Published on 2 Dec 2013
Whether you like football or not — whether you’ve ever bought a ticket to a high school, college, or NFL game — you’re paying for it.
That’s one of the takeaways from The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America, Gregg Easterbrook’s fascinating new book on the cultural, economic, and political impact of America’s most popular and lucrative sport.
“The [state-supported] University of Maryland charges each…undergraduate $400 a year to subsidize the football program,” says Easterbrook, who notes that only a half-dozen or so college teams are truly self-supporting. Even powerhouse programs such as the University of Florida’s pull money from students and taxpayers. “They do it,” he says, “because they can get away with it.”
At the pro level, billionaire team owners such as Paul Allen of the Seattle Seahawks and Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars benefit from publicly financed stadiums for which they pay little or nothing while reaping all revenue. Easterbrook also talks about how the lobbyists managed to get the NFL chartered as a nonprofit by amending tax codes designed for chambers of commerce and trade organizations.
As ESPN.com‘s Tuesday Morning Quarterback columnist, Easterbrook absolutely loves football but also isn’t slow to throw penalty flags at the game he thinks is uniquely America. In fact, he sees the hypocrisy at the center of the business of football as “one of the ways that football synchs [with] American culture….Everyone in football talks rock-ribbed conservatism, self-reliance. Then their economic structure is subsidies and guaranteed benefits. Isn’t that America?”
Easterbrook sat down with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie to discuss The King of Sports, how the business of football burns taxpayers, and whether increased worries about brain injuries and other problems spell eventual doom for the NFL and other levels of play.
Produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Krainin.
December 2, 2013
The second game in a row that went to overtime against a divisional rival, but unlike last week’s game, the Vikings somehow came away with the win. Christian Ponder started at quarterback, but left the game with concussion symptoms and Matt Cassel stepped in to bring the team back from a 10-point deficit and force overtime. Poor Rhett Ellison was the goat not once but twice on what would have been game-winning plays: allowing an interception at the goal line and then committing a facemask infraction on a field goal attempt.
ESPN‘s Ben Goessling:
Ponder had completed just 3-of-8 eight passes for 40 yards before being examined for a concussion in the second quarter on Sunday, and had been sacked twice. The Vikings trailed 20-10 entering the fourth quarter, but Cassel directed two scoring drives to send the game into overtime. He rebounded from an interception that negated another scoring drive when Rhett Ellison couldn’t handle a would-be touchdown pass and the ball wound up in Bears linebacker Khaseem Greene’s hands. In overtime, Cassel marched the Vikings down the field twice more — once for a missed field goal after Ellison’s facemask penalty negated Blair Walsh’s would-be game winner, and another time for the 34-yard kick from Walsh that ended the game.
Cassel finished with 243 yards passing and a touchdown, hitting 20-of-33 passes in relief of Ponder. And while his success might have been due to the fact the Bears hadn’t prepared for him, he might have also put himself back in the race to start next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, especially if Ponder can’t play.
Frazier has talked on several occasions this year about not considering Cassel as one of his starting options, preferring to keep him in reserve in case of situations such as Sunday’s, and Cassel showed again how much value he has as a veteran backup. But the Vikings also have been hesitant to go back to Freeman after he went 20 of 53 in his one start against the New York Giants, and if Ponder isn’t cleared in time to return, Cassel might get his second start of the season.
At the Star Tribune, Jim Souhan sings the praises of Adrian Peterson, who passed the 10,000 yard career rushing mark during yesterday’s game:
He begins his carries with the upright bearing of Eric Dickerson, and finishes them with the pugilistic mien of Jim Brown. Adrian Peterson bulled and sprinted into the company of legends again on Sunday, passing one of those round-number milestones so rapidly that he again made all of his outlandish goals seem attainable.
Peterson is chasing Emmitt Smith and other fast men now, and like all fast men he will find time to be his most worrisome enemy. At 28, Peterson on Sunday rushed 35 times for 211 yards to reach 10,000 yards faster than any backs in history other than Dickerson, who did it in 91 games, and Brown, who did it in 98.
Smith rushed for an NFL-record 18,355 yards, and while logic and history suggest Peterson will slow to an unsustainable pace long before he challenges that mark, logic has yet to constrain him, and history speaks well of him.
In the first 694 games in Vikings history, one back rushed for 200 yards in a game — Chuck Foreman gaining exactly 200 on Oct. 24, 1976. In his first 101 games, Peterson rushed for 200 yards or more five times.
In NFL history, only one player has had more 200-yard games than Peterson — O.J. Simpson, who had six. Peterson is tied for second with Tiki Barber.
