Little-known fact: P.J. Fleck was not the first key Twin Cities sports figure to suggest rowing a boat. Twins manager Tom Kelly put it a little differently, telling all of his players to grab an oar, but the concept didn’t sound as hokey from a grizzled guy with a stogie clenched between his teeth.
The Vikings long ago came up with a fitting motto, but we treated it as satire instead of wisdom. Mike Tice, chiding fans and media, said, “Enjoy the season” in a voice straight from an outtake of “The Sopranos.” We should have listened.
Your local NFL team has earned a reputation for being just good enough to torture its fans. After watching the Cleveland Browns render another season meaningless before the arrival of November, we should appreciate the Vikings’ dramatic tendencies.
Case in point: U.S. Bank Stadium will host a Super Bowl in February, and the Vikings are good enough to make us wonder if they could play in it.
And if they do, they will be reversing their history, qualifying for a Super Bowl as an underdog rather than failing to qualify as a favorite.
Because they are in no way favorites, not even with a 6-2 record and a bye week in which to sort out their various quarterbacks.
Their most impressive victory of the season remains their opening night dismantling of what appears to be a good New Orleans Saints team. That was the result of Sam Bradford’s best game, and it was the only one he has finished this season.
Since then, the Vikings have beaten five quarterbacks: slumping Jameis Winston, debuting Mitch Trubisky, subbing Brett Hundley, cliff-diving Joe Flacco and overwhelmed and understaffed DeShone Kizer.
After the bye, the Vikings will face, in order, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, and after that there is a slim chance they could witness the return of an angry Aaron Rodgers in late December.
They have the second-best record in the NFC and a one-game lead in the NFC North. They have built a margin for error that will disappear if they aren’t capable of handling the November schedule.
Whether they surge or collapse, this is a good time to heed Tice’s words. This has been, to date, an enjoyable season.
We are watching two players establish themselves as all-time great Vikings, in defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith. We are watching Xavier Rhodes head down a similar path for a franchise that has struggled to find outstanding cornerbacks for decades. Hence, Fred Smoot.
We are watching an excellent defensive coach, Mike Zimmer, do his best work. We are watching a shrewd and adaptable offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, make chicken salad out of chicken parts. We are watching Case Keenum play with fire if not always precision, and an offensive line prove that Alex Boone’s big mouth wasn’t the only part of him that was overdue for departure.
We are watching the local kid, Adam Thielen, become one of the league’s best receivers, and we are experiencing home games in football’s best arena.
The Vikings have yet to prove that they are an outstanding team, but they have proven they are a competitive team in a version of the NFL that features no dominant teams.
And there is the potential for further drama. Teddy Bridgewater could come back and become the NFL story of the year. Sam Bradford could make a return that would have fans Googling Willis Reed. Keenum could — who knows? — make enough scrambling plays to support a team intent on winning with defense.
It’s November, and the Vikings are winning, and interesting. You have a choice: Await the possible collapse, or heed the words of one of our great sports philosophers, and enjoy the season.
Tice might be able to help you get a couple of Super Bowl tickets, too.