The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Mankato thoughts.
Picture a man walking down the street whistling. He trills four notes ó dah, dah, dah, dum ó and you know the tune. Reduced to a single melodic line, stripped of its orchestral trappings, Beethovenís Fifth is still Beethovenís Fifth.
Picture another man sitting in the last seat of the last row in the upper deck of the Metrodome. You know, the seat with the obstructed view. At the opposite end of the field a tiny speck in purple rolls out and throws a ball low and away to another man completely horizontal to the playing field, toes just inside the boundary line, who catches the ball with one ó yes, just one ó outstretched hand.
Even without seeing the jersey number, even with a partially obstructed view more than a football field away, the fan in the last row knows Cris Carter has made another incredible catch that will be shown over and over again on every highlight reel for the next week.
Iím a connoisseur of great Vikings receivers, and I have to say that the eight-year Vikings career of Carter deserves every award that itís won and then some. Each year when I visit training camp he is the first player I look for. Even after all the years, all the spectacular catches, the man still simply amazes.
I like going to Mankato to watch Carter so much that Iíve been known to go without the usual excuse to my wife of ďentertaining out-of-town guests.Ē Truth be told, I prefer it that way. Iím the kind of person who likes to watch the Vikings receivers run all the drills from stretching in the beginning to the gut-wrenching wind-sprints at the end after two hours of practice. And then watch it all over again in the afternoon.
Unlike going to a fine museum and spending 10 frantic minutes in each gallery, I would rather spend my full time and attention admiring the best item the museum has to offer. And Carter is the Mona Lisa of the Minnesota Vikings Fine Art Museum.
Even though Carter started out with the Philadelphia Eagles, he seems always to have belonged to the Vikings fans. More intimate with us than any other player, he tells us who we are and who we ought to be. Watching his face on game-day we recognize our best traits as a team: courage, wisdom, hope. Off the field, Carter epitomizes our best selves: compassion, kindness, fairness, strength.
Sometimes alone on the field, he is individualism personified. After scoring a touchdown, arm raised towards heaven, aglow, he embodies belief in God for all who seek Him. As a lighthouse to Christians, as a role model to children with a never-say-die attitude on the field, I fully expect the Vikings to honor the unquestionably best receiver in Vikings history by granting him a contract extension before training camp opens so that their leader is present from day one.
On July 26, the Vikingsí 33rd training camp in Mankato opens. The next day, I will make my way to observe it in person. Hereís my strategy for a perfect day: I pack all my tailgating gear, leave early to avoid traffic, and set up camp near the Vikings weight tent. Only when the coals are white hot and that first brat is on the grill will I look up to begin gathering in the moment as the players cross the street to the practice field.
While my fellow fans are elbowing each other into a frenzy to get any Vikings autograph, Iíll saunter over to the fence, where I have a good view of the field, in peace and quiet far from the maddening crowd spilling dangerously over into oncoming traffic.
My wife drags me to museums and symphonies all over the world to see and listen to truly fine work, but to me there is no finer work of art than the man who wears jersey No. 80. Seeing him run on to the practice field each year, Iím grateful that on Sept. 4, 1990, the Vikings claimed Carter off the waiver wire from the Eagles and took a chance on a man with some baggage.
And thatís why, when I load up my truck and head to Mankato for that very first 1998 practice, I will again snag a spot that gives me a good view of the receivers. And as Carter, that Vikings masterpiece, raises his arm in welcome, Iíll wave back.