MINNEAPOLIS — Sports bars and living rooms across the Twin Cities simultaneously erupted Thursday night in a deliciously ironic mixture of joy, hope and anticipation.
Yes, the Vikings are very much alive in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, if they can only stink a little bit longer. That possibility has their fans feeling positively giddy.
Talk about an upside-down season.
The Indianapolis Colts opened the door for the Vikings possibly to claim the No. 1 overall pick in the draft by shooting themselves in the foot with a last-second victory against the Houston Texans. That left the Colts, Vikings and St. Louis Rams all with two victories.
The winner — or is it loser? — in the race for last gets a shot at Luck, the Stanford quarterback who is being hailed as a once-in-a-generation talent. The No. 1 pick also could bring a bounty from teams desperate to trade up and get their hands on Luck.
Imagine the possible headlines: “Better to be Luck-y than good.” “Luck is for losers.”
The Colts still control their own destiny, if you will, because they will secure the No. 1 pick by losing to Jacksonville in the season finale, according to NFL tiebreaker rules. But at least the Vikings have hope now. A season that has revealed widespread ineptitude suddenly is strangely fascinating.
Even Vikings diehards, the ones who wear horns on their heads to games and swear they bleed purple, are faced with the cold, hard reality that they need their team to lose the final two games — at Washington and against Chicago at home — for the greater cause.
The goal is unmistakably clear. Two more losses would give the Vikings their worst record (2-14) in franchise history, but so what? They’ve come this far, they can’t start winning now. This is Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption,” crawling through 500 yards of stench to reach freedom. The Vikings are almost there, too.
This is what happens when a team’s season goes completely haywire. Just look at the Colts. Peyton Manning misses the entire season because of a neck injury and the team responds by losing its first 13 games. Reports surfaced that coach Jim Caldwell would be fired if his team finished 0-16. Now, Colts fans probably want him fired because the team has won consecutive games and is in danger of squandering the top draft pick.
The moral of the story: If you’re going to be bad, be historically bad.
The Vikings would face an interesting situation if they secure the No. 1 pick. They drafted Christian Ponder in the first round last spring with the idea that he would become their franchise quarterback. Initial signs were promising, but Ponder has regressed in recent weeks to the point that his long-term future isn’t so clear-cut.
Only three teams in NFL history have drafted quarterbacks in the first round in back-to-back years. The question becomes whether the Vikings still have enough internal confidence in Ponder’s potential that they would pass on Luck and use the No. 1 pick as trade bait to fill myriad holes in their roster.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported this week that he believes some teams might be willing to sacrifice three first-round picks and two second-round selections in exchange for the No. 1 pick. Maybe even four first-round picks, according to Schefter.
Of course, we have no idea who’s actually running the show at Winter Park these days and would make that critical decision. Is it Rick Spielman? Leslie Frazier? Zygi Wilf? A giant game of rock, paper, scissors among the staff?
And more important, do Vikings fans have faith that the team’s brain trust will get it right? No pressure; it’s only a franchise-altering decision.
Imagine, for instance, if the Vikings drafted Luck and turned down a boatload of first-round picks in a proposed trade, and then Luck didn’t live up to the hype. Or, if they traded the pick and Luck became the next Manning or Tom Brady.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. The Vikings still have work to do. They need to keep losing and get some help from the Colts.
They’re so close, though. A season of disappointment and embarrassment is almost over, but a big carrot is dangling in front of them. So much is on the line now.
Remember, success is not an option.