Week in and week out, people call up radio talk shows, claiming to be fans of the Vikings. They call to talk about the past weekend's game, next week, who sucks, who gets game balls. But do any of them ever consider who really sucks? Don't go throwin' stones just yet, Vikings fans.
I've been a Vikings fan since I can remember which pegs me an ardent supporter of the Purple for over 40 years. Nothing irks me more than atrocious showing of team spirit and loyalty by Vikings fans at the Dome. Fans are encouraged to make noise, become the 12th man on the field.
This past week at the Sunday game against Jacksonville someone started the wave. Pretty cool stuff unless your team is on offense. Anyone with a nominal sense of the game of football knows that when the offense takes the field one sits their butt down and feels guilty if you are breathing too loudly.
Why is it that fans cheer when the home team is on offense? Football fan etiquette dictates that you are as loud as possible on defense, and silent on offense. Cheering after and between plays is acceptable, but you don't start a wave when the offense takes the field. You don't chant "Let's go Vikes!" when Daunte Culpepper is barking a cadence at the line.
As if that weren't enough, why do fans start pouring out the exit gates at the beginning of the 4th quarter? Go to Green Bay, New England, Chicago, or New York. Not only do the fans stay until the end, but they're on their feet, screaming for their team for 60 minutes of play. What is it about Minnesota fans that make them so different? Is it that important to be first in line to get out of the parking lot?
So what is your responsibility as a fan? Ever wonder what fans are supposed to do? Well, allow me to spell it out for you:
Go to the game: Don't make the TV station buy out the tickets the Friday before the game so you "fans" can watch it on TV. If you call yourself a fan and don't make an effort to get out there and support your team, one should question your true level of devotion. Yes, the vikes have sold out for a few years now but I recall the days when breaking 40,000 in attendance was a good day. When General Mills had to buy out seats just so the game was televised locally. What goes around, comes around.
Cheer: Make noise when your team is on defense…LOTS of noise! Not only does it cause the opponent to false start, it sometimes causes them to burn timeouts. Not to mention that the defense feeds off of crowd noise. Ever see the defensive backs dancing on the field during TV timeouts? That's their way of firing up the crowd. Stand up if it's a critical game situation. Stop being so lazy, and get off your ass and cheer!
Shut Up: When your team has the ball, shut your pie-hole. Sit on your hands, and make sure you can hear the guy in the 19th row bite into his nachos. The offense relies on audible signals, and fans making noise only make it difficult (this includes you idiots who wait till we have the ball to start the wave).
Stay till triple-zeros: You're not going anywhere. What's your hurry? All you're going to do is sit in your car in the parking lot rather than sit in the seat in the stadium. There's nothing worse than looking around at the end of the 4th quarter seeing nothing but people heading for the exits, no matter the score.
The fans of a football team have the sole responsibility of bringing the home-field advantage to the home team. That doesn't happen often enough. Maybe it is because most of them aren't hardcore. Maybe it's the people who don't really follow football, who don't know how to behave at a game. I can't figure it out. Neither can Mike Tice.
Tice said after yesterday's game, "Can you believe they did a wave when we were on offense?" Tice said of the home crowd. "I love the excitement and everything, but we could use that when we were on defense. I think they booed me when I asked them to stop doing it."
I think you lose your season tickets if you start the wave when the Vikings offense takes the field. Period.
Bears Finally Turn to George
When the Vikings travel to the Windy City to play the Bears next Sunday, they may face a old man they had in purple themselves not all that long ago.
Weeks after writing him off as a head case who was more trouble than he's potentially worth, the Chicago Bears finally have realized that quarterback Jeff George has more talent than all of their current signal-callers combined, times ten.
ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reports that the Bears have signed George to a one-year deal, most likely for the prorated veteran minimum.
And although Pasquarelli suggests that the Bears will put George at No. 3 on December 5 against the Vikings, I've got a feeling that, if he's even remotely in football shape, he'll make his debut at some point during that game.
Indeed, placing him behind Jonathan Quinn, Medicine Woman on the depth chart would be even more of an indignity than George has suffered as teams have ignored him for most of nearly years seasons since he wrapped up a backup stint in Seattle, which came after sitting out for more than one full season after getting unceremoniously dumped by the Redskins in 2001.
The starter for the Minnesota game likely will be reformed pitcher Chad Hutchinson, who was dumped by the Cowboys in the offseason -- and who has yet to show much of anything in practice with the Bears.
But look for Hutchinson to be on a leash shorter than a pit bull in a park full of poodles in heat come next Sunday. The Bears will need to score points in bunches in order to keep up with the Vikings, and a loss will drop Chicago to 4-8.
Hovan Sulked on the Sidelines
Yesterday, Chris Hovan was a healthy scratch against Jacksonville. Oh, how the (high and) mighty have fallen.
I"ve never have had admiration for Hovan. Hovan, whom I often ridicule for wearing a hair net (thus the Pantyhose Head reference), never lived up to his own hype. And I saw through it from day one.
Hovan, who was not listed on the injury report, yielded his spot in the starting lineup to Spencer Johnson a week ago. This time around, Hovan also has coughed up his game-day roster spot.
Hovan is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and it's becoming more and more obvious that the Vikings won't try to re-sign him. Given his performance over the past two seasons, it's unlikely that anyone will offer him anything more than a minimum-salary contract.
As one league insider was said to utter Sunday afternoon, Hovan "has never been anything special." The source describes Hovan's reputation as "a classic case of marketing by him, his agent and those that like to kiss ass. He created an image through showmanship and bullsh-t that never equaled his play. Never."
With the Vikings winning with defense in Sunday's tilt with Jacksonville, I take you back to July, 1996 when I interviewed then defensive coordinator Foge Fazio.
“When you come into the presence of a leader of men, you know that you have come into the presence of fire, that it is best not uncautiously to touch that man, that there is something that makes it dangerous to cross him.” Woodrow Wilson
You are the defensive coordinator in charge of some of the biggest, meanest, fastest, baddest defensive players in all of professional football. You are responsible for walking up to the likes of 280-lb John Randle to inform him that his missed tackle during a scrimmage cannot be tolerated when the real season begins, August 31, against the Buffalo Bills. Question for you, my readers, is could you do that with out shaking like a leaf as your voice crackles in fear? Answer? Thank the Viking Gods above for Foge Fazio who has the respect and admiration of the entire Viking defense. Foge speaks and the players respond. I met with Coach Fazio earlier this week in his office at Winter Park where he was preparing for the opening of training camp, July 15, in Mankato, Minnesota. The Viking Underground and the Minnesota Vikings are happy to present another in-depth interview to its most loyal fans world-wide:
VU: Ed McDaniel is back. Can you sleep a little better at night this summer because of that?
FF: Well, you know, Eddie did cause us a lot of sleepless nights when he got hurt on the third day of practice at training camp [last year]. Seeing him out there at mini-camp and other practices we’ve had so far, it’s a good feeling to have him back.
VU: Will there be any significant changes to defensive alignments or schemes this coming season that you can share with the readers?
FF: Well, we have basically the same starters that we were planning on going into last year with, the same guys if Eddie comes back. Our backups are going to be awfully young and inexperienced. We did lose a lot of backup players. But because we have a core of people that have been together for at least a year now under our system and two or three years under a system that was basically the same, we’re going to have a few little wrinkles. Maybe a little different blitz here, a little different coverages there, but basically it’s going to be about the same.
VU: I was able to spend a little time with Jeff Friday, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, a few weeks back. While watching Jason Fisk work out, I observed that the players just go through one rep at each station. For the benefit of the readers, could you briefly discuss the Viking regimen and philosophy in the weight room?
FF: Well, number one, you mentioned Jason Fisk. Here’s a guy that’s self-made. He came in here as a seventh round pick. And he has really worked himself into the position that he might be the starter come this season. He will be starting nose tackle right off the bat. Now somebody [may] come and beat him out, but he made the team simply because he spent many, many months in the weight room in the off-season, many hours of training.
What we try to do in the weight room for the defensive guys, naturally, we’re looking for strength, especially in the defensive lineman, a little bit of bulk. Our defense is predicated on speed and agility, so we don’t try to lose the agility part of it, the flexibility part of it and also the quickness part. That is also very important. And a lot of the reps that they do are the explosive type.
If you watched them, they really try to be very explosive in coming off the ball. So that’s basically [how] we try to build our defense in the weight room and the techniques they use in there are pretty close to what we’re looking for.
VU: After the Dallas playoff loss last season, many fans pointed blame at a perceived weakness at linebacker and a lack of depth at linebacker. What, if any, adjustments will you make or have already made at the linebacker positions based on that playoff loss?
FF: Well, I think that when that happens when they run the ball, it’s not only the linebackers. It’s the safety support, it’s the nose tackle, and maybe the defensive end going too wide. There’s a lot of reasons, missed tackles. We’re going to work, naturally, on our tackling and to be in the right positions. Those things that are very correctable.
As far as the linebacking’s concerned, Jeff Brady had to play almost every snap. Dixon Edwards had gotten hurt, missed a lot of games and the back-ups had to play. This year Dwayne Rudd, who is a legitimate number one draft choice, will come on and spell some people and be able to back up people.
So we’ve addressed that issue and with Eddie McDaniel being there, now our linebacking core is getting a better and better look, you know, as we go along. We also signed Ron George, who started last year for the Atlanta Falcons. [He’ll] give us some speed and quickness, and he also fits into our mold. So where last year we had three starters, and when Eddie went down, we really had to scramble around and move people.
Our back-ups were kind of young and inexperienced but now Pete Bercich has been with us. He’ll be a pretty good back-up player, and Ron George will be an excellent back-up player and also Dwayne Rudd, so [we] have five, six guys now that are legitimate NFL linebackers.
VU: As a coach, do you get more satisfaction from developing an unknown player like John Randle into a star or developing a high draft pick such as Fernando Smith into the star player everyone expected him to be?
FF: Well, uh, we always look at it when you’re coaching a young guy that he kind of reflects what you’re trying to do. Sometimes we get credit for developing a player when we shouldn’t [get credit]. Of course, we get blamed whenever they don’t develop.
I don’t care if he’s a number one draft choice or a free agent. You get a lot of satisfaction when you see the guys execute the techniques of the game, which is very important. When they execute the techniques of the game, when they follow the defensive patterns and are in the right spots and doing the right things, executing the game plan, it’s a rewarding satisfaction that coaches get no matter, again as I said, whether he’s a first round pick or a free agent. It means a lot to you.
VU: Can Tony Williams be that next John Randle? (Tony Williams has been nicknamed “Little John” because of his Randle-like intensity)
FF: (laughs) I don’t know. I have been coaching for a while and there’s not too many John Randles. It’s hard to project that. He does have a high motor. They both came, you know John came from a small program, although Tony came from Memphis State which is a Division One team. They both have high motors. John’s a little big bigger than Tony but Tony has the same quickness and motor. It’s just a thing we’ve got to wait and see.
VU: Will Tony stand cocked-stanced at nose with his perceived inability to be that two-gap nose tackle?
FF: Our nose tackles aren’t really two-gap guys. We have cocked them because we felt that they can get in a lane and be able to run and chase the ball and get into their lanes and keep their gap. We’re a gap control team and sometimes being cocked like that, you can get into a gap a little bit better. Sometimes it’s hurt us but, again, we’ve got Jason Fisk who was coming on pretty good last year at the end. We’ve got big James Manley, and, hopefully, he might be able to develop also.
VU: How will you get around John Randle being doubled- and tripled- team again this year?
FF: My first year here, watching it, we had Eddie and usually Eddie is on the same side of Randle. We shot Eddie in the gap a lot of times in-between a center and a guard. And what they’d do with John, they’d have a center and a guard on that side double-team him. The center was looking for him all the time if John got past the guard.
What we did, we shot Eddie in there a couple of times and that made the center a little bit conscious of ‘Hey, I got to be careful, he’s coming.’ That gave John a chance to go one-on-one. We feel if John goes one-on-one against somebody and the quarterback holds the ball a split second, John’s going to be in the guy’s face. That’s what we’re hoping.
VU: How is Orlando Thomas and when will he be back to full strength?
FF: His rehab is going very well. Of course, you don’t know until you get out there. The same with Eddie. We were planning on, maybe in the early pre-season games, playing Eddie maybe a few snaps just to get warm and let Dwayne Rudd take the rest of them. Then maybe towards the end [of pre-season] let Eddie play a quarter or so. With O.T. we’ll probably just keep him out of the first couple pre-season games, and in scrimmage, of course, he’ll just be an observer. Maybe if we get into that fourth or fifth pre-season game, next to the last or last game, [we’ll] try to get him a few shots. We want him to start that first game of the year.
