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It had been such a festive occasion two years ago.

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Arguably the biggest Minnesota Viking fan in Fort Frances, my father-in-law, who shall remain nameless to spare him from having to admit in public that a Dallas Cowboy fan is, in fact, his son-in-law, could barely sit still from his prime vantage point on the couch—Viking cap firmly planted on his head.

My sister-in-law, Heather, who I thought about keeping nameless for similar reasons as above, was there in her Viking jersey and “Helga hat.” Husband, Ray, was similarly attired (er, minus the “Helga hat”), as were my four-year-old niece, Kennadi, and nephew, Jacob, barely six months old.

The party atmosphere prevailed through the first half, and into the third quarter—the cheers and high-fives getting louder with each Minnesota scoring drive. Sure, the tension started building in the fourth as the Vikings found themselves tied with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game at the Metrodome, yet still, they all had utter faith the Vikings would prevail. It was destiny.

Then came “the miss.”

Gary Anderson, who hadn’t blown a field goal all season, muffed the one that would have propelled Minnesota into the Super Bowl. Suddenly it was as if the Vikings were jinxed—destined instead to go down in history as an 0-4 team in the “Big Game.” Sure enough, the Falcons marched downfield in overtime and lined up for a field goal. And the TV was shut off before the ball even hit the netting behind the uprights.

End of party.

My father-in-law has gotten over it by now, I think, although that game is still a taboo subject around his house. And you can bet he’ll be back in front of the TV this Sunday, Viking cap and all, to root for his beloved team against the New York Giants (unless, of course, my mother-in-law, the heartbreak of two years ago still fresh in her mind, decides it would be better if they went ice fishing instead).

You can’t blame Viking fans for cringing at the prospects of yet another playoff disappointment. The team is 17-23 all-time in the post-season, including the above-mentioned 0-4 collar with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line (a 23-7 loss to Kansas City in Super Bowl IV in 1970, a 24-7 setback to Miami in Super Bowl VIII in 1974, a 16-6 beating at the hands of Pittsburgh in Super Bowl IX in 1975, and a 32-14 shellacking against Oakland in Super Bowl XI in 1977).

Minnesota hasn’t had much playoff success since then, either, also losing the NFC Championship to Dallas in 1978 and then Washington in 1988.

Dating back from last January’s 49-37 loss to the St. Louis Rams in the NFC Divisional game and the debacle the year before that against Atlanta, the Vikings have lost the NFC Divisional game to San Francisco in 1998, as they did in 1989 and 1990, as well as to Philadelphia in 1981 and the former L.A. Rams in 1978.

Toss in consecutive losses in the NFC Wild Card game to Dallas in 1996, Chicago in 1995, the New York Giants in 1994, and Washington in 1993 and it all adds up to playoff futility.

And it’s a sure bet my father-in-law can recount every agonizing defeat—practically play by play.

Yet die-hard Viking fans root on—dreaming of one day reaching the Super Bowl once again and finally shaking off that four-time loser label they share with the Buffalo Bills (who have the dubious distinction of losing four-straight).

Is this the year? Perhaps. The Giants, even with home-field advantage, don’t present a formidable opponent. And Viking supporters can take solace in the fact the Denver Broncos also were an 0-4 team before winning back-to-back titles in 1998-99 with John Elway at the helm.

I certainly won’t be rooting against the Vikings this Sunday (having no love for the Giants and, more importantly, realizing it’s my father-in-law’s beer I’ll be drinking). But I don’t know what would be worse to sit through: having Minnesota lose to New York this week, or come back from Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28 in Tampa Bay with an 0-5 record.

Viking fans can only take so much.

Besides, it gets monotonous, year after year, having to remind the “Helga hat” clan that Dallas may have lost three Super Bowls over the years but they’ve also won five.

As in five more than Minnesota.

No doubt, I’ll be watching Sunday’s game from the garage this year.

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