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Case Number 19871: Small Claims Court

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History Of The Minnesota Vikings

Warner Bros. // 2010 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jeff Robbins (Retired) // October 9th, 2010

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All Rise...

Given recent developments, Judge Jeff Robbins is upset he had the purple "Randy Moss 84" tattoo removed.

The Charge

Even the losers get lucky sometimes. Just not always when it counts.

Opening Statement

In time for the second coming of Randy Moss, this chronicle of a football team largely known for breaking the hearts of its fans (which include this reviewer). But by highlighting their (sometimes) trivial victories and breezing past their (often) soul-crushing defeats, the History of the Minnesota Vikings succeeds at being an entertaining overview of one of the most colorful organizations in professional sports.

Facts of the Case

In time for their 50th anniversary season, NFL Films uses interviews, game footage, and historic broadcasts to present the history of a franchise that has earned 17 division titles, four conference champions, and has sent nine players to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Evidence

As a long-suffering fan of "The Purple," I was very curious as to how the producers of NFL Films' new History of the Minnesota Vikings DVD would confront its biggest, and I thought insurmountable, creative conundrum.
That problem being how to apply the typical stirring, emotive, and triumphant style of NFL Films Production to a team with a remarkable 50-year tradition of losing.

(I feel OK in saying that due to my status as a Viking fan, born and bred in the land of Prince and sex boat scandals. If a Packers fan said that my team had a "remarkable 50-year tradition of losing," I'd want to take him outside. If he wasn't too drunk to find his way.)

After a viewing of History of the Minnesota Vikings, which was at times painful, at times thrilling, at times downright heartbreaking, but nearly always vastly entertaining, it became clear the creative decision was made to downplay the Vikings' defeats and exaggerate their victories.

Case in point: The January 14, 2001 NFC Championship Game in which the Vikings were utterly embarrassed by the New York Giants to the tune of 41-0. Despite the fact that it was, you know, the NFC Championship Game, it's hardly mentioned.
But the following year's regular-season rematch with the Giants, which the Vikings won 28-16, eats up a lot of screen time and is handled like it was one of the most significant games in Vikings lore. In reality, it was an inconsequential victory in the middle of an inconsequential season during which the Vikings finished a lowly 5-11.

Similarly, the January 17, 1999 NFC Championship Game—the 30-27 overtime loss that above all other games exemplifies the futility that the Minnesota Vikings have historically struggled with—is glossed over in order to give more time to an earlier regular-season Monday Night Football victory over the Green Bay Packers. That decision is made somewhat easier to swallow given the set's excellent bonus feature on the 1998-1999 season (see below). Nevertheless the Packers victory pales in importance to one of that year's conference title game, one of the most dramatic playoff football games of recent vintage and one of the most devastating losses—if not the most devastating loss—in Vikings history.
Actually, it's not surprising to see that 1998 Monday night road victory against the Packers represented here. For if the main objective of History of the Minnesota Vikings is to downplay defeats no matter how significant and highlight victories no matter how trivial, then the secondary objective of History of the Minnesota Vikings is to highlight victories over the Green Bay Packers. Time and again the green and gold are shown suffering humiliating defeats at the hands of the purple, to the point where it begins to seem that maybe the Packers have never beaten the Vikings, a fantasy that biased viewers of this documentary would undoubtedly be happy to indulge. (In reality, the rivalry is incredibly balanced with the Packers up 49-48-1 as of the end of the 2009 season.)

From the franchise's very beginnings, the rival Packers played a significant role in the History of the Minnesota Vikings, as the 1961 expansion team snagged as their first head coach Norm Van Brocklin, a former NFL signal-caller who quarterbacked the only team (the Philadelphia Eagles) ever to beat Packers coaching legend Vince Lombardi in the playoffs. The story of the nascent Vikings is likely unfamiliar to all but the most dyed-in-the-wool Vikings fans, and it is here that the program's sometimes choppy narrative flows the smoothest. Tons of wonderful footage is unearthed here, from defensive end Jim Marshall's "wrong-way run" to quarterback Fran Tarkenton scrambling at great length as if his life depended on it. (Given the inexperience of his young offensive line, perhaps it did.)

Oddly enough, it is during the Vikings' glory years—the 1970s—that History of the Minnesota Vikings falters. Just under twenty-five minutes of the two-hour program is allowed for that decade, and it's a rather pedestrian twenty-five minutes at that, just a rather speedy run-through of sparkling regular-season records (eight division titles in the ten years) and disappointing playoff losses (three lopsided Super Bowl defeats in the decade). Yes, those Super Bowls were uninspiring for Vikings fans, but given those were the years that stars such as Tarkenton, running back Chuck Foreman, safety Paul Krause, and others were in their prime, there have to be more compelling stories from that era. But History of the Minnesota Vikings doesn't stop to tell them.

History of the Minnesota Vikings moves pretty quickly through the eighties and early nineties, when the Vikings weren't consistently terrible but were far less dominant (four division titles and just four playoff victories from 1980-1995). In fact, here the program moves a little too quickly, as star players of the era such as Ahmad Rashad, Ted Brown, Joe Senser, and Sammy White are all but ignored.

(But of course the documentary does highlight the last-second hail-Mary pass from Tommy Kramer to Rashad that secured them the 1980 NFC Central division title, a sports moment that for many Minnesotans probably surpassed that same year's "Miracle on Ice." I know it did for this then-9-year-old.)

