"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Should we ever hope Vikings lose?

Andrew Luck might be the reason the NFL could start a draft lottery like we've had in the NBA.
Us Vikings fans had a "twilight zone" kind of experience Friday evening and Saturday morning (Christmas weekend).
As we consumed the sports media, we were bombarded with messages that seemed to imply rather strongly we should hope for our team to lose.
I wasn't surprised the subject was brought up. I just expected it to be somewhat understated. It just seems "not in good form" to watch a pro sports event and want your favorite team to lose.
You might say it's a bad habit.
Maybe we ought to lose big two years in a row so we could really stock up on franchise players.
All my references here, of course, are to the draft. The draft is designed to promote competitive balance. A "draft order" is established that rewards the most win-deprived teams.
In theory this ought to prop up the losing teams and keep the winning ones from becoming dynastic. A new or young fan might be fooled into thinking this all makes sense. As a young fan I enjoyed doing my "draft homework" and watching which key players ended up where.
I'm no longer like that. It didn't take long to realize the celebrated NFL draft, which is marketed as a big event unto itself, is a crapshoot.
So, Vikings fans, if you really think it's vital to cheer for those losses, forget it. NFL history is filled with draft busts, along with free agents who become Pro Bowlers.
Many fans agree with me on this. What really irritates me was the drumbeat of suggestions emanating from the media as we approached this past weekend, so draft-focused and so discouraging as to suggest one's favorite team ought to lose.
John Lennon once said "life is what happens while you're making other plans."
How appropriate. If the Vikings can win here in the present, it should be totally gratifying to their fans.
When your team wins, it shows tools and attributes that can be ongoing. They can be parlayed into the future, as we watch a number of unheralded players slowly mesh into a successful unit.
Listening to that siren song of the draft, as if one mega-name prospect can come in and produce wins, is folly. It's so easy for neophyte fans to overlook this. Winning is about meshing a number of attributes and developing savvy and deception to beat opponents.
It's very hard to size up prospects in college, to truly know if they have the necessary tools. We can listen to the siren song of Andrew Luck. The Stanford quarterback looks to be the No. 1 pick in the next draft. There is no assurance he can transform a team.
He might be a good pick but it might be better to have two or three first round picks further down. Of course we can't possibly know. So for crying out loud, let's quite being fixated on the draft. Just take the picks you get and do your best with them. It's more important to have a good overall system.
We certainly learned that as we watched the Detroit Lions languish for a number of years. I have warned in previous posts that the Vikings could fall into this losing pattern too. If it can happen in Detroit it can happen here.
I'd like to be a fly on the wall at top NFL executive offices now. I'd be surprised if they aren't talking about a draft "lottery" like we've seen in basketball. Basketball recognized years ago that it was a disease for so many fans to have their eye on the loss column.
There was more urgency felt in basketball and for a reason: There are only five players on the floor for a team. One player can really take over with superstar talents.
The NBA team with the worst record is not guaranteed the first pick. The lottery injects chance (unless you're a conspiracy theorist and think the big-market teams are favored).
The lottery still doesn't solve everything. A team that knows it isn't going to win the title might be tempted to fade in order to get into the lottery. We just have to hope that doesn't happen.
The NFL's worst team gets the prize of selecting whoever is the anointed top prospect. The media seem to have a big say in that. Andrew Luck is their 2012 choice.
The NFL is a totally quarterback-driven league today so it's logical that a prolific thrower like Luck be so anointed.
The NFL needs a lottery. So important is the quarterback position today, fans and the media salivate over a chance to acquire someone whose talents seem to almost suggest comic book superhero status.
Whether legitimate or not - it's not - such a distraction and fixation on something other than winning is unhealthy for the league. It's unhealthy for us fans. And a few lashes for some choice media people might be in order too (verbal lashes).
I was first taken aback Friday night (12/23) by the KARE-Channel 11 newscast. Their "teasers" right at the start got the ball rolling: It was implied we should want the Vikings to lose so we have a shot at drafting Luck.
The point was made too nakedly. There ought to be more subtlety.
There ought to be a mere suggestion that maybe it would be nice for the Vikings to win. How bizarre if we conclude otherwise. Is this the twilight zone?
The league needs to move on this, to take action, ensuring that a team's fans can feel totally natural rooting for their team.
I'm a boomer-age fan so I remember well the "purple people" phase of the team's storied history. I think it's accurate to say the first big draft bust we remember for the Vikes was someone named Leo Hayden. He was a runningback from Ohio State, right?
Later we would get a similar runningback failure: Jarvis Redwine, particularly heartbreaking because what a neat name he had!
Redwine even came from the "football factory" of Nebraska. He was used to playing at a high level. Actually as I reflect on Hayden and Redwine, I'm not sure either one got a good enough chance to prove himself. But they were retired to the dustbin of NFL draft disappointments, just like wide receiver Mardye McDole.
Packer fans will remember Tony Mandarich (even if they don't want to).
Mandarich is the best support possible for the old saying: "If something seems too good to be true, it probably is."
