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Kevin Schnepf, Published September 09 2010

Schnepf: Return of football means another year of agony

It’s here. The NFL season. You know … are you ready for some football?

For Vikings fans – who will be glued to their television sets for tonight’s season opener against those nasty Saints – the NFL jingle should be: Are you ready for some more misery?

Tonight marks the start of the Vikings’ 50th season. That’s a half century of zero championships and what seems like to Vikings fans a zillion heartaches.

Oh, the agony.

Roger Staubach’s 50-yard ‘Hail Mary’ pass to Drew Pearson eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs in 1975.

A pass at the goal line that went in and out of the arms of Darrin Nelson kept the Vikings from the 1988 Super Bowl. A kicker (Gary Anderson) who had not missed a field goal all season missed one that would’ve sealed a Super Bowl berth in 1998.

And, of course, there was last season. A quarterback (Brett Favre) who had thrown a career-low seven interceptions all season threw one of his riskiest picks ever – preventing the Vikings from kicking a field goal to send them to the Super Bowl.

It’s probably just as well it happened. When the Vikings did make it to the Super Bowl, they were manhandled by the Chiefs, Raiders, Steelers and Dolphins.

Hey, it could be worse Vikings fans. You could be Chicago Cubs fans – who have endured nearly a century of misery.

Like Cubs fans, it has come to the point that Vikings fans expect to lose … and in memorable ways. Now they have to watch their beloved Purple open the season tonight where their dreams came to a crashing halt last January – in the Superdome in New Orleans.

“If they lose, quite frankly, I think it will be a moderate reaction among Viking fans as long as they played well and provided Favre and Adrian Peterson don’t get hurt.

“If they win, it will be a measure of revenge and perhaps a statement that, ‘Look, we are ready to win the Super Bowl this year.’”

Those are the words of John Tauer, a psychology professor at St. Thomas University in St. Paul. Although most of his teachings are about sports and motivation, he has lectured and written about the quirkiness of devout sports fans.

And you can’t get much of a better case study than Vikings fans.

After last January’s NFC Championship loss to the Saints, Tauer couldn’t help but notice – once again – how passionate, disappointed, frustrated and even irate Vikings fans were. The words, he said, that he heard over and over again after that loss were: “if only.”

“It’s scary how many details we can remember about that game,” said Tauer, an assistant basketball coach at St. Thomas who refuses to live and die with the Vikings.

But many people do.

“Sports play a powerful role in our culture,” Tauer said. “A lot of people get their identity through sports. It’s amazing how people will spend an inordinate amount of time, money and energy with a team whose players they don’t really know at all.

“That’s the interesting thing about sports. It brings out a primal need for being a part of a group, being part of something that is bigger than ourselves.”

Come Friday morning, will production at work in Vikingland be up or down? Tauer says a win or loss absolutely affects moods – to the point where he has seen some people struggle to function the next day.

Then there is the moderate fan who, win or lose, will be just fine Friday morning. They are the ones who won’t let things bother them until the Vikings are within a field goal of another Super Bowl.

“It really is more about winning that Super Bowl,” Tauer said. “Until they get over that hump, Viking fans will think something is always going to go wrong.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com