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How I grew to hate, and then pity, Vikings fans

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Of my most immediate rivals in any sport, the fans with whom I sympathize the most are our purple neighbors to the great northwest.

Saints v Vikings X fan

I couldn’t have been more than seven years old when a Vikings fan poured beer on me. This was at Soldier Field in either 1988 or 1989. An ass-kicking had occurred. In Week 3, 1988, we lost at home to the Vikings 31-7. In Week 2, 1989, we beat the Vikings at home 38-7.

After one of those two games, as my parents and brother left the stands, an either empowered or embarrassed Vikings fan in the seats above our exit let loose an either angry or anguished Viking cry and dumped beer on a group of Bears fans who were leaving. I was in the path of the pour. A scuffle ensued. My parents used the fracas as a chance to hustle the boys (me and my two-years-younger brother) out of the stadium.

My troubles continued in the parking lot. We had to pass a Vikings RV surrounded by purple-clad, beer-soaked Vikings fans. I found myself eyeing them all with suspicion. I wondered if they knew the pourer, and if they did, if they would support him in his efforts against us.

They picked up on my malice and sneered at me, a boy of either six or seven.

That was that for me and Vikings fans. I already hated Packers fans, but that was duty. This was personal. This was direct aggression toward my well being. This was the sort of animus that would make a literal Viking duel a literal Bear all the way to the afterlife.

My Packers beef extended back to 1921. It was bigger than me. My Vikings beef, though — that was all me. I wasn’t mad about Fran Tarkenton beating us in ‘61, or thinking about McMahon’s rousing comeback in ‘85. My anger toward the Vikings started specifically with the team’s fans and manifested itself in teeth-gritting fury toward Denny Green, Anthony and Cris Carter, Terry Allen, Warren Moon, Chris Doleman, John Randle, Robert Smith, Jake Reed, and the rest of the jerks.

Yet it was hard to watch the 1998 NFC championship game and not have my heart break just a little for those fans. I secretly loved the ‘98 Vikings, simply because they were so damn entertaining. Their offense was the most beautiful I’d ever seen. I was a Randall Cunningham fan from the Eagles days (mostly from Tecmo Super Bowl), and when his two-season comeback started in 1997 and then came to rip-roaring life in 1998, I was all in.

And I was a Randy Moss fan at Marshall after I saw him score the touchdown against Army:

I wanted Randy Moss on the Bears real bad, and was devastated when we didn’t draft him. And I always wanted to see Randall in a Bears uniform, and I always loved Denny Green. The ‘98 Vikings were special, and I wanted nothing more than to see what would have surely been one of the greatest Super Bowls ever when those Vikings met the defending-champion Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII.

The Falcons stopped that with help from Gary Anderson, and a piece of me shuddered for the pain of my purple rivals.

Then came Daunte Culpepper, who I also liked in college. And then came the 2000 NFC title game, and a possible Super Bowl XXXV between the Vikings and the Raiders.

And then came 41-0.

When Brett Favre came to Minnesota, my empathy was with Tony The Packers Fan as he watched his beloved Brett suit up in purple. Yet I still kind of dug those 2009 Vikings, and the way Favre turned back the clock once more.

So there was something rather horrific about seeing Favre turn the clock back even further to his early league-leading interception days, tossing the Vikings out of a possible NFC-winning field goal against the Saints.

Yet my Vikings schadenfreude ran deep, and I took sickening glee in this video of Vikings fans losing their mind as their team blew the game:

That was the last year the Vikings were dominant. It’s also the year I met Rob Watson.

Rob is a Minneapolis-native and loyal Vikings fan. Our group of friends is two Bears fans, one Cowboys fan, and Rob, whom we all contact whenever anything goes awry with the Vikes. By the time we met, I was in my late 20s. I knew the history of the Vikings. I knew the four Super Bowl losses and the subsequent run of agonizing NFC championship game losses, starting in the late 1970s.

Yet I couldn’t fully feel their pain until I saw it through Rob. As late as 2012, in fact, I wrote some of my harshest words ever about the Vikings and their fans:

There is one thing on this Earth that Bears fans and Packers fans agree on, and that is their dislike for the Minnesota Vikings.

They tend to be feckless beasts, and their fans are no better. They are a dome team masquerading as cold-weather warriors. They are rarely terrible and sometimes excellent, yet their most famous moments involve successful teams decaying at the seams right when victory seemed most assured. (See: 1999 and 2001 NFC championship games)

I mention this because while there were a lot of downsides to Sunday's 28-10 Bears win, the upside was they pounded the Vikings into the dirt like the chumps they've always been.

That story ran in RedEye. Rob read it as soon as it went live online. He texted me his complaints immediately after. I then wrote another column, apologizing:

The text arrived about 30 minutes after my column went live on redeyechicago.com. It was my buddy G, a Vikings fan. He was not happy.

"I want you to know I take personal offense to your column," he wrote. "You went too far."

We'd been smack talking all day both privately and on Twitter, and perhaps I was still channeling that mindset when I wrote my postgame column about my dislike of the Vikings. I'd imagine my disrespect of the Vikings wasn't what bothered him, though, but rather my disrespect of Vikings fans:

"[The Vikings] tend to be feckless beasts, and their fans are no better."

Ripping the team is one thing, but taking shots at fans is another. He's right: I went too far.

It was in that column that, for the first time ever, I publicly acknowledged the Vikings’ collective pain:

I feel sorry for Vikings fans, probably more so than Cubs fans. We at least have Wrigley Field, beautiful summer afternoons, day drinking and a national myth to cushion our sadness. Vikings fans have gruesome winters, lukewarm summers and a football team that leaves scars on every generation of fans without so much as a championship or even a championship surrogate."

I followed that up with a classic “sorry not sorry” (“Am I wrong in calling them ‘feckless beasts’ as fans (not as people)? Not one bit. Their history has mutated them beyond recognition.”), but for me, the floodgates were open. Even two weeks later when I opened a column writing that “There's something about the Vikings that, I don't know, just makes me want to puke.” — I still felt bad for them.

Even after Rob and I led a group of football fans to watch the 2012 season finale of Bears vs. Lions and Vikings vs. Packers that ended with the Vikings knocking the Bears out of the playoffs, and even though our faces looked like this:

...I still felt bad for them.

And you know what? I still do.

The Vikings don’t get nearly enough credit for their tragic history. I’d put them neck-and-neck with the Bills and Cardinals for the saddest NFL franchise, though at least older Bills fans recall with great pride the back-to-back AFL championships in 1965 and 1966.

Older Lions fans have the 1957 championship. Older Browns fans have the 1964 championship, as well as the title days of the 1950s. A Cards fan has to go way back to the 1947 Chicago Cardinals for that team’s one and only championship.

But the types of losses the Vikings have incurred for every generation of Vikings fan combined with the lack of understanding of their pain makes Vikings fandom a trial I dare not undertake.

In 2013, I decided to immortalize the pain of Vikings fandom via Rob’s memories. I asked him for a ranked list of his worst Vikings memories. This is a man who was born after the Vikings lost the last of their four Super Bowls, mind you.

Think about Rob’s list. Listen to his voice. And when the Vikings come to Soldier Field this Monday night, just know Mitchell Trubisky’s debut isn’t our only reason to rejoice.