Shortly before the Minnesota Vikings' loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Mike Zimmer was in the middle of the team huddle. Zimmer has never been a "rah rah" coach during his tenure in Minnesota, so his message must have been important.
"He just told us we got to bring our own energy," Anthony Barr said after the game. "...It felt like it was a little dead inside here today. We usually get a nice buzz and there wasn't for whatever reason."
To suggest there wasn't a buzz in U.S. Bank Stadium was strange. Why could the crowd be so lethargic in a must-win situation?
"Christmas hangover?" Barr guessed. "I don't know what [you all did] last night but too much fun I guess."
A hangover was a proper term to describe what Viking fans were feeling on Sunday afternoon but it had nothing to do with Egg Nog. Instead, it was due to a franchise that has let apathy set in and is in desperate need of a change.
It started two weeks ago when the Vikings held a 29-point lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Normally, a lead like that means fans can celebrate a victory but that's not the case in Minnesota.
When Ben Roethlisberger's pass clanged off the hands of Pat Freiermuth, the Vikings narrowly avoided the largest regular-season collapse in NFL history. While some players celebrated, others looked like they needed the type of stiff drink that fans could buy for $22 in the upper-level concourse (see Harrison Smith in the photo below).
The fun continued against the Chicago Bears, a team that was marching to their own lame-duck status. Instead, the Vikings begged Justin Fields and Matt Nagy to take the game from them and limped out of Chicago with a 17-9 victory.
A last-second touchdown made the game closer than it appeared, but that didn't ease the minds of Vikings fans during a string of bad news prior to the Rams game.
Dalvin Cook, the running back who put up 205 yards against the Steelers, was put on the COVID-19 reserve list. One of many unvaccinated players on the roster, Cook was immediately out for the Rams game and his status is uncertain for next week's matchup with the Green Bay Packers.
Kirk Cousins, who is at his best when everything is under perfect conditions, showed up on the injury report with a cracked rib. The injury alone replaced visions of Sugar Plum Fairies with checkdowns to C.J. Ham and Tyler Conklin.
And to cap it all off, Sean Mannion, the quarterback who Zimmer confidently proclaimed would avoid COVID because he's vaccinated, wound up on the COVID-19 reserve list hours before kickoff.
Put it all together and fans were gritting their teeth like Cousins on third down when they found Vikings tickets in their stockings.
But the fun didn't stop when the game started. The Vikings opened the game with a three-and-out that included two passes short of the sticks. When they got into the red zone, ramming it straight into Aaron Donald was a better idea than throwing it toward Justin Jefferson.
Adam Thielen aggravated his ankle injury. The Rams got a punt return for a touchdown and Zimmer kicked a field goal with 36 seconds left down by 10 points. The field goal sent fans to the exits as the Vikings fell to 7-8.
The only thing missing was the aggressive blast of air from the Metrodome to spit out these poor souls after chewing them up for three hours.
And what's worse is that Vikings fans know how this ends. Another year of being this close. Another year of revamping the defense. Another year of neglecting the offensive line. Another year of 30 seventh-round draft picks. And another 7 to 10 wins next season.
This is why apathy has set in with a franchise known for having some of the most loyal fans in the NFL. With few things to look forward to, fans resisted the urge to cheer even as the Vikings made it a one-score game late.
The silence was deafening. Maybe this time the Wilfs heard it.