November 30, 2013
There are a lot of things that have gone wrong for the Minnesota Vikings this season, but one of the worst has been their inability to close out games. No matter how well all the other aspects of the game have gone, the opponent’s final drive has been a painful experience for players and fans. ESPN‘s Ben Goessling says they have the league’s worst record in this area:
Minnesota has played more defensive snaps with a late lead than any team in the NFL this season, with worse results than any club in the league. When leading by seven or fewer points in the final three minutes of a game, the Vikings have allowed quarterbacks to go 30 of 47 for 365 yards and three touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Teams have run for another 36 yards and gained a total of 23 first downs. The Vikings’ only sack, and only turnover, came when Everson Griffen took Ben Roethlisberger down and forced a fumble to end the Vikings’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. But since Cutler beat them, Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer and Dallas’ Tony Romo have done the same, and Green Bay’s Matt Flynn drove the Packers to a game-tying field goal last Sunday.
“The results don’t say we’ve learned a lot [from the first Bears game],” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We haven’t produced in these situations as often as we need to, obviously. I think we did learn some things from that situation. We’ve just got to find a way to make some plays. We did in the Washington game and the Pittsburgh game but we haven’t done it enough.”
There’s not much of a silver lining in blowing four last-minute leads this season, but Frazier tried to find one Friday by pointing out the Vikings’ defense stiffened and held the Packers to a field goal in Sunday’s tie. The Vikings have also taken to calling timeouts on two-minute drills in their last two games, both to give their offense another crack at scoring and to make sure their defense is set. Frazier blamed himself for not getting more involved in the defensive play-calling at the end of the Bears game, and linebacker Erin Henderson said defensive coordinator Alan Williams’ call on the touchdown was something the Vikings hadn’t practiced in last-minute situations leading up to the game.
The youth of the Vikings’ secondary has rarely been more apparent this season than it was that Sunday in Chicago, and Frazier wanted to believe they’d be better on Sunday if the Vikings found themselves in the same situation. With so many injuries sapping the Vikings’ cohesiveness in the defensive backfield, though, it’s hard to know exactly what would happen.
November 25, 2013
A tie is an uncommon result in the NFL. The last time the Vikings tied a game was in 1978 (and that was also a game against the Packers) — and their oldest player on the roster is defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who was born in 1980. It’s been a long time. As Arif Hasan notes, this was a very odd week for the standings in the NFC North, as the Lions and Bears both lost their games:
No one in the NFC North won despite the fact that 2 teams played each other.
— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanDN) November 24, 2013
It wasn’t a particularly exciting game for casual football fans, but there were some aspects of interest. The Vikings started middle linebacker Audie Cole for the first time in his career and he responded very well, notching a sack on the first defensive series, three quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, and leading the team with 13 tackles overall. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was having a very good game until he was injured late (as with most defensive players, you don’t want your name coming up too often with the broadcast crew, except in a positive context: all Rhodes got was praise from the announcers).
Dan Zinski at The Viking Age described the game as a 26-26 loss for the Packers:
That headline is not a typo. The final score was a tie but in the grand scheme of things this goes as a loss for the Packers. Vikings had nothing on the line, Packers are still fighting for the playoffs. With a win the Packers could’ve crawled — and I believe “crawled” is the right word, the way they’ve been playing — into a three-way tie with Detroit and Chicago. A tie keeps them out of first and still in a lot of trouble headed into a showdown game with Detroit.
Watching the game swing back toward the Packers in the second half was sort of like watching an old rusty gate slowly swing shut. You sort of figured the Packers would finally lock the gate but they were never able to do it. The game slopped into overtime and both teams just sort of zombie-walked through it, tacking on a field goal each before finally petering out.
It wasn’t what you would call an epic performance by either team. There was lots of mediocre offense and frankly bad defense. The Packers struggled trying to stop the run — they almost gave up 100 yards to Toby Gerhart for gosh sakes — and the Vikings just committed too many dumb penalties. It wasn’t really a game either team deserved to win, so it’s sort of fitting that it ended in a tie.
November 24, 2013
One of the most remarkable things about the Green Bay Packers is how long in their recent team history they’ve had a top-flight quarterback to depend on. Unlike more mortal teams like the Vikings (or Bears, or Lions, or …), Packer fans aren’t used to the notion of uncertainty at the most important position in the game of football. After Aaron Rodgers was injured, Packer fans suddenly had to discover what it’s like being a fan of a team without a superstar under centre:
Not all Packers starting quarterbacks were named Starr, Favre or Rodgers. You could look it up.
There was a time, children, when Packer Nation not only wasn’t called Packer Nation, because nobody back then conferred statehood on people because they wore the same-colored hoodies, but also because it was embarrassing to admit you followed a team that called Randy Wright its starting quarterback for an entire season.
Bart Starr started at least one game at quarterback every season for the Packers from 1956 through 1971. Favre became the NFL’s most admirable iron man from 1992 through 2007 before beginning his Sojourn of Revenge. Aaron Rodgers pried Favre’s cold, live digits off the baton in 2008 and, until suffering an injury on Nov. 4, didn’t require a backup, much like Starr and Favre.