VU: I attended the first mini-camp back in May, and I came away very impressed with one individual, Stalin Colinet, the defensive end out of Boston College. Could you comment on Colinet and where you see him fitting in this season?
FF: Yeah, we liked Stalin. He is a big, rugged guy who has good practice habits, good motor, He’s a type of guy you could play inside if you had to. We have him as a defensive end right now, but he did play inside and maybe could back up John Randle even if we had to because he has the kind of the body and temperament of being there.
I expect him to play from what I’ve seen in mini-camp. Of course you put the pads on and have a little competition and see what happens, but right now based on what we can go on, we like him a lot.
VU: Is one of the reasons you picked up Torian Gray in this year’s draft that he can play equally well at both free and strong safety, given the injuries in defensive backfield at present?
FF: Yeah, I think if we have a weakness, we don’t have an experienced, I should say, guy who’s played in the NFL as a back-up corner or as a safety. We have O.T. who’s an excellent free safety and Robert Griffith who started every game last year for us at strong safety, got hurt and missed a couple games. But you know we don’t have Harlon Barnett who was a bonafide starter in the league as a back-up or Alfred Jackson who backed up as a corner. We don’t have those guys or Vanhorse who played in the league as a corner.
All of our backups are unproven guys so Torian Gray who’s a high round draft choice, second round same as O.T. was, hopefully he can come in here and provide us some back-up positions. And we’re going to play the safeties a little bit different this year. We’re going to let them both be free and strong, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem there.
VU: You have a lot of young defensive talent on the team this year. Sometimes, even on the practice squad, there’s just not enough game time to go around. Will you be sending anybody to the World League next year to help development as the Vikings have done with offensive players Brad Johnson and Everett Lindsay?
FF: I have no idea about that. That’s so far off, it’s pretty hard for me to comment on that. But I could see if a James Manley doesn’t get enough time this year that he could be a candidate, just off the top of my head. But it would be something that we would have to look and see.
But right now, I think that if we do carry eight or nine defensive lineman, they’re going to get a lot of playing time in the pre-season, I promise you that. James Manley, Tony Williams and Stalin Colinet, Duane Clemons, those guys will be out there a lot in the five pre-season games and will get a lot of practice time.
VU: How close is Duane Clemons to actually starting?
FF: Well, he’s done a lot of things in the off-season that have looked pretty good. He’s put some weight on; he’s up to the 280’s now. He’s been here a lot working out, [but] he still needs a lot of work on his strength. He’s quick and he’s smooth and he’s got pretty good speed; he has good lateral movement. But he has to continue to work on his strength, to take a beating in there every day. If he can hold that 280 weight like he is right now, I think he’ll be a guy who will, you know, play a lot. We lost Marty Harrison who played over 55% of the snaps last year. He shared them basically with Derrick Alexander, and Derrick’s the type of guy who can’t go every snap. He takes a beating, he’s a high motor guy so we expect Clemons to be one of the guys in there.
VU: A few years back we saw Buddy Ryan , then defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers, go after the Oiler offensive coordinator and blows were exchanged. How well do you get along with Brian Billick, the Viking offensive coordinator, and do you have a good working relationship on game day?
FF: Brian’s a true professional. He studies the game; he’s really into it 24 hours a day, twelve months out of the year. You can’t say enough about Brian as far as his preparation, his competitiveness to win, and we’re all in this together.
I have no ego problem. I don’t think Brian has an ego problem. Sometimes when you have ego problems like what you mentioned happened in Houston, those things can happen. As long as Denny Green is the head coach here, I don't think anybody is going to have a problem as far as the team is concerned. Denny really lets the coaches coach. He’s well prepared, you know where you’re at with Denny, the players know where they are.
The coaches sit together in that staff room, and we discuss what the game plans are going to be. We know going in what’s going to happen. I’m sure if Brian looks and he sees a guy wide open and they run it for a touchdown, he’s going to put his chin strap on and say ‘Let’s go offense, we’re going to drive down the field and score.’ If the offense turns the ball over, we say ‘That’s what the defense gets paid for, and let’s go out and stop them.’ We have that kind of attitude.
So we have never had any problem like that. I don’t even foresee it. I don’t think it would ever happen. Plus he’s too doggone tall to swing at. [laughs]
VU: What would be a bigger victory for you: a playoff win where the defense gives up a lot of points or a regular season victory over the Packers where the Viking defense holds them scoreless?
FF: I would rather win a game any way you could win it. I was head coach in high school and in college, and there’s nothing more exciting than winning a playoff game or a bowl game. I don’t care what the score is.
If Green Bay scores 20 and we score 21 or somebody scores 40 and we score 44, I’m happy. It doesn’t make any difference. This game is a long season and when you’re in it as long as we’ve been in it, you’ll see everything happen. We’ve seen 3-0 games, 3-2 games, the game at Detroit two year ago on Thanksgiving Day that was like a 44-40 game [44-38]. Of course we lost that one. Nobody was happy.
VU: Well, the refs helped in that one.
FF: Yeah, nobody was happy after that one. I’m sure Brian and the offensive guys feel the same way. You go in the locker room and you lose 44-40, nobody’s hooting and hollering. They’re all down. Whether you’re Cris Carter and you catch twelve balls or you’re Robert Smith and you gain 180 yards, you’re still going to be down. Or if we go in and we lose a game 7-6 or we lose the game 3-0 on an intercepted pass or we have five interceptions and they don’t gain any yards you’re still down, no one’s hooting.
It’s a team game and that’s what I like about football. I think that that’s important. In basketball maybe a guy score 45 points and he might be happy, or in baseball a guy hits three home runs and he might be happy. But football is not that way.
VU: Orlando Thomas and Corey Fuller are, should we say, very chatty players on the field. How have you adjusted your coaching over the years to handle players who have a lot of fire in the belly?
FF: Well, I kind of get fired up and I might say a few things during the course of a game or the course of practice. We always have a saying ‘as long as its not a distraction to the individual or to his teammates.’ Being that all the guys on the team know how O.T. and Corey are and knowing how I am, sometimes in practice there’s a few words and shouting going on or even in the course of the game. As long as its not a problem with the intensity or the distractions that come along with it, Corey knows that and so does O.T. and the other players [as well]. They know to button it up if we have to. But right now it hasn’t been a distraction.
VU: When you were a kid playing football in the backyard, which defensive player did you emulate and why?
FF: Oh man, [laughs] it’s been so doggone long ago. Some of the guys, naturally as I grew up in Pittsburgh, in those days the pro players, a lot of them were going both ways and I was a big Pittsburgh Steeler fan. I played center and linebacker and they [Steelers] had a guy named Chuck Terengelo (sp?) who played, not too many people remember, and watching the other teams come in and seeing Chuck Bednarik. [Click here to read how Chuck Bednarik flattened Frank Gifford in 1960.]
You know, he was like the last of the two-way players in pro football. When I was getting a little bit older and going in to junior high and high school, he was like the last of the two-way players. Actually he didn’t play for the Steelers [Eagles] but there were a lot of the players that the Steelers had in those days. Even when they played the Cleveland Browns, I used to know a lot of their players by name too. It was a big rivalry. And watching those guys, of course I didn’t know if I was going to be a defensive player or a offensive player back in those days.
I liked Otto Graham. He played for the Browns. He was a quarterback and I liked to be the quarterback. Jimmy Finks, believe it or not, he played for the Steelers. I liked him a lot too and the way he played the game. He was the quarterback way back in those golden days of football.
VU: How has Dennis Green helped you in your career to date and what attributes of Dennis’ would you take with you if a head coaching position becomes available to you?
FF: Well, uh, one thing when I was at the Jets and we [coaching staff] got let go, we all had time on our contract. Denny called me and I never even thought, you know. We were all looking for what jobs were going to be open. I didn’t even know there was going to be an opening here. And he had called me and said to meet him down at the Senior Bowl which was the next day, and I walked in and he offered me the job and I accepted. And some of the other guys said, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of other jobs open.’ I said ‘Hey, the man called me, and I didn’t even have to ask him.’
So that was reassuring and then when Tony Dungy left, he made me the defensive coordinator which was I thought a good thing on his part to keep the continuity. He expressed complete belief in what I was doing and doesn’t interfere. He’s very knowledgeable both on offense and on defense, and I think that’s very important. He’s very well-prepared throughout his organization, in training camp and the mini-camps, and off-season. He’s very highly organized. And I’m going to keep all that stuff just in case [laughs] I ever get a shot.
I think Denny creates an atmosphere, a very positive atmosphere on the practice field, in the class-room where the player knows, ‘Hey, every opportunity is given to us to be successful.’ And Denny provides that, he’s the leader. Again, he’s very knowledgeable in the special teams, defense, offense. Gets very emotional before the games. But right to the button, you know, no B.S. The players know where he’s coming from. He’s consistent in handling them, which I think is very, very important. And he has tremendous credibility with the players because of his background and his knowledge. I think that if you can establish the credibility with the players that he has, I think you’re going to be O.K. They respect him and they like him.
VU: One of your teammates at Pitt was Mike Ditka. With Ditka coming back to the league this year as head coach at New Orleans, do you have any special advice for him?
FF: No, [laughs] you know Mike’s been away for maybe four years but he’s been in that booth. I know that when Mike became head coach of the Bears, I became the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh. He called me and he said ‘Only in America, that a Slovak from the steel mills of Aliquippa [Pennsylvania] and a Italian kid from the steel mills of Coraopolis [Pennsylvania], their sons can become head coaches of their alma maters,’ He wrote that in his book in fact. [Click here for actual Ditka quote.]
Mike was such a hard competitor. I remember in high school, we didn’t play them in football because they were a lot bigger high school, but we did play them in baseball. And boy, he’d be playing shortstop and I remember his brother in center field made an error one time. Mike turned around and almost chased him right out of the ball park [laughs].
You didn’t want to tangle with Mike Ditka. This guy was a tough competitor and a great student of the game. And it’s no nonsense with him. Tough guys are going to be the guys that make the team. If you’re not tough, if you’re a B.S.er, if you shy away, you ain’t going to be there very long. He will get the most out of his talent. He had good talent with the Bears, no doubt about it. But he developed those guys and they played his style of football.
VU: Speaking for John Randle, which quarterback in the league would he most like to sack?
FF: Knowing John Randle, I think he doesn’t care who it is. In fact, in practice if he was allowed to sack our guy, he would. And I know that watching him in the drills, you know we have dummies up out there and we go through drills where they avoid the blockers and get up and sack, he even enjoys sacking that doggone dummy out there too.
VU: Will there ever be another defensive NFL MVP or is there just too much focus on offense and scoring?
FF: I don’t know. It’s pretty hard nowadays for a defensive player to be dominant. You know, if any one had a chance at it, I guess maybe L.T. [Lawrence Taylor] in his hey-day. But then of course, they adjust the blocking schemes. You can always, you know, take one guy out of the game.
Ronnie Lott was tremendous. I know we had him in the twilight of his career [Jets], but he was still a great ball player. And, um, it’s pretty tough, like I said. You know, you can double-team Randle. Reggie White, you can double-team him, stay away from him, you know. I guess that whenever Alan [Page] won it, I guess he still had the other Purple People Eaters out there. Maybe they couldn’t concentrate too much [on Page] then Jim Marshall would have got them or somebody else might have pumped up and got them.
But I think it’s just too hard for one guy, even a great cornerback. You know how many balls are thrown Deion’s [Sanders] way. He’s an outstanding cornerback. Even when Ronnie Lott was playing free safety, how many shots do you get, you know? The game’s close and they’re running the ball a lot. You make a lot of tackles, but he had a tremendous amount of interceptions. I think it’s kind of hard. I think the focus is on the offense.
VU: A tough schedule awaits this year with three of the first four games on the road. Will those first four decide the fate of the remaining 12 games?
FF: I don’t know. We had the same thing last year. We came out 5-1 but we lost four in a row. I think the schedule is such that you got to go with the old cliché ‘one at a time.’
VU: Monday night, December 1, Green Bay comes to town. How can the fans help the team during that game, and just how badly do you expect to destroy the Team Formerly Known As The Super Bowl Champions?
FF: Well, any time you play on Monday night home or away, it’s kind of like an extra juice. The players, they know it. They know it’s the only time their counterparts, their colleagues, the other NFL players, [have] a chance to watch. Everyone’s watching and they know that. Not only their parents and stuff like, that but they know that the epitome of NFL football is to play that night.
