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About markwalters

MN sports fan for life. Love the Vikes, Twins, Wild, Wolves, Gophers, UMD Bulldog hockey, and there's no such thing as too much outdoor recreation.

How to Find the Perfect Head Coach


With the search for a new Vikings head coach now at full throttle, I thought it would be a good time to peer into the past and examine the careers of the team’s eight previous sideline generals. Considering they have never won a Super Bowl, it would be hard to see what these former coaches did right. But as fortune would have it, the coaching history of the Minnesota Vikings is overflowing with examples of what not to do. Let’s take an in-depth look at each former head coach and find their flaws that led them to ruin. When we are finished, we can then use the opposite of these flaws to create a perfect coach template that Vikings GM Rick Spielman can utilize to finally find a Super Bowl winning coach for our cursed franchise.

Here are the men who have captained the ship of purple fools throughout the years:

1. Norm Van Brocklin (1961-1966)- Being born in 1976, I never had the opportunity to watch a Van Brocklin-led Vikings squad lose a big playoff game. Fortunately, I didn’t miss out on any purple-tinged disappointment, as the Vikings never even made the playoffs once during Normie’s tenure. His teams stumbled their way to an awful .363 winning percentage over six years. Missing out on this period of putridity provides me with yet another reason to be grateful I’m not older than I am.

Fatal Flaw-What’s weird about Van Brocklin is that he sucked at managing the QB position despite being a former star NFL QB himself. As a player, Norm won two NFL titles, was named NFL MVP, set the record for most passing yards in a game (554, which still stands) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971, yet he had no idea how to use his rising star QB Fran Tarkenton. The QB and coach butted heads as Norm wanted Fran to be a pocket passer, but Fran wanted the freedom to scramble. In other words, Norm was ordering the QB who would go on to become the best scrambling QB in NFL history to stop scrambling. What a moron.

2. Bud Grant (1967-1983, 1985)-When Bud arrived in 1967, he took over a 4-9-1 team that had just traded away future Hall of Famer Tarkenton. After a rough first season, Bud would get the Vikings into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1968 and then in 1969 he coached his squad to the Super Bowl. Grant would re-acquire Tarkenton in 1972 and the Vikings would go on to be one of the NFL’s best teams for the next decade.

Bud led the Vikings to the playoffs in 10 of his 17 years and got his team to four Super Bowls. Sadly, all the Super Bowls were losses, but Bud had established himself as one of the best coaches in league history. He would return for a one-off year in 1985 following the Les Steckel debacle before finally retiring for good.

Fatal Flaw-It’s hard to criticize a man who had so much success, but that’s what we less successful people do: criticize others. What Bud unintentionally did by creating a culture of winning was that he forged a mold of “never quite winning the big one” that to this day no Viking team has been able to break free from. Yes, at least he got his teams to the big dance, but it was also he who first indoctrinated Vikings fans to believe that greatness will always be just out of reach. This seemingly genetic pessimism that today pervades every cell of a Viking fans’ body can be traced directly to Bud.

3. Les Steckel (1984)-After their longtime leader Grant left, the Vikings promoted 37 year-old receivers coach Steckel to the top job. He went 3-13 to instantly become the worst coach in franchise history, a distinction he continues to carry today.

Fatal Flaw-The entire 1984 Minnesota Vikings season.

4. Jerry Burns (1986-1991)-Burns was the Vikings offensive coordinator for an astounding 17 years before he was given the top job in 1986. He got the Vikes to the playoffs three times in his six years, including the magical run of 1987 where Anthony Carter and Wade Wilson carried the team to the NFC Championship Game. Sadly, Darrin Nelson would drop a pass near the goal line that could have kept the Vikings alive in their quest for the Super Bowl. Burns finished with a respectable 52-43 record during his time at the helm, and actually was never fired from the Vikings; he simply chose to retire in 1991.

Fatal Flaw-Because I can’t really find one distinctive idiotic football moment or tendency to pin on Ol’ Burnsie, I’ll just find personality flaws. First of all, he had perennial “bed head”. His tussled gray locks were always unkempt during the game; it was as if he slumbered peacefully on a roll-away bed on the sideline during pregame warmups until an assistant coach would wake him up 5 minutes before kickoff. In addition to everyday being a bad hair day for Jerry, he also cursed like a sailor with Tourette’s. He let loose in front of the media on more than one occasion, and I imagine NFL Films simply stopped miking him up for games as three hours of taping Burns likely yielded only two minutes of airable, curse-free audio.

5. Dennis Green (1992-2001)-The Vikings next brought in Denny, who was then the head coach at Stanford, and immediately the team’s fortunes began to improve. Over the next ten years the Vikings would only have a losing record once (Denny’s final season), they would reach two NFC Championship Games, and Green would finish his Vikes tenure with an excellent career winning percentage of .610.

Fatal Flaw-Denny just couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. His career playoff record was a weak 4-8, and his two title game losses were a 41-0 blowout to the Giants and the to-this-day-heartwrenching overtime loss to an inferior Falcons team. The latter game featured the colossal  “take a knee” gaffe that came to define Denny’s Vikings career. To refresh your memory, the score was tied at 27 with 30 seconds left in the game, the Vikings had two timeouts left, and were facing a 3rd and 3 at their own 30 yard line. Instead of giving the greatest offense in NFL history a chance to drive the ball into game-winning field goal range, Denny had Randall Cunningham take a freaking knee to run out the clock and let the game go to overtime, which, as we all know, didn’t end well. What a moron.

No critique of Denny’s reverse genius would be complete without mentioning his autobiography: No Room for Crybabies. Not only did the book not win a Pulitzer, it also contained a passage where he threatened to sue Vikings’ ownership and take over part of the team. This may seem like no big deal, until you realize Denny wrote his book in 1997, while he was still coaching the team. Publicly threatening to sue your employer while you are still employed? What a moron.

6. Mike Tice (2001-2005)- After five years as Denny’s offensive line coach, Tice became the first former Vikings player to coach the team. (He played TE for the Vikes in the early 90′s.) Big Mike only got the team to the playoffs once in his four seasons and finished with a .492 winning percentage. Most players and fans seemed to like Tice as a coach, but he was swept out the door when the Wilfs bought the team.

Fatal Flaw-The “Love Boat” scandal. Although it’s hard to blame Tice for the over-the-top live sex party that several Vikings players took part in on a rented boat on Lake Minnetonka, it was a sign of the lawlessness he presided over and even participated in. To wit: Just three months before the boat bacchanal occurred, Tice himself had been heavily fined by the NFL for being the ringleader of a Super Bowl ticket scalping scheme. What a moron.

7. Brad Childress (2006-2010)-The Vikings thought they had the right man for the job when they snapped up the Eagles’ offensive coordinator right after firing Tice. Childress’ name had been floating around as a possible candidate for a head coaching position for a while as teams looked at Philadelphia’s offensive success and figured the guy running that machine must be a great coach. However, there was one big problem with such an assessment: Andy Reid called all the Eagles’ offensive plays, not Childress. This led skeptics to ask the question, “If an offensive coordinator isn’t even calling the plays for the offense he is supposed to be coordinating, then what the hell good is he?”