In the three weeks since Rodgers’ injury, the Packers have been reminded what it’s like to hold open tryouts at the most important position in sports. They have learned what it’s like to be the modern Vikings — and the Packers of 1971-1992.
This is how shoddy the Packers’ quarterback play was in their Dark Years: In 1989, Packer Province believed a mullet-headed unknown named Don Majkowski was a savior.
The Pack won the Super Bowl following the 1967 season. They would not win another postseason game until Favre took them to the conference title game in 1995. Between the tenures of Starr and Favre, the Packers would win 10 games in a season only twice.
Scott Hunter quarterbacked them to a 10-4 record in 1972. Majkowski led them to a 10-6 record in 1989.
Before Majkowski arrived, the Packers existed only as a vehicle through which to celebrate the ghost of Vince Lombardi. Lambeau Field, now a manicured shrine, was nothing but a dump. The team actually played some of its regular-season games at decrepit Milwaukee County Stadium.
Update: 1500ESPN‘s Andrew Krammer illustrates the difference at quarterback between the Packers and the Vikings:
The next chapter in the Minnesota Vikings-Green Bay Packers rivalry will be the first since 1992 that doesn’t feature either quarterbacks Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers in green and gold.
Quarterback Christian Ponder will start his sixth consecutive regular season Vikings-Packers contest since being drafted in 2011, but is the 14th Vikings’ quarterback since 1992 to do so.
What appeared to be another uphill battle at Lambeau Field suddenly became a winnable game with Rodgers on the sideline. Running back Adrian Peterson vows he will play again through an injured groin, much like he did to the tune of 65 rushing yards last week at Seattle.
Peterson racked up more than 500 rushing yards against the Packers in three games last year and will need some of the same magic to overcome Ponder’s deficiencies. The Vikings gave Ponder his fifth consecutive start this week over Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman despite his 1-6 record this season. Ponder’s also accounted for 13 of the team’s 22 turnovers and threw back-to-back fourth-quarter interceptions before his benching last week.
November 20, 2013
I’m actually doing quite well in the Ace of Spades HQ football pool at Yahoo this year:
November 18, 2013
It actually looked like a competitive game for most of the first half, as the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings traded scores, but a 58-yard return by Percy Harvin helped put the Seahawks in the driver’s seat just before halftime with a 24-13 score, and the Vikings had no answers after that. There are a lot of former Vikings on the Seahawks roster, starting with their head coach and offensive co-ordinator, both of whom were coaches for Minnesota earlier in their careers. Pete Carroll served under both Bud Grant and Jerry Burns as an assistant, while Darrell Bevell was the offensive co-ordinator for Brad Childress. Former Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice was sidelined with an injury (the story of Rice’s NFL career), but fellow alumni Percy Harvin put on a very good performance against his former team, and former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson came in to finish the fourth quarter after the game was out of reach. On the other side of the field, former Seahawk John Carlson was one of the few Vikings to have a good game against his former team.
ESPN‘s Ben Goessling explains why many of us are expecting Josh Freeman to get his second start as a Viking next week against the Green Bay Packers:
Stock watch: Falling: Ponder. The quarterback’s second half was among the ugliest he’s had in 2 1/2 professional seasons; he hit just four of nine passes for 15 yards and threw two interceptions. He had another pass that could have been intercepted for a touchdown. Ponder hit seven of seven throws in the second quarter, and finished the first half 9-of-13 for 114 yards and a touchdown, though he did fumble deep in Vikings territory. But as he’s done so many times in Minnesota, he proved unable to put two consistent halves together, and was pulled for Matt Cassel with just more than 12 minutes left in the game. Coach Leslie Frazier could take most of the week, once again, to decide on a starting quarterback, but if the Vikings aren’t going to use Freeman now, it’s worth asking if they ever will.
Dan Zinski of The Viking Age chimes in on the Ponder situation:
Seattle’s defense set the tone in the second half, picking off Christian Ponder twice, and returning one of those picks for a TD. Ponder played reasonably well in the first half, but whatever tweaks the Seahawks introduced in the third quarter utterly bewildered the Vikings QB. His interceptions were not rushed throws or bad footwork throws or anything that could be chalked up to poor pass protection or receivers running bad routes or any of the rest of it. No excuses for Ponder: he made two of the worst throws you will ever see from a third-year quarterback.
Leslie Frazier decided after the pick-six that he had seen enough and yanked Ponder. But by that point it was too late for backup Matt Cassel to get anything going anyway. Seattle didn’t even need much from their offense in the second half. Russell Wilson did all the damage he needed to in the first half. With Ponder throwing the ball around like a fool, Seattle’s D was able to put the game away without any difficulty.