It becomes palpable during this section that the producers are pushing things along in order to get to the historic 1998 season that featured Randall Cunningham, Robert Smith, Cris Carter, Jake Reed, and NFL Rookie of the Year Randy Moss breaking the NFL record for most points scored during a single season (a mark since surpassed by the 2007 Patriots, a team that also featured Moss). Once the Vikings are established as an offensive machine, it becomes easy to segue into the Daunte Culpepper-to-Moss years, then to the drafting of Adrian Peterson, and finally to the eye-opening acquisition of former enemy Brett Favre.

The program does take a few detours along the way, some necessary (the 2001 training camp death of tackle Korey Stringer), and others not (an interview segment with forgettable head coach Mike Tice seems included only to make him look like a tool). And not surprisingly, the Vikings sex boat scandal of 2005 is conveniently passed over.
History of the Minnesota Vikings concludes with the juxtaposition of two of Favre's most memorable plays from the 2009-2010 season: His last-second game-winning touchdown pass to Greg Lewis in week 3 of the 2009-2010 season and his interception in the NFC Championship Game as the Vikings were driving for a potential game-winning field goal that would have sent them to their first Super Bowl in 23 years. A fitting conclusion to a story full of thrilling but minor wins and spectacularly devastating losses.

As enjoyable as the 127-minute main feature is, the two episodes ofAmerica's Game: The Missing Rings found on disc two of this two-disc set are far superior and alone make this set worth the purchase price for any Vikings fan.
The very existence of these programs, The Story of the 1969 Vikings (43:27) and The Story of the 1998 Vikings (43:30) alone tells the story of the history of the Vikings. In 2006, the NFL Network began broadcasting America's Game: The Super Bowl Champions, which are hour-long programs that each covers the championship season of every Super Bowl winner. Two years later, the NFL Network decided to produce a spin-off series, America's Game: The Missing Rings, that each focused on a team that dominated the regular season but failed to win the Super Bowl. Only five episodes were produced, with the Vikings the only team with enough colossal playoff collapses to be represented twice.

One might think that in comparison to the overall history that squeezes 50 years of play into two hours, these America's Game episodes would drag. Actually it's just the opposite: Having to concentrate on one season greatly helps these two shows maintain a crisper focus and tell a tighter story than the main feature does.

Relying much more on interview segments, these America's Game programs use the human angle to elevate these stories of loss and disappointment to almost tragedy. Vikings fans should note the juxtaposition of DE Jim Marshall and head coach Bud Grant in the 1969 episode; Marshall claims he is still haunted by his team's surprising loss in Super Bowl IV, while Grant seems not to be bothered by it at all. The revelation raises the question: Did the heavily revered Grant lack the "desire, dedication, and determination" (latter-day head coach Dennis Green's football creed) to win the big game? In contrast, the three interviewees in the 1998 episode, Green, Cris Carter, and DT John Randle, still seem absolutely mortified by the game that ended their 1998 season, even though the loss happened a decade before the interviews were filmed.

Three shorter featurettes round out the set: Produced in 1999, "Bud Grant: The Quiet Leader," (8:17) consists of an interview of Grant conducted by NFL Films president Steve Sabol. They discuss how Grant was able to balance work and family to a degree that more modern coaches have not been able to. (Here NFL Films president Steve Sabol does indeed raise the question of whether Grant's coaching style was too "low-key" to win a Super Bowl.) Produced much more recently, "Peterson and Bieniemy: The Odd Couple," (7:57) examines the contentious but respectful relationship between two running backs: Current Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson and his position coach (and former San Diego Charger) Eric Bieniemy.

Finally, "The Stars and Robert Smith," (12:34) is the best of the three added featurettes, not only because the Vikings all-time leading rusher was unfairly overlooked in the DVD's main feature, but simply because Smith is a fascinating guy. One of the smarter players to ever play professional football, the 2007 featurette looks at Smith's life-long struggles to balance his more scholarly passions with his passion for football.

As with any program that includes footage that spans a half-century, video quality varies, but not by as much as you'd think. Basically, the 1960s footage looks surprisingly good and the disc gradually improves from there. But it's with the most recent material that this full-frame DVD will disappoint fans who are more accustomed to watching football in high definition on widescreen TVs. Much more disappointing was the decision to present the set's two America's Game episodes in full-frame despite the fact that they were filmed and originally broadcast on the NFL Network in high definition widescreen.

Sadly, although the 2.0 audio presentation of History of the Minnesota Vikings may be fine for the interview segments, it is a woefully inadequate way to present the bone-crushing hits of the "Purple People Eaters."

The Rebuttal Witnesses

By having to cover so much ground, History of the Minnesota Vikings somehow manages to come off as both incomplete and overlong. With this and other similar "NFL history" releases, NFL Films may be better off splitting the main program into two or more parts to make the presentation a bit more digestible. Here they could have done "The Met Stadium Years" and "The Metrodome Years," or "The Bud Grant Years" and "The Coaches Who Would Be Unfavorably Compared to Bud Grant Years."

Closing Statement

One minute I'm bemoaning the Vikings lousy start to the 2010-2011 season, and the next I'm believing that the addition of former castoff Randy Moss makes them a Super Bowl contender. Being a Minnesota Vikings fan is not always a fairy tale, but it's never dull, and neither is the History of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Verdict

Head coaches Les Steckel, Jerry Burns, and Mike Tice? Guilty. Head coaches Norm Van Brocklin and Brad Childress? No contest. Head coaches Bud Grant and Dennis Green? Not guilty. Producers of the History of the Minnesota Vikings? Guilty of compiling a main feature that doesn't compare favorably to its bonus features, a small crime as seen through these purple-colored glasses. Court adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 87

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Sports
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Documentaries
• Featurettes


• Minnesota Vikings

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