The skeptics were right. Chilly couldn’t develop his young QB (T-Jack), his playcalling was atrocious, and his offenses in general were all horse crap until the team finally signed Brett Favre. Chilly would finish his tenure with a .527 winning percentage and two playoff appearances.

Fatal Flaw-Being a control freak. Instead of letting a surefire Hall of Fame QB play how he knows best, Chilly tried to force his constipated offensive mind upon #4. Not only did every QB that played for Chilly comment on how he wouldn’t let them do what they were best at, he also cut Randy Moss without consulting his bosses. (A necessary move, for sure, but not one to be undertaken unilaterally.) It is no surprise that when the losing started in 2010, the team completely quit on Chilly; nobody liked him and his overcontrolling ways. What a moron.

8. Leslie Frazier(2011-2013)-Once Chilly had been run out of town, defensive coordinator Frazier filled in as interim coach for the rest of the season and was given the gig full-time during the offseason. After a Steckel-esque 3-13 inaugural campaign, the next year Frazier joined the rest of the Vikings and rode the back of Adrian Peterson to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance. Unfortunately for Leslie, the team spiraled right back down into the outhouse hole this season, leading to his firing. He finished with a career .409 winning percentage.

Fatal Flaw-Frazier was too loyal. Instead of giving superiorly talented players such as Cordarrelle Patterson, Audie Cole, Matt Cassel, and Xavier Rhodes more playing time, Frazier stuck with familiar players Erin Henderson, Jerome Simpson, and Christian Ponder far too long. With as many close games as the Vikings lost this season, an extra playmaker or two could have easily put the team in position to win the shoddy NFC North, something that would have saved Frazier’s job.

Also, it was hard at times to detect if Frazier had a pulse. Perhaps showing a little fire could have given his team an extra boost.

The Interview Questions-So, now that we have reviewed the career of each Viking coach and highlighted their fatal flaws, let’s compile a list of questions that GM Rick Spielman can ask potential candidates in order to screen out the losers and find a perfect head coach, one who will be so successful that he will make Vince Lombardi look like Les Steckel. The questions are as follows: (The coach associated with each question is in parentheses.)

1. Have you ever tried to force a Hall of Fame QB to stop doing what he does best? (Van Brocklin, Childress)

2. Can you win a Super Bowl? (Grant)

3. Can you at least reach a Super Bowl? (All Viking coaches other than Grant)

4. If hired, will you prove to be a terrible head coach? (Steckel, Childress)

5. Are you certifiably crazy? (Green, perhaps Childress)

6. Have you ever allowed your players to transport hookers across state lines and proceed to have an out-of-control sex party on a rented houseboat in front of teenage boat workers? (Tice)

7. Do you have a soul? (Childress)

8. Have you ever been the mastermind of a Super Bowl ticket-scalping cartel?  (Tice)

9. Have you ever had a facial expression? (Frazier)

10. Do you own a comb? (Burns)

There you have it. Any potential head coach that can pass through this gauntlet of inquisition without error is the man Spielman should hire. I emailed this list to Spielman and I’m sure he is using it in interviews, which makes me so confident that the next Vikings coach will take the team to the top that I’m already shopping for tickets to next year’s Super Bowl. Does anybody have Tice’s phone number?



Vikings Postseason Autopsy


Now that the Vikings’ pitiful season is finally dead, let’s grab our analytical scalpel and slice through the layers of failure that obscure the reasons for the team’s return to crappiness. Only by examining each organ of the Vikes’ football system can we determine what the most critical factors were that sent our favorite team to an early grave during the 2013 NFL season.

Here are my top 5 reasons why the Vikings’ season is now “in a better place”, and I also offer my predictions/suggestions as to how the problem can be fixed going into next season.

5. Linebackers: Going into the season, the Vikings were bullish on their linebacking crew which figured to be Chad Greenway, Desmond Bishop, and Erin Henderson. Bishop was lost for the season due to injury about six seconds after he was finally healthy enough to take the field; Henderson was painfully mediocre all season until a thoroughly idiotic DUI charge sent him to the bench; even standout Greenway had a nauseating year, as he missed tackles and seemingly forgot how to make plays. The emergence of Audie Cole as an instinctive playmaker was the only thing that kept the collection of sad sacks known as the linebacking crew from being a total failure.

Going into next season, the Vikings can take heart that they have two good starters in Greenway and Cole. Greenway should return to his Pro Bowl self and Cole will have a chance to pick up where he left off before he was injured late in the season. The Vikings also did invest two picks last year for LB prospects Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges, so if one of those two can develop into a starter, then this unit will be markedly improved. Regardless, the team will need to address this position via free agency or the draft in order to build some depth or possibly land a high caliber starter.

4. Defensive secondary: First the good news. Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes appear to both be top notch young players who can anchor this secondary for the next decade. Now for the bad news. There is no one else on this team capable of starting for a top ten NFL defense.

Smith had already proven himself as a top safety before turf toe robbed him of his season, and once Rhodes got some experience under his belt, he was looking like an excellent cover corner that could compete with the league’s best receivers. Chris Cook was his usual horrible self, Jamarca Sanford continued to unimpress, and Josh Robinson was somehow always a few steps behind his receiver despite being the fastest player in the draft two years ago. At least Marcus Sherels was competitive, but he should be no higher than a dime back on this team.

Going in to next season, Smith and Rhodes will be anchors, Robinson will be given another shot because of his high end physical skills, and Sherels will make the team because of his special teams contributions and adequate coverage abilities. This means that the Vikings need to find upgrades at the other safety position and at the #2 and #3 cornerback spots. Fortunately, experts are saying this offseason will be deep with available cornerbacks, thus the Vikes are likely to use a sizeable chunk of their ample salary cap space to sign a top name or two. In addition, the team will also use at least one pick in the first three rounds to bolster the secondary. Help is on the way.

3. Quarterback: I can already hear the gasps from all of my highly intelligent readers as they wonder how this position isn’t the clear cut #1 on this list. To you astute, perspicacious beacons of reason, I offer the following justification.

The Vikings put up plenty of offense this season as a whole, as they were 8th in the NFC in yards, 9th in points scored, and 23rd in the league in passing yards. Are these numbers great? Hell no, but they could be good enough for a team who had a defense that didn’t totally suck. Don’t get me wrong, the QB position was a major problem, but it certainly wasn’t the biggest problem.

Combined, the Vikes’ QBs had 18 TDs and 18 interceptions, which is the very definition of crappy. Ponder and Cassel were usually able to move the ball, but they would intersperse their successes with horrible passes that were picked off and sometimes returned for touchdowns. Ponder put the final nail in his Vikings career coffin while Cassel did just enough to warrant being brought back next year. And Josh Freeman isn’t worth the eighteen words of this sentence telling you he was a total disaster.

