Earlier today, the Minnesota Vikings announced the firing of offensive coordinator John DeFilippo after employing him in that capacity for all of 13 total games. While it may seem (and perhaps is) unfair to fire the guy after two consecutive bad road games in two notoriously difficult places to play, the entire rest of the year made it clear that something about that offense was deeply and perhaps irreparably fucked. Thus, the demands of football’s interminably cruel logic dictated that the Vikings show DeFilippo the door. His hiring was celebrated by all as a great hire for a team that entered last offseason hoping to contend for the Super Bowl. Today, even though the Vikings would still be in the playoffs if they started right now, no one in their right mind still thinks they have any chance of making the Super Bowl, or even getting out of the first round.
Just what the fuck happened, exactly?
Really, when you get down to it, the answer is nothing. The Vikings always kind of stunk in 2018, and the only reason to believe otherwise was hype.
All the preseason hype for the Vikings this year was ultimately based on nothing other than their performance last year. The Vikings were really good last year! They had a fantastic defense and an offense that was above average despite having Case Keenum at quarterback. They went all the way to the NFC Championship Game and yeah, they completely shit the bed in that particular contest, but hey! The game before that gave us the Minneapolis Miracle, which gave me more unbridled joy than all of the other joyous sports moments of my adult life combined.
And then in the offseason, the team signed Kirk Cousins (who is probably better and definitely more talented than Keenum) to be their new quarterback and brought back pretty much every significant contributor on defense. According to any sensible way to view and evaluate the quality of football teams, the Vikings were just as good of a team this season as they were last season, and sure, that doesn’t always mean they’ll win 13 games in the regular season again, because that’s really hard to do, but even with a tough schedule lots and lots of very smart football knowers figured they would win a lot of games and take their division.
But success in sports is never based on past glories, and, once the season actually started, so too began the litany of disappointments the Vikings visited upon us. Kirk Cousins put up some big numbers at times but he seemed to struggle when trying to close out wins while ahead, and displayed a talent for turning the ball over when behind. (Those early fumbles in the game against the Bills will haunt my nightmares for years.) All running plays seemed destined for failure before the snap. And while the defense found their footing eventually*, they started off the year slow and still aren’t good enough to win games by themselves.
(*As a lifelong depressive who believes in the necessity of openly discussing mental health issues, I feel compelled to comment here on Everson Griffen’s mental breakdown, hospital stay, and subsequent multi-week absence from the team. Most everything I’ve read since Griffen has come back indicates he is in a better place now, and this is undeniably good news, if true. But I still worry about him – football is a cruel, inhumane sport, and football itself and its observers tend to view the players as machines and/or commodities rather than human beings. If I were in his position, I don’t know how well I would handle playing again already, and therefore it’s scary for me to see him playing again. I do hope he is truly OK, and that he is doing everything he needs to be doing to take care of his mental health.)
The result is a dispiriting 6-6-1 record and an all but non-existent chance of winning the division. But this result, for anyone who has watched the team at any length this year, is only a letdown relative to all the damn hype. In sports, like in most things, hype is meaningless. It has no bearing on the outcomes of the games themselves, or the standings, or the playoff seeding. It yells and yells and yells for attention until you can no longer resist its siren song and it tricks your brain into believing its empty truths without presenting any relevant evidence. Hype is a curse. Without hype, our minds would be free to process the raw empirical data of each new football season as presents itself. This year, the Vikings have only been themselves, and their record and place in the standings reflects that. They have only been a disappointment relative to the hype.
The Vikings are a dead team walking, and they’ve spent the entirety of this season bumming me straight the fuck out. I’ve learned in my old age to appreciate any and all playoff appearances, even the ones that end in hasty first round exits, and therefore I would be elated to watch them lose any prospective playoff game. But I’m no longer expecting it, and if they do miss out I’m sure I’ll find ways to have fun for three hours on a January Sunday that don’t involve getting day drunk and yelling at the TV. Either way is fine by me. Embrace the real. Reject the hype.
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