And being that it’s home and being that it’s Green Bay, it’s going to be a wild, woolly affair like it always is. Like I’ve seen it the last two years here and hopefully that our guys will win the game somehow, some way. We expect to win it and hope we can pull it out again.
VU: Do you hope to get the crowd more behind you this year?
FF: Well, I think the crowd here is just like any where else. I mean, I remember when the Steelers won four Super Bowls, and I was coaching at Pitt. This is in late ‘79 or ‘80 and opening game was against Houston. We [Pitt] had played on a Saturday and had an open day, and so I went to the game. I sat in the stands and they were playing the Houston Oilers, their dreaded rivalry.
The Steelers jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but at half-time they were losing 17-10. You would have thought [laughs] they were playing away. The fans had turned on them in one half, and that was the opening game after they had won the Super Bowl the year before.
So it’s like anything else, I think. If you play hard and you show you’re trying and you’re out there playing hard and you’ve got some victories under your belt and you’re very competitive, I think the fans see that. I think what the fans don’t like is if you’re not competitive and you lose some games you should have won, those always happen. There’s always games that somehow the other team steals. We’ve stole a few games ourselves.
It’s a situation now because there’s so much importance placed on a team to win the Super Bowl, that if you don’t win it, if you’re not there, then everyone’s disgusted about it. Being that Green Bay won it and that their fans are rubbing in our fans’ noses that they won a Super Bowl and that they want to get back in it, I think our players realize that and they [will] play hard. They’re going to play hard even if nobody’s at the game.
But they love football. Out of fifty-three guys, I would say that ninety-nine percent of them are really out there to win the game. Because they love football.
Benson Tries Out For Scrooge
With the New Orleans Saints having an awful season and visions of a taxpayer-financed stadium now dancing in the toilet, owner Tom Benson seems to be losing interest in the NFL franchise that he has owned for some 20 years.
According to my guy "Da Pope" in New Orleans, Benson has even canceled the organization's annual Christmas party. He also is cutting costs at the team headquarters, including the food budget. Sound familiar?
Yeah, Red McCombs and Benson, both car dealers, are buddies. They must be having meetings together to even try and figure out how to use one office building and staff to run both NFL teams!
In any event, it appears that Benson will shift, like McCombs, to maintenance mode for the next few months as he tries to decide whether to cash out come February if the team can't finagle the cash cow of a shiny new venue in which to play the home games.
The guess here is that Benson eventually will sell to Larry Ellison of Oracle, who'll move the team to L.A. That, while bad for Saints fans, at least takes away one method of getting out of the Twin Cities if McCombs can't sell the team locally. McCombs would then be more pressured to sell to a local guy and increase the chances of getting a stadium bill passed.
Regardless of how it plays out, the situation in New Orleans will be a big part of what is shaping up to be one of the wildest and most unpredictable offseasons in years.
Washington Huskies Interested in Tice?
Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the name of Vikings coach Mike Tice has surfaced as a possible candidate for the head-coaching job at the University of Washington.
Tice, who declined to comment on the situation on Wednesday, is in the final year of his Vikings contract. However, the team holds a $1 million option for 2005.
Tice owns a home in Seattle, dating back to his days with the Seahawks.
I've never quite come to champion Tice. He's just always come across to me as being, well, over-matched when it comes to facing veteran NFL head-coaches. From time management issues to handling Randy Moss' recent hamstring injury, Tice just seems to be in learning mode.
So, it would not break my heart to see Tice go. However, I'd rather retain him than have to deal with McCombs try and bring in the cheapest available coach...which is what he would do.
Well, it's been a few days since my last posting. The end of every year finds me frantically trying to keep up at work while also juggling the holidays with family. Thus, the blog has suffered a bit. So bear with infrequent updates through the holiday season.
Oh, and to my great dismay I have discovered that my entire 1998 season stories were lost when my hard drive crashed in early 1999. I had forgot about it (who wouldn't!) and thus, I had just been posting game recaps from 1998. In retrospect, I just thought that added nothing. So, from this point forward it will be all 2004.
Will There Be A "Artest" Incident In NFL Someday?
Recently, one of the major sports web sites posted a poll asking which NFL player would be the first to "go Artest" refering to the recent NBA fiasco in which Ron Artest went into the stands to beat on some fans "Walking Tall" style.
One of the selections to the question was Todd Sauerbrun, a punter. Before one asks what in the name of Bud Grant would a punter be doing on such a list let me bring you back to the 1996 season.
The Vikes were hosting a game against the Chicago Bears, Sauerbrun's team at that time. Sauerbrun had been arrested the previous week on a drunk driving charge. To make matters worse, he had been driving off-road.....through a children's playground. I'm not making this up.
During pre-game warmups, I first attracted Sauerbrun's attention from my first row seat by making fun of his "guns". You see, Sauerbrun thought he had huge biceps....ala Keith Millard. You remember former Vikings defensive end Keith Millard? He was arrested once and told his arresting officer that his "biceps were lethal weapons".
Anyway, back then Sauerbrun was telling everyone that his biceps were so huge that he needed a specially designed jersey to accomodate the bad boys. Sauerbrun did not appreciate that I compared his biceps to the arms of my grandmother.
I further continued asking Sauerbrun if he needed a ride home after the game. I even offered up that I had a case of cold beer in the trunk and that I knew a special short-cut.....through a children's playground. Would he care to drive? Good stuff, right?
Well, Sauerbrun had to be literally restrained by two teammates as he tried to climb the wall separating the two of us. It was very funny to me at the time. But after seeing what happened in Detroit last Friday it could have ended ugly. I guess steroids and punters just don't mix.
We Should Be Worried
Mike Kelly's decision to leave his position as the Vikings' executive vice president speaks volumes. Kelly's contract expires at season's end, and he has, in five years, helped stabilize the club's finances and kept it profitable and competitive despite the revenue issues inherent in the lease with the Metrodome.
As quoted from the Star Tribune story, Kelly's differences with owner Red McCombs boil down to this: The franchise, he says, has gone from "a growth business to a maintenance business."
The Vikings are for sale at a reported price ($600 million) beyond the stretch of potential buyers. Their inability to get a deal with the state for a new stadium and the release of their legislative staff a month ago helped convince Kelly to move on.
"There's so much uncertainty going forward," he says.
Of course that's on top of a couple of years of shaving budgets and squeezing productivity from a small staff in a cramped training facility.
Here's what Kelly won't say: The bottom line at the highest echelon is not winning, it's the bottom line. Too little of the profit goes back into the operation for staffing, signing free agents or paying coaches. And it won't get better while McCombs tries to sell at a price outsized for the market.
Kelly's departure won't mean much to fans and I doubt you’ll much posted about it. He's not one of the players. But he wanted what they wanted. A chance to win a championship. So the reasons for his departure should worry all of us. Let’s hope that Red sells soon….and locally.
When Denny Green was head-coach of the Vikings, I started to capture all the little Yogi Berra type quotes that he would deliver straight-faced at news conferences. Stuff, that just left one speechless. Kinda lijke this one from 1997:
"Well he’s a ball player. Good football players make football plays. He’s a good football player. We were hoping he was a good football player, and it looks like he is. Football players that are good football players make plays."
And "when he plays like he could play, he makes all the plays he should make when he plays the way he can play".
Well, this one was made by Denny this week down in Arizona. The more things change, the more they stay the same....or something like that.
"When I make a decision, I stay with it until I change my mind." — Arizona coach Dennis Green, on his switch of starting quarterbacks.
Have a favorite Denny-ism that you recall from his tenure with the Vikes?
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Unfortunately, my hard drive crashed after 1998 and with no backups, some of the 1998 season is basically recaps. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 7, Washington thoughts.
(Week Six: Bye)
Week Seven: Washington; Vikes 41, Redskins 7
If the Green Bay Packers couldn't stop Randall Cunningham and the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, did anyone think the winless Washington Redskins could at the Metrodome?
Cunningham continued his impressive season with two first-half touchdown passes as the Vikings overcame an early special-teams gaffe by rookie Randy Moss and scored 41 unanswered points in a 41-7 demolition of the Redskins, remaining unbeaten.
The 35-year-old Cunningham, who has been playing since starting quarterback Brad Johnson went down with a broken leg in Week Two, completed 20-for-34 passes for 259 yards. Since taking over, Cunningham has thrown for 1,237 yards and 12 touchdowns without an interception.
"Give a lot of credit to Coach (Dennis) Green, we don't get proud or overconfident," said Cunningham. "And he prepares us for the finer things we need to do. I want to cherish this win today and wait until tomorrow to start thinking about Detroit."
Robert Smith added 103 rushing yards while fullback Leroy Hoard scored two touchdowns on short runs for the Vikings (6-0), who are off to their best start since winning the first 10 games of the 1975 season.
"(It) doesn't matter what your record is at the start of the season," said Smith. "Six-and-oh is nice, but you remember Tampa started out last year 5-0."
Minnesota owns a two-game lead in the NFC Central over Green Bay, which lost at Detroit on Thursday night. The Vikings complete the road portion of their division schedule in the next two weeks with games at Detroit and Tampa Bay.
"Detroit has already been working on us, they're an outstanding team at home," said Green. "We have had our share of problems in the Silverdome, so we have a lot of work to do to catch up."
The Redskins (0-7), who only scored on a two-yard run by Terry Allen after Moss' miscue, took another step toward their worst start in 37 years. Washington, which went 0-9 to start the 1961 season, showed no offensive continuity under quarterback Gus Frerotte, who was starting for the first time since Week Two.
"That's as poor a performance as I've been involved with," fumed Redskins coach Norv Turner, whose job grows more tenuous with each loss. "Defensively, we have a chance to be a decent team. Offensively, we are totally inept. We can't snap off two consecutive plays. This is not acceptable."
Frerotte went 10-of-24 for 117 yards while Allen, a former Viking, added 62 rushing yards for Washington, which allowed 30 or more points for the fifth time this season. The Redskins have been outscored, 227-93.
"Those are harsh words, but they're true," Frerotte said when told of Turner's comments. "We couldn't get it done. The effort's there, we're not staying focused."
Turner also implied there will be changes made when the Redskins come back following their bye week.
"Maybe we can get some things corrected, we have a couple of days off. We're going to find the guys who really want to compete and put them on the field."
"This is the lowest. I've never felt like this," said Redskins cornerback Darrel Green, a 16-year veteran and member of three Super Bowl champions. "We've lost some games before, but this one hit me."
The teams traded empty possessions to start the game, but Moss, who was on punt coverage, accidentally touched Matt Turk's punt with his hand while his back was to the ball. Cornerback Darryl Pounds scooped it up at the Minnesota 2 and Allen promptly scored off right guard on the next play.
But it went downhill for the Redskins after that. Cunningham completed his first four passes as the Vikings went 68 yards on seven plays. After an offensive interference penalty on Cris Carter negated a one-yard TD pass, Cunningham hit tight end Andrew Glover over the middle from 11 yards on the next play.
The Redskins went three-and-out and Cunningham again went to work. After hooking up with Carter on a 36-yard pass, Moss atoned for his error by drawing a 35-yard interference penalty on Darrell Green, who tried to overcome his eight-inch height disdvantage by climbing on Moss as he ran a post pattern.
Hoard bulled up the middle on the next play as the Vikings took a 14-7 lead with 3:40 to play in the first quarter. By the end of the period, the Vikings held a 156-19 advantage in total yards.
Late in the first half the Redskins threatened, but Cary Blanchard hooked a 49-yard field goal wide left. Cunningham found Moss on consecutive plays for 38 yards and the pair hooked up again for a 12-yard pass to the 11 with 54 seconds to play.
Smith ran for five yards and Cunningham floated a pass to Hoard two plays later, converting a 3rd-and-4 to the 1. After Hoard was stopped with 21 seconds to go, the Vikings called timeout before Cunningham zipped a pass to Carter, who reached high for the TD.
Corey Fuller ended Washington's first second-half possession with an interception at midfield, and Gary Anderson booted a 49-yard field goal to make it 24-7 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Smith extended the margin to 31-7 on a 19-yard scamper 2:12 into the fourth quarter. Anderson drilled a 46-yarder before Hoard capped the scoring with a one-yard dive with 1:51 left.
"We really feel great. Anytime you have a week off and a bye, and you're able to take off where we left...," added Green. "The key today was our defense, our guys were focused and on the same page. We had a good game going into the bye and came out strong today."
Carter had five receptions for 109 yards and matched Anthony Carter's team record by catching a pass for the 105th consecutive game. Cris Carter moved within four catches of 700 for his career.