Going into next season, I am fine with the Vikings bringing Cassel back as either a temporary starter or backup. Cassel has an option on his contract, so he may not come back, but I saw enough that tells me he can at least be competent if he is given the job. But the Vikings absolutely need to draft a QB. Whether they can get a top guy at the #8 pick they currently have, trade up to get a higher pick, or else draft defense first and then grab a QB in rounds 2-4 and develop him, something must be done.

Good QB are available almost every year in rounds 2-4 (sometimes even in rounds 5-6), and if the purple can’t get a top guy early, they simply can’t reach again like they did for Ponder. Take the best player available at #8, and then get a QB later and hope he will be another Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, or Tom Brady, all players drafted after round one. Let Cassel run the team until the young guy is ready to take over, whether that be Week 8 of next season or Week 1 of 2015.

QB may not have been the #1 reason the Vikings blew goats this season, but it is absolutely the #1 position that needs to get moving in the right direction during the offseason.

2. Coaching and or GM decisions: Much of this one depends on who you believe made the decisions as to which players saw the field the most this season. Was it Leslie Frazier that kept running Ponder out there every week when Cassel was clearly a better option, or did GM Rick Spielman send orders down that his former #1 draft pick needed to be given chance-after-excruciating chance? Given Frazier’s high level of loyalty and consistently conservative actions, I tend to give him more of the blame.

Either way, it was Frazier that failed to make sure guys like Cordarrelle Patterson and Audie Cole were on the field more often, as his perplexing loyalty to Erin Henderson and inexplicably conservative approach to using Patterson on offense cost this team. It was Frazier that hired the unimaginative Bill Musgrave for offensive coordinator along with the overmatched and publicly-called-out-by-his-players Alan Williams at defensive coordinator. And it was also Frazier that insisted on continuing to use the outdated Tampa 2 scheme despite opposing teams knowing exactly how to dissect it with ease.

Going into next season, the Vikings need to find a coach that will make moves that are best for the team even if it means said moves will anger players and/or coaches. Top NFL coaches such as Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, and Bill Belichick have all shown that they will bench solid veterans in favor of youngsters that clearly have a higher ceiling. These bold moves do cause friction in locker rooms at first, but when the results show, teams only respect these coaches more.

Don’t feel bad for Frazier, he had his chance, and he will get paid next season even if he doesn’t take another job. He will always be in demand as a defensive coordinator and perhaps some other team will give him a shot in the future. It’s time for the Vikings to move on and find an upgrade at the coaching position.

1. Defensive line: So here it is, the number one reason the Vikes’ season died a slow, painful death. Jared Allen had an average season at best; certainly not anywhere within light years of the $17 million dollars the team paid him. That kind of money calls for him to be dominant. Brian Robison had the best year of his career, getting a solid number of sacks while also batting down a ton of passes and being stout against the run. Everson Griffen was essentially non-existent. Kevin Williams was barely mediocre at defensive tackle, and also came nowhere close to earning the $5 million he was paid.

Despite most of these players having subpar seasons, the biggest reason the Vikings’ defense sucked like an 80 lb. lamprey was the complete, total, and utter lack of anything positive from their nose tackles. Letroy Guion and Fred Evans are towering monuments to ineptitude. These two tubby buffet masters combined for a paltry one sack, one fumble recovery, and four passes defensed. Instead of stuffing the run and providing pressure up the gut to force opposing QBs into the hands of Allen and Robison, Guion and Evans were being pushed around with ease and committing penalties at an alarming rate. These two are terrible and the $5 million used to pay them can be put to infinitely better use next season.

Going into next season, the Vikings have a chance to upgrade this group in a hurry. I don’t see any way the Vikings keep Allen unless they franchise him, which would really piss him off and may cause his performance to sink further. But, the Vikes will bring back Robison and I believe they will also re-sign Griffen, who I believe can be a good player if he is given a chance to play every down. He is athletic as hell and has shown flashes, so give him the job and let him run with it.

In the interior of the line, the Vikes have Sharrif Floyd, a 1st rounder last year that really started to show some promise towards the end of the season. I have no reservations installing him at defensive tackle next year and predict he will flourish. This leaves us with nose tackle. Fortunately, the answer has been wearing purple for over a decade: Kevin Williams. When he was forced to play NT vs Cleveland, Williams had a monster game and looked like his old dominating self. If the Vikings can convince Williams to play NT at a reasonable price, that will go a long way in improving the defense as a whole.

So, I would love to see a d-line next season consisting of Robison, Floyd, Williams, and Griffen. And through the draft and free agency, the team can also pick up another DE and NT as insurance against Griffen not getting it and to rotate with the elder Williams, respectively. This group can be solid next season without making too many changes.

As you can see, defense is a recurring theme on the Vikings’ pathology report. They came four points away from setting a new team record for most points surrendered during a season, finished 31st in the league in pass yards given up, and had major issues holding on to leads in the last two minutes of games.

How will they resuscitate this lifeless defense? I think the Vikes will draft a LB, S, DT, and will use their cap space to sign two established CBs. (On offense I think they will draft a QB and a G.) They will also have money to add another mid-level defensive player or two to add depth where needed. Spielman has his work cut out for him.

There you have it, the dissected corpse of this failed season all laid out on the cold stainless steel table of an NFL morgue with all of the fatal shortcomings clearly visible. This Vikings season may have died, but fortunately for us fans, hope never does.

MN Sports Round Up: Fireman Edition

Perhaps the players on our favorite Minnesota sports teams should consider another profession: firefighting. Despite seasons awash in mediocrity, the Vikings, Wild, and Wolves have all been putting out major fires as of late. The burning objects were not houses or forests; they were the hottest teams in their respective sports. Let’s run a fine tooth analytical comb through each over-achievement to see just what happened.

Vikings vs Eagles

Philadelphia strutted into the Metrodome having won their last five games, catapulting themselves to a solid NFC East division lead, becoming media darlings in the process. The NFL’s talking (meat)heads raved about Chip Kelly’s rapid-fire innovative offensive approach, they fawned over Nick Foles’ incredible 20:1 TD to INT ratio, and they swooned over the fact that the Eagles had not allowed more than 21 points in any of their last nine games. The strong defense and high-flying offense prompted Vegas to tab Philly as a five point road favorite, essentially saying they thought the Eagles would win by more than a touchdown. (Home teams are usually spotted three points before the line is even released.)

Not that anyone living outside the walls of a mental institution disagreed with this prediction. The Vikings were without Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Kyle Rudolph, Xavier Rhodes, and a few other starters. So a hamstrung Vikings team was ready to be brought to the slaughter in front of the home fans and would further cement their place in the top five in next year’s draft once the day’s beating was complete.

But the Vikings had other ideas. The purple piled up 48 points, the most since the magical 1998 season, as Matt Cassel dismantled the Philly pass defense for 382 yards and three touchdowns. In the process of this upset, Cassel turned himself into the undisputed favorite to lead the Vikings next season and some are even now wondering if Leslie Frazier’s ability to keep his team playing hard during a lost season will buy him another year at the helm.

