When Minnesota's team makes an appearance on Monday Night Football, people get excited.
Last night, our boys in purple took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but I wasn't excited. I was confused. Which team, the Vikings or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is more of a "Minnesota" team?
Here's what I mean. During the last off-season, Vikings head coach Dennis Green got rid of two All-Pro linemen, Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy. Both are now playing for Tampa Bay. On the other hand, John Davis, an ex-Buccaneer tight end, now plays for Minnesota.
The coaches are another source of confusion. When Dennis Green was hired to coach the Vikings, many in Minnesota would have favored bringing in Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy, an ex-Golden Gopher. Dungy is, by all accounts, a man of character who also knows how to coach a winning football team. No one has ever questioned Green's ability to coach winning football.
When it came to hiring a Vikings coach, I was in the Dungy camp and I still am. And, I've always appreciated the play of McDaniel and Christy.
Then there are the team records. Before Monday's contest, Tampa had lost two games in a row and needed to win the game badly. They were clearly underdogs, given the Vikings' 4-0 start. It is part of the American nature to cheer for the underdog.
But that 4-0 Vikings record was causing other problems. As Vikings wins pile up, so do the numbers of Vikings fans. With every win there is increased peer pressure to cheer for the Vikings. As long as they keep winning, it will likely stay that way.
People from Minnesota like front-runners as do fans from other states. The Vikings' 4-0 record has brought front-runners crawling out of the woodwork and into the malls.
Last weekend I stopped by one of our area supermarkets. There was a lady handing out bratwurst samples in the meat department. She was surrounded by a sea of people wearing purple football jerseys. On the back of the jerseys were all the familiar Viking names, like Moss or Carter or Culpepper. Never mind that most of the frames inside those jerseys would have been better served by Jerry Ball shirts.
The purple Vikings flags have been coming out, too. You've seen them. They're mounted (usually duct-taped) to a variety of vehicles (mostly sport utility vehicles).
And then there are the little signs that read, "Home of a Vikings fan." These are starting to appear in yards around town, many in yards of people who host frequent garage sales.
By now, you're beginning to understand my dilemma. Do I identify with ex-Vikings who now play for Tampa? Do I pull for a team of players, many of whom will be wearing some other colors next season? How do I bring myself to wish victory for Dennis Green over Tony Dungy? How do I ignore the peer pressure produced by ever present purple flags, signs and jerseys, not to mention those proudly worn Vikings hats adorned with horns and braids?
Then, in the flash, it came to me clearly. When it comes to sports, always cheer for the laundry. A couple of seasons ago, a writer for a Minneapolis paper observed that what fans actually cheer for is laundry. His point was that free agency and salary caps have resulted in a lot of players switching teams, year in and year out. The only consistent thing about many teams from one season to the next is the color of the jersey, the color of the laundry. Players, owners and even stadiums or stadium names may come and go, but the colored laundry remains.
When the Vikings and Buccaneers finally kicked off Monday night, it was not altogether clear who the players were pulling for either. The contest's highlights were marked by fumbles, poor exchanges between the center and quarterback, blocked field goal attempts and unsuccessful last-second heroics.
So who was the winner and who was the loser of this Monday night matchup? The Vikings, ex-Vikings or could-have-been Vikings? The final score was 30-23 in favor of Minnesota. But, as always, in the NFL, the big winners are the people who get paid. The people who wear the laundry, and the people who sell it.
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