John Holler makes the same point about quarterbacking for Viking Update:
Christian Ponder’s inconsistency was encapsulated against the Seahawks: promising first half, brutal second half. By now, the Vikings should have seen enough to know what they have in Ponder and make a change to evaluate the next possibility.
What Vikings fans saw Sunday from quarterback Christian Ponder is nothing unusual. His three-year NFL career has been defined more by his failures than his achievements and Sunday was no exception. The difference this time is that it just might be his last disappointing game as the Vikings’ starting quarterback.
Head coach Leslie Frazier said team officials will talk about a quarterback change Monday, but Ponder continued with some of the trends that have made him a human piñata among Vikings fans. He completed 13 of 22 passes to his offensive teammates and two passes to Seattle defenders, one that was brought back for a touchdown. On his first dropback of the game, he was hit from behind and fumbled, leading to the game’s first three points. His three turnovers accounted for 17 Seattle points and turned a close game into a blowout.
This hasn’t been anything unusual for Ponder this season. He has at least one interception in seven of the eight games he has played, and almost invariably his turnovers directly lead to points.
What made Sunday’s game so painful for Ponder apologists is that, aside from the blindside fumble in the first quarter, he was having a decent game. At halftime, he had completed nine of 13 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown – giving him a passer rating of 122.0.
I liked Christian Ponder when the Vikings drafted him, and I wanted him to get the opportunity to show what he could do, but after two-and-a-half seasons, I think we now know what Ponder can do. He may still be able to improve as a passer, but I think it’ll be for another team. The Vikings will almost certainly be drafting a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 draft, and if the team keeps Ponder for the final season of his contract, he’ll just be holding the spot until the rookie is able to take over.
November 13, 2013
November 9, 2013
In a long two-part post at Cover 32, Arif Hasan explains why in spite of all his talent, Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson isn’t seeing as many snaps as fans think he should:
A markedly different picture than the year before, Vikings fans have noted that one of their favorite receivers hasn’t been able to see the field, partially due to the talent ahead of him on the depth chart. The vaunted first-round receiver has only taken 150 snaps of the 563 snaps the Vikings had taken as of Week 10.
But with such a significant investment, it seems odd that they can’t play him more regularly — especially as he finally hauled in the first receiving touchdown of his professional career.
At the same time, it might be asking too much. Fans see a significant move to grab an impact wide receiver — knowing that the Vikings were weak at the position — and assume he’ll be able to contribute right away.
But coming into the draft, it was well-known that Patterson may have been the least-NFL ready of the incoming crop of receivers. Eric Galko at Optimum Scouting argued that this defined Patterson as a prospect in his scouting guide:
The enigma of Patterson is the fact that, while successful and productive in his first season in the SEC, he still remains both highly unrefined as a receiver and his own worst enemy at times … Tremendously gifted with limitless upside but an equally unrefined skill set, Patterson grades out as a mid-to-late 1st round draft choice.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper also came to the same conclusion, claiming that Patterson “is extremely raw as a receiver in terms of route-running and reading coverages on the fly. There are questions about how much of an offense he can absorb right away, and his hands have been inconsistent on tape.”
In part 2, Arif looks at the pro and con for getting Patterson more touches this season:
Like most everything in football, it’s a difficult question to answer despite its relative simplicity, although it ultimately comes down to a question of philosophy. There’s a good chance that increasing his snap count from where it stands now doesn’t substantially increase the Vikings’ chance of winning a particular game and could even hurt it given his limited potential contribution versus the other receivers on the roster.
On the other hand, it’s hardly a question that playing him will help him acclimate to time in the NFL, as nothing can replace in-game experience for player development and evaluation. It’s entirely possible that Patterson may end up as a “kick-returner only” like so many other athletically gifted receiver prospects but he is by no means consigned to that fate.
It isn’t enough to think that Patterson can get away with his preternatural physical talent. Every receiver to enter the Hall of Fame did so with incredible technical precision — even Randy Moss, who has often been maligned as a poor route runner because of his dominance as a deep threat. Much of Moss’ games and many of his best years were built on the back of his technical ability and incredible intelligence at his position.
“Bullet” Bob Hayes and Don Maynard, incredible athletes for their day, were also more technically refined than they were given credit for — and Maynard didn’t start consistently dominating the NFL until late in his career. There are dozens of smaller skills receivers need to master to even get on the field, much less make an impact, so it’s impossible to understate the importance of developing these skills — without them, the receiver will simply take up space on the field or be used as bait for interceptions.
In other Vikings wide receiver news, Jerome Simpson has apparently been arrested for DWI this morning. As Simpson has already been the subject of league discipline for earlier lapses, this may mean a significant punishment (suspensions, fines, etc.) is in his immediate future.