It was a thoroughly unexpected, thoroughly enjoyable dousing of a team on fire.

Wild vs Vancouver

Going into Tuesday night’s game, the Canucks were the hottest team in the NHL, having won seven in a row. They were climbing the standings and Roberto Luongo had Vancouver fans thinking they once again had the top goalie in the league. Fortunately for the Wild, the actual best goalie in the league happens to wear a Wild jersey. Josh Harding was his usual brick wall self, stopping 29 of 31 shots and stoning the ‘Nucks on all three of their shootout attempts.

The floundering Wild came away with a huge 3-2 SO victory to keep pace with Vancouver in the standings.

For the second time in three days a Minnesota team had cooled off a flaming juggernaut.

Wolves vs Trailblazers

At 22-4, the Portland Trailblazers were, well, blazing. NBA experts were starting to turn their noses up at the Miami’s and Indiana’s of the league and were now cozying up to the newest latest and greatest team. Local hospitals reported a spike in emergency room visits due to injuries sustained by so many people trying to hop on to the Blazers’ speeding bandwagon. In short, everyone loved Portland and a steamrolling of the scuffling T-pups was a foregone conclusion.

A Wolves team that had just been embarrassed by an awful Boston team pulled a Jekyll and Hyde and came out firing, taking a 26 point halftime lead. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic were unstoppable, combining for 59 points and 24 rebounds, and Love finished one assist short of a triple-double. The Blazers made a late push, but Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin sank their free throws to seal the 120-109 victory.

Yet another team had arrived in Minnesota as a towering inferno and left as a humbled smoking stump.

Despite these inspiring victories, we MN fans are still left with uncertain sports futures to contemplate.

  • The Vikings have played well as of late, but who the QB and coach will be next season are still up in the air, and a heavy roster turnover looms with players like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams coming to the end of their contracts. It’s anybody’s guess how good or how bad this team will be next year.
  • The Wild have been as bad offensively as they have been good defensively, creating a maddening mix that has them stuck at the low end of potential playoff teams. (A 5-2 crushing at the hands of an injury-depleted Pittsburgh team last night didn’t help.) Unless their young guys start putting the puck in the net, another one and done playoff disappointment is on the menu. They will have some cap space in the offseason, so perhaps the missing ingredient can be brought in should their own prospects fail to emerge.
  • The T-wolves still have a terrible bench and Ricky Rubio continues to display a troubling inability to hit open shots. With so little depth and a top player that opposing teams don’t need to guard beyond ten feet from the basket, the Wolves, if they do make the playoffs, will have no shot in a seven game series against Western Conference Goliaths Portland, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. This team needs some scoring off the bench (J.J. Barea doesn’t count), and I don’t see the currently healing Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf providing that when they return.

It is hard to have faith that our teams will find the promised land anytime soon, but given their recent streak of ending other teams’ streaks, there is reason to have at least a microscopic sliver of hope. If these teams can sustain these types of efforts (next season for the Vikes), then noise can be made in the playoffs, and we all know that when team chemistry is peaking and Uncle Mo is on your side, then catching fire is a real possibility.

Let’s just hope there is no one there to put it out.


See Pat Run


Cordarelle Patterson (a.k.a C-Pat) had his big breakout game yesterday. In a contest that featured blizzard conditions, a possible major injury to Adrian Peterson, some of the worst officiating imaginable, and the craziest last two minutes of a game in recent memory, C-Pat’s coming out party is what Viking fans will be chatting about the most when circled around the water cooler this morning.

Although he had already flashed his ridiculous athleticism returning kicks this year, C-Pat finally got the chance to show what he can be: a top NFL receiver. Only 22 years old, he stands 6’2″ and checks in at a rock-solid 220 lbs. The Vikings have themselves a beast in the making; a player with a physique reminiscent of Terrell Owens but with an attitude that resembles that of team-first poster boy Peterson.

And C-Pat is showing that he may be every bit as good as another uber-talented malcontent that recently wore purple: Percy Harvin. Not only does Patterson appear to be nearly as elusive in space as Pouting Percy, #84 also brings size, something that limits Harvin’s durability and therefore reliability. After years of loving the talent yet hating the personalities of game-changers Moss and Harvin, perhaps Viking fans can finally have their cake and eat it too with C-Pat. Just imagine if the Vikings had a QB that could consistently deliver the ball to him.

The fact that it took until the 13th game of the season for C-Pat to break out is yet another indictment on the current coaching staff. As soon as Frazier and Co. saw what Patterson could do on kick returns they should have been doing everything possible to get the ball in his hands. Yet what did we get? A paltry 21 catches over the first ten games while barely seeing the field as the coaching staff put forth lame excuses about C-Pat being “too raw”.  The offense was, as Charles Barkley would say, “turrible, just turrible”, yet there sat C-Pat on the sidelines, confined to special teams. Complete insanity, I tell you.

Fittingly, there will be a new coach next year along with a new QB. Whoever takes these jobs will salivate as they watch C-Pat’s highlight reel, as well as knowing Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, and Peterson make up the rest of the offensive weaponry. With a decent QB and a free agent signing at right guard to replace the open screen door that is Brandon Fusco, the Vikes will have all the makings of a potent, potent offense.

With the defense finally showing some solid improvement (it wasn’t their fault the refs were extra blind and Jacoby Jones was kicked to late in the game), there is some hope that the team can make strides next season. Xavier Rhodes has been fantastic the last few weeks, Sharrif Floyd has been coming on, Audie Cole continues to impress, and Chad Greenway, Harrison Smith, and Brian Robison will also be major parts of the defensive core next season. Toss in a free agent or two and another good draft, and this defense can be at least decent by next year.

Questions do remain about the coach, the QB, and the defense, but any questions about C-Pat should be put to rest. He has arrived Viking fans, and once again you may find yourself spontaneously rising to your feet every time the ball heads the way of a purple jersey with the number 84 on it.

This is gonna be fun.


Too Many Cooks


It is often said that “too many cooks spoil the broth”, but no one ever tells you just how many is too many. In the case of the Minnesota Vikings, the answer is obvious: just one Cook is far too many. Chris Cook, who the Vikings drafted in the second round back in 2010, is the worst defensive back to ever put on the purple and gold. Due to a complete lack of career highlights, I am left with only a long list of lowlights through which to drag you.

First off, Cook can’t stay on the field. In his four seasons in the NFL, he has played in only 30 of a possible 64 regular season games. Here is a guy that–for legal and/or health reasons–finds himself on the sideline and/or witness stand far too much. You just can’t count on him to be there and build any chemistry with his fellow defensive backs. He only makes it on to the field about 46% of the time, but I imagine he somehow manages to cash his paycheck a full 100% of the time. There’s something seriously wrong with that ratio.

