For fishermen in the deep southern states like Alabama, fall Saturdays are reserved for their favorite college football teams. Up here in Minnesota, our cold temperatures arrive earlier, and we’re just as passionate about football, but the NFL is king. We live for the Vikings and particularly for their NFC North rivalries like this Sunday’s game against the Bears.
We don’t dislike (read: hate) the Bears as much as we dislike (read: despise) the Packers or even the Lions, but it’s still a game that we circle on the calendar. It seems like the Packers have been consistently good for like 30 years now, but for the first time in a long time it’s the Bears that we’re battling for the division title.
These divisional rivalries have been a constant presence in my life for as long as I can remember. I’m 34 years old, and I remember passionately watching and cheering for Vikings players like Randy Moss, Robert Smith, Cris Carter and John Randle. They produced some great memories, but like generations of Vikings fans before me they also led me to some misery and heartache.
Unlike Chris Groh’s Bears, who at least have one Super Bowl victory under their belts, my Vikes failed to win the big game in four attempts. On other occasions they came close but missed. For example, in 1999, when I was just 15, they were 15 and 1 in the regular season, but in the NFC Championship game Gary Anderson missed a key field goal. He hadn’t missed all season. The game went into overtime and of course the Falcons’ sure-thing kicker made the most of his opportunity. We ended up losing by three points and the Falcons moved on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
When you expect to win and can’t finish it out, it sucks. It’s one thing that binds professional football and professional fishing. While I won at Mille Lacs, the 2017 tournament at Champlain still burns me up. I caught over 20 pounds on the last day, but Aaron Martens had a ridiculous bag to come from behind and beat me by 14 ounces. Even when you’re at your best, there’s always someone looking to slam you into the turf.
Historically, the Vikings have started off strong and then fizzled as the season progressed, particularly when a bye week interrupted their momentum. Afterwards they’d play like garbage. This year we were 5-3-1 headed into this past week’s bye, and I think that was a good thing. We got a break at the right time, and that’ll allow us to be healthy and prepared for this upcoming grudge match.
The thing that’s exciting about this season is that Kirk Cousins turned down more money from the Jets to come here to Minnesota, and he’s been a difference-maker. We don’t necessarily have a single bright-lights superstar, but we also don’t have a glaring weakness. In our last game the O-line looked really good. They gave Cousins tons of time to throw. Maybe Detroit has the worst D-line in the league, but I think that performance is a sign that we’re coming together at the right time. The defense was also amazing. After taking some time off to deal with personal issues, Everson Griffen is back, too, so we should be firing on all cylinders.
That’s why I think that we’re going to go to Chicago this week and take home a “W.” Historically, we’ve split these series, with the home team winning, but I like our chances. I think it’ll be a one possession game, with the Vikings winning 27 to 24.
Chris and I razz each other quite a bit, and I definitely gave him a hard time last year about the Bears flag on his light pole. That was mostly good-natured, but this week it’ll be serious. This is the Vikings’ time to shine, and while I may never have a purple boat, you can be sure that purple blood runs through my Minnesotan veins.