Minnesotans are a hardy people, capable of enduring misfortune, fatigue, and exposure to brutal elements without comment or complaint. Yet, as my Vikings play host to America's Team tomorrow, I must publicly acknowledge that we are without question the whiniest football fans on God's green* earth
. And we never stop! All week, I've been hearing about the 1975 Drew Pearson push-off of my youth.
As newcomers such as Dan Barreiro have observed, we Minnesotans attribute any sports setback to a vast International Officiating Conspiracy. All
fans believe the refs are biased against their team, of course, but Vikings fans see the world through purple-colored glasses. In Green Bay, the schnapps-sippin' grammies in snowmobile suits will boo momentarily after a bad call, but quickly return to the game. In Philly, they boo more lustily but more knowledgeably,
ably distinguishing bad calls from good calls that went against their Eagles. In Minnesota, in contrast, we boo reflexively whenever the outcome doesn't go our way. I've got several hypotheses explaining the cultivation of whininess amongst an otherwise strong people.
1. Opinion Leaders. Sid Hartman
, dean of Minnesota sportswriters, has been pushing the International Officiating Conspiracy hypothesis since the Lakers were in Minneapolis. The idea has since diffused to numerous proponents in local print and broadcast media, but ol' Sid might be patient zero
. Today's column: 'Hail Mary' Should Never Have Happened
2. Minnesota Nice.
In some locales, fans will quickly turn their backs on a poor-performing home team, calling them "bums" (as in Brooklyn) or "dogs" (as in anywhere else the millionaires underperform). But this would be un-Minnesotan. We just aren't the sort to boo our boys or girls, so we must
have been robbed by those out-of-town officials.
3. Flyoverland Insecurity.
The officiating conspiracy exists, in part, to serve the interests of wealthier and more powerful teams and owners. Didn't you catch former President Bush
in the skybox with Jerry Jones and Emmitt Smith?
4. Heartbreak and Misery.
I suspect that Vikings fans are whinier than Twins fans because the Vikes were defeated in IV (count 'em, IV) Super Bowls and a tear-inducing
NFC championship game, while the Twins at least hung a couple World Series banners. One doesn't hear much whining about officiating at star-crossed Timberwolves games, since the local five are usually trailing by 30 at the half. The referees tend to have little bearing on the outcome of such games, though some fans attribute our failure in the draft lottery to a Vast Ping Pong Ball Conspiracy.
5. There's Something about Footyball.
I enjoy high school wrestling and rugby because the fans and participants usually find a li'l honor in defeat as well as victory. It can be beautiful to see an undefeated wrestler lose a close, hard match -- and blame nobody but himself. Wrestling fans grouse loudly about judgment calls, of course, but they're generally either hardcore enough to know the rules and appreciate a good match or clueless enough that they're content to just watch and learn. High school football fans are another matter entirely. They're more likely to greet the ref with a loud "OH, COME ON!!!
" no matter how obvious the violation. When my lad Tor played O-line, I knew he and his linemates left just a little
bit early on every snap and ever-so-discreetly
filled their massive fists with opposing players' jerseys on most downs. On the two or three occasions in which Tor was caught and penalized, I was surprised the surrounding home fans didn't actually see
him holding or blowing off the line well before everyone else (his reflexes were good, but not that
good). Football is so familiar to Americans that we all think of ourselves as experts -- even if we know very little about how the game is actually experienced by players. To a greater extent than in other sports, perhaps, audiences seem to appreciate the spectacle -- and whining is just part of the game.
I'm optimistic my Vikings will prevail in a close one tomorrow and break my heart in a week or two, though they'll surely be savaged by the Cowboys' tough pass rush and burned by Whitten across the middle and Austin downfield. Should the Cowboys win, I'll expect great whinging about blown calls (if not pathetic winging of whiskey bottles) -- even if the Minnesota offensive line is consistently pushed five yards off the ball, Mr. Favre throws a couple picks, and Mr. Peterson puts the ball on the ground. I just hope we're not still bellyaching about this game in 2045 -- the way we're still whining in 2010 about Drew Pearson pushing-off in '75. *Technically, Minnesota earth is only "green" for a few weeks in May and June.