The 1997 Season
Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 7, Carolina thoughts.
Week Seven: Carolina
I had been tailgating since 10:00 am., grilling brats, smoking cigars and playing catch. Maybe I should mention it was also pouring rain with wind gusts up to forty miles per hour. Life was good.
A group of us, now thoroughly soaked, walked into the Dome about one and one-half hours before kick-off. Hanging our wet garments over the concrete barrier to dry off, we were soon honored by having Stalin Colinet and John “Big Dog” Randle warm up in front of us.
Several Carolina Panther players were just coming onto the field to stretch. Randle began to swing his arms like machetes, slicing the air slowly. He laughed. The Panther players looked over but said nothing.
All these things, the stormy weather, the rowdy Viking crowd, and the big man himself, were neatly woven together like the elements of a honorable legend, the one in which Randle goes on safari...for Panther meat.
Late in the fourth quarter, Carolina quarterback Steve Beuerlein had been watching from the Panther huddle for several seconds before he registered the Big Dog’s presence. It seemed at first that a scrap of shadow had fallen onto the field and was being blown by a fitful breeze. Then he saw it was Randle who was inching along the line of scrimmage as if stalking prey.
Randle leaped high into the air, twisting and turning, and began to race up and down the line of scrimmage: a ribbon of purple color flowing across the green field. Beuerlein had never seen a defensive lineman taunting him quite like this before, and this alone was cause for concern. Most of all, Beuerlein wondered at the fact that here was his worst nightmare come to life.
Meanwhile in the stands, the Viking fans had been peering out onto the field of play, spying on Randle as if he was a magical creature. Their fear of the Panthers scoring on a last minute drive was swept away by the sight of the Big Dog. Like children pressing their noses against glass, they tried not to blink, anxious not to miss a single moment.
Back on the field, Beuerlein’s fear welled up. He tried to banish it, to tell himself that the presence of Randle could not possibly be what he thought. Randle snarled, a razor stroke of sound that slit the roar of the crowd as the Panthers came to the line of scrimmage.
Sensing Beuerlein’s fear, Randle sprang along the line, waving his machete arms. In a whirl of connected movements, Beuerlein took the snap and Randle leaped forward. Shouting at Beuerlein, Randle worked his arms and sprinted straight towards him.
Turning left, Beuerlein slipped behind a offensive lineman and staggered backwards. Something crashed behind him. Turning again, he glimpsed a huge purple shape struggling to free himself from a tangle of Panther linemen. Beuerlein darted around and braced for the hit, assuming the fetal position.
Beuerlein held his breath, his heart pounding. Listening, it seemed to him the whole world was holding its breath as well. The noises of the fans and players seethed behind him. The Metrodome roof poured a white radiance onto his helmet, and the Panther offensive linemen froze like peels of wallpaper left on a floor. He swallowed.
Then the air over him exploded, shattered by a giant paw. Splinters of pain spread throughout his body, and he screamed. The sleek wedge of Randle’s helmet thrust through the previously outstretched arms of a Panther lineman. Roaring, a gateway of gleaming teeth came right at him.
Half-paralyzed, Beuerlein jabbed weakly with one arm. Randle reached in with one arm, and seconds later a heavy thump resounded. Beuerlein, the once mighty Panther, fell back, yowling.
Randle had bagged another Panther, one more head for his trophy wall.
In spite of heavy rain and high winds, the Viking Underground Tailgate Party went on as scheduled. Doug Sharp and the boys from Ohio were there as was Geoff Reader who came all the way from England just for the weekend. Also attending were Mark Gresbach, over from Milwaukee.
John Randle was on the KFAN Monday night radio show live from Joe Senser’s restaurant in Bloomington. Asked if he was going to try to test the free agent market after this season, Randle simply replied, “I like it here. I want to stay here. I want to end it here.”