This Sunday much of the world will witness another Super Bowl—another one without the Minnesota Vikings. The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will do battle in the big game, and we Vikings fans will one again regret the lack of Purple and Gold on the field. The game should be a good one, a really good offense versus a very good defense. I am hoping for a high-scoring, close contest that comes to an exciting, last second finish like many have in recent years.
But mostly I wish the Vikings were playing in it.
Not everyone reading this knows what that is like. I am old enough to remember seeing it happen four times (each one a major disappointment, of course), and I have long (since the 1976 season, my first fall in college) been waiting for them to return. Now nearing 50 years later, I am desperately hoping for the Vikings to return to the Super Bowl and may just be starting to think it won’t happen for me.
But, we won’t go down that depressing road today. Instead, I have another dark and dreary path to revisit—my regret for taking all those Vikings Super Bowls in the 1970s for granted. I hear many younger fans now (Joe Johnson, this site’s owner, in particular) bemoan the fact that they have never watched their favorite team even compete in the Super Bowl (we both share the lack of watching that team win a Super Bowl title). And I am thinking today that I am not sure that—due to the fact that the Vikings were in the Super Bowl or threatening to get there most of the time of my formative years as a fan—I didn’t really appreciate the enormity (and rarity) of such an occurrence that it deserves.
Perhaps that is because I am viewing t through the beer-goggled lenses of today’s football fandom. The NFL is king in this country as far as sports is concerned, and the Super Bowl has become one of, if not the, biggest sporting event in the world. These days there are huge gatherings and parties and preparations and gambling and costumes and craziness surrounding the game, so you can rest assured that every fan of a team would love the opportunity, just once as least, to watch them get on that huge stage.
All the hype, interviews, spectacle and glamour would then be directed at their team, as if they are one of the two most important teams on earth and their fans are totally justified in every penny spent on them and every second of attention devoted to them. It makes a fan feel like their support is what brought the team to this moment.
But, to be honest, it wasn’t quite like that back in the day. Without getting too specific on my age (although you can figure it out), the Super Bowl was born the year the Vikings first played in it and while it was a big deal to a kid (who just the week before saw them win the NFL title on his 12th birthday), it hadn’t yet garnered the world-wide attention it has today (good thing, the Vikings got rocked).
I still recall that Super Bowl and my disappointment when they lost. The rest of the neighborhood kids, including some of my siblings, were out in our backyard skating on the rink we had flooded, and I didn’t even want to go out join them.
Quarterback Joe Kapp (who shares my first name) became a hero to me that season with a record-setting seven touchdowns in one game against the Baltimore Colts and later in leaping defenders on his way to the end zone in the playoffs, more than once (we won’t mention that he broke my heart the next year by leaving via free agency for the Boston Patriots). And when he and the team came up woefully short versus Hank “65 Toss Power Trap” Stram and the Kansas City Chiefs, I didn’t even want to go outside and play hockey. We hadn’t set up our home for a Super Bowl party before the game, but I sure felt the first of several Super Bowl “hangovers” after it.
But that was just the beginning for the Vikings, who were 12-2 that regular season, because of over the next seven seasons (with hall of famers Bud Grant as head coach and Fran Tarkenton at QB), they set a standard of winning that garnered them consideration for team of the decade and, frankly, allowed some fans to take winning for granted. In those seven seasons (1970-76) they compiled the following records:
That is a combined record of 75-22-1 (for a .765 winning percentage) that led them to the playoffs in six of those seven seasons. And they played in the Super Bowl three of those six playoff appearances. Forgive me if I had acquired a little New England Patriots-like complacency during that time. The Vikings were almost expected to go to the playoffs in the 70s, and even though my dad, who had half-season tickets and took us up Hwy. 169 from Mankato to a couple games every year, we knew the real season didn’t begin until the postseason.
I now regret that slight over-confidence that they would often return to the big game and that back-of-the-mind nonchalance about what it took to get there. In fact, I don’t recall as well where I was and who I was with when the Vikings played in their next two Super Bowls, as it was the 70s and those were my, um, . . . “distracted” high school years. I mostly remember dispiriting turnovers, Larry Czonka plowing over our defense and the Steel Curtain pummeling Tarkenton.
But I certainly remember the last one. In 1976, my buddy Mark and I hitchhiked to California for January term (we called it a, uh, ahem, “Sociological Survey of the Western United States”) After being stranded for a while in Grand Junction, Colo., a guy driving from Cincinnati (who was trying to make it to the Super Bowl at the Rose Bowl) spotted us and backed down the entrance ramp to pick us up—as he needed drivers for the overnight ride to Pasadena. He was full of wild stories (which I naively believed at the time—my first trip out of the state of Minnesota) fueled by both sleep deprivation and caffeine, and then he dropped us off at the ocean near Los Angeles and high-tailed up north to Pasadena for the game.
After swimming in the ocean (while all around us we saw natives in down jackets), we headed to a bar to watch the Super Bowl. We ordered a pitcher of beer but were refused service because we were 19 and California drinking age was 21. I showed the bartender my license and argued that I had been legal for a year back in Minnesota, but he booted us all the same.
We went to another bar, grabbed a booth in the back with a view of the TV and when a waiter came by he carded us and said we had to go. We said we wouldn’t even order a drink, we just wanted to watch the game. He showed us the door.
Desperate, we finally stumbled into a Sambo’s restaurant sat down at the counter, and the waitress pulled up a small black and white television with reception that seemed to indicated there was a blizzard in Pasadena. We watched the game, which was as bad as the screen clarity, and Mark convinced me to leave after the third Vikings turnover, a 75-yard pick-six by Willie Brown that made it 33-7. The Vikings game was a big deal to me, but the circumstances allowed me to walk away before the final gun. First day in California; survived hitch hiking across the country, the reception sucked; the Vikings were terrible. Go enjoy the day. There is always next year.
Unless there is not. I figured they would be back to the Bowl—but, of course, the rest is history. So, I get it. I feel Joe Johnson’s pain regarding the lack of watching the Vikings in the Super Bowl. In fact, these memories are becoming so moldy and spider-web laden that I am forgetting how good it was to have seen my team in the title game. But I can still remember vividly how bad it felt after it was over.
And now, after waiting 50 years to get back to the big game after that 1970 Super Bowl, some long-suffering Chiefs fans are getting their chance. They, of course, have one Super Bowl title under their belt; I have not forgotten that. In fact, I had the opportunity to interview Stram in 1992, when the first Super Bowl was played in the Twin Cities. Stram was covering the game for CBS and I did a story on him. I reminded him of the NFL Films piece in which he was famously miked up (Bud Grant refused to be) and crowing about the 65 Cross Power Trap play he called. The memory was much enjoyable for him, as he cackled about it once more and rankled me all over again.
Therefore, I have never wanted the Chiefs to win another Super Bowl. Their 50 years of misery was just fine with me. But now, I am seeing it a little differently. They have paid their dues. And if it wasn’t for NFL Films, their memories of the game might be fading also (although Fox won’t let us forget this week). So, maybe it’s okay for them to win. Their quarterback was born to Minnesota Twins pitcher Patrick Mahomes, Sr., after all, and the Niners have enough titles to keep their fans happy for a while.
Yeah, go Chiefs. And maybe, if they win, history will repeat itself. That means the Vikings will run off another decade of dominance. Of course, if that was the case, they might have to lose a few more titles, but I think I would take that now and enjoy it to its fullest. I want a two-week period of Purple celebration and then we would get to see what happens. I want the Vikings back in the Super Bowl, win or lose.
Well, I guess there is always next year.