Although, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that he has missed so much time, for when Cook has made a rare appearance on the field he has been as unproductive as a starting NFL player could possibly be. In 30 career games, Mr. Invisible has zero interceptions. Zero. How is that possible? At least twice per season every starting CB in the league has a tipped ball fall right into his hands. Not only is Cook unable to ever jump even a single route or close in quickly enough to step in front of a bad pass, he can’t even stay close enough to his receiver to be in position to grab a popped up ball.

As for his other career stats, Cook has been equally impotent. He has zero forced fumbles, zero fumble recoveries, zero touchdowns, one sack, and a paltry 13 passes defensed. Bottom line, this guy is an empty uniform. You never see him make a big hit to jar a ball loose, stuff a RB at the line of scrimmage, or slice through the line for a sack in a critical moment. The fact that Cook continues to be run out on the field by Leslie Frazier is a further indictment on just how awful the defensive secondary has been for the Vikings the past few years.

Thankfully, Cook’s getting torched by Alshon Jeffrey (again) followed by him getting tossed for pushing the ref should be final confirmation that the 4 year nightmare will be over after this season. Cook’s contract is up, and I can’t envision any scenario where the Vikings decide to keep paying this breathing mannequin.

The Vikings have two good young DBs in Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. They will also have money to spend this offseason, and experts are predicting the crop of free agent DBs will be deep. If the Vikes can add an capable veteran and also draft someone that doesn’t totally suck, then they will have a corps that might actually be able to slow Rodgers, Stafford, and Cutler.

The second TD catch by Jeffery was just a microcosm of Cook’s entire career. Unable to use his size against a tall receiver, not turning around or putting his hands up when the ball arrives, and losing his cool with an official are representative of the gross underachievement and total lack of behavioral control he has shown during his time in the league. All that was missing from that play was Cook sustaining a season ending injury.

For the Vikings to develop a culture of winning, they must stop allowing useless players to take the field and begin demanding weekly productivity. Is that too much to ask?

Not So Great Expectations

Will the Vikings beat the Bears on Sunday? I don’t think so, most Vikings fans don’t think so, and apparently Vegas doesn’t think so (according to the betting odds on this weekend’s games). Then again, maybe some of you out there do think the Vikings will win. Either way, I wouldn’t spend too much time taxing your brain over this question, because it is the wrong question. The real question every Vikings fan should be pondering (pun intended), is: “Should the Vikings win this weekend?”

The answer to that question is an unequivocal, doubt-free, rock-solid no. The Vikings should not win this Sunday, nor should they win any game the rest of this lost, bison feces-scented season. In order for the purple to get the highest draft pick possible next May, they will need to rack up losses like Packer fans rack up DUIs.

Now I know NFL teams don’t tank. Many of the Vikings’ players will be playing for jobs, if not here then for some other NFL team, thus they have the highest level of motivation to do well. Don’t expect any game-throwing from the coaching staff either; those clowns are already updating their resumes and know that they will need all the wins they can muster so that their offseason interviews will be held in an NFL GM’s office and not in a Dairy Queen.

None of the Vikings QB’s are the answer for this team. Matt Cassell is a career-backup, Christian Ponder is maddeningly inconsistent, and Josh Freeman apparently isn’t good and/or sane enough to beat out either of them. Given that success in the NFL depends upon having a top 10 QB, the Vikings need to upgrade their QB position by about 21 or 22 spots. And the draft is the way to do this.

Is it a guarantee that whoever the Vikes draft early next season will grow into the next Luck, Brees, Manning, Brady, etc.? No, but it’s still the best way to get that franchise guy. If the Vikings draft a Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, or some other highly rated rookie gunslinger and said gunslinger turns out to be crap, then they will just have to draft the next top rated QB again and again until they get it right.

But I get ahead of myself. The draft is 6 months away and the Vikings still have 5 more games to slog through before this season can finally be taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery. At least the five teams left on the schedule (Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Detroit) are all good to very good teams, so the Vikings’ weak tackling, poor blocking, and nonexistent pass coverage should pave the way for a top draft pick.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Vikings, and pulling for them to lose does cause me significant cognitive dissonance. To wit: Before the game, I want them to lose as I fantasize about landing a franchise QB. But during the game, I find myself cheering and swearing with every Peterson steamroll of a defensive back and Ponder pick-six, respectively. Then after the game, I am once again pleased that my favorite team is a league embarrassment. It doesn’t feel good, but it’s all I got.

So other than a potentially high draft pick being used to draft a potentially franchise-elevating QB, what do we as Vikings fans have left to root for this season? I have a few things that come to mind:

1. The improvement/emergence of future stars. Xavier Rhodes, Audie Cole, Cordarrelle Patterson, Sharrif Floyd, and Matt Kalil have all shown or are showing they can be excellent NFL players. Add in youngsters Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph along with veterans like Peterson, John Sullivan, Chad Greenway, Brian Robison, and Greg Jennings, and there is a base of talent at Winter Park.

2. Knowing the fat will be trimmed from the roster. With the stratospheric salary of Jared Allen ($17,000,000!), the aging-yet-still-highly paid Kevin Williams, and a few other assorted underachievers very likely coming off the books this year, the Vikings will have plenty of cash to spend on an impact free agent or two. The great thing about the NFL is that teams can go from total crap to playoffs in just a year, so if the Vikes add a couple established top end players to their mix of veteran and young talent, they can be on the rise in short order. (As long as they get that QB!!!)

3. Watching to see what coaches will be available. Will Bill Cowher or John Gruden decide to come back to the NFL? Could the Wilfs throw enough money at either of them to convince them to come to MN to draft their own franchise QB and be a yearly contender in a shiny new stadium? Can Rick Spielman (or whoever is the Vikings’ GM) spot the next great coach from the assistant/college ranks? There is already a pink slip with Leslie Frazier’s name on it sitting in Zygi Wilf’s outbox, so the Vikings are once again presented with an opportunity to find the next football genius this coming offseason. Brad Childress was awful, Frazier a little less awful, so hopefully the next pick will be the one that knows how and when to throw the challenge flag.

4. Watching the Packers suck like a nuclear-powered vacuum. Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have been exposed to be every bit as vomit-flavored as the Vikings. Given the Packers are out of the playoff picture, the team may sit their super QB the rest of the year, thereby providing us Vikings fans with hours of entertainment as they get outgained in yards 560-100 to mediocre teams. Yes, Rodgers will be back next season to continue his wizardry, but until then we can giggle like schoolchildren while watching Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn stumble over each other in hot pursuit of the “League’s worst QB” title.

Sadly, a return to the playoffs this season didn’t even come close to materializing, leaving Vikings fans pulling their hair out as the QB du jour overthrew open receivers every other snap. But through this darkness shines the dim light of hope, the hope that comes with a new QB,a new coaching staff, and a new stadium just over the horizon. So when Bears’ QB Josh McCown once again beats your precious Vikings this week, face not the stinking pile of loserness that lies behind you, and keep your nose pointed forward, where the sweet scent of hope is carried upon the headwinds.


How to Win at Fantasy Football: Three Things to Avoid

If you are new to the world of fantasy football, then today’s post is for you. Conversely, if you’ve been playing fantasy football for decades and are so into it that you can recite every player’s entire DNA sequence from memory, then this post is also for you. In sum, I will try to cover all the salient aspects of this great game so that you can dominate your league, regardless of your level of experience.

First off, my qualifications:

  • I have been playing fantasy football for 23 years, winning a solid number of titles along the way and making the playoffs nearly every season in highly competitive leagues.
  • I have played using dozens of different scoring formats, drafting styles, league types, and rules of play.
  • I have played in leagues with all types of people, from family members to co-workers to best friends to complete strangers.

Now that you can unquestionably trust my opinion on these matters, just relax and allow my accumulated wisdom to seize control over your brain and lead you to fantasy football success heretofore undreamed of.

In today’s installment we will go over some things to avoid when joining a new league or when your current league is considering making changes.

TD-only leagues

These leagues are to fantasy football what non-alcoholic beer is to real beer (i.e., a poor substitute that is missing the most important part of what makes the real thing enjoyable). In plain English, they suck. Because points are only given for scoring touchdowns and not for yards rushing, receiving, and passing, you inevitably come across laughably idiotic scenarios on a weekly basis. Here’s a quick example:

Tom Brady: 450 yds passing, 35 yds rushing, 0 int, 0 TD

Adrian Peterson: 200 yds rushing, 100 yds receiving, 0 TD

Hugh Jaloozer: 1 yd rushing, 0 yds receiving, 4 fumbles, 1 TD

Any primate capable of simple math can see that Brady and Peterson had huge games which likely led their teams to victory while Jaloozer’s 1 yard forward fall over the goal line was easily canceled out by his four fumbles. Despite this obvious discrepancy in performance, in the moronic world of TD-only fantasy leagues Jaloozer would have outscored the other two superstars 6-0. Even Packer fans can see that this makes no sense.

What’s worse, most TD-only leagues still award 3 points for field goals, thus many weeks the kicker is the highest scoring player on each team. The freaking kicker! Need I say more about these dunderheaded leagues? I have been vigorously lobbying my congressman to outlaw TD-only leagues, but his total lack of interest on the topic combined with his subsequent restraining order against me have slowed this process. Therefore, until the day arrives that joining a TD-only league guarantees a one-way walk to the electric chair, you must assume responsibility for protecting yourself from these devil-spawned black holes of common football sense.

Individual Defensive Player (IDP) Leagues

The vast majority of leagues give points for yards and scores by quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, kickers, and team defense/special teams. So say you have the Vikings’ defense/special teams, that means you get points for interceptions, sacks, fumble recoveries, safeties, defensive touchdowns, and touchdowns on special teams no matter which Viking player scores said points. It’s a great system and easy to use.

In an IDP league, however, you draft defensive lineman, linebackers, and defensive backs from different teams and only get points when your specific player makes a fantasy scoring play (sack, interception, tackle, etc.). This sounds good in theory, as you are simply doing with defensive players what you are already doing with offensive players in other leagues. But consider this: most people in normal leagues struggle to find the time to do the minimum research and tracking of performance which allows them to field a competitive team. Now take that minimum amount of effort and double it. That’s what is required for IDP leagues.

Regular people have these things they call “lives” that get in the way of putting that much time into a fantasy league. Responsibilities such as careers, kids, spouses, and personal hygiene, nagging as they can be, do need to be tended to at some point. Just remember that if you ever find yourself obsessing over Erin Henderson needing one more tackle in an overtime loss to the Lions so that your fantasy team can win, chances are at that point you are unemployed, without custody of your children, single, and very, very stinky. This depressing scenario can be avoided by simply steering clear of IDP leagues and sticking with traditional leagues designed for functional citizens.

Free Leagues

If someone invites you to join a league and they say it’s “just for fun”, be warned that these leagues are anything but fun. With nothing on the line, people just don’t care about their teams, not to mention that anyone who would join a free league probably doesn’t care that much in the first place.

The plain truth is that an entry fee and cash prizes are needed to make everyone feel invested and spur their active interest. In order to have a truly fun and competitive league, all members must be paying attention and trying their best to win each week. This necessary level of effort is located somewhere in the vast gray area between criminal obsession and complete dereliction of duty, so there is a wide range of work that one can put in and still be a contributing league member. But as long as the minimum is being met the league’s competitiveness should be adequate.

In free leagues you will invariably see Peyton Manning in someone’s lineup even though he is on a bye that week, a team that goes nine weeks without making a single transaction or change, and some dolt dropping Adrian Peterson because he misses one game with a mild ankle sprain. In essence, a general malaise overcomes the league which stifles any excitement or genuine interest. Nothing about this is fun and winning a title in one of these bland leagues is slightly less gratifying than beating your dog in Trivial Pursuit.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to have $500 riding on your team to make it interesting. In fact, too much money can drive people a little nutty, destroying friendships  in the process. I have found that $25 is the minimum amount to maintain someone’s interest and effort. In a ten team league, the champion’s payout from this entry fee would be around $150-$175, more than enough to get league members to put their time in to keep their teams competitive. Dangling this type of cash carrot right after the spendfest that is the Christmas season is a powerful motivator. In short, your entry fee should be high enough to keep all league members active participants, but not so high that they start hiring hitmen to whack each other. A little trial and error will reveal what amount is right for your league.

Now you know what to avoid in the world of fantasy football. Stay tuned, for in our next installment we will go over some types of leagues and rules that will optimize your fun and excitement.



“Natural” Park Primer: Lake Tahoe


Lake Tahoe almost became a national park. Almost. Conservation pioneer John Muir and many others tried to preserve the 1,645 foot-deep alpine gem, but commercial interests and public distrust of government deals with railroads prevented Tahoe from joining America’s collection of national park treasures. Even though Muir lost the battle to save Tahoe, he was pleased that much of the surrounding land was preserved and noted that, official designation or not, Lake Tahoe was a “natural park”.

Despite Tahoe never receiving national park status, it offers so much scenic and recreational enthrallment that an adventure there can be as equally satisfying as one in any of the “real” parks. Let’s have a look at just how outstanding a summertime Tahoe trip can be.

“Natural” Park: Lake Tahoe

Where to stay: There is no shortage of hotel, motel, and resort rooms all around the lake, but, as usual, I would recommend hitting one of the many campgrounds in the area. A simple Google search reveals a nearly endless list of places to pitch your tent or park your camper. I stayed at the KOA near South Lake Tahoe, and I was entirely pleased with my stay.

What to do: My first recommendation would be to hit the beach. Tahoe has miles of sandy beaches, all complete with some of the most splendid scenery found on Earth, scenery that moved Mark Twain to remark that the lake presents “the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”

Sunbathers, swimmers, and paddlers all revel in the constant sun and mountain beauty at one of Tahoe’s many beaches.

If you want to leave the beach and get out on the water, you can rent boats, canoes, or kayaks. If you feel like catching your dinner, you can hire a fishing guide to show you how to hook into one of Tahoe’s delicious lake trout or Kokanee Salmon. Or if you are looking for a truly unique experience, hop on the Tahoe Queen and tour the lake on an old-timey Mississippi paddlewheeler. No matter how you choose to float, the majestic mountains that ring the lake will provide you with plenty of peaceful gazing.