Top quarterback prospects are far from a lock. Consider Joey Harrington (Lions), JaMarcus Russell (Raiders), Ryan Leaf (Chargers) and Akili Smith (Bengals). Added to the problem is the fact the top prospects are in most instances expected to have immediate impact. Aaron Rodgers got a chance to be understudy and look where he is today: the best.
This mania of the draft being some sort of panacea or fix-all has got to stop. I'd expect better of Chip Scoggins, columnist for the Star Tribune, who fed the mania Saturday. Scoggins advised in the headline "don't be too big to fail."
I'm surprised how over the edge ol' Chipper went. He must realize he has competition these days in 1500 ESPN. The 1500 ESPN website, where Tom Pelissero supplies the best Minnesota Vikings analysis available, is becoming a full-fledged reason to not even buy the Star Tribune.
I might not have read the paper Saturday except it was Christmas Eve Day and my usual companions at the Morris McDonald's restaurant didn't show up. I grabbed parts of the house paper, sharing with other "scavengers" like me.
I read Scoggins proclaim in his second paragraph that "the Vikings are very much alive in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes."
They'll stay alive, Chip wrote, "if they can only stink a little bit longer."
How about some nuances, Mr. Scoggins?
The anticipation of failure, the scribe continued, "has fans feeling positively giddy."
So much for backing our Minnesota team.
Scoggins reports that Luck is "being hailed as a once-in-a-generation talent."
I immediately thought "this is Tony Mandarich redux."
Again, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
More: "A season that has revealed widespread ineptitude suddenly is strangely fascinating."
Nauseating, I would say - nauseating to consume such tripe from our state's flagship newspaper. At least I didn't buy it.
We don't have to kneel at the throne of Sid Hartman anymore. The media have been liberated.
Now it's on to New Year's weekend. The Vikings' last foe is Chicago. The Bears' season ended when Jay Cutler went down with injury. Both teams will be limp.
I just hope the purple crew is oblivious to the draft and just goes out there and makes us proud.
Is there any other way to be?
Update (written after the Vikings-Redskins game):
I'm actually writing this portion on Monday, the day after Christmas, and as I ponder the game over my large mocha frappe at McDonald's, I'm wondering why we need to have so much of a sense of trainwreck after the Vikes won.
Winning in D.C. should always be a plum. It's good for the Beltway to be humbled.
Much of the reason for the glum mood is obvious. Adrian Peterson was seriously hurt. Christian Ponder left the game with a concussion.
I wish we had won the game with our second-line troops all the way. Nothing wrong with sending those guys out there when you're out of the playoffs. Let Joe Webb and Toby Gerhart take over. And others.
These guys are on the roster for a reason so let's see what they can do. It's not as if they're completely unproven. Webb beat Michael Vick and the Eagles on national TV last year. Gerhart has easily shown he's a more-than-capable runner.
So if we lose? In that unfortunate circumstance, the silver lining is that we're still in the Luck sweepstakes. It's not like we wanted to lose. We just tested our depth chart, which is always intriguing.
For sure, the Chicago Bears would have loved to have someone like Webb available to play quarterback after Cutler went down.
The Monday Strib sports included an op-ed about how it's always laudable to win. It countered some of the talk suggesting losses are desirable because of the draft.
I agree that winning is wholly laudable. But you can't fault any team for testing its second-stringers when all hope for the playoffs has fizzled. If you win, it shows the second string talent indeed has potential. Losing translates into that consolation prize of the draft, which we don't want to talk about too much.
That lottery may be coming. It's coming because the quarterback position is so important today, the opportunity to draft a franchise QB distracts fans and gets them to want losses - a real no-no.
I'd argue that Webb and Gerhart could well have led our Vikes past Washington. But if they didn't, there are two rather substantial dividends. One, the health of Peterson and Ponder are preserved. Secondly, we could draft Luck (and presumably get good trade value with a healthy Ponder).
Once a QB has a concussion, the "concussion ticker" is activated and the individual gets a reputation of perhaps being concussion-prone (like Steve Young). And after two or three more of those, the advice becomes hot and heavy to get out.
What did we gain having Peterson and Ponder play Saturday? They might have helped us beat Washington, yes. But this stinking win, which fans aren't going to remember much longer than 15 minutes, wasn't worth the cost of Peterson being perhaps destroyed, and Ponder having his "concussion ticker" start.
Maybe we could have drafted Luck and hitched our wagon to him for 15 years, making two or three Super Bowls along the way. Peterson would be the workhorse behind him for much of that time.
Although it's questionable whether the Wilfs could have orchestrated all this. Remember, we're supposed to build them a stadium.
The backdrop for that is all the turmoil in the Minnesota legislature having to do with ethics transgressions by Republicans. Who would have thought?
Anyway, the Vikings are clearly back at square one now.
Prior to this season I wrote the Vikings "could be on the verge of a dubious new chapter." That was my headline.
In effect I was saying "look out, Vikings fans, we could be the new Detroit Lions."
I feel as strongly about this possibility as ever - maybe more so.
I feel sad and sorry for Peterson. He's a throwback to when teams could truly build around runningbacks. Today it's all about the quarterback.
And Andrew Luck will not be donning the Viking purple.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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