You have to forgive Viking fans if they seem a little puzzled right now. It’s just such a new experience for most of them. You know, having a rookie quarterback who looks like he might actually amount to something.
Yes fans, Pondermonium (or Pondermania if you prefer) has descended on Viking Nation. Never in my life have I seen so much excitement over a QB who just turned in a mediocre performance in a loss to a hated rival. Like I always say, if you want people to love your young quarterback, just have him follow an out-of-shape and disengaged veteran who started the season 1-5.
It’s not a stretch to say there has never been anything like Pondermania in Vikings history. Daunte Culpepper ended up being an MVP-caliber QB, but he didn’t actually play in his rookie year, and when he did become the starter, he didn’t exactly take Viking Nation by storm. Fans (and some players) wanted the team to keep Jeff George, and were actually annoyed when Dennis Green handed the reins to his first round pick of the previous year.
In defiance of his critics, Culpepper led the Vikes to a playoff berth in his first year as starter while racking up huge numbers (3937 yards, 33 TDs/16 INTs). Unless things turn around in miraculous fashion, there will be no first year playoff run for Christian Ponder. And does anyone think Ponder will finish the season with numbers like Culpepper’s? No chance. Even if he’d started the whole season…no chance.
Of course Culpepper had certain advantages that Ponder doesn’t presently enjoy. Daunte had Randy Moss and Cris Carter (both of whom went over 1200 yards in 2000). Christian has Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu. And Percy Harvin sometimes.
But this isn’t an argument about who had more talent or better coaching or a better supporting cast. I’m talking about pure hype level. Despite his excellence, Culpepper never generated the kind of fan hysteria Ponder seems to be creating. Maybe that’s just a function of differing eras. There was no Twitter in 2000. Social media interaction tends to intensify hype. Fans seem much more locked-in on the goings-on with their teams than fans back in the infancy of the internet, and as a result, everything is magnified. Controversies are blown out of proportion, and so is the enthusiasm that surrounds promising young players.
Who knows what heights Dauntemania would’ve reached in the current media climate? It’s impossible to say. All I know is that, thanks to blogs and Twitter and ESPN, Pondermania is getting close to out-of-hand…and it feels great.
Think how depressed we were at this time last year, watching Brett Favre stagger his way through a final travesty of a season. And that Vikings team had a better record than this year’s! The difference of course was that last year we had no young, dynamic (handsome, personable) quarterback in whom to invest all our hopes for the future. We had only Tarvaris Jackson, a hold-over, and Joe Webb, a place-holder.
Pondermania is about hope as much as hype. It’s about tomorrow as much as the now. But the now is pretty fun too, especially with Ponder about to match his talents against the soaring gifts of his good off-season work out buddy Cam Newton (Cam calls him Ponderosa? Hiiiiilarious.).
Think about it fellow fans: There’s an over-hyped rookie vs. rookie QB match-up going on this weekend…and one of the over-hyped rookies is a Viking! I bet some of you never thought you’d live to see that. Like me, you probably thought you were doomed to live out your days watching a revolving roster of has-beens leading the Purple. Who would it be next after Donovan McNabb? Kyle Orton? Vince Young? Byron Leftwich?
Now the only veteran QBs we’ll be looking at in the off-season are the kind we know will be sitting on the bench the whole year. And it’s all thanks to Christian Ponder and his fleet feet and accurate-if-not-exactly-rocket-like arm.
The hype may be getting a tad overcooked, but it’s still understandable. It’s like the elation a man feels after being let out of prison. Viking fans feel as though they’ve been released from a terrible suffering. They’re so happy to be watching a young QB they can invest in emotionally for the long-run, they don’t even care if he wins or loses.
Right now they don’t care if he wins or loses. Check back with me in four weeks for an update. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Pondermania will have a short shelf-life. The plugged-in media culture is great at creating a frenzy of enthusiasm around an athlete, but it’s equally great at stoking the flames of discontent when the same athlete doesn’t live up to the hype. If Ponder struggles too much and wins don’t start coming at a reasonable rate, the grumbling will begin. The same boos Donovan McNabb heard will start raining down on yesterday’s Golden Boy. And if a couple of the other struggling teams start winning, moving the Vikings up in the draft order? Suck for Luck will come out of the closet, receive a dusting-off and once again become the most insufferable hashtag on my Twitter timeline.
But that’s something to worry about tomorrow. Today, Christian Ponder is the savior. He’s the Mr. Viking Daunte Culpepper never became despite his brilliance. He’s everything Brad Childress dreamed Tarvaris Jackson could be (don’t think too hard about Chilly’s dreams or you’ll puke). And he’s probably going to get his butt kicked on Sunday by Cam Newton. But no one will care as long as he hits his receivers in stride and occasionally makes a throw downfield while rolling out. And hands off to Adrian Peterson without incident. The honeymoon will eventually end, but not this week.