Christian Ponder, like every Viking quarterback in the history of the Minnesota Vikings franchise, has grumpy Minnesotans convinced he is the source of all that is wrong with the world. Ponder’s wife Samantha was in Fargo this week broadcasting for ESPN and couldn’t escape without seeing a poster chiding her husband: “Samantha, can Christian even pass the salt?”
Nice insult. And typical of Upper Midwesterners to pile their rage on a single scapegoat, the Vikings quarterback.
The Viking quarterback position is the least desirable job we have. No matter what happens, you will be criticized.
New quarterbacks waltz in thinking they are going to bring a Super Bowl to these nice, mild-mannered Upper Midwesterners, and what happens? They become a lightning rod for all that is dark and sinister in our brooding, repressed culture.
Crops looking bad? Blame Warren Moon. Mother didn’t hold you enough as a baby? Buy a ticket and boo Daunte Culpepper.
Even the great Fran Tarkenton was jeered more than cheered. The economic downturn of the 1970s was his doing, if I remember right. C’mon, Bud, bring in Bobby Lee.
Tommy Kramer engineered some great comebacks, but most of the time he was in the doghouse as the fans demanded he be benched in favor of the great Steve Dils.
The back-up quarterback becomes the fans’ long-awaited Messiah, at least until he enters a game. Randall Cunningham had one of the best seasons on record in 1998, but only two games into the next season, fans chanted for back-up quarterback Jeff George.
The Vikings quarterback position is the most visible example of what happens when passive Upper Midwesterners bring in an outsider to run things. We turn to an outsider because during the interview, they actually seem to want the job. We know it’s not worth having, and are amused by their interest.
Take the job of president of one of our universities. It is the second worst job in our region. The job draws naive outsiders who promise big things. We know they will fail, but we enjoy watching them twist in the wind. We lure big shot outsiders in with tales of wholesome goodness, neighbor helping neighbor, unlocked doors, light traffic, happy cows, plentiful hunting and fishing.
Salary’s a little lower, sure, but think of the low cost of living! The fringe benefits! In fact, let’s go throw in a line off the company pontoon this afternoon!
The interviews never happen in January.
Page 2 of 2 - Eventually, it becomes clear that the hiring was a savage act of cruelty. What we really want is to watch Mr. or Ms. Bigshot from Back East twist slowly in the wind for two years before they retreat to their native land wondering what they did to deserve blame for three hard winters, two floods and one big budget deficit. The first big moment comes when they bitterly complain as the temperature dips into the 20s their first November. In the door to work they come, hair disheveled, shivering, all that urbane sophistication and polish wiped out by winter’s first little squall.
“This is nothing,” we tell them with unconcealed glee. “It just gets worse!”
Equality! After feeling inferior to the big city types, now we have lured one of them in and have started to wear them down.
The weather is just one of our tools. Next, the new executive will try to change the parking scheme, or set up a campus-wide committee to develop a new strategic plan to find and develop cross-disciplinary synergies designed to bring the University of Norskeville into the 21st century. Or something like that. It doesn’t matter. We’ll just stare at them like cows. For two or three years. They’ll go away. They always have.
There is one advantage to being the Viking quarterback: At least the bitterness and resentment is out in the open, on posters, on talk radio and in the stands.
Others who come in from outside and attempt to lead institutions in the Upper Midwest aren’t so lucky. They get paranoid. They start to wonder: Is that guy who pulled me out of the snowbank actually nice, or is he part of the massive conspiracy against me?
Is that person who just picked up the tab for my meal really generous, or is she making sure I have a nice meal before I get the axe? The answer? Both. Just ask Steve Dils, or any Viking back-up quarterback. You’re the messiah one day, a scapegoat the next.