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Football’s finally back

Fear not sports fans. You can get up out of the fetal position, dry your tear-soaked faces, and change out of your favorite baseball team’s apparel. No longer do you have to pretend to be interested in the World Cup or baseball.

The American sports equivalent of electricity is back. Awaken from the dark months, rub your weary eyes, re-acclimate yourselves to the light, turn on your televisions, stock your mini-fridges and plug in your crock pots because football is back, baby.

Sure the first preseason game was about a week ago. But as I am a Vikings fan, the NFL season essentially started on Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium with the Vikings winning a 10-6 barnburner (sarcasm) over the hated Raiders (and try to think of the word Raiders like Chris Berman was saying it, “Raidas.” Isn’t that more enjoyable?).

It was a beautiful night at The Bank, which served quite nicely as the Vikings home stadium for preseason game No. 1 (at least from a fan’s perspective). And although my crew and I missed the first two possessions of the game, including Minnesota’s lone touchdown drive, as we navigated the oft-praised light rail to a game for the first time, we still proceeded to have a good time at the game.

After the game, I found myself digging for conclusions that could be drawn and searching for intelligent, original analysis to unearth. Indeed, I believe that this is a common feeling for most fans. Our society’s football appetite, as a whole, is so insatiable that our desire to “analyze” even preseason games is astronomical.

But let’s face it, your average fan has very little idea of how to analyze a professional football game, let alone a preseason game. We aren’t equipped to judge how well a rookie offensive or defensive lineman is playing. Nor can we tell you much about how good the starters are when they only really played one series together and some of the best players didn’t even play at all.

We are, at best, capable of noticing glaring successes and mistakes at skilled positions such as running back, wide receiver, and quarterback. Sure, we can tell you if a running back is playing badly if he has problems holding onto the ball, we can tell you if a receiver is playing poorly if he continuously drops passes, and we can tell you when a quarterback is having a bad game if he’s missing open receivers or turning the ball over.

For defensive players, we can really only say if they have a good or bad game based on very tangible, quantifiable statistics that we look up after the fact, unless they force a turnover or make several plays in the backfield or miss some tackles that we notice or remember. For the most part, we rely on announcers, analysts and radio personalities to tell us who is playing well and who is playing poorly. That’s because the vast, vast majority of NFL fans never played football after high school, and a significant percentage probably never even played in high school (including yours truly).

So let’s admit that we don’t know people. Don’t be ashamed to not take big, bold stances. Don’t be afraid to keep your opinions and predictions reserved until seeing meaningful, regular season games played (and even then, the world would probably be OK with you keeping them to yourself).

You don’t have to be the idiot behind me at the game on Friday who yelled, “You suck Musgrave. Let Bridgewater throw the ball.” And if you don’t know why that is an absurd thing to yell at a Vikings game, you probably should feel free to be one of those people that keeps their Vikings opinions muted. That is, of course, an absurd thing to yell at a Vikings game now because Bill Musgrave was replaced as offensive coordinator by Norv Turner, who was hired by new head coach Mike Zimmer.

And to all of those who are so delusional about the preseason that you think you can predict MVP candidates, rookies of the year and Super Bowl winners, please consider this article to be your wet blanket. In truth, your opinions are likely just regurgitated, second-hand commentary that you pilfered from some football analyst or sports talk radio host somewhere (which is why I try to write most of my Vikings articles immediately following games before I am exposed to outside opinion).

And don’t be offended by this observation. These words are also meant to serve as a reminder to myself that opinions are just opinions. We tend to forget the ones that we have that don’t work out and cling to the ones that do. And in all honesty, there are very few original opinions to be had anyway.

And that brings me to a rhetorical question: What, if any, acceptable opinions or conclusions can we draw from preseason football games then?

The answer: virtually none.

At least none that don’t come directly from the mouth of a knowledgeable football analyst or coach, and even theirs will likely miss the mark more often than not.

So here’s what I can feel comfortable telling you after one Vikings preseason game — it was a gorgeous night.

Aside from fewer seats, a lackluster speaker system-audio experience, bleacher seating in parts of the stadium (including our seats) and the stupid drunk guy yelling about Bill Musgrave, the stadium is a better venue for taking in a game than the Dome. The Bank’s jumbotrons (without pathetic yellow nodes-display), concourses, overall architecture and urinals (yes urinals, not troughs) are all vastly superior to what the Dome used to offer. And don’t forget the authentic, outdoor football experience (not that I’m complaining that the new stadium will be enclosed, though).

If the Vikings can manage to win some games early in the season and remain relevant, this could be one of the most fun and special falls in recent memory. The circumstances of playing in a temporary, outdoor home stadium could potentially reinvigorate fans and provide some positive, nostalgic “I remember when the Vikings played at The Bank during the 2014 season” memories.

Of course, that is entirely dependent upon how well the team plays, and I’m hoping that the memories created don’t just turn into one big, white, foggy flashback of Vikings fans freezing in the stands come late December while the Vikes get toasted by another opponent in another meaningless game.

I guess that, for now, we should probably just be happy that football is back.

Casey Johnson is a Jamestown native and now lives in the Twin Cities