A Viking Underground Exclusive Interview with Brian Billick
“The more detailed and specific a game plan can be laid out for a player, the more he can perform with confidence and efficiency. The way we install and practice our game plans with the Minnesota Vikings has been very helpful in providing me with the information and tools I need to do a job more properly. Coach Billick’s detailed and comprehensive approach is one of the reasons we have been able to produce the record amount of offense we have over the last few years.”
Warren Moon, former Vikings Quarterback
from Developing an Offensive Game Plan by Brian Billick
In 1993 Brian Billick took over the Minnesota Viking offensive coordinator role. By season’s end the offensive attack was averaging 351.7 yards and 21.6 points per game. In 1994, with eight new starters, Billick led his unit to third place in the NFL in total offense and second in the NFL in pass offense. In 1995, Minnesota set a team season record for points scored with 412, and his offense ranked fourth in the league with 5,938 yards. Last season, with a young quarterback accounting for 55 percent of total snaps, Billick’s offense went into the playoffs as one of only three teams in the NFC to be ranked in the top five offensively in the past three years.
For forty minutes on a day when the main topic amongst Minnesotans was sandbags and floods, I sat down with the former BYU tight-end to discuss the upcoming season at length.
VU: The month of April starts out with April Fool’s Day. On April 1 this year a radio station in Indianapolis reported that a trade was in the works with the Vikings in which the Colts received Robert Smith, James Manley, the Vikings’ first round pick and second round pick with the Vikings receiving Marshall Faulk, Tony Siragusa and Indy’s third round pick. Did you hear about this gag and would the Vikings have considered it?
BB: No, I didn’t.
VU: Do you think the Vikings would have considered that trade at all?
BB: Oh, you know, there’s any number of combinations and scenarios you could throw up. Whether that was actually proposed or not I couldn’t say. I’m not privy to that information sometimes. Just to back up, we’re very hopeful of signing Robert Smith. Robert’s history has been a unique one. Obviously a little injury-prone. There’s no question he is a viable talent in the NFL. Had he been able to continue and finish the year along the same vein that he started the first eight games, there’s no doubt in my mind he would have led the league or been second in the league in rushing.
I know there’s frustration on the part of some fans and certainly no more than we coaches in the terms of the potential that Robert holds, but obviously he’s not been able to take a whole season through fruition. So, it’s an ongoing process that we have to evaluate. How far can we go with Robert, how far can we attempt to extrapolate his abilities to stay healthy versus, what are the other available options?
Coming into this draft’s a perfect example. We signed Leroy Hoard. We’d very much like to have Robert with that one-two punch. That would be a viable running game going into this season. This is a draft year with a unusually large number of good running backs. Not necessarily the top two or three picks in the draft, but you could see as many as five, six, seven backs go in the first two rounds, anywhere from mid-first to the end of the second. There’s some good quality backs.
We have to make a quantitative decision of do we take one of these backs with our first or second pick, foregoing Robert with the idea that he’s not under contract, he has had an injury problem, or, what we prefer to do is have Robert under contract because what we believe is that he can have that full season. And address some other needs with those picks. The problem is that Robert has to show his commitment to us as well, preferably before the draft, so that we don’t have to make one of those types of decisions.
So, those are the types of scenarios we’re always dealing with. A trade possibility, whether that was viable or not, you’re asking the wrong guy. Those are some intriguing names, certainly, and you consider anything that’s brought up but that by no way means we have given up on Robert Smith. We are, in fact, anxious [to have him]. And I, as the offensive coordinator, am looking forward to having him back this year, if indeed, we can get it done.
VU: Turning to your offensive front line, how important was it to resign Randall McDaniel?
BB: Well, you always, you have to start the free agency process, the evaluation of talent process, with who is absolutely mandatory to this organization from a player standpoint. Randall McDaniel, there’s no question, is the best guard in all of pro football. I think that’s quantitatively documented in terms of the Pro Bowls. No matter how many coaches you visit with, they would love to have Randall McDaniel.
The problem you always face within the organization is then you have to put a dollar figure on that, and it’s not a matter of just what are we going to spend but what are you willing to spend within the entire paradigm of what else you need on the club. The players and the fans have to recognize it’s not a matter of spending the $41 million dollars on the cap. We will do that.
The question is, who, where, do you take that money from? If Randall McDaniel signs a $3.3 million contract, then that means those dollars have to come somewhere else within the club out of somebody else’s money, someone else’s pocket so to speak. So that’s the dilemma that you face. From a football standpoint you have to keep a player the caliber of Randall McDaniel. From an organizational standpoint of what Randall brings to the community, what he’s meant to this team, it would have been extremely unfortunate [to have lost him]. Although it can easily happen and it does on several teams. It would have been extremely unfortunate to lose someone of Randall’s impact, both on the organization and the community.
VU: When you found out that Jeff [Diamond] had signed Randall, how did you personally celebrate it? Did you jump into the air, yell out a window?
BB: Yeah, I’m pretty reserved that way but there’s just a real sigh of relief for just the reasons I noted. The fact that we feel like the offensive line is a good, solid offensive line, it is a relatively young line that is now with every year becoming more mature. The fact that they’ve worked together now for an entire year and have a certain functionality about them and the ability to communicate with one another and know one another, it’s just a positive. If you take any of them out of the mix, that loss changes that equation. It changes that balance, and it’s nice to not have to address that during training camp.
VU: Everett Lindsay is playing in the WLAF this spring. What plans do you have for Everett this year at the center spot or will he be backing up at the guard/tackle position?
BB: Well, we feel pretty good about our starters across the board. Obviously everybody’s gonna have a chance to impact the starting lineup. Everett Lindsay is someone who started for us a number of games his rookie year, thrown into the pit so to speak, and equated himself quite well. What Everett has to prove in the World League, not so much prove, maybe not the right word: One, he has to prove that, indeed, he’s healthy and can get through a season, even a quasi-season like the World League. That’ll be important for him. Secondly, to kind of get back into a football framework, frame of mind, and ability to function within a framework of a team because he’s been out of it for an extended period of time now. Ah, that’s gonna be very important for him.
When he comes back to training camp, we have to make sure that we as coaches understand he’s been through a ten game season now. And we’ve got to make sure we don’t put so much on him in training camp that we hurt him or step back in terms of what he’s been able to accomplish in the World League coming in with us. We could have ourselves a very viable [player], what appears to be backup now, but that’s not to say Everett couldn’t put himself in a starting role somewhere down the season, particularly due to injury.
VU: Korey Stringer has been playing at around 340 lbs. Are you happy with the weight that Korey plays at?
BB: Korey’s proven he can play at that weight and above. Experience tells us that an athlete of that size and that build has a much better chance of getting through the season healthy and extending his career if he can get his weight down. Korey knows this. The biggest concern is injury. He can play at that weight; he’s proven it. Can he hold off the injury? Can he play effectively at the end of the year when fatigue sets in? When you carry that extra weight, that’s all a factor. From an ideal situation, yeah, we would like, as would Korey, I think, to get his weight down. But can he play at 340, 350 pounds? Yeah, he can.
VU: Has he gained any quickness since his rookie year?
BB: It’s hard to say. You know Korey is really quite a good athlete and is so powerful and so strong, once he’s got his hands on a defender, he’s got him. And that’s a great attribute to have at tackle. It’s hard for me to quantify, to say if he’s any quicker. He was pretty quick when he came in for a man that size. He’s certainly gained more experience. And you’ve got to remember how young Korey was, coming out as an underclassman. [He] would just be coming out this year, actually, in normal circumstances. So anything he has is above the curve or ahead of the learning curve so to speak. His best football may very well still be ahead of him.
VU: When Randall McDaniel does finally retire, would you see Todd Steussie stepping in as the leader of the offensive front line?
BB: Yeah, that group is a group that certainly there will be a leader who will emerge but it’s [a line] that tends to be very close knit and works together from the standpoint that there doesn’t necessarily need to be one definitive guy. Randall’s not a particularly vocal individual, although he certainly leads by his example and leads by his performance. Ultimately, a leader, that’s the only way he really can lead - via performance. Jeff Christy, by nature of the position, has taken on a great deal of leadership qualities because of the nature of what he does, the line calls. And the guys rely on him in that way.
Obviously if Randall were to leave, Jeff’s role would be even more increased than it is even now, and he has kind of taken on a leadership role of that group, as well. Although in terms of the heart and soul of the group, the anchor of the group, yes, certainly Todd with his abilities, his experience now, I could easily see Todd with his mental approach to the game, with his toughness, his work ethic, I could see Todd kind of absorbing more of that role.
VU: A person like Steussie, who gets involved in the community as well as the team, must be a joy to coach?
BB: Oh, absolutely, he’s one of the few guys we have who stays here year round. He has a home and makes his home here year round. And for obvious reasons, during the winter that’s a hard thing to get players to do, particularly players from a warm climate area, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, California, Arizona. Those are awful nice places to be in January and February. So when you have someone of Todd’s playing ability, his caliber, his commitment to the team, stay here year round and then, thus, be a part of the community on a day-to-day basis, it’s a real positive for the organization and for us as the coaching staff.
VU: Who do you think will be your starting tight end this year?
BB: Well, you know [when] we came out of [the season], we rotated the tight ends in a number of ways. Hunter Goodwin, I guess, came out as the most identifiable starter for us, had a tremendous rookie year. You’d like to see that kind of quantitative leap in ability and in experience take him to that next level. Andrew Jordan, we’ve had a lot of hopes in his first couple of years. [He] showed a lot of promise, struggled a little last year, but is one of the best workers, so I can see Andrew exerting himself this year.
The tight end position is an interesting one, in that, being a former tight end myself, obviously I lean towards that. We have to have 50 or better receptions from that position, not an individual necessarily, but from that position. We had that every year up til last year and it made a difference for us. It made us put more pressure on the outside receivers. It limited the quarterback in certain aspects. So one of our goals this year is to clearly establish the tight end position as that viable receiving position. And the best way to note that is, again, we’re talking between 50 and 60 receptions on the year.
VU: From the following list which answer best describes Texas standout Hunter Goodwin’s size A) a Texas BBQ B) a stallion C) a cattle ranch D) the Alamo?
BB: Well, I tell ya, he’s a stallion from the standpoint that he is a much better athlete, an all-around athlete, than a lot of people know. They think of Hunter, he was a tackle at [Texas] AM, coming in as a heck of point-of-attack guy for us. You can quantitatively measure the difference in our running attack and what we were able to do from that Oakland game on, when he and David Dixon were inserted into the lineup. So people think of him in that capacity.
What that belies is his overall athletic ability. He’s probably as fast a tight end as we have on the club, has excellent hands. So the only thing that’s really limiting him right now in terms of being that all-around tight end is really experience. It’s not like we’re trying to take just a point-of-attack tight end and trying to see if there’s things he can do down the field. He has the athletic ability to do that. So if he can get experience from a comprehensive stand point, you could be seeing one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
VU: Hunter plays hard and was involved in several training camp fights with Jeff Brady last year in Mankato. Has he been able to keep his head on the field to this point?
BB: Well, that’s something that Denny Green in particular has always stressed that we can’t tolerate. Just the lack of focus, the lack of professionalism, what that represents when an athlete reacts in that way. But it’s a very fine line. This is a very aggressive, combative type of profession. And you ask the players to walk a very fine line and maintain that mental attitude, that aggressiveness and assertiveness but keep it right at a point where it doesn’t spill over after a play.
It’s something that Hunter has to work on, something that we’re consciously working with him on. Mike Tice, in particular last year. And as the season progressed, Hunter had the good sense not to let it spill into a game. So when you see that, you begin to recognize that’s something he’ll be able to deal with and control, and I doubt that we’ll have a lot more instances like that from Hunter.
VU: How is Robert Smith’s knee doing?
BB: In talking with the doctors and the trainers, they feel extremely good about how his ability to come into training camp from day one and be one hundred percent.
VU: Has he been doing just light running drills at this point?
BB: No, I think he’s actually been more assertive than that. Robert doesn’t train here in the off-season. He’s back in Columbus [Ohio] going to school and fulfilling other requirements that he has toward that. But Robert has always been a diligent trainer. From what I understand he’s ahead of schedule and should be ready to go by training camp.
VU: James Stewart, how’s his leg looking?
BB: Again, he’s someone who has responded very well to the training, should be ready to go here in this mini-camp and into training camp one hundred percent. He’s another one that obviously, it’s time for him to stay healthy. It’s time for him to see what his abilities and potentials can provide for us. And we’re looking for a big training camp from James.
VU: With the signing of Leroy Hoard and the eventual signing of Smith, do you plan on using a two back set at all this season?
