I have a confession to make. One of my summer indulgences is that I watch Minnesota Vikings preseason games – all four of them. And, yes, I do realize that there are few things in life as useless as an NFL preseason game. But, then again, that’s why it qualifies as an indulgence.
I would make the case that, since the franchise was founded in 1960, the Minnesota Vikings are the most heartbreaking team in professional sports. Sure, Red Sox fans suffered longer, but they eventually got their payoff with a World Series victory. Other teams have been basement-dwellers longer (see the Chicago Cubs). But the Vikings have a special talent for reaching the very brink of championships only to self-immolate in spectacular and inventive fashion.
I offer you a few of the more emotionally devastating moments from Vikings history:
· Super Bowl losses in 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1977. Back then, the Vikings were in the hunt every year and it seemed inevitable that they would eventually win a Super Bowl. Or so I thought.
· In 1975, the Vikings lose to the Cowboys in the last seconds when Roger Staubach throws a last-second touchdown pass to Drew Pearson that introduced the “Hail Mary” pass into the lexicon. At this point, it had become necessary to coin new terms to describe the ways in which the Vikings were losing big games. And, yes, I do believe that Drew Pearson pushed off on Nate Wright.
· In 1998, the Vikings lose in the NFC Championship Game in overtime to the Atlanta Falcons when Gary Anderson caps a perfect season as a kicker (not a single missed field goal or extra point) with a missed 38-yarder that would have won the game.
· In 2009, the Vikings again lost the NFC Championship Game, again in overtime, this time to the New Orleans Saints. For the Vikings, losing a championship game during regulation time is for amateurs.
Now when a new Vikings season approaches, Al Pacino’s immortal lines from Carlito’s Way come to mind: “You ready? Here comes the pain!”
But, as in any troubled relationship, things can’t be painful all the time, and the preseason games serve to lure me back. Maybe things can be different this year. And if they lose, it’s okay because it doesn’t count. If they win, it’s a sign of better things to come in the regular season. In the preseason, I can watch the new crop of rookies and mid-level free agents and delude myself into seeing glimpses of future glory. Is it a waste of time? Most definitely. But I seem to take some perverse pleasure in following how the competition is proceeding for that fifth cornerback slot. And by the fourth quarter, two-thirds of the players on the field won’t even make the final roster. And so, despite a lifetime of experience that screams otherwise, I’m looking forward to August 10 when the Vikings kick of their preseason – in San Francisco.
My very favorite summer indulgence is reading a book. Without interruption. On a beach or beside a pool. With a perspiring drink at my side. Most of my reading is done in far too small increments, often on BART trains, which makes it harder to achieve one of my favorite sensations – getting lost in a book. I’m not sure yet which body of water I’m going to be in front of, but I’m working on it. I don’t know yet what I’ll be drinking (probably a mai tai, beer or margarita, depending upon location). But I have picked out my book – Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. Let the summer indulgence begin.
Congratulations to this past weekend’s Thriller Award winners Stephen King, Jeff Abbott, Paul McEuen, Tim L. Williams, Jack Higgins, Ann Rule and Richard North Patterson!
And here’s a song to accompany your summer indulgence: