matt Millen. And I suddenly realized: I'm not sure I heard Millen's name mentioned during the Broadcast.

Later on the local Fox 9 broadcast Dawn Mitchell said there were halftime chants of "Fire Millen." I'm sure some signs were up. But FOX neither showed nor discussed any fan displeasure with Millen. When discussing Detroit's hideousness, no reference was made to the man responsible for this hideousness. The announcers even talked about how some of the pieces are in place for future success (something I've been hearing about Detroit for five years).

Are the people at FOX protecting their former employee, co-worker, and friend? Matt Millen has been (rightly) ripped up and down by all sorts of sources--but not really by FOX. I don't know how much of it is conscious or unconscious (some of the announcers and commentators may just lay off somebody who is their friend and they empathize with). But I find FOX's coverage of Matt Millen severely lacking--and I wonder if it doesn't destroy their credibility.

Skol: Vikings 30, Lions 20
When the Vikings finally do lose to the Lions again, I'll cry. I'll know either that Detroit is a reasonable competitor, or that the Vikings are so awful as to be beyond redemption or hope.

A lot of the local coverage of the game is focused on former Lion Artose Pinner's big game against his former team (125 yards, 3 TDs). Well, I'm happy for Pinner (who along with Jericho Cotchery and Kassim Osgood is a sort of cult hero among our fantasy league). But I don't think he was critical. He had some good, nifty, fun runs. But the offensive line was opening up hopes, and Mewelde Moore probably could have done the same thing.

Detroit's 6 turnovers were the deciding factor. Brad Johnson again proved the Vikes are 6-7 right now despite a viable pro passing game. He wasn't noticably better Sunday than he has been any other day. But because Detroit kept dropping the ball (Roy Williams, who do you think you are!) the Vikes kept getting the ball in good field position and built up a nice little cushion. The Vikings deserve some credit for the turnovers (Cedric Griffin played a VERY good game), but really, Detroit deserves more of the blame for them.

Minnesota had another 4th down conversion Sunday, this one on their first drive. The Vikes are now 14-19 on 4th down--I think Childress has become convinced by the various internet statisticians that find teams should go for it on 4th down more often.

Detroit coaching was terrible. They made two INCOMPREHENSIBLE decisions late in the game. First, down by 10 points with about 3:40 left in the game and 2 times out, they went for it on 4th and goal. I have no idea why. Kicking a FG would put them down 7, and the way the Viking offense was playing (ultra-conservatively, perhaps rightly), the Lions likely would have got the ball back and had an attempt to tie it. Instead they put it all on one play that resulted in a sack, and the game was effectively over.

Then, the Vikes ran their obligatory three plays and got ready to punt. Detroit called a timeout with 2:02 left in the game. 2:02! So they stopped the clock, the Vikes punted, and after Detroit was done returning the punt the clock stopped. If Detroit would have let the clock go down to 2:00, the Vikes would have punted, and after Detroit was done returning the punt the clock would have stopped. So the Lions wasted a timeout in order to save two seconds. Are we entirely sure Mike Tice is in Jacksonville and not in Detroit (oh, wait, I saw Mike Tice on the sidelines for Jacksonville and screamed in terror).

Brad Johnson's awful INT (on first down, no less) in the red zone allowed the Lions to make the score 20-7, which they cut to 20-10 by halftime. Had Johnson not thrown that awful pass, the Vikes likely would have taken a 23-0 or 27-0 lead, and there would be no more suspense. Johnson had a few nice completions, but the Vikes showed again they're playing with a QB with no zip on his short passes and no distance on his long passes.

I'm now taking the Viking run defense for granted. -3 yards? What do you expect? Before the game I really doubted a team like Detroit would have any significant rushing yards (Mike Martz, people). I now just assume the Vikings are going to put up defensive performances like this and I'm barely fazed when it happens.

But now I'm told that Prince is performing at halftime of the Super Bowl, and I now believe that it is destiny. The Vikings will be in the Super Bowl. The Purple One will be there to celebrate it. I've always wondered if Prince likes the Vikings (he's from MN, and he's clearly fixated on purple). I want to thank Prince for assuring the Vikes a trip to the Super Bowl. DESTINY!

