Holler: Will Wilfs listen to fans?

Vikings fans were angry and booing Christian Ponder off the field after failed drives. Leslie Frazier isn't inclined to make a change yet, but with the Vikings owners in attendance Sunday in the Metrodome, they had to have heard the booing of Ponder.

The anger of the fan base seemed almost singularly directed at one player, and if Sunday's home opener was any indication, the 60,000-plus fans that attended the Minnesota Vikings game against the Cleveland Browns have seen about enough of Christian Ponder. The problem with that is with the Vikings ownership. Both Zygi and Mark Wilf were in attendance and, just as Ponder said he could hear the booing of fans, so could the Wilfs.

While booing doesn't necessarily resonate with a coach, it does with the people who cut the checks for the team. When Mike Tice was made a laughingstock by fans following the Love Boat scandal, it was only a matter of time before he was shown the door. When the chants of "Fire Childress" began to echo through the Metrodome when times got tough, it became yet another example of the customer being heard.

But the noises that reverberated through the Metrodome Sunday were chilling in their own right. It was almost like hearing the fan base speak as one. The Vikings stunk out the Metrodome. The defense was awful early and very late in the game, but they were booed vociferously. The special teams was so dismal that it got caught on both a fake field goal and a fake punt – both of which led to points for the hapless Browns. They got booed immediately, but it didn't stick.
The fans sent a clear message to the Wilfs that they are fed up with Ponder as their quarterback and they weren't shy about it. From the second drive of the game until the end, Ponder was the focus of their wrath. If the Vikings had to punt, Ponder was booed as he left the field. When he came out for the next drive, he was booed even louder. At one point in the third quarter, a chant of "Cassel! Cassel!" was too loud to be denied.

Fans don't have a say in how coaches respond. The backup quarterback is always the most popular man in town, especially when a team is struggling like the Vikings are at 0-3. But it's rare when the ire of fans is directed at one player in a team sport. It would appear that the random sampling of Vikings fans on Sunday have directed their anger at Ponder – to the exception of all other culpable players who share in the misery of an 0-3 start to the 2013 season.

It's always been a given that quarterbacks get too much credit when a team is successful and too much blame when a team is losing, but it seemed as though the fans Sunday were cheering for defense and special teams and came out in full throat when Ponder and the offense did things right. But, when they struggled, they didn't blame the offensive line or even the play-calling when the Vikings offense hit a wall and failed. The anger was directed at Ponder.

While Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier are ultimately held responsible for the players who comprise the 53-man roster, it would seem that 52 players were given a pass in terms of blame Sunday in a game the Vikings had no business losing other than they were facing a desperate team willing to pull out all the stops to send a message to their own players.

Is Ponder the reason the Vikings are 0-3? Somewhat. Has he contributed to the problem? Yes. The Vikings wouldn't be 0-3 if he was doing his job at a higher level. But the clear message sent by fans was they want to see if Matt Cassel can get the job done. Ponder has been one of the more pedestrian quarterbacks in the NFL over the last two seasons. The Vikings haven't won games because of Ponder. They have won games despite him.

There was no denying the message sent by fans Sunday. They're tired of seeing the Vikings struggle. It's something season ticket holders aren't used to. Last year, they left the Metrodome happy seven out of eight times. They're angry because they're convinced the Vikings are better than their record would indicate and that they have the talent to be a much better team than they've shown on the field. Their anger was directed at one person, not the whole team.

Owners typically let the coaching staff and front office make the call when it comes to personnel decisions. But when a fan base speaks as one in its dissatisfaction with a player or group of players, it resonates with ownership. They're the ones dropping their hard-earned money on tickets and helping to pay the salaries of players. Will it make a difference in how the Vikings look at the quarterback position? It can't help. One thing is certain, however. It was impossible not to hear them.

The fans have spoken and they have said they've seen enough of Ponder and want another option. Whether the Wilfs hear that anger or not could go a long way to determining how the rest of the 2013 season unfolds and where the franchise goes from here.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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