What you’ll need: a fast 40-yard dash time, a good touchdown dance
Further Reading: The Very Virile Viking by Sandra Hill, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer
1998: Year of the Tiger, year of Titanic’s titanic 11 Oscar haul, year that Bill Clinton denied he had sexual relations with that woman. Year that Nagano, Japan hosted the Winter Olympics and year that two Standford PhD candidates founded Google, Inc. 1998, year that a tall, skinny kid out of West Virginia was drafted by the Minnesota’s football team and forever changed my life.
Until Randy Moss’s rookie year with the Vikings, I didn’t understand why my dad and brother would sit around watching football for hours on end. On Thanksgivings, I gladly stayed in the kitchen making cranberry sauce instead of watching large men run into each other. For that’s all that it looked like to me: a human collision course. In seventh grade, though, my homework load increased and I left it for Sundays to finish in front of the TV. Watching Randy Moss in 1998 made me realize the true nature of football: it is stunningly beautiful. Or, as a New Yorker article this week referred to it, it is contact ballet. And thus I became a Vikings fan.
The Vikings went 15-1 in that 1998 season, a feat not achieved often or as gracefully. They scored a record 556 points on offense (a record since broken), never fewer than 24 points per game. Randy Moss caught 17 touchdowns, a rookie record; his jaw-dropping hail-Mary catches were balanced by the precision of veteran wide receiver Cris Carter, a man who would sooner break a bone than step out of bounds or drop a ball. Naturally, in my hero-worship state, I wished I could be as talented as those men; I wanted to be an NFL wide receiver who was paid millions to show how elegant a tough sport could be. While being a short female somewhat precludes me from an NFL on-the-field career, I wanted to live a life with as much epic drama every week as these men were showcasing.
Besides the incredible Randall Cunningham passes that spanned the length of the football field to end up firmly in the hands of Moss or Carter, we had another asset on offense: field goal kicker Gary Anderson. Hitting a perfect 35 for 35 attempts in the regular season, he seemed more trustworthy even than Carter (yes, this is where, if you remember what happened, your stomach drops). The Vikings rolled into the playoffs as the heavy favorites to win the NFC championship. They beat the Cardinals easily, then welcomed the Falcons to Minnesota’s Metrodome for the championship game.
I’ll never forget the moment when Gary Anderson missed the field goal attempt that would have put the Vikings into the Superbowl. My heart broke, my brother punched the table and left the room, and those of us left behind sat in stunned silence. It wasn’t just our brilliant season that ended in that moment, but my belief that my idols could do no wrong. I realized I could never have a job on which the hopes and dreams of thousands lay upon one single moment. It was too much pressure.
Our story turned out to be a tragedy (as all the great ones are), and I told myself I would never care as much again. But then a hero with a story so improbable as to be legendary joined the Vikings in 2009, and once again I started to believe. But Brett Favre threw an interception in the NFC championship game just over a year ago, the Saints advanced to the Superbowl and became America’s heroes, and my heart is still as broken as it was in 1999, still broken.