Actually, if I had to guess, the Vikes will lose to the Jets (since when do the Vikes beat a 3-4 defense?), Green Bay (Brad Johnson in the cold--maybe Favre can throw a bunch of INTs), then beat St. Louis at home in a meaningless game (though maybe Tarvaris Jackson plays). But my hopes involve three more regular season wins, a trip to the playoffs, and some lucky bounces in the playoff games combined with an historic run defense.

TV Commentary
For some reason, this weekend Possible Flurries and I were fixated on watching TPT's pledge drive. Possible Flurries came up with a devestating insult: "She looks like the sort of person that supports Public Television."

I've waiting all season to try comment on what it means to me to see Pink performing before Sunday night football...and I'm still not ready to do so.

Michael Strahan and Jared in a Subway commercial together. Yelling at each other. I don't even know what to say; I just want to mention it.

What's Jerome Bettis' appeal? He provides no insights, says nothing entertaining, and shows no originality.

Al Michaels sure hates halftime shows that involve pyrotechnics.

Fun Things Around the League
Sean Payton's offense in New Orleans (after watching every Viking play this year, it is thrilling and refreshing to see an offense with some creativity to it. Payton really shows something with that offense, though clearly he's got good personnel to run it).

Vince Young (He's going to be everything Michael Vick is not able to be--that OT TD run was a poor man's version of Vick's OT TD run against the Vikes in '02. But Young is probably ALREADY a better passer, right now, than Vick is).

Reggie Bush's long catch and run for TD (slow-motion replay doesn't do it justice. full-speed replay doesn't do it justice. Watching it live was utterly thrilling. Let's hope Bush can provide more of that. Payton, by the way, is using Bush wonderfully--doing creativing things to try get him open in space).

Drew Brees' turtleneck

I wish I could say more about the Vikings beating the Lions, but that's a little like blogging about scraping ice off my windshield this morning: it's happened often before, it will happen often again, and the most recent occurance was a typically mundane exercise in inevitability.

Friday, December 08, 2006

National Friday League, week fourteen

How do we get excited for this game? The Vikings are 5-7, are starting Brad Johnson, and feature a completely inept passing offense. They are going to play the 2-10 Lions at Detroit. The Vikes need to win out in order to have a winning season and a chance at the playoffs (at Lions, home for the Jets, at Green Bay, home for the Rams--it's possible). They're horrible to watch. The most exciting possibilities are that Tarvaris Jackson plays and/or the Viking defense scores some more touchdowns.

Still, it's a Viking game. I'm emotionally involved so I'll be watching it with anxiety and energy. But I don't have a lot to say about the game.

Why Viking fans should love blogs
Viking fans are cursed with local sports columnists and media personalities who seem to hate the Vikings and love nothing more than to make fun of the Vikings and/or their fans. These luminaries include Patrick Reusse of the Strib, Tom Powers of the Ppress, and Dan Barreiro and Dan Coleman of Kfan. If we want to follow our team through the local media, it can be a brutal experience.

But Viking bloggers don't hate the team, and we only hate Viking fans to the extent that we are self-hating souls that think God hates us.

So here's a roll call of blogs I like that focus almost exclusively on the Vikings:
The Ragnorak
Skol Vikes
Minnesota Vikings Blog--The Fanhouse
Daily Norseman
Vikes Geek
Viking War Cry

So if you don't want to read about how lousy you are, but want to get further opinions on the Purple, check these folks out. And I've written this before: if you're a distant fan that wants to follow the various local coverage of the team, Kansas Viking has already sought out the articles you'll want to read for you. And of course I'm always looking for other Viking blogs, so if you've got any recommendations, I'll take them.

There's also a relatively new (and non-Viking) blog I'd also like to recommend. Leave the Man Alone features some unique takes and good writing--it's operating on some wonderful levels.

One of the appeals of blogs is that you can get unique, even eccentric, opinions on sports. So even though some of you may not like my forays into defending Michael Irvin or the cruelty-free NBA ball, you're at least getting a take that's different from the quasi-objective mainstream chatter you get. To me, the more eccentric the blog, the better, lest we all end up with the same "blogger sensibilities" and end up writing a lot of the same business.

So what do we have for fun this weekend?
What does week 14 offer us?

