Photo Courtesy of Minnesota History Center
I grew up in the 1970s, a time that I remember as pixelated like a grainy Sunday gridiron broadcast. My childhood was in AFC Central territory, with the weekends taken up primarily with the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Oilers, and Cincinnati Bengals.
I could have done a lot worse. The Steelers were, in retrospect, an ill-tempered and brutal bunch, but they reeled off numerous Super Bowl wins and managed to frequently thwart the happiness of the Dallas Cowboys. (America’s Team? Please.) The Browns eventually moved out of town to be replaced years later by a terrible expansion team with the same name and uniforms—stoking the operatic grievances of the entire Cleveland sports community (until LeBron James delivered an NBA title this year). The Bengals were the Bengals—you called them the Bungles for a while until it seemed too mean, like it wasn’t right to kick them while down. Which they always were.
Which brings us around to the Vikings. I wasn’t here for their four Super Bowl losses in the 1970s. In fact, I actively rooted against them during that ugly 1975 limp noodle of a loss to the Steelers. By the time I moved here in the 1990s, though, I became a fan and experienced first-hand the frustration of a team good enough to get to the biggest stages then totally blow it: the Gary Anderson field goal miss; the 41-0 conference championship loss to the Giants; the Favre interception that kept them from the Super Bowl (and that was all before Teddy Bridgewater went down in training camp before this season, confirming that the fates really are against us).
Paul Krause’s Vikings helmet from the 1970s, Jim Brown’s jersey
Photo courtesy of football hall of fame
Last year I was in a brewpub when Vikings kicker Blair Walsh shanked a chip shot to blow a first-round playoff game to the Seahawks. “I hate this,” my teenage son texted me. I thought for a moment, then texted back: “You’re a real Vikings fan now!”
“Gridiron Glory” at the History Center incorporates more than 200 historic pro football photos, artifacts (such as a helmet worn by dinosaur legend Knute Rockne), footage of great players and moments, and interactive experiences including the chance to referee from an instant-replay booth—with a particular focus on the Vikings. The timing is great in this season of Purple-tinged optimism, when we look back as much as forward, when we wait for that kick to finally split the uprights for victory, for that pass to find our receiver instead of the opposing cornerback, for the improbable possibility that our new downtown stadium might be the site of our team’s first Super Bowl win.
Then again, Minnesota is also the home of the man who originated Charlie Brown trying to launch a kick, thinking this time the ball won’t be pulled away at the last second. Best temper the sky-high expectations, as any true fan knows.
“Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame”
at Minnesota History Center