Vikings connect fans to their childhoodPublished 10:11am Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Column: Pothole Prairie
The earliest memories of the Minnesota Vikings I have are from the 1970s:
• I remember our big and old yellow house at 303 Pleasant St. in Rockwell City, Iowa. I must have been 6, perhaps 7, and I was scrounging in the closet to find a purple and gold Vikings scarf a relative knitted — or maybe crocheted — for me. I wore that scarf a lot in the winter in my boyhood. The Engstrom side of the family is my mom’s side, and they were going to make sure I rooted for the Vikes. That scarf worked. It was why I became a Vikings fan.
• At some point, into my winter gear came that classic Minnesota Vikings stocking cap, the one all the kids had during the Purple People Eater years. It was generally purple, but the lower part you pulled up for fit was gold. The dorky-looking ball on top was gold and purple, only in those days all stocking caps had balls on top, so they weren’t so dorky. It had a round patch on the front with the Vikings logo — not the horn logo, the one of the grumpy Scandanavian with manly pony tails and the finest overgrown moustache on the planet.
• My stepdad in those days wasn’t too committed to a single NFL team but leaned in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs. He didn’t watch a lot of football, at least not at home, so I didn’t realize what I was missing.
One of the first NFL games I actually watched was the 1976 Vikings in the Conference Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams on the day after Christmas. I saw it surrounded by football-loving Engstrom relatives in Swea City, Iowa, a Kossuth County town eight miles from the Minnesota border. I remember just scant bits and pieces from the 1977 Super Bowl loss to the Oakland Raiders, probably because I played with toys during games or something distracting like that. Hey, I was 6! But John Madden hollering from the Raiders’ sideline really sticks out.
• I got older and, eventually, I watched the games glued to the set. I had a new stepdad now, and that’s how he watched games. He was more of college football fan. Say, does anyone recall how AM radio announcers would deliver nationwide scores in rapid succession and say puns like, “Colgate polishes off Lehigh 34-31” and “Bowling Green State strikes out against Toledo 28-7”? It’s a lost art, no doubt.
I cherished the pro game. I would watch football all Sunday afternoon, sometimes watching the picture sideways because I was lying on the couch, fighting off the sleep of an afternoon nap.
• I was 9 in 1980 when I was watching the Vikings play the Cleveland Browns at the farm where my first stepdad was raised near Jolley, Iowa. I had helped my grandfather and uncle with chores in the morning, and my grandma had made a big dinner for us. Dinner meant the noon meal on the farm.
My grandpa and uncle were sleeping on the floor like two big dogs when Tommy Kramer tossed a Hail Mary pass to Ahmad Rashad to beat the Browns 28-23 and send the Vikes to the playoffs. I jumped up and down and up and down and all around screaming trying to wake them up “by accident” because — hey! — this was a big deal! You just had to see this!
They didn’t wake up.
It still is considered one of the all-time top-five Hail Mary plays, and I saw it live.
• I remain glued to the set on Sundays for the Vikings game to this day and have been watching for years. I was always impressed by the Vikings’ ability to get to the playoffs and remain a winning team. They just couldn’t return to the Super Bowl. I was there when the Vikings lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game in 1978, to the Washington Redskins in 1988, to the Atlanta Falcons in 1999, to the New York Giants in 2001 and to the New Orleans Saints in 2010. They lost four Super Bowls, and since those great teams they have lost five chances to return to the Super Bowl.
But I will tell you one thing, if the Vikings move away from Minnesota, I will not watch the National Football League. Nope. Done. It’s the drama of the long storyline that has captured my attention. This is something I have done since I was a boy. If there are no Vikings, then there is no point to watching the NFL for me. Even when I watch other teams, how I cheer depends on whether a one team can help the Vikings by beating the other. I don’t care about fantasy football. I don’t worship star players like the TV commentators do. I am a fan of a team.
What makes me especially proud is that my team has the most loyal fan base in the league. Even if they haven’t won a Super Bowl trophy, the Vikes have played some mighty good football over the years.
Let’s just hope we can continue to watch the Vikings with the next generation of fans.
Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.