Baltimore at Kansas City should be fun. What a silly thing to write, when you think about it. "Baltimore at Kansas City." Like the entire city of Baltimore is going to rise up and somehow move itself to Kansas City. I can't see how that would be fun. Would Baltimore just land "at" Kansas City, like, right on top? Buildings and all?

Indianapolis at Jacksonville is a game I would watch if I weren't watching the Vikes and Lions. And according to gribblenation, I could. Flip on commercials, I guess--of course, then I will miss out on Lance Armstrong taunting cancer, a truck racing against some real and mythical beasts, "This is our Country" and all that. Ce la vie, I guess.

Giants and Panthers has some potential to be good. It also has potential to be completely lousy and I'm glad it's not on TV here.

Denver at San Diego could be interesting, but I'm entirely sick of watching the Broncos (did you know that in their first 12 games, they played 6--SIX!--at night on primetime? Granted, two of those games were on ESPN and NFL Network and I didn't see them. But the four Sunday night games (and several day games) have been enough--this team is boring and shouldn't be watched.

Finally, New Orleans goes to see the Tony Romo Show at Dallas. I've seen too much of teams winning with lousy QB play this season (hello, Chicago and Denver). Now I want to watch teams that are winning with good QB play (hello, New Orleans and Cincinnati).

As usual, I hope everybody enjoys the weekend except Packer and Bear fans. Lion fans, you are always pretty miserable (though when your baseball, basketball, and hockey teams are as good as yours are, you have to expect some lousiness from somewhere in town), and I hope your misery continues this weekend. Next week, I'll write a lengthy post calling for Josh McCown to be the Lions' starting QB; for this week, I'll take Jon Kitna, thank you very much.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On the synthetic NBA basketball

There is some controversy over the NBA's switch to a synthetic basketball this season, instead of using a leather basketball as in year's past.

As many of you may not know, in my spare time I'm a vegetarian and have a general concern for animal rights and welfare. I realize that most Americans have an automatic defensive hostility to vegetarians and people who talk seriously about animal rights; that's fine. I understand that if you like your pet or were moved as children by such works as Bambi, Old Yeller, or Charlotte's Web but you also think it's OK to eat animals, you've probably got some internal issues to work out. I went through a great deal of intellectual hand-wringing over the issue before I found out chickens have individual personalities and decided I didn't want to eat them anymore.

But I'm not here to debate eating animals. Seriously, in wrestling with the issue I think I've heard every argument for and against animal consumption; hell, I think I've made most arguments for and against animal consumption. No, I'm not trying to preach. I know there are a lot of contradictions and moral inconsistencies when it comes to human use of animals (for an objective look at the issue, see Harold Herzog's "Human Morality and Animal Research: Confessions and Quandaries"). I'm writing this because I'm guessing there aren't a lot of sports bloggers who are vegetarians or concerned with animal welfare, and I thought I could provide a unique perspective.

When you use a leather basketball, you are using the flesh of a dead animal for a game. For entertainment. While you may be able to carry on a reasonable argument that animals can and should be used for things necessary or beneficial to humankind (like medical research), I can't see a reasonable argument that the dead flesh of an animal is a reasonable thing to use for games and entertainment. The only real defense is that the animals are being killed for their meat anyway, so we may as well use the leftover skin for something. I suppose that works as a pragmatic argument, but I'm not sure it's a very sound moral argument.

I really hope the synthetic ball works out and that over time the players get used to it. There's going to be an adjustment period in a change like this, but I think over several months (alas, maybe years) players will adjust to the point they don't even think about it. After all, according this article from PETA, the same decision was made for the NCAA and I haven't heard a great deal of outrage in college basketball. My guess is that high schoolers use all sorts of balls to play, and it's not that hard to adapt to the NCAA ball; meanwhile, NBA players have been playing 82 games a year for years with the same ball, and have evidently forgotten that they probably grew up playing with a variety of balls (no jokes), indoor and outdoor.

Furthermore, I'm a little disappointed with human scientific capability if we can't devise a synthetic basketball that has the same features as leather. They're obviously very close to doing so; a lab-created ball does indeed have most of the features of a ball made from animal skin. Perhaps we should be impressed that they've come this far. I hope scientists are able to go even further; if the synthetic basketball could have the very same qualities as a leather basketball, there would be no discussion, no debate, and no real reason to use real leather.

