Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Purple Pain: Les You're Crazy". 29 Years Later Another Les Another Dismal Season

Twenty-nine years ago this month the Washington Redskins played the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome in a nationally televised Thursday night game on ABC.  As native Minnesotans and die hard Vikings fans who relocated to The Washington D.C. area when our father took a job with the Senate in 1971, my brother and I suffered every fall when football season rolled around.

In the 1970's there was no such thing as cable or satellite TV with NFL Sunday Ticket where you can watch your choice of any or all games.  Nope, back then you were stuck with the regional game in your area and for Northern Virginia that meant the Foreskins.  Having been spoiled by the consistently excellent teams of the Bud Grant era we were proud of our Vikings and liked to show our pride with our Vikings stocking hats and hero jackets.  This of course tended to make us the focal point for our classmates, who were predominantly Skins fans, wrath.  Fortunately we survived and after high school we returned to Minnesota to attend the U.

So when the 1984 Vikings schedule was released and we saw that our Vikes would be playing the hated Foreskins on a nationally televised Thursday night game on ABC, we knew what we had to do.  Games televised on ABC, usually Monday Night but late in the season the odd Thursday night game, meant that the Metropolitan Sports Facility would be relaxing their strict "no signs" policy so that Dandy Don and Howard would have something to talk about (other than Frank Gifford's slutty wife).  For those too young to remember, the key to getting your sign seen on air was to include the ABC logo on your sign with a nod to one of the broadcasters and then in the margins of your sign you could do shout outs to your friends.

As luck would have it though, 1984 was not a good year for the Vikings.  Bud Grant had retired just the year before after an almost unheard of mediocre record of 8-8 and the geniuses who made up the management group that ran the Vikings had made one of the biggest blunders in franchise history (sorry Herschel).  Instead of tapping Bud Grant's long time assistant and offensive coordinator Jerry Burns, Viking management decided to go with a youth movement hiring 38 year old Les Steckel, a born again ex-Marine.  By the time of the game in late November, the Vikings were well on their way to the worst record in team history, 3-13.

1984 was also the year that Prince broke through to national success with his album Purple Rain.  One of the singles from the album was "Let's Go Crazy".  Simply irresistible.  A sign from  Jehovah?

 $25 of art supplies and a 12 pack of Green Death (Special Ex) later my brother and I get inside the stadium an hour and a half before game time only to find every conceivable bit of railing space is already taken with signage, except one. There was a spot over one of the dugouts.  So that's where we hung it and scurried back to our nosebleed seats where we sat looking through binoculars admiring our art work.  Little did we know that was the dugout the Vikings used to get to their locker room.

Pretty soon the Vikings came out with their backs to our sign followed by the coaching staff including Head Coach Les Steckel.  The players turned around to face Coach Steckel and started to stretch before Steckel started his pregame regime of Marine Corps calisthenics (something a veteran team like the Vikings absolutely despised).  Well it didn't take too long until the players started to notice.  I believe punter Greg Coleman was the first to crack up and start pointing and soon chuckles started rippling through the ranks, pissing off the whistle clenching head coach.  Finally Steckel sees the sign and starts flailing his arms at his assistants who get Sims Security personnel to start removing our sign.

My brother and I flew down to the section where our sign was and all that running got the Green Death coursing through my bloodstream.  Being a  law student and taking Constitutional Law from Dean Carl Auerbach (just as my father did before me) I start a rant about First Amendment rights as the Sims Security guards were crumpling all our hard work and money into a large ball obviously destined for the trash.  The head Pinkerton (aka Sims) wannabe informs me "one more word out of you and you will be watching the game from jail...". The combination of seething anger, humiliation and Green Death was so overwhelming the only way I could keep my cool was to stare at my boots as we walked up the long flight of stairs from near the dugout and out into the concourse of the Metrodome.

At this point my anger is overtaken by the overwhelming need to urinate and now!  Using my less than Superman powers of peripheral vision and still looking down at my feet, I follow the shadows of the crowd around me and into one of the large public restrooms.  Standing in line, still staring at my feet, the room suddenly gets strangely quiet.  I look up and make eye contact with one of the several dozen women staring at me with mouths agape.  Both of us let out blood curdling shrieks just before I sprint from the women's room in search of my brother who I find back at our seats.  After I tell him what just happened we both agree to leave and go back to his nearby apartment before we run into that Sims Security guard who now will definitely arrest us or at least me.

We spend the game composing the following letters to the editor which were subsequently printed in both the St. Paul Dispatch (not yet Pioneer Press) and City Pages.  The next week as I was exiting my 8-9 a.m. class at the U Law School, one of my classmates (now Judge) Mary Hannon comes up to me and asks if I have a brother and when I confirm I do she tells me they read our letter on the KQ Morning Show and that the host, Tom Barnard would like to talk to the brothers who wrote the letter.  I jump in my car and make it from the Law School to my parent's house on West River Road near Lock and Dam No. 1 in 17 minutes only to find that the morning crew were done at 9:15 a.m.

The best part of the story, at least for me, was one of our friends back in Northern Virginia said that they flashed a view of our sign on the Joe Gibbs Show so at least one of our friends got to see our shout out to them.

If only the thin skinned born again Marine would have listened to his lovely wife Tess and chilled out I could have recycled my sign.  Although 29 years later, same teams, another Coach Les and another dismal season.  Same as it ever was.