The psychology of the sports fanatic is a fascinating subject, and if I were to put Minnesota Vikings fans on the couch I’m sure I could spend countless hours of study contemplating their dizzying descent from visions of grandeur, to frustration, to utter despair.
This is the all-too-familiar unhappy state of the typical NFL fan -- unless you’re a New England Patriots supporter. The season begins in the off-season, when you sit in front of your television for the NFL draft thinking that your top pick is going to make your team a Super Bowl contender. But they almost never do.
Then during the course of the regular season your team wins a game here and there that sends tingles up and down your spine, but just when you think it’s turned a corner, it lays a stink-bomb (or two, or three), and you’re sitting there wearing your team jersey and ignoring the family and you suddenly realize what a sap you’ve been, so you want to toss your bowl of pretzels at the TV. But you can’t do that because your wife is in the room and you’ll get a lecture. So after the game is over (you wait until the last second ticks away because, masochist that you are, you simply MUST let all the heartbreak sink in), you vow never to watch another game again.
I know how it feels. We all do.
Television ratings for NFL football games have dipped this year, and there have been a lot of explanations for that. A preoccupation with the presidential election. An oversaturated broadcast market. Colin Kaepernick’s personal crusade.
But I suspect that there are a lot of would-be fans who’ve simply realized that every NFL season is like every other one that’s gone on before it. Your team wins a few, loses a few, and ultimately leaves you disappointed and feeling as if you’ve wasted several months of the year strapped into a roller-coaster that forces you to scream over and over again while churning you through the same old scenery time after time.
I have many friends, and family, who are Vikings fans. Their reactions to this season’s depredations have been both sad and predictable. Who can blame them?
The Vikes sustained a devastating pre-season injury to starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and shortly thereafter, to future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson. Nevertheless, they began the season 5-0. Their defense was incredible. Then it all changed. More injuries to the offensive line ruined the offense completely. Even their defense looked average. They’re now 6-6. A season that began conjuring up dreams of the Super Bowl has gone into the Toilet Bowl.
Vikings fans are used to getting their hopes up only to have them dashed. It could be worse, or maybe not. Some franchises never sniff at the four Super Bowls the Vikings have attained.
But no matter. Football fans who’ve been stiffed as often as Vikings fans have been stiffed have learned to protect themselves by feigning indifference.
I have two sons-in-law who are rabid Vikings rooters. To watch them change over the course of this regular season has been sad and a little bit unsettling. And yet, I know the routine.
I watched football with Nathan on Sunday afternoon and the Vikings -- having lost to Dallas on Thursday night in a game they should have won -- was very much at ease knowing he didn’t have to suffer the fates on this particular day.
There was no yelling at the TV on Sunday, for him. No castigating the refs.
He is one of those die-hards who says he doesn’t care any more. He says he’d be better off not watching another Vikings game this year. But I know that he will. He has not yet reached the point of no return, and I find myself wondering whether that’s a good thing, or not.