ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Vikings didn’t win their Sunday night matchup with the Broncos. But they almost did. More importantly, many fans really believed they would. And that’s primarily because of the quarterback who arrived less than a month ago.
has been well-told by now. The journeyman was traded to the Vikings, his sixth team in the last three years, on Halloween. Five days later, he stepped in as the emergency replacement, leading a comeback upset. Weeks later, his improbable run isn’t just a local story. It’s definitively national.
Only former MVP Lamar Jackson has more rushing yards among QBs. The NFL has embraced Dobbs’ nickname, “The Passtronaut,” a play on the QB’s aerospace engineering degree. And the Vikings, who started 0-3 and then lost two of their top players — Kirk Cousins and star receiver Justin Jefferson — are vying to make a magical postseason bid.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is keenly aware of the impact Dobbs has already had in the Midwest.
“We are forever-suffering Vikings fans,” he told CBS Sports on Tuesday. “We don’t want to get our hopes up. We hate to be disappointed. But sometimes things are just fate. … Maybe the fate is turning in our direction this year.”
Walz used to coach football in Mankato, where the Vikings held training camp for more than 50 years. He attended camp in Eagan this summer and was also on hand to watch Cousinson “Monday Night Football” in October. But Dobbs’ improbable stretch as the sudden face of the franchise has been the most promising development of 2023.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a sucker for this, but as a former high school coach, I love these stories,” he said. “I don’t think it’s naive; I like it that we still want our heroes to live their values, and seeing this guy come in, he’s handled this with such poise. That (illegal) hit by (Broncos safety) Kareem Jackson the other night, he didn’t flinch, he didn’t beg for a flag. These guys are role models.”
Inspiring or not, history would suggest the Vikings’ slow start will haunt them in the end. Sunday’s loss to Denver has Minnesota at 6-5, but only four of 158 teams to start 0-3 since 1990 (or 2.5%) went on to make the playoffs. History, however, couldn’t have accounted for Dobbs. Six years after Case Keenum guided an unexpected Vikings run to the NFC Championship after replacing two injured QBs ahead of him, Walz says he’s hopeful for another “Minneapolis Miracle.”
“Nick Foles is the story,” Walz added, remembering the Eagles backup who bested the Vikings during their fateful 2017 season and went on to win it all. “We’ve all seen it.”
“The flip side of this is the heartbreak of Kirk Cousins, who won over Minnesota,” he said. “But I’m already a believer (in Dobbs). He’s got me onboard. We’ll get a wild card, and then we’ll see what happens. … I hate it when the season’s over for us in early December. That’s not going to be this year.”
The future is another question. Cousins was on pace for career numbers before going down, and his contract will expire after the season. Walz admits “he grew on people here” and hopes Minnesota hasn’t seen the last of Cousins in a purple jersey. But he’s also hoping team brass find a way to reward the hot hand in the QB room: “How do you get rid of a guy like Josh Dobbs?”
In the meantime, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell may deserve the most praise of all. Even without Cousins, and with Jefferson still sidelined with his own injury, with a defense stripped of big-name veterans like Eric Kendricks and Za’Darius Smith, there are few teams who profile as more formidable.
“I go to training camp and they put up with me,” Walz said. “But (O’Connell’s) not that way. I’ve been around long enough to know people who live in the moment and know how to be present. When you’re around this guy, that’s what he’s focused on. These guys would run through fire for him. He’s there, and he cares.”
So what is Walz’s message for Dobbs, O’Connell and the Vikings moving forward, speaking on behalf of Minnesota?
“The state’s with them on this. I will candidly say: I am not a Bears or a Lions hater; I put all that focus on the Packers. But the schedule lines up perfectly. I’m happy for the Lions, but we wanna get them twice. The stands will be full. And I believe.”