Another great way to get to know Tahoe is by driving around the lake. The drive is 72 miles long and there are countless views, beaches, and other interesting places to stop. One not to miss is Emerald Bay, a gorgeous inlet that holds Tahoe’s only island.

A peek through the pines above Emerald Bay shows the usual parade of boats motoring in from the hazy expanse of Tahoe.

On my Tahoe excursion, by far my favorite adventure was backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness Area, located a few miles southwest of Tahoe. Myself, my dog Ursa, and my friend Ryan—who lives in Tahoe—loaded up our packs for a three-night stay along the shores of Lake Aloha. As we were packing, Ryan suggested that to save weight I could leave behind the rain fly for my tent. As an avid tentophile who has ridden out some heavy Minnesota storms from within the confines of my nylon fortress, the prospect of going in without rain protection was terrifying. When I related my misgivings to Ryan about such a risk, he looked me square in the eye and with a steel confidence declared,

“Dude, it isn’t going to rain.”

I decided to trust my Tahoe-dwelling friend and didn’t pack my rain fly nor my rain gear. My apprehension was attenuated by the happy knowledge that doing so would lighten my pack, a welcome reduction given my less-than optimal level of fitness at the time.

Although our hiking party was composed of only two humans, three backpacks were loaded up. Ursa was going to have to carry her share. Within her little doggie pack she had her own food, her collapsible dish, our first aid kit, and our water filter. Once on the trail, Ursa moved with purpose and joy, pleased to be given a job to do.

Ursa all loaded up and ready for our taxing uphill trail assault. She carried her cargo with ease and enthusiasm, unlike myself.

After five miles of criss-crossing granite trails and dipping in and out of thick stretches of evergreen forests still holding snowbanks in the shadowy spots, we emerged from the trees and faced the arresting panorama of Lake Aloha.

Lake Aloha’ stunning beauty temporarily suspends the part of your brain responsible for creating speech. All you can do is gaze as the stark granite, stunted trees, and shimmering water work in concert to calm your nerves and awaken your spirit.

At just over 8,000 feet in elevation, Lake Aloha lies near the tree line, leaving scattered scrubby pine trees as the only source of precious shade from the unrelenting Tahoe summer sun. Do not forget your sunscreen should you venture into Desolation.

Lake Aloha is a man-made lake. By damming run off streams from the Crystal Mountain Range, the basin filled up, creating an archipelago with shallow waters in between the countless islands. The shallow water combined with the short distances between islands means that nearly the entire lake can be explored by swimming and walking. From one spot of dry land you can walk out in the water a long distance, and then have to swim only briefly over a deeper spot to reach shallow water again. The light grey granite lake bottom reflects the blasting sunshine back upwards, warming the shallower areas to near bathwater temperatures. This island-hopping form of exploration is one of the most enchanting and satisfying outdoor experiences I’ve ever had.

Ursa, who swims like a fish, couldn’t get enough of the shallow water wonders Lake Aloha provides. I’m certain she had more fun than I did.

As evening set in each night, our exhausted bodies cried for the soft embrace of our sleeping bags. But winning the battle to stay awake rewarded us with a vibrant alpenglow show just above the horizon; a visual lullaby that made sleep that much easier to give in to.

Evening stillness, within and without.

Lake Tahoe truly is one of the most beautiful places in America, if not the entire world. Whether you prefer immersing yourself in remote nature or relaxing amongst fellow campers, there is a level of solitude to suit your tastes. This alpine paradise may best be known for its world-class downhill skiing and snowboarding, but a summer visit will offer every bit as much (perhaps more) wonder and enjoyment.

John Muir may not have been able to get the words “national park” attached to the end of Lake Tahoe’s name, but anyone that visits this singular gem soon realizes that his “natural park” description couldn’t be more apt.







Adrian’s Wall


As excited as I am that Adrian Peterson is about to destroy opposing defenses for the seventh straight season, I can’t help but cringe that he is in his seventh season. AP turned 28 in March, which now leaves him just under two years shy of “The Wall” for NFL running backs, also known as a 30th birthday.

Conventional wisdom—and overwhelming statistical evidence—says that top NFL running backs have about eight seasons of high level production in them, and this eighth season usually coincides with the player turning 30. The pounding these guys take over the years as their team’s top ball carrier accumulates, ultimately resulting in legs that no longer have the vibrancy they once had. These former stars usually hang on for another year or two, where they move to a different team and then struggle as their yards per carry dwindle until they are forced to the sidelines for good.

Over the years as a rabid NFL fan, I have watched this scenario play out over and over again. Players such as Eddie George, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jerome Bettis, and Shaun Alexander all put up a dominating 7-9 years before their production falls off a cliff right around age 30. It is strange to watch a player who once showed unearthly power and explosion suddenly transform into a plodding statue unable to run by defensive ends or make mediocre middle linebackers miss. I know these guys have made millions of dollars and will always be celebrities, but it is hard not to have sympathy for them as they must unwillingly come to terms with their deflated abilities.

So where does this leave us Viking fans with AP? Yes, we’ve all heard football experts say things like “Adrian’s different” or “Peterson at 75% is still a force to be reckoned with.” I want to believe these optimistic assessments as much as any Viking fan, but I heard the same things said about George, Tomlinson, and Alexander while in their 20′s.

Especially Eddie George, an iron man who never missed an NFL game due to injury his entire career. He was a mountain of a human at 6′ 3″, 240 lbs, and he plowed through defenses for 8 seasons before suddenly “losing his legs”. Yes, George was overworked by the Titans, but the only reason Peterson hasn’t kept pace with George’s number of attempts is because AP had his awful knee injury and has only played a full 16 games 3 of his 6 years in the league. These are not compelling reasons to believe his career will exceed that of George’s.

So what is the silver lining to this gloomy cloud of imminent decline? In all likelihood we fans will be privileged to witness a minimum of two more years of AP at his apex. Two (hopefully) full seasons of our guy running over cornerbacks, juking linebackers out of their jocks, and sprinting past safeties as though they were trees planted in the turf. It will be two tremendous seasons of the Vikings’ improving offensive line providing yawning holes, making it easy for Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton to zero in on his blocking target and pancake him as AP turns on the jets into daylight. Provided good health, All Day will have us high-fiving and jig-dancing repeatedly the next two campaigns. He will cement his place as the greatest running back in the history of the NFL.

That’s why now is the time for the Vikings to make another deep playoff run and be contenders. They were on the edge of greatness in 2009, descended into the deepest depths of loserness in 2011, and are once again on the rise. We all know a running back by himself cannot carry a team to a Super Bowl, but he sure can make up for deficiencies in other areas. If AP performs such as he did last season, the Vikes only need the defense to be a bit better and the QB to be somewhat more consistent than last season. If we see that out of the purple this year, then a Super Bowl is a realistic goal.