I hope that in the future when considering this "controversy," you don't just see it as a debate between two types of materials, or two different ways to make a ball. There is a moral question as well. One type of ball requires that animals be killed for it to exist (according to PETA, one cow makes four basketballs); the other type requires that no animals be killed for it to exist. That's at least worth considering, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Because the Universe hates you.

You should read Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea. One of the basic ideas you should get from these novels (and from Hemingway's oeuvre) is that the Cosmos is hostile to your existence. This is perhaps the central premise of existentialism: you are born alone into a world you did not create and cannot understand that will ultimately destroy you.

Now, go check out these simple stats compiled by Gonzo over at the Daily Norseman. Now try to convince a Viking fan that the Universe is not hostile to my existence.

For years we watched a studly incredible offense get wasted by a completely incompetent defense. It was always fun to watch, but it was always futile.

Now we get to watch a studly incredible defense get wasted by a completely incompetent offense. It is not any fun to watch, and it is still always futile.

Hemingway also wrote "a man can be destroyed but not defeated." Whatever the hell that means. I guess the Vikings are the Universe's tool to destroy my very will and soul, but that ultimately my indefatiguable spirit cannot be defeated by the horrors of the Minnesota Vikings.

Stretch Run: the NFC

It's not a travesty that in the NFC four 6-6 teams and three 5-7 teams are fighting for a playoff spot. First of all, I HATE when 8-8 teams make the playoffs, even if it's the Vikings. My feeling is that if you go 9-7, maybe you make the playoffs, maybe you don't, but either way you've had a winning record and could justify a spot in the playoffs but have screwed up enough that it's out of your hands. 8-8 playoff teams luck in based on the conference. I say this even though in 2004 the 8-8 Vikes gave me one of my favorite football memories, upsetting the Packers at Lambeau. That said, in 2003 and 2004 the Vikes were 9-7 and missed the playoffs. If one or two 8-8 teams make the playoffs, I'll be disappointed (though it's happened before without disaster, and on Madden these teams sometimes end up 12-8 Super Bowl champs). If a 7-9 team gets into the playoffs, I'm ready to call that a travesty.

But I am fairly certain that won't happen.

Surprising teams often get into the playoffs by playing their best football in December. All of these teams could go on a run of very good football to reach 9-7 or 10-6; most of these teams are capable of winning playoff games.

Let's concede the NFC division winners (even though Carolina has a legitimate chance to catch New Orleans; if Carolina wins out, including a week 17 game against the Saints, and the Saints manage to lose just one other game, the Panthers win the division). Let's say Chicago (which has already clinched), Dallas, Seattle, and New Orleans all win their divisions.

I'm willing to make this prediction before looking at the schedule:

If one of the remaining 6-6 or 5-7 teams wins out, that team will make the playoffs.

I don't think it will be out of their hands; I think if any of the current playoff contenders can win the next 4 games, those teams will be in the playoffs.

Now let's look at the schedule for these teams to see what's real and mathematical about the possibility of winning out. Listed are the NFC teams still capable of a winning record and the remaining schedule.

Giants (6-6): @ Carolina, Philadelphia, New Orleans, @ Washington
If the Giants win out, they will make the playoffs, since they will have dropped the Panthers and Eagles to 7 losses and could only be tied by Atlanta.

Philadelphia (6-6): @ Washington, @ New York (giants), @ Dallas, Atlanta
If the Eagles win out, they will make the playoffs, since they will have dropped the Giants and Falcons to 7 losses and could only be tied by the Panthers

Falcons (6-6): @ Tampa Bay, Dallas, Carolina, Philadelphia
If the Falcons win out, they will make the playoffs, since they will have dropped the Panthers and Eagles to 7 losses and could only be tied by New York.

Panthers (6-6): New York (giants), Pittsburgh, @ Atlanta, @ New Orleans
If the Panthers win out, they will make the playoffs because they will have dropped the Giants and Falcons to 7 wins, and Philadelphia could only tie them.

Vikings (5-7): @ Detroit, New York (jets), @ Green Bay, St. Louis
The only playoff rival the Vikings can directly affect is the Rams.