November 8, 2013
This game was supposed to be a re-run of the last meeting between the two teams, where RGIII put on a clinic and made the Vikings look unco-ordinated and ineffective. The Vikings were so banged-up coming into this game that they had more injured players than inactive spots, so they officially had three active quarterbacks and nose tackle Letroy Guion was announced as active but didn’t even suit up for the game.
The game started in suitably inept fashion, after Washington kicked away from Cordarrelle Patterson (that’s a sign of respect for the kick returner, when you really don’t dare let him attempt a return), as Christian Ponder threw an interception to close out the first “series”. The defence didn’t show up for the first few plays of Washington’s drive, but held just enough to force a field goal. Someone must have messed with Musgrave’s playcard because he actually allowed Patterson to score a touchdown (his first receiving TD) during the first half. Amusingly, it was also Ponder’s first TD pass to a wide receiver this season.
Early in the game, the Vikings displayed a certain unfamiliarity with the exotic art of tackling:
How many tackles have the Vikings missed tonight?
— chipscoggins (@chipscoggins) November 8, 2013
Tackling still a foreign concept to both professional football teams playing tonight.
— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanDN) November 8, 2013
— The Daily Norseman (@DailyNorseman) November 8, 2013
By the end of the first half, the score was Redskins 24, Vikings 14. RGIII had had an impressive statistical line completing 16 of 21 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns (140.7 rating).
An unexpected development in this game was the emergence of tight end John Carlson. Much had been expected of Carlson when he was signed last season, but injuries kept him off the field and he didn’t make much of his limited opportunities after that. It was a running joke with the fanbase whenever Carlson got the ball, it would be for a two yard gain on third-and-five. With Kyle Rudolph out for 4-6 weeks with a broken foot, Carlson stepped up nicely, scoring his first touchdown as a Viking in the third quarter on a 28-yard reception.
Ponder was injured on what was initially ruled as a touchdown run, but overturned on review. Matt Cassel came in for the hand-off to Adrian Peterson for the go-ahead score. Aside from the early interception, Ponder had a pretty good outing, completing 17 of 21 passes and two touchdowns for a 113.1 rating. He was reported to have a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder and has an outside chance of being back for the next game.
In what many fans dreaded, the game came down to the final Washington drive … where the Vikings defence has given up scoring drives far too often this season. The Redskins moved the ball down to the eight yard line, but were unable to score. For some reason, the Vikings used two timeouts during that last drive, but Washington couldn’t capitalize on the extra chances the Vikings provided.
Despite the win, a few fans were upset that this will move the Vikings down the draft order for 2014. The Daily Norseman‘s Christopher Gates strongly disagrees with those fans:
The idea of “tanking” a season and the logic behind it, insomuch as you can call it “logic,” is something that I find to be completely idiotic. It has never made any sense, it doesn’t make any sense now, and it won’t make any sense going forward. I’m sure that we’ve had this discussion before, and I was hoping that it would be a while before we’d have to have it again, but this is the situation we’re in right now. Let me explain why the idea of “tanking” a season is stupid.
The first part of this is quite simple … you are not going to get a group of professional athletes, led by professional coaches, to simply give up and stop attempting to win football games. That’s not how it works. You’re talking about a group of individuals that have excelled at this profession their entire lives, and then asking them to do something that goes completely against the way they’ve been programmed all these years. Think about this … every single college football player in America was a star in high school. Every single professional football player in America was a star in college. They’ve built their entire lives around being the best of the best at what they do. And you really think they’re going to be receptive to someone saying, “Yeah, you know, if you could just go out there and maybe not try as hard in this game, that would be pretty awesome. We’re playing for draft position, you know.” Yeah … I have my doubts.
Yes, I understand that the consensus is that the Vikings would be looking for a quarterback. Believe me, I’ve heard all the Teddy Bridgewater blah blah Marcus Mariota yadda yadda Johnny Manziel blah blah Tajh Boyd yadda yadda and whoever else. But, as Ted touched on in his Stock Market Report, who’s the Andrew Luck-esque “lock” out of those guys to be the next big thing? As far as I can tell, there isn’t a “sure thing” in the bunch. Quite frankly, nobody in the draft is a “sure thing.” There never has been. Seriously, do you realize that there were San Diego Chargers fans back in 1998 that thought that their team got the better half of the Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf derby? Or that there were Oakland Raiders fans in 2007 that were psyched about the idea of drafting JaMarcus Russell? Because there were.
We’ve heard all the hype about how the quarterback class of 2014 is shaping up to be a very strong one, and as I’ve said, this team probably needs to go in a different direction at quarterback. Is there anyone worth “tanking” a season for? Not that I see. And if you do “tank” for a guy, what if he comes in and ends up being more Todd Blackledge than John Elway? Well, then, you cry about it and scream for him to get benched and hope that your team “tanks” for the next alleged big thing, I guess. Then again, we treat all our quarterbacks that way in Minnesota, with the crying and the screaming for them to be benched and all … maybe my perspective is just tainted.
