LINCOLN PARK, Mich. – Not sure how much coming of age is left when you’re north of 50, heavily mortgaged and constantly craving a nap, but there must be some rite of passage datelining a column from your hometown.
At least it takes less time to hack out an intro and determine how to chronicle yet another confounding Vikings game in this season of the absurd.
For the record, I was born and raised in south Detroit. Not Journey’s lyrical make believin’, but an inner-ring suburb south of Motown. Downriver the locals call it. Blink on I-75 and you’ll miss Lincoln Park and the other assembly plants on the way to Ohio.
It is where I began that familiar, co-dependent relationship every fan has with their favorite teams. Now, the edges have been sanded off by the years and career choices that brought me to Minnesota as an objective observer of the Vikings and the tortured human condition of rooting for them.
There is no comparing Vikings and Lions history, not when the former has reached the postseason in half of its 62 seasons while the latter has one playoff win since 1957. But they are overlapping at a curious period in their respective timelines.
No matter how it was earned, the fatalism runs deep within both tribes, raising the perennial question I ask friends and family on both sides of the Great Lakes:
Would you rather be dumped over and over by the prettiest girl at the ball?
Or never meet her at all?
I have neither the therapy time nor the drugs to break through the existential dread these fans must confront when their teams share a moment in the NFL spotlight. But here we are.
Detroit’s thorough 34-23 takedown Sunday at Ford Field hardly was a fatal blow to Minnesota’s enchanted season. Not with the sad-sack Colts visiting Saturday and three other winnable games remaining on the schedule.
All the Lions did was reinforce who the Vikings are – a star-studded but wholly unbalanced contender that will probably have to win every playoff game 36-33 to advance to their first Super Bowl since 1977.
All the Vikings did was stroke the Lions’ burgeoning ego and inspire what they have become – the jolliest bunch of johnny-come-latelys this side of the NFC nuthouse.
I spent most of the weekend celebrating an early Christmas with loved ones like many working-class, Irish Catholic families here, there and everywhere.
Crashing with generous relatives across town, recovering from one last call and scrambling to make the next.
Explaining that just because Twin Cities are an hour behind, we don’t live on the North Pole.
And debating the authenticity of two NFC North rivals who are either imposing playoff teams or entertaining imposters of the highest order.
It seems no one in Minnesota is willing to go all-in emotionally on a seriously flawed but totally compelling 10-3 team that has the division title in the bag.
And no one I know in Detroit believes the 6-7 Lions can run the table and secure a postseason berth that seemed laughable as recently as Halloween.
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I also never thought Dan Campbell could out-coach a sober Morris Buttermaker let alone perpetually charmed rookie Kevin O’Connell.
But there was Campbell outfoxing the Vikings’ usually sound special teams with a 42-yard fake punt to extend a touchdown drive, shredding Minnesota’s defense like everyone else and out-maneuvering yard-munching performances by the Kirk Cousins-Justin Jefferson battery.
And there was O’Connell getting too cute on first-and-goal from the Detroit 3-yard line with a minute remaining in the first half.
Four shots at a touchdown with all those receiving weapons and Dalvin Cook’s legs. Instead, O’Connell the guru dialed up a Cook jump pass to blocking tight end Johnny Mundt, which imploded when Cook panicked at quarterbacking and promptly fumbled.
Instead of potentially tying the game and leveraging momentum on the first possession of the third quarter, the Vikings chased resurrected quarterback Jared Goff all over the field and never really threatened the Lions again.
Remember where you were at 1:30 p.m. CST on Dec. 11, because that’s when the house money with which the Vikings have been betting big and buying rounds may have finally run out.
Winning nine one-score games and 10 of your first 12 games are going to raise the bar of expectations no matter who wants to believe the Vikings are Super Bowl contenders.
Vegas certainly doesn’t. Minnesota was a 1 ½-point underdog against a losing team. The house always knows best.
And now the Vikings face a reckoning: Ignore the obvious shortcomings, sweep up three or four more wins against the oncoming doormats and enter the playoffs as a paper tiger.
Or make a few changes on paper to cover for the multitude of sins that have been exposed since September and count on the improbable to set you free.
Week 14 is no time to make wholesale changes and spark panicky headlines, but O’Connell needs a come-to-Jesus meeting with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
Oh, to be a fly on that wall as the 37-year-old offensive mastermind challenges the 31-year defensive coaching veteran. Someone must atone for how Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith suddenly have vanished on a pass rush that must relieve the devastating pressure on Minnesota’s overmatched secondary.
The stakes are too high for the status quo. These double-digit victory seasons do not grow on trees. Neither does the No. 2 seed in the NFC postseason tournament.
Jefferson is writing the early draft on a hall of fame career while Cousins is scripting a redemption story for the ages. The ingredients are there for something tasty in January.
Lions fans yearn for any playoff appearance while Vikings fans yawn at them.
You don’t lose four Super Bowls and six subsequent NFC championship games without building up significant scar tissue. And you don’t go 65 years since winning a championship without enduring decades of darkness.
I’m not sure whether Detroit or Minnesota has the wherewithal to plan a Super Bowl victory parade. Or if their fans could bring themselves to believing one is even possible.
Hell, these teams might not even be finished with each other this season. The Lions and Vikings have never played against each other in the playoffs.
The way 2022 is unspooling for both franchises, there might be a true north reckoning for Campbell, O’Connell, Cousins and Jefferson et al.
I dedicate this notion to the Murphy Family Christmas.