49ers (5-7): Green Bay, @ Seattle, Arizona, @ Denver
The 49ers cannot directly affect a playoff rival.

Rams (5-7): Chicago, @ Oakland, Washington, @ Minnesota
The only playoff rival the Rams can directly affect is the Vikings.

So there you go: since each of the 6-6 teams have two matchups against the other 6-6 teams remaining, those teams are mathematically guaranteed a playoff spot if they win all their remaining games. They control their own destiny.

The 5-7 teams could win out and still mathematically miss the playoffs. However, given that the 6-6 teams have games scheduled against each other and will likely be splitting some of those matchups, I still feel that if any of these 5-7 teams wins out that team will make the playoffs.

We'll see in a week or two whether I have to acknowledge any of the 4-8 teams or even (shudder) the mathematically alive 3-9 teams (who would need to win out and have all sorts of ties occur to make the playoffs). Detroit is 2-10 and mathematically eliminated because even if all the 6-6 teams don't win another game, they would need to have all sorts of ties and would then still finish with a better winning percentage. I can't believe I even had to write that last sentence.

Check out the blog for some interesting stuff on the AFC playoff race.

Peeking in at NBA rookies

Thabo Sefolosha
Thabo is only playing 13.2 minutes per game. However, that is probably enough for him to achieve his goal of being the greatest Swiss basketball player of all-time.

Adam Morrison
Morrison has taken his Marxism way too seriously. Sure, he's getting his points, averaging 15.0 a game. But he also seems intent on allowing everybody else to get their points too. No, not his own teammates: he's averaging 2.1 assists per game. I'm talking about his opponents. He keeps getting lit up by the player he's supposed to be guarding. Equality is a beautiful thing, Adam, but on the basketball court you should try to score more points than the guy you are guarding.

Jordan Farmar
Farmar went pro and is making millions of dollars. Meanwhile, the team he led to the NCAA title game last season is ranked #1 in the nation. The best thing about Jordan Farmar right now is that Darren Collison has been a good replacement for him.

Randy Foye
T-Wolves coach Dwane Casey clings to the absurd belief that the Timberwolves have a present. They don't. They may or may not have a future, but playing Randy Foye 15.6 minutes per game isn't doing a lot toward making one.

Stocking the Cupboard

Championship teams build through the draft. Acquiring veterans through free agency or trade can definitely help a championship team: players like Marshall Faulk, Rodney Harrison, and Corey Dillon have been essential players on championship teams. Still, look at any championship team in recent years (or go as far back as you'd like) and you'll see a team built with blue-chip players acquired through the draft. One of the Steeler teams that won a title in the 70s actually had an entire team of players that had never played for another franchise. New England built the talent base for its run of success primarily by drafting good players.

So let's look at the Viking roster and match it up with the Vikings' draft history. Below are listed the current Vikings who were also drafted by the Vikings. An asterisk denotes a player drafted by the Vikes but who has not spent his entire career on the team, and IR indicates a player on injuried reserve. Listed in parentheses is the round and year the player was drafted. (note: I compiled this manually and may have forgotten someone; only after looking it over did I realize I left Cedric Griffin out)

Matt Birk (6-1998)
Greg Blue (5-2006)
Ryan Cook (2-2006)
Jeff Dugan (7-2004)
Rod Davis (5-2004)*
Ray Edwards (4-2006)
Ciatrick Fason (4-2005)
E.J. Henderson (2-2003)
Cedric Griffin (2-2006)
Tarvaris Jackson (2-3006)
Brad Johnson (9-1992)*
Marcus Johnson (2-2005)
Jim Kleinsasser (2-1999)
Bryant McKinnie (1-2002)
Mewelde Moore (4-2004)
Darrion Scott (3-2004)
Dontarrious Thomas (3-2004)
Kenechi Udeze (1-2004)
Kevin Williams (1-2003)
Troy Williamson (1-2005)
Chad Greenway (1-2006) IR
Erasmus James (1-2005) IR

A few observations:
--There's not an elite player on this list. I believe the Vikings have three players that could be considered elite: Pat Williams, Antoine Winfield, and Steve Hutchinson. Each of these players was acquired through free agency. Other prominent contributors to the Vikings like Chester Taylor and Darren Sharper (very good players that I wouldn't call elite) were also acquired through free agency. Matt Birk, I believe, has been an elite player for the Vikings in the past, so there's one possible very good player on the roster that was drafted by the Vikes (though Birk hasn't stuck out to me this year as much as in past--perhaps the Vikes just don't pull him as much as they used to).

