Granted the NFL season is only four weeks old, but the early struggles of the Minnesota Vikings and their Hall of Fame Quarterback Brett Favre would seem to mirror the struggles the team has had in realizing postseason success. There is a flirtation with it, then what would appear to be a longer stretch of treading water. Sometimes the results are better than expected, though most often they aren't. And over the course of the team's 50-year history, they've come close to achieving the ultimate but not realizing it. The NFL Films production History of the Minnesota Vikings helps to recount their history in this feature.
Clocking in at a whopping two-hour and six minute runtime, the first thing you'll notice when watching this feature is just how patient the NFL Films gang lets all the history unfold in front of the viewer. The early days of the team's 1961 inception are shown and their ragamuffin way of playing given time in the production. Along with this, the drafting of players such as running back Tommy Mason and quarterback Fran Tarkenton are given some face time. Tarkenton, who would later become a Hall of Fame quarterback, recalled his clashes in style with Coach Norm Van Brocklin that would lead to the player being traded to the New York Giants and the coach resigning days beforehand. As it turns out those two things helped elevate the team to a newfound level of respectability.
Bud Grant would become the coaching face of the franchise and remains on the proverbial Mount Rushmore for the team. He took over the reins of the team in 1967 and coached the team until the end of the 1983 season. During that 17-year run the team reached the Super Bowl four times and the NFC Championship game one other time. Sadly, the team never hoisted the Super Bowl trophy but during that era produced memorable talent that was a formidable force for the league. The defensive line of Carl Eller, Alan Page, Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen was known as the "Purple People Eaters," preventing offenses from scoring at a near record-breaking level some seasons. While on offense, Canadian football quarterback Joe Kapp gave way to Tarkenton (who was re-acquired by the team), while running back Chuck Foreman impressed with both his running and receiving ability.
Grant would eventually leave (only to return to coach the 1985 season) and the team would move from the cold outdoors of Metropolitan Stadium to the warmer confines of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The team adjusted its game accordingly, moving towards faster teams with quarterbacks who could chuck the ball downfield to them. This culminated in 1998, with Coach Dennis Green leading the team to a record performance in offense as quarterback Randall Cunningham and wide receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss led the team to a 15-1 record in the regular season, only to lose in the playoffs. That was the apex for that "Moss era," as the team eventually regressed to the fold during the middle part of the last decade, only to return under coach Brad Childress and behind a stout defense and the running of young star Adrian Peterson.
The feature allows all of the history, all of the accomplishments and failures, and all of the human interest stories a chance to get their fair time. In previous NFL Films productions, the compressed airtime would have seen some of these things hit the cutting room floor. However in this feature and perhaps because the team is getting its AARP card this year, we don't get any of that. We get measured time to discuss the fun things, things that Vikings fans young and old will remember. And for better or worse the losses are even given some time in the film too; look, Vikings fans know they've lost Super Bowls, but seeing how some of the team has come to acceptance with the losses through the years (particularly that first team which Kapp led) is quite admirable.
That's why at least looking at this production, The History of the Minnesota Vikings is perhaps as good a translation from the experiences or pictures into a consumable form for any fan to enjoy. NFL Films continues to be one of the best beneficiaries of the 24-hour NFL Network on cable and satellite providers and if this results in similar high-quality history recounting for other NFL franchises, this is a great jumping off point for it.
At first I've got to admit, putting the entire feature in the full-frame video format was a surprising choice, but then you realize that save for about 20 minutes, all of what happened in the Vikings' history occurred before the joy of high-definition. So the film footage gets a chance to look not too bad as the interview figures and game action through the years looks very good. There hasn't been any post-production work done to the image that I could detect and things appear to be fine, despite the full-framiness of it.
Dolby two-channel stereo. Like the video selection, in retrospect this isn't really a bad decision and in fact makes more sense than the video format did. But the audio remains robust in the front channels with the occasional panning to the rears, and the subwoofer remained quiet throughout the feature and supplements. It replicates the sound effectively and without concern.
Well the usual amount of additional footage is here to start things off. NFL Films' boss Steve Sabol interviews Grant in a segment from 1999 (8:17) that shows life after football for the coach, and he talks about his approach to coaching. The next piece follows running back Robert Smith, as e talks about his career and abrupt retirement from the pros (12:34). This is some interesting stuff. Next up is a more modern piece with Peterson and running backs coach Eric Bienemy, as the two talk about their working relationship (7:57). The bigger pieces are the "America's Game" installments on the 1969 and 1998 teams. Originally hour-long pieces for the NFL Network, they include narration by some familiar faces (the '69 installment was done by Tom Selleck, the '98 one by James Gandolfini), featuring new interviews with some of the major players and coaches of both teams, as they recall that year and the defeats that came at the end of the line. Particularly compelling viewing is Green's sharing of hate mail he received while coach, but the amount of frank footage from the time is surprising and entertaining to see. This series has always been outstanding, and these two episodes are no exception.
The History of the Minnesota Vikings is a much better than expected production by the NFL Films, a group that always manages to step up their game for the right occasion. Vikings fans shouldn't hesitate to pick this one up, and football fans would be better served by watching both the two-hour piece and the America's Game segments for a better appreciation of this long-tortured group.