The Minnesota Vikings rolled out an expensive ad campaign Monday night and it had nothing to do with the debut of their stadium-pitching commercial.
In case you missed it, the team hit the advertising airwaves Monday, both locally on KARE 11 and nationally on ESPN. The ad is part of a six-figure, month-long media blitz that includes television, radio, print (see Page 6B) and online ads aimed at building public support for a new stadium. The TV ad includes some pretty good footage, as well as some recycled stuff you probably have already seen in promotional spots. Highlights in the ad range from Bud Grant stalking the sidelines at the old Met to Greg Lewis pulling a miracle out of the air against the 49ers in the Metrodome.
Those are what we refer to as good-ol' days.
But the most important footage Monday night wasn't in that nostalgic, 60-second commercial - it was the three-hour, preseason-like clunker the team offered up that surrounded it. If you're coach Leslie Frazier, you don't throw out this game film, you ceremoniously burn it. Spread the ashes in Arden Hills.
The team's performance against the unbeaten Packers might not have been the worst game in franchise history, but it ranks right up there. And it couldn't have come under worse circumstances. Diarrhea has better timing.
What happened Monday night was this: The Vikings kicked off their huge ad campaign off the field and did everything in their power to make us not want to watch, or support them financially, on it. Whether they believe it or not, they're selling themselves every time they step on that field. Forget the lobbyists, they'd be better off hiring Ron Popeil and doing an infomercial. If they were a stain remover, the spot would still be on the carpet.
Not that many of these players will be wearing purple by the time any new stadium is ready to host its first NFL game, but the Vikings, as a franchise, didn't do themselves any favors in the court of public opinion by being overwhelmingly outplayed, outhustled, outcoached and outclassed by an organization that could write a book on how to meld a team with its home state. You think Minnesotans love their Vikings? We have trouble getting people to pony up extra tax dollars to help pay for a new stadium. A Packer fan would gladly donate an arm and throw in a good kidney to keep his team in Wisconsin.
The problem with tripping over themselves so badly at Lambeau Field on Monday is a perceptual one. The common mantra of stadium opponents is that taxpayers shouldn't have to spend their hard-earned dollars on a playpen for millionaires. Valid beef. I can hear them now, after the 45-7 butt-whooping: "Nice ad, but you want us to help pay for a new stadium for this?"
We're a bandwagon state, and the Vikings' bandwagon now has more room on it than an Airbus. People didn't just exit single file off the wagon Monday night, they hurled themselves off like the thing was on fire. And now is exactly the time the team needs that bandwagon full.
Such a time came three years ago when Brett Favre was throwing that touchdown pass to Lewis and the state was all abuzz about the Vikings. Back then, everyone loved them and were proud of them. As the wins piled up and the team gained more and more national acclaim, the feel-good spirit grew and grew. The Vikes cruised into the playoffs that year, had a first-round bye, and wound up in the NFC championship game against New Orleans. They had the state right where they wanted it. Vikings fans hadn't been this high on the team since the moments before Gary Anderson's shank against the Falcons.
Today, just a few years removed from that heart-sinker against the Saints, we're left with a team with a rookie quarterback, a first-year coach and that same old Cover-2 defense that's as soft as a Pillow Pet. The fact that we're this giddy over a rookie quarterback tells you how deep this team has sunk in the murky waters of mediocrity. You don't want to ask for state funding to build a new stadium when you're in rebuilding mode yourself, but that's the situation the Vikings find themselves in.
We know this team probably deserved a stadium deal two, three, four years ago but it kept getting passed over by a Legislature that was otherwise preoccupied digging the state into a huge financial hole we're still trying to climb out of. Now, with the team's lease at the Dome up after the team's final home game, push has graduated to shove.
The power of advertising notwithstanding, it's hard to say if the team's cool pitch Monday night was enough to pull stadium fence-sitters over to their side. The bandwagon will eventually fill up again, but the odor of stinkers like Monday night's game could, because of the timing, be strong enough that the ad could end up working against the Vikings (or is it vice versa?).
Still, props to the Vikings' public relations department - it put up a valiant effort Monday as the product it was selling has only made the stain stand out more.