BB: Well, we were in a lot of two back last year. We were in more two back last year than we have been at any point since I’ve been here. The problem with the two back that people have to consider is, when you have two backs, you only have one ball. And if you give it to Robert Smith, Leroy Hoard has to be a blocker. If you give it to Leroy Hoard, Robert Smith has to be a blocker.
Now that’s not to say they can’t do that, but if you’re talking about x-amount of snaps that you want to put an athlete through, the idea of having a Leroy Hoard and a Robert Smith, the positive is that they can balance each other. No one guy has to take the entire load for a very long sixteen game season. So to use them up in that lead back capacity, you might not be using them at their optimum level of efficiency. Although having them both in the backfield is something we would do.
Certainly, having Chuck Evans and now a Harold Morrow, and we used Chuck Evans in that capacity a lot last year, we increased our two back offense by a good 20 percent last year having Chuck Evans in the backfield. And Greg DeLong to a certain degree, even though he’s a tight end, is more in the H-back or full back capacity. The two back mentality, whether it be a Greg DeLong or Chuck Evans or an Amp Lee and a Robert Smith or a Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard, will account for probably close to 50, maybe even 60 percent of our attack.
VU: You have an exciting season approaching in the quarterback department. My contacts at Florida State tell me that Brad Johnson wants to show everyone that he is ready to earn that big contract he signed last year, as opposed to a certain Lions QB, and has been working out alone on the FSU campus. To what extent have you and quarterback coach Ray Sherman been working with Brad during the off-season?
BB: We work with Brad extensively. Brad in his first five years here, no one spent more time here in the off-season doing more than Brad Johnson. But Brad has reached a point, both in the terms of his status as a starter, his knowledge of the system. As we alluded to, this is a very long season. You have to have a very specific program in the off-season as to how you want to progress. Athletes can actually do too much. Particularly with the quarterback, you can throw too much.
We have three, three-day quarterback schools beginning in the beginning of March up to training camp. We have one in April that we’re about to do here on the 14th, 15th and 16th of next week. And then we’ll do one prior to mini-camp. And each is designed with a specific task of working out, throwing, working into that familiarity with your receivers, going over different aspects of the offense. But it still gives the players enough time off so that they come into training camp fresh.
So we have a very specific program with Brad that we’re right in the middle of. Brad is constantly receiving tapes and contact from us. Brad is one of those athletes you don’t worry about where he does his training because you know he’s going to train. He’s very diligent about it. He’s not someone that you have to have here and have to constantly monitor it, much like Warren [Moon]. Warren was a meticulous trainer and Brad’s taken on those same qualities and will be in great shape when he comes to training camp.
VU: What single thing impressed you the most about Brad last season?
BB: People don’t understand just how difficult it is to come in and perform at the level Brad did coming off the bench to do so. For him to accomplish what he did, if you take Brad’s 300-some odd throws, which accounts for better than 55 percent of our attack last year, and you extrapolate that over the entire 565-some odd throws that we took.
In other words, if you were to take Brad’s eight games and extrapolate that out to an entire season, and I don't think that’s a far-fetched notion, and it’s not like taking a guy that performed well in two or three games, and say “Oh, well, if he did this over 16, this is what it would amount to.” He had good games, he had not-so-good games, so it’s a representative picture over what he might do over the entire season
You’re looking at a 4000-plus yard, 31 touchdown, only 27 sack and 18 interception year. That would have ranked clearly in the top four or five in the league last year. That would put Brad in the top ten of all-time years in the history of the Vikings, only behind the two that Warren had in ‘94 and ‘95. So you can see where our excitement comes from.
And for Brad to have done that, in many instances where the game plan was really wrapped around Warren, Warren goes down, and Brad comes in and has to execute [Warren’s] game plan, not that there’s a huge amount of difference, but one that maybe wasn’t built with necessarily with his strengths in mind. And to come in and win the games that Brad did and then to be in and out as a starter, to have the run of starting games that he did as we were able to wrap the offense more around him, I think, is a real indicator of his talent. And I really think we have one of the good, possibly great, young quarterbacks in the game right now.
VU: Was there any thing last season that did disappoint you about Brad?
BB: You know, I’m so close to Brad, we’ve been together since day one here, that it’s hard for me to verbalize those. There are any number of things that as a coach, yeah, you wish you could have back with regard to certain throws. It also applies to calls I may have made, so it’s not simply geared towards Brad. Brad remained tough, positive, confident, executed the offensive level far beyond my expectations, and I had pretty high expectations of Brad, more so than probably anybody. I just really don’t see any negatives. I know the Dallas game was a disappointment for him. Some people point to that.
And with regards to Brad’s contract, Brad’s already earned that contract. Just by what he’s done with this organization, he’s paid his dues. We’re not a benevolent organization here that just hands out money because they’re good guys. Brad earned that contract. Now whether he lives up to it, or earns the next contract, we’ll find out, but he’s earned every dollar of that contract he got. People will look at it and think that we overpaid for Brad. I think by year’s end, people will look back and say, “Boy, they’re stealing from this kid. They got him for a bargain basement price based on what he was able to do.”
So there are positives from both standpoints. I don’t see any negatives for Brad. I really don’t. Coming in, I just think he’s going to have an excellent year for us. Obviously there are going to be some ups and downs. There are with quarterbacks but Brad has proven that he’ll handle those well.
VU: Did you work out Randall Cunningham today?
BB: Yeah, sure did.
VU: How was your assessment of him?
BB: Looked great. Physically, I don’t think there’s any question that Randall’s in great physical shape. He threw the ball very effectively. He has the athletic skills he’s always had. Now obviously at the stage he’s at, 32, 33, whatever it is exactly, you know, he’s not what he was at 25, 26. But he’s still quantitatively better than 90 percent of the guys in the league, probably in terms in of his ability to run around and make something happen. I hope that we can get that done.
I think [the Vikings are] the right fit for Randall. I think Randall thinks it’s the right fit for him. Obviously the finances have to be a factor, based on whatever opportunities he may have, but I think he’d be an excellent addition for us to work in conjunction with Brad Johnson. He understands clearly that Brad is the starter and that he is here simply to give us veteran experience if something should happen to Brad.
VU: What kind of teacher do you think he would be for Brad?
BB: I think he’d be excellent. Now Brad’s been around some pretty good people. Some different personalities from Sean Salisbury to Warren Moon to Jim McMahon. Brad is at that point in his career [when it comes time] to assert his own personality. He doesn’t need a lot of mentoring as he did early in his career. But to be around a guy like Randall Cunningham who’s been in the Pro Bowl, who’s had a certain level of success, who has a very positive, upbeat outlook on life, as does Brad, I think they’ll get along real well and learn a lot from each other.
VU: Last year after observing Jay Walker at mini-camp and training camp, I personally predicted he’d be the third quarterback over Chad May. I came away very impressed with him. How has Jay’s development been this off-season and could he feasibly be the No. 2 guy this year?
BB: He could. Like everybody, when you bring someone in with that lack of experience as your number two guy, you worry. And many teams are in that predicament. But my biggest, oh what am I looking for, my biggest..., the most positive aspect about Jay Walker to me is that he certainly brings all the attributes you look for in a quarterback. He’s got size, extremely mobile, excellent athlete, quick release, accurate, strong arm, extremely intelligent.
Jay has a unique background that he’s never been able to spend time with an organization for any extended period. He went from pro baseball to Long Beach State. They drop the program, he goes to Howard, immediately raises the level of that program from a mediocre .500 team to 9-2, 9-2, back-to-back championship seasons. Goes to New England, makes that ball club, learning another system. Then goes to the World League to enhance his skills, learning another system. Then comes back, ends up here with us. Here’s another system.
So it’s my hope that if Jay can get some continuity of coaching, not to say he wasn’t coached well before, but just the same coach over a period of time, that he’ll really be able to build on his attributes as a quarterback. Work him into the system that he’s with, and all the potential that he shows physically and mentally will come together in a combination to be a true NFL quarterback. And I think he shows signs of being that.
VU: Will we see any turns at QB this year from David Palmer?
BB: Ah, not necessarily, no. We’ve got to inject David into the offense some way. Injuries have been a bit of a problem for him. There’s a number of different ways we might do that. We’ve got to get David focused on a particular position where he can contribute to the offense, let alone throwing him in for a couple of snaps as quarterback on the goal line or run the option or something of that nature. Certainly if he can establish his place on the offense on a more consistent level, to the point where he becomes comfortable with that, yeah, it could expand to that in a unique situation. But the plans right now obviously are to get David functioning on a regular basis within the offense in a traditional role.
VU: Any more throws by the magic gloved hand of Chris Walsh this year?
BB: (Laughter) Gloved or ungloved? Well, it’s a test. We’ll give him another try out on it. And see if Cris wants to, if Cris Carter wants to see if we can do that again. We’re not a big gadget team, but I know I’ll hear about it all year from Chris, wanting another shot at it.
VU: We know you have two great receivers in Cris Carter and Jake Reed. This coming season who do you see filling in the No. 3 spot in three receiver formations?
BB: Well, we hope to have Qadry back, but, obviously with the advent of free agency, there’s a real chance that we could lose Qadry. If that’s the case, Chris Walsh has deserved a shot, obviously, and has proven very useful to us and very productive when he has been in to play. Tony Bland is a young man that was with us under the developmental squad that has a tremendous amount of physical skills very similar to Jake Reed at this point in his development. And there have been some off-season acquisitions, as well as the [upcoming] draft. That could be a place for us to address that need.
VU: Two seasons ago, the defensive coordinator, Tony Dungy, coached the game from the press box. Last year, Coach Fazio joined you on the sidelines. Did that create any adjustment for you, and how would you describe your relationship with Foge during a game?
BB: Ah, we really don’t have that much interaction. Foge and I get along very well, as did Tony and I. Calling a game from the press box or the field, there’s pros and cons to both. I know some people have questioned why I do it from the field. I’ve done it from the field since I’ve been here. That’s something Denny and I are very comfortable with. Oddly enough, the people that have been most critical of that within the profession, thinking that you can only call the game from the box, are now on the field because of the communicator and are doing that.
You might also note, that as you visit and talk to people like Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs and Norv Turner, these are all people, that in a clinical environment would say, yes, calling from the box is a perspective that’s probably best to call a game from. But they all did their best and most productive play calling as head coaches on the field.
So the advent of the communicator, more than anything else, the quarterback communicator, is what’s brought most coordinators down onto the field. And a majority of coordinators are now on the field, offensively. Defensively, it’s a matter of preference. Tony preferred to be in the box. Foge, I know a lot of defensive coordinators prefer to be on the field, to judge, particularly from a defensive standpoint, to get the feel of the game, judge the emotion of the defense, and the pacing of the game. And that’s personal preference.
You really don’t have much interaction with one another on the field, so it’s kind of a moot point as to one being, one or the other. But Foge and I get along very well, work very well together.
VU: In the upcoming draft on April 19 are there any specific offensive areas you will try to address or will you just get the best person available regardless of need?
BB: That’s kind of a misnomer. You always want to get the best athlete available. And in the first round, maybe even in the second round, that can be quantified to where there’s some very distinct differences between this position or that. By the time you get to the third, fourth, fifth round where it’s hard to quantitatively say, is the lineman or the receiver available truly the 175th best player available or is he really the 180th? You know what I’m saying?
So at that point it tends to fall a little bit more to need, as to what you need, whether it be a receiver or quarterback, a DB or lineman. And you can pretty much talk yourself into saying, “Yeah, the 200th rated player on the board really is a lineman as opposed to a wide receiver” if that’s what your need is. In the early rounds you’ve got to go with the best athlete available, regardless, and there’s always enough needs across the board that you’re gonna get somebody that can help you.
VU: If you could draft one running back from this year’s college draft, who would you pick?
BB: Oh, gosh, that’s, I don't know that you could bring it down to a particular running back. Guys like [Corey] Dillon from Washington, [Byron] Hanspard, [Jay]Graham at Tennessee, you’ve got some excellent athletes in there. Davis, Troy Davis from Iowa State is very impressive. I mean, you have a nice diversity of big, strong, physical backs that have a great deal of speed. So, to quantify which one, we’ll probably have to wait for the draft to see, if indeed, we take one. And that’ll answer your question directly. But any of those show, like I said, you could see anywhere of six to eight backs, which would be inordinately high, six to eight backs go in the first two rounds.
VU: A quarterback’s not a need this year, but who do you see going as a top-rated quarterback?
