It's been 35 seasons (and counting) since the Minnesota Vikings won their first and only NFL championship, a distinction soured (and largely forgotten) due to the fact that the team went on to lose the Super Bowl, badly, to an underdog Kansas City Chiefs team (which hasn't been back since).
This is really why we follow sports; the camaraderie, the fantasy leagues, the taunting e-mails, the beer -- that stuff is incidental. And lots and lots of fun. But incidental.
Really, we watch to see how our team finishes. It's apt that a sports campaign and a cycle of television shows are both referred to as a "season," because that's what it feels like; your favorite show comes back after a few long months off. Some cast members (Josh Lyman, say, or Matt Birk) return, some (Sam Seabourne, Greg Biekert) have moved on, and you'll miss; some (Matt Santos, Jermaine Wiggins) are brand new, and you're excited to have them aboard.
Ultimately, though, sports are even better, because they're more surprising. It may look bad for President Bartlet and his staff, the China summit may be on the verge of collapse, but, you know (and you'd be uncomfortable, somehow, if you didn't) it'll work out all right in the end.
Not so in sports; it may look bad for the Indianapolis Colts in New England, but, they've got to come through, right? I mean, this is the year, right? The year they set all the records, and finally go and dethrone the team of the century, because they finally figured out the way to beat them? No? Hm. Couldn't have guessed that.
The Steelers have to breeze into the AFC title game, right? They'll just dispatch the Jets without any trouble, without exerting too much, so that -- no? They needed a lucky break in the form of a missed field goal just to stay alive? Hm. Couldn't have guessed that.
The Randy Moss story arc as built all season; coming back from an injury, walking off the field at the end of the Washington game, getting a reprieve and making the playoffs, burning the Packers, setting up a possible matchup with the Falcons -- the Falcons, the very team that kept him out of the Super Bowl in his record-setting rookie year -- in the NFC title game... he's got to come out on fire for the Eagles game, right? That's how it works, right? No? Bored and listless? Screwing up a key fake field goal that could have got his team -- whose only chance to win was to trade punches and stay in the game early, because they haven't come back to win a big game since 1997 -- back into it?
Hm. Could have guessed that, but, you wouldn't say it's quite what you expected.
But, as upset as we sometimes -- usually (almost always) -- are by the outcome, that's why we love sports. We love to see what happens.
And we love to think about what it would be like if it happened to us.
Even if it takes 35 seasons (and counting...)