The can't-win-the-big-one legend grows

This column submitted by Michael Jacobson on 1/17/01.

This will be my last column in the Paynesville Press.

In wake of their 41-0 loss Sunday, the Vikings have hired the football coaching staff from Paynesville Area High School to shore up their defense. New defensive coordinator Kyle Nehowig and new secondary coaches Ron Fuchs and Tim Woehler feel I can't possibly give up more passing yards than the current crop of defensive backs.

So I'm going to Eden Prairie because my meager salary demands are more cap friendly. Robert Griffith - the one bright spot on defense for the Vikings - would probably only have to make a few more tackles covering my mistakes at cornerback.

The Vikes really opened themselves to tasteless jokes and taunts like this with their listless performance Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants.

The game pained the state. . .hurt so bad we can only laugh.

After the Vikings fell behind 14-0 in a matter of seconds - causing me to flashback to playing Litchfield in boys' basketball last winter - I maintained my Purple Pride, even as the room suddenly filled with doubters. I watched in growing agony as the rout progressed. . .17-0. . 24-0. . .27-0. . .34-0.

The Giants finally broke my spirit when they scored their fifth touchdown to take a 41-0 lead. I flipped the channel to ESPN to watch some highly competitive nine ball in the third quarter.

The enormity of that losing margin overshadows what should be considered a successful season. Let's face it: at the start of the season we knew our defense was likely to be lousy, but our real worry was at quarterback. Without Daunte Culpepper blossoming, the Vikes would have been lucky to finish 6-10, not 12-6. The Vikes won the Central Division and came within 60 minutes of a Super Bowl berth. Who among us wouldn't have been overjoyed with that result five months ago?

The root of Minnesota's post-loss hangover stems from the utter lopsidedness of the contest. . .er, the Giants' victory. . . make that, New York's cakewalk. Sure, we were an hour from the Super Bowl, but when you lose 41-0 it feels like the Vikes are only slightly closer to a title than the cellar-dwelling Twins.

Talk about diametric extremes. The Twins have two world titles in the past 15 years, despite being the poorest and worst franchise in the major leagues now. The Vikings have consistently been an above-average NFL team, but they have now lost four Super Bowls and their last four NFC Championship games. Until they win a championship, the can't-win-the-big-one tag will only get heavier.

A few days ago, Lady Luck seemed to be shining on the Vikings, with only games against New Orleans and New York separating us from the Super Bowl, instead of St. Louis and Tampa Bay. With no high-powered offenses left, the feeling was the Vikes offense might be able to carry us to a championship if our defense could show the slightest ability to resist.

Then Kerry Collins torches the Purple for almost 400 yards and five touchdowns - leading old, slow, never-had-a-prime guys like me to joke about suiting up for the Viqueens. In August, fat guys in Brooklyn were probably joking that they could quarterback the Giants as well as Collins. I'll bet the taunts in Brooklyn today are directed at the Vikes secondary, too. Not to worry, none of our back-pedaling defensive backs will get close enough to get hit by this barrage of criticism.

I didn't intend to be so sarcastic in writing this, but I couldn't help myself. The Sunday debacle begged for cynicism.

What I meant to do was praise Daunte Culpepper. I admit to doubting him in August. After seeing him in preseason a year ago and knowing the Vikes would need to score lots of points to make up for our lack of defense, I didn't think he was ready for the job. But Daunte delivered, leading NFL quarterbacks in total touchdowns (rushing and throwing). As the season progressed I was impressed by Daunte's size, composure, and competitiveness.

He justified Denny Green's decision to draft him ahead of Jevon Kearse a year ago.

Back in August, I examined the statistics for the first full starting season of some of the great NFL quarterbacks, including Dan Marino, the NFL's all-time passing leader. Daunte surpassed many of them.

With him and Randy Moss as young superstars, the Vikings should have chances to win the big one for years to come. . .if they could only force a punt a couple times a game.

(Editor's note: Neither Kyle Nehowig, Ron Fuchs, Tim Woehler, nor Michael Jacobson had been asked to join the Vikings as of press time. However, should any reader be asked to join the Vikes in the next few days, please call our office for a feature story.)

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