BB: Oh, I think that [Jim] Druckenmiller is pretty much established as the top quarterback prospect this year, particularly with [Peyton] Manning not coming out. You could see him in the first round. You could see him in the second round. I think you’ll see, similar to last year, really the last two years, that there’s one or two guys who’ll go relatively high. Then there’s some guys that were expected to go [high] but all of a sudden drop into the third, fourth, fifth round. I think you’ll see that this year. I think you’ll see Druckenmiller go high. You could see, say, a Pat Barnes from Cal go in the second round.
And then, depending on just how the way it falls, you could see a guy like Jake Plummer, go in the third round or drop to the fourth or fifth round. Brad Otton from USC could be in the third round, second round, drop fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh round. So, as it was last year, you had two guys taken in the second round, everybody else dropped into the fourth round, and there were a couple guys in the sixth, seventh round. It’s not a particularly big year for quarterbacks. There’s no, certainly not one marquee, top-five pick.
VU: Any college tight ends stand out for you?
BB: [There are a]Number of good college tight ends. [Tony] Gonzalez from Cal is gaining a lot of ground. [David] LaFleur from LSU is an excellent athlete, an excellent all-around, point-of-attack tight end. Those are the two most prominent ones that come to mind.
VU: Many analysts pick the Packers to repeat in the NFC this coming season. Except for Hank Stram. He says that the Packers have seen their receiving corps depleted and don’t run the ball as well as they would like. Who do you see emerging as the top three NFC teams this coming season?
BB: Well, I think obviously, you’ve got to look at the Packers as the reigning Super Bowl champs. You’re the champs until someone knocks you off. They’ve got balance, they’re very well organized, excellent coaching staff, outstanding organization. There’s no reason not to think they’re not going to be one of the top teams.
Obviously you have to go with the past history of teams like San Francisco and Dallas. It’s always premature to eliminate teams of that caliber from the upper echelon, although, clearly they are in transition and that’s something we will see as the season progresses. But Dallas, regardless of the transition they go through, when you talking about a Michael Irvin, when you’re talking about an Emmitt Smith and an [Troy] Aikman, you still have the core of an outstanding football team. As long as Steve Young and Jerry Rice are on the same team, they’re going to be outstanding. So, [the teams] are going to have to reestablish themselves in that upper echelon, and they’re certainly capable of doing it.
[Then] you have teams like ourselves and Philadelphia and Carolina. Although [Philadelphia and Carolina] had excellent seasons last year, I think they would be clumped in that [second] level. I think San Francisco and Dallas may have come back into that level with the rest of us. These five, let’s say, are teams that will be scrapping around with one another to push ourselves into that next echelon. And I think we’re in that echelon. I think we deserve it. Four out of five years in the playoffs.
I think I read in one publication, not that they tend to know, but, I read one that struck me as being fairly accurate. [It describes us as] a team with, a playoff caliber team that does not have a lot of apparent weaknesses, that is able to move into the next echelon if their young and up-and-coming quarterback has the type of season that last year boded and if our running attack via Robert Smith and a Leroy Hoard can maintain itself through the entire sixteen games. And I think that’s a very accurate assessment.
VU: At the end of last season the local media had you in as a shoe-in for another job. Can you briefly describe that experience and has that disappointment strengthened you in any way?
BB: Well, the nature of the position is that opportunities come along. I’ve had people approach me in varying degrees every year since I’ve been here about a head coaching position in the college ranks. Some intriguing, some not. The Fresno State job was one in particular because of being from California. The familiarity with who they play and what they’re about was very intriguing to me.
When they contacted me, I set some very clear cut parameters as to what the circumstances would be that would get me to leave this position which I enjoy very much. You can’t work for a better guy than Denny Green. I love what I do. I love where I live. My family loves Minnesota. So these are all factors that have to come into it. Unfortunately Fresno was not able to meet the total criteria that I had set.
So it really wasn’t as much of a disappointment. It was a interesting experience, and any time you go through that experience, you learn something about yourself. Any time you have to verbalize yourself and put what you’re about up in front of somebody or a group of people, it tends to force you to clarify your position on some things and think about some things that are kind of in the back of your mind until they’re brought to the forefront, in that circumstance.
But I love the job I have. I love working for the Vikings. Being an offensive coordinator in the National Football League is a very coveted position. There’s only a handful of them, and I feel lucky and fortunate to be one of them.
VU: What’s Brian Billicks’ goal this year?
BB: Well, you have to be careful about the goals that you do want to set for two reasons. One, you may be limiting yourself too much and not setting the bar high enough. On the other end, you may be setting it at a level where you don’t have the physical abilities to back it up and may be putting players in a positions with unreal expectations [of them].
I think, as we alluded to before, I think we are a solid playoff caliber team. We are fighting and scratching and doing everything we can to take ourselves to that next echelon. I think people are beginning to realize just how young a football team we are. And with every year, that experience will begin to pay off.
This off-season was an example in that we did not make a lot of huge free agent signings but only in the sense that we signed our own. Had anyone signed Randall McDaniel, they would have hailed that as “the” signing of their off-season. As the major addition to their team. All we did was maintain something we have. Jeff Brady, the same way. Getting Leroy Hoard signed back, hopefully Robert Smith. So we’ve tried to focus on maintaining our own, of signing our own.
If we can do that, I think we are very much a playoff caliber team. We’ve proven that we can play with the best and can beat a Green Bay Packers. We have to be able to continue to do that. I think specifically, offensively, if that’s the nature of your question, I don’t want to be self-serving here, but only three teams have been in the top five in the NFC offensively for the last three years in a row: Green Bay , Minnesota and San Francisco.
So I think we’re in pretty elite company in that regard. I see no reason that we will not maintain and be in that company again this year. And we’re going to have to be in order for us to succeed in the level we want. And take it a step further. Two of the last three years, we’ve produced more yards and more points than in the history of the Vikings. And I think this team, if we can stay healthy, keep our goals in front of us, that there’s no reason this team isn’t capable of breaking its own records.
VU: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to the great Vikings fans of Viking Fans On-Line and the Viking Underground web site?
BB: The bottom line that I try to communicate whenever I do anything of this nature or on a radio show or TV show is that I’m above all else a fan. Have been since I was a kid, like most of your patrons out there. I obviously want what’s best for the Vikings. The comments, even sometimes the criticisms, come from the fans who genuinely want what’s best for the Vikings. I’m constantly getting mail.
I enjoy it. I enjoy it when people recognize me, when I’m out in public, when I go to a movie or out to dinner. People come up, and I will say this, in the five years that I’ve been here, I’ve never had anybody come up that wasn’t positive, upbeat, wanted the best for the Vikings. Now, yeah, maybe they want me to throw more, or run more or do more specials or throw more screens or hand the ball off to Robert Smith more or throw the ball more to Jake or whatever it may be, but that’s just being a fan and I love that. And I enjoy that and I try to propagate that as best as I can.
From that standpoint, I hope the fans can stay interested in what we’re doing, keep a high energy level for the Vikings, be realistic and see what is going on with regards to the Vikings, with regards to the youth that we have and some of the financial limitations that we have that do exist given the size of the market. And that we’ve had some success. Over four of the past five years in the playoffs, there are any number of teams that would kill to get to that level, that would love to reach that level. Maybe our fans have become a little used to it. We’re kind of a victim of our own successes.
If we can build on that [success] and if they will continue to generate the enthusiasm that I know is out there for us, we do feed on that. When we are home and the fans can get rockin’ in the Dome, that that is a major plus for us.
And if we can build on that and they stick with us in that regard, I think we’ll have the kind of season everybody wants.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Unfortunately, my hard drive crashed after 1998 and with no backups, some of the 1998 season is basically recaps. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 5, at Green Bay thoughts.
Week Five: at Green Bay; Vikes 37, Packers 24
Rookie Randy Moss terrorized the Packers' secondary for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Minnesota Vikings obliterated Green Bay's 25-game home winning streak with a convincing 37-24 victory.
It was a breakout game for Moss, the 21st overall pick in this year's draft. The embattled 21-year-old, who scared away 19 teams due to off-the-field problems, caught 5 passes and had little trouble getting open. He leads the league with 6 receiving TDs and 463 yards.
"I think I showed tonight that I could play at this level of competition," Moss said. "I'm not surprised at the success I've had so far."
Unaffected by a game-long downpour, Randall Cunningham threw for 4 touchdowns — 3 in the second quarter — and the Vikings' defense stifled Brett Favre in a battle of NFC Central unbeatens.
Cunningham threw scoring strikes to Moss, Jake Reed and running back Robert Smith as the high-octane Vikings (5-0) amassed 265 yards in the second quarter en route to a 24-10 halftime lead. Cunningham completed 19 of 30 passes for 442 yards, the most ever against the Packers (4-1). He surpassed the old mark of 411 yards, set in 1990 by Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers.
"This was the greatest night of my career," said Cunningham. "To come in here and win at Lambeau, where no one ever wins, and to do what we did against the No. 1 defense in the league was amazing."
Cris Carter had 8 catches for 119 yards and Reed grabbed 4 for 89.
"It was a great game by Randall, but our offensive line did a great job and our receivers made some great plays on balls he threw downfield," Carter said.
The offensive line held the Packers without a sack and bottled up All-Pro defensive end Reggie White, who was held without a solo tackle.
"We couldn't stop them," confessed Packers coach Mike Holmgren. “They had 450 yards passing, that's an incredible number."
Favre's worst game in recent memory came on the heels of one of his best. He completed just 13 of 23 passes for 114 yards and 3 interceptions, 2 by safety Robert Griffith. Eight days ago, Favre tied his own team record with 5 touchdowns in a blowout victory over Carolina.
Against Minnesota, he passed for only 26 yards in the second half before being yanked midway through the final quarter for Doug Pederson, who threw 2 meaningless TD passes after the Vikings had things well in hand.
"We could sit here and blame it on a lot of things — the conditions were terrible and all that stuff — but they handled them well, that's what's kind of frustrating," Favre said.
The 35-year-old Cunningham, who was out of football two years ago, has thrown for a league-leading 13 touchdowns since taking over for injured starter Brad Johnson in the season's second game.
The Packers also had their 18-game home winning streak against NFC Central foes snapped with their first setback at Lambeau Field since Sept. 3, 1995, against the St. Louis Rams.
Griffith led the defensive charge for the Vikings, who had surrendered a combined 59 points in road wins at Chicago and St. Louis.
Minnesota gave the Packers a taste of what was to come on its first possession, when Cunningham and Moss provided some short-lived excitement with an 85-yard touchdown that was nullified by a holding penalty.
The Vikings settled for a 33-yard field goal by Gary Anderson.
Seven seconds into the second quarter, Ryan Longwell countered with a 40-yard field goal, the only points the Green Bay offense scored until the final period.
But with 12:09 left, Cunningham underthrew a pass of some 30 yards on the right sideline. Reed slowed to make the catch, then shook off cornerback Craig Newsome's attempted tackle and jogged the last 20 yards into the end zone for a 56-yard score. It was his 27th career TD catch and first this season.
The seven-point lead lasted exactly 17 seconds, which was how long it took Roell Preston to pick up a wall of blockers and dash down the left sideline for a 101-yard kickoff return that made it 10-10.
The quarter belonged to Cunningham and Minnesota thereafter.
Another designed underthrow netted the Vikings a 17-10 lead 5:04 into the second. This time, Cunningham thew down the left sideline, where Moss outjumped cornerback Tyrone Williams and avoided safety Darren Sharper en route to 52-yard touchdown.
After the Vikes' defense stuffed Green Bay's William Henderson on fourth-and-1 at the 35, Minnesota got on the board again. A 41-yard catch by Moss highlighted the 65-yard drive, which culminated when Smith took a screen pass 24 yards for a TD and a 24-10 advantage.
Smith caught 2 passes in addition to rushing for 78 yards on 25 carries.
Minnesota dominated in all aspects in the first half. The Vikings totaled 330 yards — 282 through the air — while holding Green Bay to only 119.Cunningham was 13-of-19.
Trailing 27-10 early in the third quarter, the Packers looked to be making a move. But on third down from the Vikings 20, their drive came to an abrupt halt when a strong wind allowed Griffith to intercept Favre's fluttery pass to a wide-open Antonio Freeman in the end zone.
"We really played well tonight, especially our defensive line," said Griffith, who leads the NFL with 5 interceptions. "They really took it to Favre and took away his reads."
Moss and Cunningham capped the Vikes' scoring with a 44-yard connection 4:44 into the final quarter.
Pederson threw scoring passes of 11 and 16 yards to Tyrone Davis and Bill Schroeder, respectively.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 4, at Chicago thoughts.