November 6, 2013
A new post at the Daily Norseman goes digging through the dumpster for comparisons between this year’s struggling team and the very worst in franchise history. Despite what we’ve seen on the field this year (and the awful stench of some of these losses), CCNorsemen says that the 1984 “vintage” was indisputably the very worst Viking team ever:
The 2013 Vikings have had a disappointing season to say the least. With a rash of injuries hitting star players on both offense and defense, a struggling quarterback(s), and a defense that couldn’t stop a bored kindergarten class from learning to add and subtract, even if they shouted that it was time for recess, this team looks bad. Add in a coaching staff that makes questionable calls each and every week, and we now find ourselves staring at 1 win and 7 losses to start the year. This ties a franchise record for worst start to a season set in the inaugural year of 1961, and then matched again in 2011. And it begs the question, are the 2013 Vikings the worst team in franchise history? That question is definitely an open one until the season is finished. However now that the 2013 season is exactly half over, I wanted to dig through the archives of Vikings history to see just how bad this team really is compared to some of the bad teams we’ve had in the past. Fair warning: this is not a topic for the overly optimistic fan or the faint of heart. I will be drudging up the worst of the worst here, so read on…if you dare.
The date was January 27th, 1984. Bud Grant retired as head coach of the Vikings, and Les Steckel was promoted from offensive assistant to head coach, the youngest in the NFL at the time at age 38. Tommy Kramer was our quarterback in 1984, and he had a propensity for being injured. He started the first 8 games of the season completing 52% of his passes and throwing for 1,556 yards 8TDs and 8INTs on his way to a pretty mediocre 72.3 passer rating, along with TEN fumbles in 9 games. He injured his shoulder and only started 1 more game that year. Wade Wilson and Archie Manning split the remainder of the starts (yes, just like 2013, we had three different starting QBs in 1984). On the whole, Kramer had an ANY/A rating of 4.86 and a QB rating of 70.6. Wade Wilson was even worse in relief with a 2.16 ANY/A rating and a passer rating of 52.5. Manning was only marginally better with an ANY/A of 2.65 and a passer rating of 66.1. It was a pretty abysmal year for quarterback efficiency, although it’s tough to compare those numbers to today’s standards. But compared to 1984 standards, Kramer ranked 19th out of 30 in ANY/A with Dan Marino and Joe Montana leading the league in that metric with 8.94 and 7.93 respectively. Kramer was 23rd out of 28 in passer rating, with Marino and Montana again leading the league with 108.9 and 102.9 ratings respectively.
Our leading rusher in 1984 was a fullback named Alfred Anderson (who?) who ran for a pretty pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry and got only 773 yards on 201 attempts with 14 starts (48.3 yards per game), he also had 8 fumbles on the year. Ted Brown was the only other RB that carried the ball for any significance that year (442 yards on 98 carries for 4.5 yards per attempt). Our leading receiver in 1984 was Leo Lewis a 4th year player who played in all 16 games but only managed to start 5 of them. He racked up 830 yards on 47 receptions, his career best. Mike Jones was the only other notable receiver notching 591 yards in an otherwise forgettable career. For comparison, this was the year that Eric Dickerson broke the single season rushing record with 2,105 rushing yards, averaging 131.6 yards per game. Walter Payton had an incredible year rushing for 1,684 yards on 381 attempts, good for 105.3 yards per game. Art Monk and Ozzie Newsome lead the lead in receptions in 1984 with 106 and 89 respectively. But it was Roy Green, Dickerson’s teammate on the Rams, who lead the league in receiving yards with 1,555.
On defense we scored 1 TD for the entire year. We recovered 0 fumbles and our leading sack artist collected a whopping 5 sacks on the year (right defensive end Randy Holloway). The only bright spot (if you can call it that) was that the team recorded 11 total interceptions (but 0 passes defended). As was mentioned earlier, this was the worst ranked defense in points allowed and yards allowed in 1984.
So, 1984 was a team truly without any bright spots. Offense, Defense, Special Teams…it didn’t matter, it was all bad. Head Coach Les Steckel was fired immediately following the 1984 season, and Bud Grant was re-hired as the Vikings head coach. And with largely the same personnel, Bud Grant improved the team record to 7-9 with a margin of victory of -13. Jerry Burns took over in 1986 and the team had four consecutive years of a winning record. So, good coaching staffs can really turn a team around. Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs who are witnessing a pretty remarkable turn-around with a new head coach and new quarterback this season.
November 4, 2013
The 27-23 result won’t surprise anyone who saw any Viking games earlier this season, although the score was closer than you (or the bookies) might have expected. With so many key players missing in Minnesota’s secondary, the Cowboys were supposed to keep the scoreboard numbers spinning, but the game was close right down to the final drive. It’s that final drive — where the Vikings couldn’t force a stop — that has been the signature of this year’s team.
