Maybe next year

My wife and I are not sports aficionados. The world of professional sports is something that drones on in the background of our lives, like a radio that has a broken “off” switch.

An item that is sports-related will occasionally bubble up into our consciousness. For instance, some years ago, we heard about a horsey named American Pharaoh. The horsey won some footrace prizes and was even awarded a triple-sized crown. I bet his mom and dad were very proud.

Football (the real kind, not that weird European thing) is more popular in this part of the world than a tow truck driver during a blinding blizzard. The closest team to us, geographically speaking, is the Minnesota Vikings. If there were a football team we would choose to mostly ignore most of the time, it would be that group of Minnesotans who run around in purple tights and hurl themselves at each other.

As this latest football season progressed, we heard faint rumblings about how the well Vikings were doing. Some of our friends and family even promulgated that This Could Be The Year.

Despite our intentional apathy, we continued to absorb scattered phrases of praise about the Vikings. My wife and I agreed that it would all end soon enough; the Vikings are renowned for their ability to raise hopes only to shatter them like the overnight ice on a water puddle.

But then they earned a berth in the playoffs. Maybe there really is cause to be optimistic! Maybe the Vikings are actually worth some of our attention!

We were soaked by the geyser of Vikings enthusiasm that spewed from friends and relatives. I began to learn the names of key players, something I hadn’t done for decades. Whatever happened to Tarkenton?

My wife and I tuned in when the Vikes played the Saints in the division decider, even though we don’t fully understand how a “safety” can be both a player and a play. Our cat, Sparkles, probably has a better grasp of football than we do. Sparkles is a barn cat, except when it’s cold or snowing or raining or dark or sunny outside. Then she gets to be a housecat.

At halftime, the Vikings held a commanding lead over the Saints. I groaned to my wife, “This ain’t good. All I know for sure about the Vikings is that they have an unlimited capacity for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

We gnawed our fingernails as the Saints gnawed at the Vikings’ lead. Sparkles lounged nonchalantly on the living room rug, exuding an aura of aloof detachment while a game that would determine the very fate of the universe played on a TV screen mere feet from her face. We should have taken a cue from the cat.

With 10 seconds left to play, it was clear that the purple tights guys would soon be slinking back to their locker room with their horns drooping in shame. My wife and I turned to each other and murmured that well-worn Vikings cheer: “Maybe next year.”

As Vikings quarterback Keenum took the game’s final snap, I got up from my chair to find a cold beverage that might blunt this chilly outcome. When you know that the Titanic is going to sink, there’s no point in watching it plow into the iceberg.

My wife, who is of stoic German stock, suddenly leaped from her seat and shouted, “YEAH!! In your face!”

Keenum had launched a long, what-the-heck, this-just-might-work bomb. Defying all known laws of physics, wide receiver Diggs snatched the ball out of the sky and trotted, unmolested, into the end zone — with zero seconds left on the clock!

My back was turned, so I missed the play that was promptly dubbed the Minneapolis Miracle. This is why God invented the instant replay.

We whooped and shouted and marveled over the improbability of it all. Sparkles, for her part, remained cool and indifferent. Cats are privy to premonitions that they seldom share with us mortals.

The following Sunday the Vikings were walloped by the Eagles. A group of Vikings hadn’t suffered such a cataclysmic defeat since losing the Battle of Leuven in 891. The Eagles, bird of prey-like, pecked mercilessly at the Vikings’ bones. My wife and I slinked back to the land of disillusionment. Maybe next year.

We will watch the Super Bowl with disinterested detachment. But it’s probably a good thing for Sparkles that the Vikings missed the boat, because my wife might have purchased a little purple sweater for the kitty. And that would have delivered a mighty wallop to her aura of cool aloofness.

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