--I wonder if there's another team in the league that can say it has no players on its roster that it drafted in 2000 or 2001. Note that there is one player on the roster that was drafted by the team in 1998, 1999, and 2002. Two players drafted in 2003 are still on the roster.

--Not one first-round pick of the Vikings is currently doing much to help the Vikings. Greenway and James are on IR, Troy Williamson stinks, Bryant McKinnie is having a bad year, I believe Kenechi Udeze is the only starting DE in the league with ZERO SACKS making him a COMPLETE NON-FACTOR, and Kevin Williams has been a relative non-factor (I credit the tough run defense to Pat Williams; KW is supposed to be able to provide a pass rush, and he's not doing it).

--If the Vikes are going to have success in the future, we have to hope that the drafting improves. We also have to hope that players drafted in recent years can achieve an elite level. Chad Greenway and Erasmus James are on IR; perhaps in the future they will be elite Vikings. Ryan Cook has finally gotten some PT and has performed fairly well. We all have high hopes for Tarvaris Jackson. There's reason to think that Cedric Griffin can be an elite CB in the future. There are other players on this list that either are good players (E.J. Henderson) or could be good in the future.

--Overall, it's a disappointing, lackluster list.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Nuggets of Wonderment, week 13

Now is the time of year that announcers make their few trips each winter to places like Chicago, Green Bay, and Denver, to watch games outdoors in cold weather. These announcers usually become utterly fixated on talking about the weather; over and over throughout the game they talk about how cold it is and how the cold affects people. These announcers act like it is some sort of aberration to be outside in the cold for an extended period of time.

I'm not sure these announcers realize that there are people, lots of us, who live in this cold weather for the entire winter. I don't think they realize that many of us don't mind it, and some of us even like it. It's just "blah blah blah, it's cold." Tony Siragusa suggested yesterday that there's no way Brooks Bollinger could have mobility coming straight into the game from the cold because his body will be too stiff; of course, Bollinger grew up in Wisconsin and probably knows more about moving in the cold than Siragusa.

We like the cold. We live in it all year. No, John Madden, you don't just tolerate it, you do get used to it. When Blue Viking Devil comes up to visit in the winter from North Carolina, the cold affects him in ways that it doesn't affect me.

Later this week: a look at the Viking roster and the draft
The Vikings have not acquired an elite football player since 1999 when they drafted Daunte Culpepper. There have been no elite offensive players drafted since then, and I'm not sure there has been a single elite defensive player drafted since I started following football in 1992. I think the Vikes currently have three elite football players on the team: Pat Williams, Antoine Winfield, and Steve Hutchinson. All were acquired through free agency. Let's just say I'm losing my optimism about the Vikings' future.

What we learn during commercials
Here's a quote from Sunday:
Commercial: "What, you couldn't find a car you like in Germany"...(pause, fast driving) "No, I couldn't find a speed limit I liked in America"
A Bit More Humid: "America sucks!"

During commercials that begin by noting, "Professional Driver. Closed Course. Do not attempt," some sort of truck races against Roman gladiators, men of fire, tornadoes, buffalo, tigers, boulders, alligators, bears, horses, some sort of mountain man, wasps, a bulldog, an elephant, and Trojan warriors. So now we know: do not attempt to race Roman gladiators, men of fire, tornadoes, buffalo, tigers, boulders, alligators, bears, horses, some sort of mountain man, wasps, a bulldog, an elephant, or Trojan warriors. Though I am confused. Could I, say, race against JUST a Trojan warrior? JUST a boulder? JUST a buffalo? Am I forbidden to attempt racing against all these creatures individually, or just all at the same time?

Here's another quote from Sunday:
Lance Armstrong: "Hey cancer, remember me?"
Possible Flurries: "If I were cancer I'd say, 'You know, I meet a lot of people...did you used to be bald?'"