Could Adrian Peterson truly be different and run right through the RB “wall”? Could he put up his crazy stats until he is 32 or 33? Sure, it’s possible; he is a singular talent. But history tells us that the chances are slim, so the time is now for the Vikings if the NFL’s best running back is to ever hoist the Lombardi Trophy over his head.


National Park Primer: Mount Rainier


The Cascade Volcanoes run along the west coast of North America from southwestern British Columbia to northern California, forming a chain of glacier-wielding, sky-scraping peaks with the power to both inspire awe and destroy entire cities. The undisputed king of these stark monoliths is Mount Rainier, the largest, iciest, and most potentially deadly of all the Cascade fire mountains. Fortunately Rainier lies relatively dormant, and a trip to the national park that encloses it is an outdoor adventurer’s dream. Let’s have a look.

Park: Mount Rainier

How to get there: Fly into Seattle and drive the 54 miles to the park. While Rainier provides a lifetime of recreation itself, a trip to this park can be combined with visits to other nearby parks such as Olympic, North Cascades, and Mt. St. Helens, making for an extended journey through some of the most spectacular natural beauty in the world.

Where to stay: Finding a lodge or hotel close to the park is easy, but I strongly urge you to stay in one of the park’s four campgrounds, as immersing yourself in the magic of Rainier will touch your spirit to an even greater depth.

Highlights: If there is a connecting thread on a Rainier expedition, it is water. The mountain holds an astounding 25 glaciers, therefore, when summer arrives, Rainier seems to turn into one big fountain, springing leaks all around its flanks. Streams and waterfalls tumble earthward everywhere you turn, combining themselves into rushing rivers as they descend. Park roads will take you by every kind of watery wonder imaginable. Just drive along and enjoy the show.

The Ohanapecosh River is a fetching emerald ribbon running through the nearly impenetrable dense forests of Rainier. Although it may look like a great place for a refreshing dip, the river in most places is far too fast and chilly to swim in.

The insane amount of precipitation that falls upon Rainier fuels the growth of enormous trees and impossibly thick vegetation. Below 3,000 feet, Western hemlock, western red cedar, and Douglas fir trees shoot upwards of 200 feet into the air. Their massive trunks look like something out of a fairy tale; some of these behemoths have been around for over 1,000 years. The thick canopy mutes the summer sun, leaving you to stroll along in the brisk shade as the soothing fragrance of piney purity calms your nerves. Aromatherapy indeed.

Ursa, a 100 lb. Rottweiler,  provides some perspective to a giant slice of Douglas fir at a park exhibit. This particular tree first sprouted in 1293, 200 years before Columbus made his voyage. Nature does nothing half-assed on Mt. Rainier.

The extensive glaciers and great height of Rainier also make the peak a mecca for mountain climbers. Given the extreme altitude, weather, and remoteness of Denali and other Alaskan peaks, I was shocked to discover that the deadliest mountaineering accident in American history occurred on Mount Rainier. In the early morning light of June 21st, 1981, a group of twenty five climbers and their guides were ascending the Ingraham Glacier, three thousand feet below the summit. To ensure the upcoming snowfield was safe for their clients to cross, three of the guides climbed ahead to inspect, leaving the others to wait for their return. When the advance party first heard and then saw the massive hunk of glacial ice eight hundred feet above break free, it was too late to warn the others down below. The ice shelf plummeted and hit a flat area, shattering into countless pieces–some the size of Buicks–and thundered towards the unsuspecting climbers.

Having only seconds to react, the group was overtaken by the wave of ice. Eleven people, including one of the guides, were buried by the icefall, with some of them thrown to the bottom of a seventy foot crevasse. They had no chance of being rescued.  Even the effort of recovering the bodies was cancelled after only two days; the area was just too dangerous and unstable for humans to be poking around in it. A few weeks later, rangers responded to a report of a red backpack in a crevasse. Upon inspection, they discovered body parts protruding out from the glacier, while the rest of the bodies were still entombed in ice, like grapes suspended in Jell-O.

What is strange is that these victims and some of the other three hundred plus people who have died on Mount Rainier since its inception as a national park in 1899 may one day come back. Not from the dead, mind you, but rather by emerging from the ice at the snout of the glacier. As the frozen river steadily inches its way down the mountain, the bodies are carried along for the ride. Glaciologists, (what is a slow day at the office like for them?) in order to predict when objects in the glacier will resurface at the snout, use mathematical formulas to get a rough estimate. And at an average rate of ten inches per day, it will take about a hundred years for the bodies from the 1981 tragedy to reach the end of the six mile-long Ingraham Glacier.

While the vast majority of climbers summit Rainier safely, some do not. It is not a challenge to be taken lightly.

While peacefully holding vast glaciers and frigid snowfields, it is strange to think that inside Mount Rainier is an unimaginable amount of deadly heat and explosiveness. This snoozing behemoth is considered to be the most dangerous volcano in the United States; a potential cataclysm that volcanologists speak in terms of “when” and not “if”. Indeed, while Rainier appears to be in a state of dormancy, it is still releasing enough heat to keep the rims of its craters snow free, despite the mind-boggling amounts of snow that fall upon them.

There are multiple factors that contribute to Rainier’s reputation. First is the unsurpassed volume of ice on its slopes, for Rainier has more glacial ice than all of the other Cascade peaks combined. The next ingredient for eruptive Armageddon is the extreme steepness of the slopes falling away from the mountain’s 14,441 foot summit. Thus, when Rainier decides to blow, the superheated gases and rock spewing out will find it easy to speed down the mountainside at over 250 mph, melting the glaciers in the process. This rapid melting of ice will combine with the heated rock and ash and form a lahar, which is essentially a river with the consistency of wet concrete. The churning lahar will race down whatever river valley happens to be most convenient, completely annihilating and engulfing everything in its way, where it will finally encounter the real reason for its deadliness: people—lots and lots of them. Parts of the Seattle-Tacoma metro area are in the likely paths of such a massive mudflow, and 150,000 people currently live on top of areas lahars have streamrolled in the past. The tranquil beauty of Rainier belies the potential destruction contained in its heart, a sobering reality that author Stephen Harris encompasses perfectly:

“Because they erupt less often than many volcanoes in Indonesia, Japan, Alaska, Central America, or other Pacific Ring of Fire areas, our western volcanoes tend to impart a false sense of security, fostering the mistaken impression that they are no more than a scenic backdrop to people’s daily lives.”

How easy it is to forget that a catastrophic disaster could be just around the corner.

The chances of Rainier erupting while you are visiting the park are exceedingly slim, so I wouldn’t worry about it any more than I would worry about what to do with your future Powerball winnings. Enjoy day hikes, backcountry overnight excursions, and sedate park road cruises with the knowledge that someday this park will look nothing like it does now. (see: Mt. St. Helens). Or if you are lucky and the clouds that usually obscure the mountain take a day off, then just sit back and gaze at Rainier’s singular beauty. It doesn’t get old.