The opponent is set and the Minnesota Vikings will host the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs. This game is already the most hyped divisional playoff game Vikings fans have seen in nearly a decade. There are plenty of solid reasons for that, but the biggest reason is almost a non-reason—revenge.
Vikings fans in 2009 witnessed an amazing, almost magical, season. Brett Favre, the ancient (39-40 in the NFL qualifies as ancient) foe came to Minnesota looking to exact a little revenge of his own and prove he still had something left in the tank after an acrimonious break with the Packers followed by disappointing season with the New York Jets. Favre was the highest profile veteran on a veteran-heavy Vikings team that had been built to win immediately rather than sustainably.
And win they did.
From a fan prospective, it felt like destiny. The team not only won, but they were exciting. We weren’t watching sedate, balanced football, we were watching games where we never knew what to expect, but we always felt it would be good.
There were those great YOLO Favre moments like the last second touchdown throw to Greg Lewis. Sidney Rice benefited from a resurgent Favre, hauling in 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. Rice never sniffed those numbers again in his career and the Vikings didn’t have another 1,000-yard receiver until 2017. Because teams had to account for Favre’s deep ball, Adrian Peterson was also productive, rushing for 1,383 yards on 314 attempts—certainly not his biggest season, but it would take him until 2012 to exceed those yards again. Pat and Kevin Williams were entering the last gasp of their famed “Williams Wall,” and reformed wild-child Jared Allen piled up 14.5 sacks. It was an incredible season.
On the strength of their 12-4 record, the Vikings won a first round bye and waited through Wildcard weekend to find out who they would host. The red-hot Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles soundly, 34-14 and arrived in Minneapolis to face the Vikings. The Cowboys were the buzz-worthy darlings of the moment. Going into the divisional game January 17, 2010 the media was fixated on the Cowboys’ momentum. But that momentum came to a screeching halt when the Vikings dismantled them 34 to 3.
The old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was rocking. According to a St. Paul Pioneer Press article from 2013, the noise in that stadium registered 118 decibels for that Vikings/Cowboys playoff game. Fans were on their feet for most of the game creating noise havoc to help keep the Cowboys from scoring every time Tony Romo and the offense stepped onto the field. And, while the Cowboys couldn’t score, Favre put on a show featuring one honey of a deep ball to Rice who jogged it in for a touchdown. Minnesota’s defense recovered multiple Dallas fumbles. The much-hyped Cowboys looked completely outmatched and bewildered against the crushing Minnesota onslaught.
It was a fantastic moment and it was fleeting.
The following week the Vikings traveled to New Orleans to face the top-seeded Saints and, when the confetti cleared, Minnesota’s amazing season ended as battered, bruised, and defeated as their broken quarterback. There were mistakes, there were desperate plays that went wrong, and there were violent, crushing and dirty hits. And, despite all the mistakes and fumbles and mafia hits, the Vikings were agonizingly close to a win.
Had that game been played at the Metrodome instead of the Superdome, it’s hard not to think the Vikings would have won. That could be why, even though almost none of the players from that game will play in Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium, there’s something about this game that feels a little like revenge.
In January of 2010 the Minnesota Vikings fans felt like they were witnessing a team with the best chance at making the Super Bowl since 1998. That could be why the Bounty Gate scandal still leaves such a sour taste in our mouths nearly a decade later. We can hang our disappointment on Sean Payton and Gregg Williams and all those dirty hits. My rational mind remembers the fumbles and the late interception and 12-men on the field, but, honestly, the image that stays with me is still the picture Favre shared of those savage bruises on his legs. And that image is why so many Minnesota fans still feel the Vikings lost because of a bunch of cheaters who should always have an asterisk by their Super Bowl win*.
Players have changed, but that Minnesota fanbase that screamed themselves hoarse in January 2010 is largely intact. It is for the fans, not the players, that this game feels like a shot at revenge—a chance to get some of our own back, even though it doesn’t make sense.
Vikings fans watched the team go completely off the rails during a 2010 season when the team’s PR office actually set a record for press conferences because so much weird shit went down. They suffered through the defensive decline and offensive stagnation of the Leslie Frazier era. They had hope renewed when Mike Zimmer was hired, dashed when Blair Walsh missed a postseason chip-shot, and had their hearts broken when Teddy Bridgewater was in danger of losing his leg to a non-contact injury during a practice.
It has not been easy for Vikings fans since that NFC Championship game which is why, even though it isn’t rational, this game feels like revenge. I know better, I understand and I agree with every rational argument as to why a revenge narrative is dumb. Truly, I get it. But, in my heart of hearts, I would like nothing better than for the Vikings to curb stomp the Saints on Sunday and then for Zygi and Mark Wilf to greet Payton with a “you’re in my house now, bitch” at the end of the game. I might die of sheer joy if that happened.
Yeah, I know it’s not rational or reasonable and that it is incredibly petty. I just don’t care.
Let’s see Mike Zimmer’s Vikings exorcise some old, lingering demons for their long-suffering fanbase. We deserve it. It doesn’t have to make sense.