I, for one, think that the indignant cavemen in that insurance commercial need their own sitcom. I want to hear that caveman's conversation with his mother on speaker phone.

During that commercial when they say, "There is nothing on God's green earth stronger than a U.S. army soldier," we speculate on whether that means creatures in the ocean might be stronger. We don't know whether to take a shark or a whale over the soldier.

Also, we speculate that when the woman in the drive-thru line is picking up her dry-cleaning, and pays for that guy's shirts and leaves her number, that the guy might be married and she might be a home-wrecker.

You better believe that when you don't have an extensive cable package you're watching every single commercial during a football game.

Brett Favre
With 1 TD pass and 2 INTs, Brett Favre now has 411 TD passes and 267 interceptions. Dan Marino has 420 TD passes and George Blanda has 277 interceptions. So our magic numbers are 9 and 10.

Brett Favre's 2006 is going a lot like his 2005. He started the year playing some solid football--he still had the crazy game-killing INTs, but he was throwing a lot of TDs. As the season wore down so did Favre, and he started throwing less TDs and more INTs and the team lost more and more.

And finally...

Coming off the ledge: Bears 23, Vikings 13

Perhaps the Revolution has begun; we may never see Brad Johnson take another snap for the Minnesota Vikings. If it is the case, there is no question it came much too late. In the last month and a half, a competent QB (one with some mobility and some zip on his passes) may have turned some ugly losses into wins.

We can now say without question that the Vikes made a mistake in relying on Brad Johnson as their starter. I think prior to the draft they were considering ways to bring in a younger QB to compete with Johnson for the starting job. When nothing really came of it, they committed to Johnson and refused to bring in a backup for more money than Johnson makes (because they, rightly, didn't want to have to give Johnson a raise). Then they were left with Johnson and questionable backups in Brooks Bollinger and Tarvaris Jackson.

I really dislike Brian Urlacher and Olin Kreutz. They're replacing Favre as my most detested players in the NFC North. I also hate Tony Siragusa, but that's neither here nor there.

The Vikes were in the game much of the way. It was 7-6 late in the third quarter. Then, in an amazing flourish that took only a few minutes, turnovers suddenly were hurting the Vikings, as Johnson had one INT returned for a TD making it 14-6, had another INT give Chicago short field position which led to a TD and a 21-6 score, and Ciatrick Fason made an inexplicable decision to get tackled in the endzone to make a 23-6 score. Bollinger led one TD drive to make it 23-13, and there we were.

Once again, the Viking defense did its job. The Bears' running game never killed the Vikings, and Sexy Rexy did nothing to hurt the Vikings; indeed, his 3 INTs should have done more to help. In fact, the Viking defense gave up just 7 points, and that came with a short field after a BJ INT. A safety, an INT TD, and a PR TD. That killed off the Vikings. The Viking defense and special teams forced plenty of turnovers (5) but couldn't score directly, and the Viking offense was unable to capitalize on those turnovers. The Bears defense scored its own points and allowed the offense to score once.

The Viking running game was outstanding: Chester Taylor had 90+ yards before leaving the game with injury, and Fason carried on the success with 70+ rushing yards. I have a basic maxim for football: "If you CAN keep running for first downs, there is no reason to throw the ball." This is especially true when it's cold and windy, you're facing the Bear offense, and your quarterback has a gimp arm. The Vikings were consistently able to run the ball but continued to call pass plays at awkward times that killed drives and led to turnovers.

Well, I'm not ready to give up. I remember attending a game in '93 against the Cowboys. The Vikes were 6-6, lost badly to the Cowboys to fall to 6-7, then won three straight to get into the playoffs (where they lost, of course). The Vikes COULD win four straight. When I do give up, I will grace you with my annual poetic mourning.

And college football
I'm glad Florida will get their chance to compete for a national title against Ohio State. Now, I think the Buckeyes will utterly destroy the Gators, but at least they deserve their chance.

Of course I'm happy about UCLA's win over USC. I made the existential choice to follow a particular college team because I wanted to be able to follow and understand college sports better. One thing I've learned is that the ability to beat rivals means as much in college football as overall winning percentage. So that's a pretty exciting thing for the Bruins. Maybe they can build on this.

Of course, the only team really worth getting excited about at UCLA plays their games on the hardwood.