Return to suffering

PHOTO: Ian Parker, Flickr CC-BY

This isn’t the sports page, so I hesitate to talk about sports. Not everyone scorches time tracking the intricacies of professional athletics. There are more important things in the world, such as gambling and Netflix. 

But I think everyone understands the nature of disappointment and suffering. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ve all stared into the abyss at one time or another. Thus, it becomes germane to discuss another trip to the National Football League playoffs for our Minnesota Vikings. 

For those who don’t follow sports, let me catch you up. The NFL granted Minnesota its franchise in 1960. The next year, the Vikings took the field for the first time and scored an improbable victory against the fearsome Chicago Bears. Having shocked the world, the Vikings proceeded to go 3-11.

But it got better. In 62 years, the Vikings won four conference championships, 21 division championships and made the playoffs almost half the time. They hold one of the best win percentages during that time, and the highest of any team that never won the Super Bowl.

Oh, right. The Vikings played in four Super Bowls and lost all four, most of them badly. They haven’t been back since before I was born. Traumatic failures in high profile games mark my lifetime of Vikings fandom like tubercular coughs. Gary Anderson. 41-0. Favre’s interception. Kickers, kickers and more kickers.

Our Vikings aren’t the only hard-luck franchise in the NFL. The Buffalo Bills are also 0-4 in Super Bowls and can cite numerous heartbreaks of their own. The Cincinnati Bengals are 0-3 in Super Bowls, with the most recent defeat coming just last year. 

But I can make a compelling case that the Vikings’ championship fecklessness stands out. No franchise more closely syncs with its local culture as tragically as the Purple and Gold. Buffalo is really just working out the decline of the Erie Canal. Cincinnati has a great zoo to salve its sorrows. Minnesota? Our bond with our NFL team remains as dysfunctional and passive-aggressive as our closest personal relationships.

What the Vikings have done over the history of the franchise is good. It’s almost great. But, like the cultural inclinations of our people, it’s not actually great. Just pretty good. We Minnesotans suffer the curse of the almost-great.

As a state, we think Minnesota is great. We become upset, even indignant, when people tell us we’re a bad state, or that something we like is overrated. The Mall of America. Top the Tater. Walter Mondale. We’ll tell anyone that such Minnesota people, places and things are great. 

But inner turmoil haunts us. In the dark of night, when the ghosts come to our bedside and the tears streak down the corners of our eyes, we whisper the truth. The Mall of America is an overpriced purgatory. A reasonable facsimile of Top the Tater can be mixed in a prison sink. Walter Mondale lost 49 states. We are only good, not great.

And so it is for our Minnesota Vikings as they begin another playoff campaign. Our offense strikes fear into the heart of the league, so long as our linemen don’t shatter their ankles like icicles. Our defensive rush can be devastating, so long as the opposing quarterback doesn’t throw the ball over them to one of three undefended receivers. Damn, we’re good. Almost great. And eventually that has to work out for us, right?

Naturally, none of these agonizing observations will prevent me from watching this weekend’s game. Could the Vikings win? Absolutely! Might they make a run in the playoffs? Sure. Will they make the Super Bowl? Wouldn’t that be nice? 

But the biggest question remains, “Can they win it all?” To that, one can only quote Hindu god Vishnu, “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” The logical end of suffering is death itself. Be careful what you wish for.


Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. Joe musich says

    You must have been getting the world ready for the coming Robert Oppenheimer film with the Vishnu quote ? So therefore a twofer. Nice.

  2. In one of the famous disappointments of history, it turns out that Oppenheimer did not actually voice the famous Vishnu quote at the detonation of the first test nuclear bomb. He made that up later, when he was giving speeches and crafting his memoirs to create something in keeping with his legend, at least as that legend existed in his own mind.. What he actually said at the time was “Holy —-! It works!” Or words to that effect.

    The first time Oppenheimer is on record as actually saying the quote was on a TV program in 1965, which gave him plenty of time to compose and edit.

    It is true that after spearheading the Manhattan Project to develop the bomb, he came to regret that he had done so, and frequently said so. He is not alone in that among project scientists, most of whom worked on the project under the assumption that Hitler and Germany were running parallel development of nuclear weapons that, if unchallenged, could reverse the course of the war. In reality, Hitler had shifted his attention to development of rocket warfare, leaving the bomb project underfunded and underdeveloped. The fact that a significant number of German and other Axis scientists who would have worked on the German project had been run out of Europe and were by then working at Los Alamos undoubtedly had an impact on that. There is also speculation that some of the top German nuclear scientists may have decided to deliberately slow down the project after deciding that winning the war for Hitler was not in the best interests of the human race.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.