With yesterday’s loss, the Vikings have now matched the worst start to a season in franchise history (1-7 was also the 1961 team’s opening record) — and will host Washington on Thursday night for an attempt to make it their worst all-time start. Adrian Peterson had his best performance in over a month, rushing for 140 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries. Christian Ponder’s last-gasp Hail Mary fell short, but his stats were respectable: 25 of 37 for 236 yards, one touchdown and one interception (82.7 QB rating) and a rushing TD of his own. Kicker Blair Walsh had his first career missed extra point after Peterson’s TD run, but the single point didn’t make any difference in the final result. It may have influenced the coaching decision to punt rather than attempting a 54-yard field goal later in the game (post-game, Leslie Frazier said that Walsh’s hamstring injury was the actual reason for not trying the long FG).
Over the course of the game, the Vikings lost even more players to injury, with right guard Phil Loadholt suffering a concussion, tight end Kyle Rudolph injuring his ankle on his touchdown reception, nose tackle Letroy Guion had a shoulder injury, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes being injured in a collision with linebacker Chad Greenway. Rhodes attempted to return to the game, but left after just one play.
At The Viking Age, Dan Zinski says this “has become a nightmare sort of season”:
For a minute it looked like the Vikings might pull off a stunning, draft-position-ruining upset over the Cowboys. The Vikings were trailing 20-17 early in the fourth when Adrian Peterson went into full-on beast mode, ripping off a 52-yard run to put Minnesota in scoring range, then hitting paydirt on an absolutely filthy tackler-dragging monster of an effort. By force of Peterson’s will alone the Vikes took a 23-20 lead, then watched their kicker Blair Walsh miss the extra point to keep the Cowboys within a field goal.
But momentum quickly swung back in the Vikings’ favor when on the ensuing Cowboys possession A.J. Jefferson picked off Tony Romo on a sideline pass. The Vikes had a chance to ice the game away there but came up short and elected to punt rather than have Blair Walsh try a 54-yard field goal. Was this the right move? Walsh has hit plenty of 50-plus yarders in his young career, but he’s also had hamstring problems, and he had just missed a PAT wide right. Leslie Frazier did not have faith in his young kicker to boot it through and rather than give the Cowboys good field position he elected to pin them.
In the end it wouldn’t matter. The Cowboys got the ball back with plenty of time and did what you were almost certain they would. Tony Romo worked the ball rather easily down the field against the Vikings’ defense and the Cowboys were finally able to stick it in when Romo hit Dwayne Harris on a 7-yard TD pass. The Vikes got the ball back in decent field position after a short kickoff but were unable to get into position and had to settle for a Christian Ponder final-second hail mary that fell well short.
The Daily Norseman‘s Eric Thompson says the Vikings played their best game of the season yesterday:
I know the headline sounds like it was something from The Onion Sports or Sports Pickle, but it’s sadly true.
When you think about it, Sunday’s game against the Cowboys was the best of both worlds for the two major camps of Vikings fans. On one hand, you have the #TankForTeddy, #MissionMariota, #SuckForTheDuck, and #JohhnyFootballGoesToMinnesota fans that know the season is already lost and don’t want any pesky wins screwing up our 2014 draft position. They were satisfied because the Vikings lost again. On the other hand you have the fans that can’t stand the team laying down and getting blown out every week. They were satisfied because the Vikings actually played pretty well against a division leader on the road.
I get that many Vikings fans that don’t mind the losses since it could eventually lead to a better future for the team: better draft picks, new coaches, an overhaul of a largely inept roster. But you guys realize that we’re only halfway through the season, right? Are you sure that you can endure eight more weeks of this crap? Because I certainly wouldn’t mind a win or two sprinkled in with all the misery.
November 3, 2013
In today’s Star Tribune, Jim Souhan makes a strong case for the Vikings to deliberately tank the rest of the 2013 season:
Let’s give the Vikings the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are trying to lose.
There is no reason to play Christian Ponder in a tackle football game unless you’re aggressively pursuing the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
While Vikings fans spend today watching Ponder run for 5 yards on third-and-10, remember that this, too, shall pass, even if the Vikings can’t.
Starting 1-6 should prompt Vikings management to orchestrate the first one-win season in franchise history.
It’s important to set goals.
Losing big doesn’t guarantee future success, but it gives an intelligent management team a chance. That’s been proved in every sport, every decade, and the best example of losing to win might belong to the franchise the Vikings will face today in Texas.
In 1989, Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys and hired Jimmy Johnson as his coach. Texans were appalled at Jones’ glib firing of the legendary Tom Landry, and at Jones’ clownish demeanor. Jones actually said he would be in charge of all phases of football from “socks to jocks,” even though Jones’ football experience was limited to playing in college and watching on television.
The JJs played up their chances of winning immediately. Then Johnson got halfway through his first preseason game and ditched all immediate ambition.
