I have to admit--I was surprised to find that the Vikings were that successful. Of course, I missed the glory years under Bud Grant, but I've still seen some good teams, and I still wouldn't have guessed the Vikings were that good.
The reason, I think, is that we underestimate how hard it is to be really good in the NFL. As the chart shows, the Vikings have spent most of their time right around .500, finishing better than two games above .500 12 times in their history, the same number of times they've finished below .500.
So why was I so surprised to see the Vikings' that high up since the merger? I think there are three reasons--the first being that almost all of the seasons that the Vikings' were "very good" happened before I turned ten. The second is that I underestimated how hard it is to be average and above average consistently. Finishing one game above .500 isn't all that impressive during the year, but doing it as many times as the Vikings have in their history is. The same is true of finishing .500. And the final reason? They haven't won a Super Bowl. That's something every other franchise with a winning record has done, except the Browns and Jaguars (the Jags and Eagles are the only other teams with winning records since the merger that haven't won a Super Bowl). And there's the rub--the Vikings have been one of the best franchises in the NFL since their inception, but their resume is still missing a championship, and until they get one, they'll never be thought of as one of the best.