Week Four: at Chicago; Vikes 31, Bears 28
Randall Cunningham erased an 11-point second-half deficit with 3 of his 4 touchdown passes as the Minnesota Vikings set up next week's battle of undefeated Central Division teams with a 31-28 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Chicago led 21-10 at halftime before Cunningham found tight end Andrew Glover from 19 yards out and Cris Carter on a 35-yarder, giving the Vikings a 24-21 advantage. Cunningham's 44-yard TD strike to rookie Randy Moss five minutes into the fourth quarter increased the lead to 31-21.
"I knew it would be tough here today," Cunningham said. "You never go into someone else's stadium thinking you'll score 31 points."
In his second week as starter following the injury to Brad Johnson, Cunningham completed 16 of 27 passes for 275 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 67-yard TD pass to running back Robert Smith 2:17 into the game opened the scoring.
Minnesota (4-0) has won its first four games for the second time in three seasons, setting up next Monday night's game with the unbeaten Green Bay Packers (4-0).
"We feel great," said Vikings coach Dennis Green. "They've all been battles. We haven't had an easy time of it."
The Bears (0-4) led at halftime for the fourth straight game but still fell to 0-4 for the second straight season. They have outscored opponents, 58-24 in the first half but have been outscored, 75-20 in the second, including 44-0 in the third quarter.
Chicago answered Cunningham's 67-yard screen pass to Smith with a 7-play, 84-yard drive, capped by Erik Kramer's 33-yard TD pass to Bobby Engram.
While setting career highs with 372 yards passing and 4 TDs, Kramer threw for the fourth highest passing total in franchise history, completing 25 of 39 passes. Engram set personal bests with 123 yards receiving and 2 scores.
Kramer finished off a pair of long first-half drives with 2 more TD strikes, a 23-yarder to Chris Penn and a 4-yarder to Engram, giving the Bears their biggest lead, 21-10 with 4:18 left.
Chicago dominated play in the first half, totaling 15 first downs and 257 yards of total offense, including 208 yards passing and 3 scores from Kramer.
David Palmer woke up the Vikings in the second half, setting up their first TD with a 53-yard punt return. Cunningham capped the 34-yard drive five plays later with his 19-yard strike to Glover, cutting the deficit to 21-17.
"The field position got us," said Chicago coach Dave Wannstedt. "We've got to find a way. They returned a punt. They returned a kickoff. The field position killed us, particularly in the second half."
The Bears immediately embarked on a 14-play drive but Kramer's second-down pass intended for Fabien Bownes at the goal line was deflected and intercepted by Corey Fuller, who returned the ball to the Minnesota 36 yard line.
"The interception down in the red zone to take away the points was the biggest play of the game," Green said.
“Cory made a great play, probably the biggest play on defense today," added Smith.
Cunningham took advantage, throwing on each down in the ensuing four-play drive, culminated by a 35-yard TD to Carter with 1:44 left in the third quarter, giving the Vikings a 24-21 edge.
After holding Chicago to a total of one first down on the next two possessions, Minnesota needed just one play to grab a 10-point lead. Moss atoned for a 15-yard clipping penalty on the Vikings' previous drive by hauling in Cunningham's 44-yard bomb.
"Randall made a nice play," Moss said. "We had the wind in our favor and it kind of held it up. The ball was thrown my way and I had to jump up and get it."
The Bears got to within a field goal with 1:53 left, chewing up 82 yards in just 45 seconds. Kramer completed 5 of 6 passes on the drive, connecting with tight end Ryan Wetnight from 19 yards out on third-and-7.
"It's real simple," Wannstedt said. "They made three plays in the second half and we didn't make any plays. Anybody who has seen Minnesota play and, we talked about it, knows they throw the ball up and make big plays."
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 3, Detroit thoughts.
Week Three: Detroit; Vikes 29, Lions 6
Gary Anderson kicked 5 field goals to move into second place on the all-time scoring list and Randall Cunningham threw a scoring pass to rookie Randy Moss as the Minnesota Vikings beat the Detroit Lions, 29-6 in an NFC Central showdown.
Anderson was the difference for the unbeaten Vikings (3-0) in their battle of backup quarterbacks with the winless Lions (0-3). With his second field goal, he passed Jan Stenerud for third place on the all-time scoring list, breaking the 1,700-point plateau. He finished the game with 1,713 points, vaulting Nick Lowery for second place with his final field goal.
"I think it was a game where we knew we might have to slug it out," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "We're extremely happy we're 3-0. Now we'll get some rest and look forward to playing to Chicago on the road."
While Detroit rookie Charlie Batch was given his first NFL start because of the ineptitude of Scott Mitchell, Cunningham was in because of an injury to Brad Johnson last weekend. Cunningham, who is in his 13th NFL season and second as a backup with the Vikings, completed 20-of-35 passes for 220 yards and 1 touchdown.
"I think it is the right situation for me at this part of my career," he said. "It's a group of great people. I am always enthusiastic about playing, but I know my role, and it's that of a backup quarterback. I knew they would be a tough defense, especially in the red zone. They get tight, like Tampa Bay, and they do not let you score touchdowns."
Batch was 20-of-40 for 160 yards with 2 interceptions and carried 8 times for 63 yards.
"We started beating ourselves. We made drive-killers here, drive-killers there," Batch said. "We would be driving, moving the ball, and something would happen. Once we got down, it put us in a passing situation and their defensive linemen just teed off."
"The score is not evidence of how he played," Vikings cornerback Corey Fuller said. "The guy did a good job of keeping some drives alive. When that guys gets some games, he is going to be a good player."
The Vikings also finally succeeded in containing superstar Barry Sanders, who had five straight 100-yard rushing games against Minnesota. Today, he was limited to 69 yards on 22 carries and caught 5 passes for 29 yards.
"I think when you look at the game, we just wanted to concentrate with the inside game and not give Batch a lot of good looks downfield," said Vikings nose tackle Jerry Ball. "What we tried to do was put our strength against their weaknesses. Our strategy was to get into the gaps and cover the gaps. We tried to get him (Sanders) to bounce outside away from their scheme."
It took nearly 20 minutes for Cunningham to get out the rust. He found the tight end combination of Andrew Glover and Greg DeLong 3 times for 36 yards, leading to Anderson's 27-yard field goal at the 8:36 mark of the second quarter. He threw passes of 27 yards to Jake Reed and 18 yards to David Palmer en route to Anderson's 28-yard tying field goal with less than two minutes left in the first half.
That was the field goal that put Anderson over the 1,700-point mark and past Stenerud, who played for the Vikings, among other teams, during a long career.
Cunningham connected with Moss, who has 3 touchdowns in as many NFL games, on a 5-yard score 3:19 into the third quarter to make it 13-6. Palmer returned a punt 44 yards to the 22 to set up the score.
"Randy came up with a play," Cunningham said. "He was double-covered and I just threw it in there and he caught it."
Anderson converted from 42 and 29 yards in a 2:34 span late in the third quarter to increase the Minnesota lead to 19-6. The last field goal was set up when linebacker Ed McDaniel recovered a fumble by Pete Chryplewicz at the Detroit 29.
Leroy Hoard added an 11-yard touchdown run 15 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it a 20-point game. Anderson passed Lowery with less than two minutes left in the game when he kicked a 34-yarder to make the final margin.
"It was exciting," said Anderson, a 17-year veteran who is 39 years old. "I am really blessed to play as long as I have injury-free. Records don't mean a lot if you lose, but it's nice to break records and have your team win."
Anderson trails only George Blanda, who recorded an astounding 2,002 points in his career as a kicker and quarterback.
"I think George Blanda played until he was 50, so at least I have a couple of years left," Anderson quipped. "Some days you're not going to be able to score 5 touchdowns. I just came in and did my part."
In his first drive as a professional, Batch moved the Lions 61 yards in 14 plays over 6:41, leading to Jason Hanson's 37-yard field goal that opened the scoring. Batch completed 4-of-8 passes for 32 yards on the drive and ran for 11 yards on a 3rd-and-5 to the Minnesota 21. Sanders ran 4 times for 25 yards and caught Batch's first pass, a 16-yarder that started the drive.
But the Vikings allowed the rookie only one more scoring drive, a 9-play, 42-yard march that led to Hanson's 49-yard field goal that gave Detroit a 6-0 lead just over two minutes into the second quarter.
Minnesota's Robert Smith was limited to 39 yards on 15 carries a week after rushing for a career-best 174 against St. Louis. Minnesota's receiving was well-balanced. Moss led the way with 5 catches for 37 yards, while Glover, Reed and Cris Carter added three catches apiece.
Herman Moore caught 9 passes for 66 yards and Johnnie Mortonadded 5 for 57.
"I think there were two things to that game," Lions coach Bobby Ross said. "We went along fairly well in the first half and it was a 6-6 ballgame and we were playing fairly competitively and doing things fairly well. In the second half, the tents unfolded. We had poor field position and we never started with the ball beyond our 25. Our special teams, our kickoff return was poor, I don't know exactly what happened."
Yep, that's the proof in the pudding that the Vikes were once again screwed by the refs while playing on frozen LAMEbeau field. (By the way, how can a field be frozen when it has heaters underneath it!?!?).
Here is what Peter King says regarding the fumble on the kickoff return:
It's amazing, and a little sad, that the Minnesota special-teamer Derek Ross actually had possession of the fumbled Robert Ferguson kickoff return in the final minute of the Packers-Vikings game. And Ross was down before the pigpile got the ball disengaged from him and into the hands of a Packer. Green Bay then moved a few yards into field goal range and won. That stolen ball, quite likely, is the difference between the Vikings having a two-game lead over the Packers this morning and the Pack and Vikes being tied at 5-4 atop the NFC North.
The refs will always give the calls to the Packers as long as Brett Favre is in the league."Brett Favre is the golden boy of the NFL. We know they'd get some calls," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "But there were other ways we could have won the game without relying on those calls."
So beside the Ross fumble recovery called in favor of the Packers, lets look at other areas the Vikes were screwed on national television:
1) Marcus Robinson: a complete non factor because he was being held all night. Any flags? NOT ONE!
2) Fumble in the endzone by the Packers that was a non-fumble? It was plain on the reply that the fumble occured prior to the goal-line and it should have been Vikes ball as they recovered. The ball had not yet broken the goal-line prior to the fumble occuring.
But no matter. Let the Cheeseheads have their week in the sun. The Vikes will finish no worse than 9-7. The Pack, no better than 8-8. Vikes will win the Central and the Packers will be on early vacation.
Onto Mike Tice. I've never thought he could get the team to the Big Dance and I still don't. He's being outcoached each game. And while I could continue to carry a long leash and support him, I feel equally I can criticize him as well. To wit:
1) Poor decision making and clock management. There are too many examples for me to know where to start!
2) May have tough guy mentality, but not at all hard on players and rest of coaching staff. Thus, team does not portray "tough guy" image on Sundays. When has this team ever come from behind to win a game under Tice--when it really meant something! Name one!
3) He has arguably the most talent in the NFL on offense, has had 3 years to prove himself and yet, despite this, his overall record and success has been sub-par at best. Tice is ultimately held accountable for this team's poor defense--even though it may really be the coaches under him that are under achieving-he needs to take the responsibility.
4) Handling of Moss. No further explanation necessary. If Moss is on the field at Indy and Green Bay, the team is 7-2 and running away with the Central. This is the biggest blunder in Vikings lore since, well, Les Steckel!
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 2, at St. Louis thoughts.
Week Two: at St. Louis; Vikes 38 Rams 31
Randall Cunningham replaced an injured Brad Johnson and hit Cris Carter with a 19-yard touchdown with 2:09 left and then the Minnesota Vikings stopped St. Louis quarterback Tony Banks just shy of the end zone on the game's final play and held on for a 38-31 victory over the Rams.
Cunningham, who replaced Johnson early in the fourth quarter, hooked up with Carter to cap a 6-play, 45-yard drive that began when cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock intercepted a pass by Banks.
The winning drive almost came to a halt with 2:55 remaining, but on a 3rd-and-8 from the Rams' 33-yard line, Cunningham scrambled, and just before crossing the line of scrimmage, completed a 21-yard strike to Carter.
But the Rams mounted a late drive and had a 4th-and-6 from the Minnesota 9-yard line with six seconds remaining. Banks dropped back to pass, and after failing to find an open receiver, took off for the end zone. It appeared he had a good chance of scoring, but four Minnesota defenders converged quickly to bring him down and preserve the victory.
"On a play like that, you know we only have one play to run and I had a shot," said Banks. "And if maybe I get in the air I get in, but it is all hindsight. I just looked up and I saw zeros on the clock."
