These are exciting but also tough times for Minnesota Vikings fans.
The team is on a roll and playing in yet another National Football Conference championship game on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
Forty-year-old Brett Favre has captured the attention of football fans across the nation, becoming the oldest NFL quarterback to pilot a team to a playoff victory. Vikings fans are relishing the idea of being led by the supposed retread QB of long-time rival Green Bay to the team's first Super Bowl victory.
But, sad to say, there always is apprehension in the Land of Purple and Gold. Many beaten-down fans have taken to seeking small victories and shutting down their expectations for fear of raising them too high and getting blitzed by the Vikes once again.
Take last week, for example. The Dallas Cowboys were the toast of the playoffs, a devastating defensive team that pounded opponents on offense with a beautiful mix of runs and passes. Granted, the Cowboys' new-found rep for invincibility was based on nothing more than a strong but short run at the end of the season, but nonetheless, Vikings fans were fearing the worst.
Then, miracle of miracles, Favre plays like the shoo-in Hall of Famer that he is, the Vikings defense dominated and the Cowboys were vanquished with authority, 34-3. Gone were the playoff ghosts of Vikings-Cowboys past, like the 1975 Drew Pearson Push Off game (if you're a fan of a certain age, that's all that needs be said about that game. The rest of you? You don't want to know).
But afterwards, many fans were heard to say that that was good enough. Exorcising the Dallas demon was enough for this year. Always dreading the potentially embarrassing and heartbreaking next step -- even while it might be a step toward the ultimate Vikings exorcism -- many Vikings fans were ready to call it a successful season.
Like abused dogs who still cower, even after being given a treat, Vikings fans aren't quick to trust again. Even the Dale Carnegie folks might throw up their hands in surrender were they forced to deal with too many Vikings fans.
There was a time when the team was young and fans weren't like this. Take 1969, for example, when the National Football League champion Vikings were considered to be one of the best teams ever assembled.
But then they started playing this little game called the Super Bowl, and the Vikings haven't been the same since.
The Vikings won NFC titles in 1973, '74 and '76. Great teams, all. But the lightly regarded Kansas City Chiefs humbled the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. The Miami and Pittsburgh dynasties took them out convincingly in VIII and IX, and Oakland ripped them up in XI.
The only fans who can relate are in Buffalo. The Vikings and Bills are the only NFL teams with 0-4 records in the Big Game.
The Vikings haven't been back since 1977, and they've been denied -- or denied themselves and their fans -- in particularly heart-rending fashion.
In the 1987 NFC championship game, Viking Darrin Nelson dropped an almost certain game-tying TD pass in the final minute.
In the 1998 NFC championship game, the 16-1 Vikings blew a 20-7 first-half lead and lost to Atlanta 30-27 in overtime.
In the 2000 title game, the Vikings were done in the first five minutes and fans had to endure the embarrassment of what has become known as "41-doughnut" in Viking lore.
And now, superstition even weighs down fans' battered psyche: Consider that two of the Vikings' Super Bowl losses came in New Orleans, and that before the team melted down in '87 and '00, the Vikings won playoff games over the Saints.
So we'll watch the game and if it turns out well, we may rejoice for a minute before the dread sets in and we begin to dwell on the one obvious thought that only occurs to Vikings fans: "Great. We're about to become the NFL's only 0-5 Superbowl team."