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Can it be, Vikings fans? Saints, Falcons, Steelers wins?

John Shipley

MINNEAPOLIS—I've always had a soft spot for Matt Millen. He was a largely lousy executive for the Lions and has said some questionable things in front of hot mics, but the former Pro Bowl linebacker also punched Patriots general manager Pat Sullivan in the face after his Raiders lost to New England in the 1985 playoffs.

He had me at "Bam!"

It was untoward, uncivilized and, frankly, illegal, yet even in retrospect seems like the reasonable thing to do. It was another time and place in the NFL, and if you were around for it, you likely miss it.

One doesn't have to be close to professional sports to understand that few athletes take losing personally anymore. It's just business. They want to win, they like to win and they'd rather win, but losing is just an inevitable part of the gig. The check still comes in the mail and, in the end, it's just a game.

The march of time made it nearly impossible this week to find a Vikings player who even remembers the team's gut-wrenching loss in the 2009-10 NFC championship game at New Orleans — defensive end Brian Robison, still effective nine years later, was the only current team member actually there — and completely impossible to find a player who understands what that game meant to Vikings fans.

It's easy to poke fun at Vikings fans, who cling to a brand of collective fatalism generally reserved for small countries that sit between much bigger ones, but at least they care. Like the weeping ingénue, they just care too much! The Vikings themselves have to study their cues and work on their technique for Sunday's 3:40 p.m. kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The fans are already well into simply hating the Saints.

When you've absorbed as much pain as Vikings fans, nearly every autumn Sunday brings a chance to chip away at some past disaster, but it's hard to look at the remaining NFL playoff bracket and not see the planets aligning. Not only do the Vikings appear to have a team capable of winning their first Super Bowl, 51 years and counting, they can do so by exacting sweet revenge when it really means something.

Michael Corleone took care of all family business in one day; the Vikings will need a good three weeks, and it could be even more epic. Saints? Check. Falcons? Maybe. Steelers? Oh, goodness, let's stop before we get too far ahead of the skis, as they say on CNN.

The 2009 Saints were a good team — they went on to beat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl #%!* — but they weren't better than a Minnesota team led by former nemesis Brett Favre, who crossed the border to throw for a career-high 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns against just seven interceptions in what should have been the Vikings' first real NFL championship.

Fumbles by Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, an astonishing 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty and a Favre interception in the closing seconds killed those dreams in a 31-28 overtime loss.

The Vikings' 30-27 loss to Atlanta, which seems ripe to upset top NFC seed Philadelphia on Saturday, requires only two words to recap: Gary Anderson. Those who are inclined are still mad at late coach Denny Green for taking a knee into overtime. Who hates the Atlanta Falcons? Honestly.

Vikings fans.

The Steelers were only one of four different teams to beat the Vikings in a Super Bowl, 16-6 after the 1974 season, and let's face it, the Vikings really have nothing against the Patriots. You know who does? Matt Millen.

The Vikings could use a little Matt Millen in them when their postseason begins Sunday.