Is it safe for Vikings fans to start dreaming about hometown Super Bowl?
Before we start getting all crazy, let's take a small step back. Not a big one, no surrender, just a reasonable retreat so as to properly assess the field in front of us.
Is it safe for Minnesota Vikings fans to start thinking about their team playing a Super Bowl in their own stadium? Well, there's thinking about the possibility and there's getting excited about the possibility. In light of all available evidence, you will make the right choice.
This isn't to tell Vikings fans to dampen expectations. Why bother? By now, that should be reflexive for Minnesotans, like merging without looking and leaving the Christmas lights on through February. The unmitigated optimism of a beleaguered fan base remains one of life's sweet mysteries, and Vikings fans are hardier than most— even if the team's four Super Bowl losses and handful of notorious playoff gaffes generally has them expecting the other shoe to drop.
That doesn't stop the Vikings fans from ... well, you've at least seen them on TV. And there has been much to cheer this season.
The Vikings take a 9-2 record and seven-game winning streak into their Sunday, Dec. 3, noon kickoff at Atlanta. A once precocious defense is maturing on pace, long-debilitating offensive line issues seem to be adequately patched and the running game is no longer a liability. And then there is Case Keenum, the once-and-future backup who has been the team's best quarterback since Brett Favre exacted revenge on his old team in 2009. It's all very exciting, even encouraging.
But the hometown Super Bowl is rare, occurring twice in 51 years. A Super Bowl actually played in one's own stadium is the unicorn of what the TV people call the National Football League. It has never been captured, not even on camera. The Vikings seem to have one in their sights.
There are two reasons to pump the brakes. One, it's unclear whether unicorns actually exist. Two, as Minnesota's four uninspiring Super Bowl appearances fade further into the past, the team's history is increasingly defined by phrases such as "41-nothing," "12 men in the huddle" and, simply, "Gary Anderson."
All that really remains within the memory's immediate grasp is pain, especially for the substantial number of Vikings fans born after the team's last Super Bowl appearance in 1977. Randy Moss was great and all, but he only played in a Super Bowl with New England.
It's frankly more difficult to imagine the Vikings' long-awaited return to football's largest stage at U.S. Bank Stadium than to envision the next postseason ignominy, the next addition to the Vikings' lexicon of losing. It could be, say, "the onside kick," or maybe "the second extra point." It could just be "Carson Wentz."
The road to a home-field Super Bowl remains long and full of peril, including a final boss that will be difficult to beat on the first attempt, but the Vikings are on that road and moving in the right direction. They're one of the best teams in the NFL right now, and there's no reason you shouldn't dream.
But for your own sake, keep one eye open.
And come January, should the Vikings not be one of the final two NFL teams standing—whether they are shunted from the postseason by a better team or their own misadventure—take solace in the fact that the NFC entrant in Super LII, Feb. 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium will not be the Green Bay Packers.