He tanked his first season, trading away his only name player, Herschel Walker, before finishing 1-15. He used prime draft slots and the bounty from the Walker deal to build a roster that won three Super Bowls and might have won more if Jones hadn’t fired him.
If the Cowboys had tried to contend in 1989, they might not have considered trading Walker, and wouldn’t have drafted near the top of each round. Inept play and intelligent management led to championships.
An interesting theory, but I really doubt that the Vikings are deliberately failing (although it would explain a few things like the quarterback controversy), and as with any conspiracy theory it’s hard to believe that such a design wouldn’t be leaked by at least a few disgruntled players and/or coaches (since the coaching staff is most likely to be negatively impacted by a terrible season).
I’d love to see the Vikings draft a genuine franchise quarterback next year, but I don’t want the team to quit playing this year.
October 28, 2013
We were supposed to see the Vikings play Green Bay last night, but it almost appeared that the only Viking player who showed up was rookie WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, who opened the game by tying the NFL record for the longest kick return TD (109 yards). All the distressing symptoms from earlier games showed up this time: the defence couldn’t get off the field on third down (Green Bay scored on every possession), while the offence couldn’t stay on it past third down. Time of possession was grossly disproportionate, with slightly more than a 2:1 ratio in favour of Green Bay (40:54 to 19:06). You can’t score if you never get the ball. The final score (44-31) was inflated by garbage-time scores for the Vikings as the Pack went into prevent mode to finish the game.
The plan for every team the Vikings face for the rest of the season is simple: kick away from Cordarrelle Patterson and do everything to shut down the running of Adrian Peterson. If you can do those two things, you’re guaranteed a win.
Ted Glover says it can’t get much worse than last night’s debacle:
Ohio State icon Woody Hates once said that nothing cleanses the soul like getting the Hell kicked out of you. If that’s true, the Vikings are ready to enter the Afterlife with as clean a soul as anyone who’s ever crossed over.
The Green Bay Packers pretty much ran 7 on 7 drills against what we must technically call the Minnesota Vikings defense. But make no mistake, they offered as much resistance to the Packers offense as the Kardashian family does to reveling in being trashy. The 44-31 final score was nowhere near indicative of how non-competitive this game was, as the Packers offense dominated the Vikings defense so thoroughly I thought I was watching an NFL snuff film.
I’ve watched the Vikings for a long, long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a defense so completely and thoroughly whipped. At every position, the Vikings were manhandled, and it was very early on that the Packers realized they couldn’t be stopped. They converted just about every third down, a few fourth downs, and didn’t have to punt all night. They ran and passed with impunity, and it was as awful as one could imagine.
Seriously, start over from the top on down. The coaching staff needs to go. Frazier will hang around until the end of the year, simply because there isn’t anyone capable of running an offense or defense, much less an entire team. As to the players, seriously, trade what you can, stockpile picks, and just start from the ground up. After tonight, there isn’t one player on this team that’s worth keeping, with maybe the exception of Adrian Peterson. And at this point, if they can trade him to a contender, do it. I’d hate to see him end up with a Barry Sanders career. I thought at the beginning of the season this team was just some decent quarterback play away from being a pretty serious player in the NFC. Obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The worst part of this season for me is that my Vikings Twitter feed is starting to fill up with speculations on how high a draft pick the Vikings will end up with and which potential superstar college quarterback will be playing in Minnesota next year … and I don’t follow college football at all.
October 27, 2013
After the horrible performance last week in front of a national TV audience, this week the Vikings will face divisional foe Green Bay in the last match-up between the two teams at the Metrodome (which will be demolished at the end of this season). Most Vikings fans will already be worried about the game … despite a rash of injuries, the Packers are a much better team than the Giants, and this is another national TV game in the Sunday Night Football slot. Dan Zinski goes with the Halloween theme for his pre-game post:
It’s fitting that Packer week should coincide this year with Halloween season and its endless television horror movie marathons. What could be a more apt metaphor for this year’s Viking season than an unending parade of scary movies? And with the Packers coming in this week things are only going to get scarier, or at least that’s what traumatized Viking fans seem to believe.
The Vikings have had some success against Green Bay in recent years, but for the most part the Packers have been Jason to the Vikings’ screaming half-naked college co-ed. This year’s first Packer-Viking match-up figures to descend into slasher movie carnage again, with the Packers on the relentless machete-waving march and the Vikings stumbling bloody and blinded through the wilderness.
The Viking fan looking for a glimmer of hope amid the darkness might turn to the Packer injury report, which currently features such big names as Clay Matthews, Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb. But of course we know the injury report doesn’t mean diddly poo when it comes to the Packers. Like some hideous creation of a horror movie mad scientist, when the Packers lose one of their vital parts they just grow a new one to replace it. And keep on coming after you.