"Well, needless to say we are disappointed we weren't able to come back and tie the ballgame up," said Rams coach Dick Vermeil. "We did enough things to win the game. We did enough things to lose the game. I didn't anticipate Minnesota being able to run as good as they did."
Robert Smith carried 23 times for a career-high 179 yards and 2 touchdowns for the Vikings, who are 2-0 for the third straight season. Carter hauled in 4 catches for 61 yards and tied James Lofton for seventh-place on the all-time receptions list with 765.
"Well, it clearly was a barnburner," said Vikings coach Dennis Green. "We've been in games like that, but not with as many points on the board."
Johnson left the game with 13:40 remaining with a strained leftankle. He completed 18-of-31 passes for 208 yards, a touchdown and 2 interceptions before yielding to the veteran Cunningham, who was 3-of-6 for 41 yards and the 1 TD.
"We're concerned about Brad's ankle," Green added. "He's got a sprain. We're not sure if its a high one or if it's kind of low. Randall came in and was solid. He did what he could do. Sometimes the protection wasn't there."
The Vikings jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead after one quarter, getting a 24-yard scoring run from Smith and a 3-yard TD strike from Johnson to tight end Andrew Glover.
Greg Hill's 1-yard run on the first play of the second quarter got the Rams on the scoreboard before the teams traded field goals, Gary Anderson connecting from 24 yards for Minnesota and Jeff Wilkins hitting on a 53-yarder for St. Louis. But Smith's 74-yard scoring run gave the Vikings a 24-10 halftime lead.
St. Louis immediately got back in the game in the third quarter. First, Greg Hill's 5-yard run following a Mike Jones 38-yard punt return brought the Rams within a touchdown. Eddie Kennison then tied it in electric fashion with a 71-yard punt return.
But Minnesota responded by mounting a 7-play, 60-yard drive that was capped by Leroy Hoard's 1-yard plunge with 46 seconds to play in the third quarter. In a game of big plays, the Rams answered with the longest of the day, an 80-yard scoring strike from Banks to Isaac Bruce to tie the game at 31-31.
It was the longest-scoring pass and reception in the respective careers of Banks and Bruce. Banks completed 25-of-45 for 283 yards but was intercepted a career-high four times.
The Vikings were unable to handle Bruce all afternoon. He hauled in 11 passes for 192 yards while gaining 30 yards on an end-around run.
"We played like we normally do," said Vikings safety Robert Griffith. "We know that Isaac is the guy they are going to go to. We did not change our philosophy or anything. We were able to give our offense good field position and that is important."
"It is tough to win on the road in an adverse situation like this when we lost our quarterback," said Smith. "But Randall came in and did a great job. We gave up some big plays like the punt return. We just have to step up and make adjustments."
Randy Moss caught 6 passes for 89 yards for Minnesota. In his first two games as a professional, the often-troubled star has aught 10 passes for 184 yards.
"You have to find a way to win one or two and get some things going your way," Vermeil added. "You have to execute a higher percentage of plays. There is an accumulation of a lot of little things when you play a real good football team and they beat you."
Earlier in the week, some of the Rams' players complained that Vermeil's practices were too grueling. St. Louis, which lost by a touchdown to New Orleans in its season opener, is 0-2 after finishing 5-11 in Vermeil's first year.
I never met a Packer fan I didn’t like, although I find a good many of them annoying. Being a logical person, I have entered into my computer all the Packer fans I know and categorized them according to annoyance. A few of the several hundred categories are as follows.
Methodical Person: Boy, this guy really gets on my nerves. You’re already late getting started on a tailgate trip, and he will say, “All right, now let’s make sure we have everything.” He pulls out a checklist four feet long and begins checking off items: “Toothpaste, okay, toothbrush, okay, mouthwash, okay, toothpicks, where are the toothpicks? Anybody seen the toothpicks? Okay, Dental floss…” The guy will spend ten minutes checking off items related to oral hygiene, never mind that once he is at the tailgate he brushes his teeth with a finger dipped in paint thinner and then only ten minutes before the game begins. His breath kills trees. His is the acid rain of bad breath. I once saw a dressed-out elk get up and run three hundred yards just because this guy breathed on it. But he insists on being methodical. Finally, we, his tailgate companions, throw his junk into the trunk and him and his list in on top of it. “Toilet tissue!” he cries. “I didn’t check off toilet tissue!” Someone then makes a crude remark about his list.
Easily Annoyed Person: Some little thing will go wrong during a tailgate, such as forgetting to bring any toilet tissue, and the guy will say, “Really, I find this very annoying.” Or he will say, “All right, who’s got mud on his boots? Who is tracking mud onto my authentic Lambeau sod piece? Boy, is this annoying!” While he is thinking up new annoyances, he forgets to not overfill the turkey fryer with cooking oil and flames roar into the early morning ruining our breakfast and charring our respective eye-brows, and he says, “Complain, complain! All you guys do is complain. It’s really, you know, annoying.” I find persons who get annoyed easily particularly annoying.
Graduate of the Will Rogers School of Philosophy: Three hours into a tailgate with this fellow and you’re ready for the intensive-care unit of a psychiatric hospital. In real life, he wears a three-piece suit (very, very rare for a Packers fan) and speaks like John Houseman “making money the old-fashioned way.” At the tailgate instead of wearing the Packer approved blazer orange he wears a sloppy old Stetson and turns into Will Rogers, the cowboy philosopher. “I just never met a man I didn’t like, but those Viking horns going ‘baawooh, baawooh’ are shore puttin’ me to the test,” he will say. Almost nothing occurs that he can’t direct his cowboy philosophy at:
“If we could somehow feed some of this coffee to the Packer offensive line we’d get by that Kevin Williams real fast.”
“What they need in Minneapolis is a class in gun safety. Hardly a day goes by that some Vikings fan don’t shoot off his mouth about your season record.”
“If you ask me, the Packer fan base is like this here elk steak. The more we chew on it, the larger it gits.”
And so on and on and on. Tailgating with a cowboy philosopher is like….is like…Well, I can’t think of anything it’s like, but it’s real hard on the nerves. I guess cowboy philosophy is something you have to be born with.
Explainers: Packer fans that feel they must explain everything to you easily annoy me. “The reason we eat cheese is we have dairy cows in Wisconsin.” Oh? That never would have occurred to me. “You know why those coals won’t start? They got wet from the last time we tailgated.” Gee, I would have never guessed. “The reason we smear paint thinner on our coat sleeves is….” Half their sentences begin, “The way that works is…” Explainers apparently assume you have spent your entire life inside a paper bag and therefore have not the slightest notion of the reason for anything. But wait until you actually need something explained, such as why their team won’t be in the playoffs again, or better yet, how they expect to get into the playoffs ever again. “Beats me,” they say. “You expect me to know everything?”
Fixers: You notice a loose screw on your Vikings grill and start to tighten it. “Here, let me do that,” says the fixer, prying the screwdriver out of your hand. Or you start to adjust the idle on your power generator. “Here, let me do that,” the fixer says, shoving you out of the way. Fixers are of the belief that you are totally incompetent to perform the simplest task. If you’re buttoning your Vikings jacket, they say, “Here, let me do that for you.” Fixers are basically good-hearted chaps and really don’t annoy me that much. I’ve noticed that when it comes to wading into an icy Minnesota lake up to my armpits to retrieve a football thrown by a Favre-wannabe, a fixer will always step forward and say, “Here, let me hold your coat for you.”
Impressionists: You are up to your armpits in icy water trying to ret retrieve a football thrown by a Favre-wannabe, and the impressionist yells, “Hey, Brian, look! Here’s my impression of Bart Starr talking to Reggie White.” I was once on a tailgate trip with an impressionist who got stuck in a John Wayne impression and couldn’t get out of it. “Pass me the salt, Pilgrim,” he’d say, “and don’t be all day about it neither.” I finally had to stuff him in the turkey fryer.
Stand-Up Comics: These guys tell jokes end to end, always beginning, “Did you hear the one about…?”
“Yeah, we heard it,” you say.
“But probably not this version of it. Ahman Green, Brett Favre, and a hippie are on this plane together..” There is no way to stop stand-up comics. After the fourth joke in a row bring out the back-up turkey fryer and stuff them in it.
Take-Charge Guys: Every outing of more than one person has a take-charge guy: “Okay, the way we’re going to do this is, Pat, you do this, Fred you do that, and Arnie, you do the other thing. Everybody knows what he’s supposed to do? Good. We’ll meet back here ten minutes after the game.” The take-charge guy is a born leader. Unfortunately, as we all know, born leaders often have the IQ of a rock. That’s what makes them so easy to follow.
Whiners: The Packers lose again and the whiner says, “I knew this would happen! Now what are we going to do? Why do these things always happen to us? I’m not going tailgating again until we get a new coach.”
The only fit punishment for a whiner is to lock him up inside the vehicle with the Explainer, the Cowboy Philosopher, and the Impressionist. Sure, it’s cruel and unusual punishment, but it serves the wimp right.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 1, Tampa Bay thoughts.
Week One: Tampa Bay; Vikes 31, Bucs 7
Brad Johnson is just fine after offseason neck surgery and it appears rookie Randy Moss is the real deal. Johnson matched a career high with 4 touchdown passes and Moss made an immediate impact with scoring catches of 48 and 31 yards in his NFL debut as the Minnesota Vikings rolled to a surprising 31-7 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Both NFC Central teams are hoping to dethrone the Green Bay Packers as division champion, but it was the Vikings who took immediate control in the first half against a Bucs team that allowed an NFC-low 263 points last season.
There were questions concerning Johnson's ability to throw the deep ball after he underwent surgery last December for a herniated cervical disc in his neck. But he did not shy away from throwing the bomb today and finished 15-of-25 for 189 yards with an interception.
"Hopefully, this performance will silence the critics," Johnson said. "I'm 100 percent and I think I proved I was ready to run this offense. We have a lot of weapons and this was a great start to the season."
Having a new weapon like the 6-foot-4 Moss, who was regarded as one of the top five players available in the 1998 draft, will only help Johnson. Moss was considered by most NFL scouts to be among the top five players available in the 1998 draft, but most general managers were scared away by his off-the-field problems. As a result, he slipped in the draft until the Vikings grabbed him with the 21st overall pick and he paid immediate dividends today.
Moss displayed his marvelous athletic ability when he caught a 48-yard touchdown bomb down the left sideline with 1:44 left in the quarter to give Minnesota a 14-0 lead. He faked second-year cornerback Floyd Young to the inside, sprinted down the sideline and made a juggling catch in the end zone after Young managed to get his hand on the ball.
Moss then endeared himself to the Metrodome fans with a flying leap into the end zone stands, a touchdown celebration that was made famous by the Packers at Lambeau Field.
"I was not nervous, just somewhat anxious," said Moss. "Cris (Carter) was more nervous than I was."
Moss cut toward the middle and caught a perfect 31-yard scoring pass from Johnson with 6:14 left in the second quarter to increase Minnesota's lead to 21-0. He beat cornerback Donnie Abraham to the inside and had a clear path in the middle of the field since safety John Lynch moved up to play the run.
"They just threw the ball up there and he (Moss) went and got it," said Abraham. "Their offense just added another dimension. Moss is doing a great job."
After finishing with 4 catches for 95 yards in the first half, the Vikings played more conservatively in the second half. Johnson was 8-of-12 for 131 yards in the first half and 7-of-13 for just 58 yards in the second half.
Carter also had a pair of touchdown catches for the Vikings, giving him 91 for his career. He had a 1-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and an 18-yard scoring reception in the fourth quarter. Carter finished with 5 catches for 31 yards and needs 4 receptions to pass James Lofton (764) for sixth-place on the all-time list.
Robert Smith rushed for 90 yards on 18 carries and Gary Anderson kicked a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for Minnesota.
"It was a great weekend," said Vikings coach Dennis Green, who signed a three-year contract extension on Saturday. "We were explosive on offense. Randy played well, but it's not surprising. We ran the football well too."
Tampa Bay's Trent Dilfer completed 12 of 15 passes for 139 yards in the first half, but failed to engineer a scoring drive until the third quarter.
Tampa Bay scored its only points when Dilfer hit fullback Lorenzo Neal with a 3-yard touchdown pass with 5:14 left in the third quarter. But Dilfer sustained a thigh bruise in the scoring drive and was forced to leave the game. He did not return and finished 17-of-25 for 207 yards.
"Nothing I hate more than coming out of a game," said Dilfer. "You always think you can do it. But I couldn't bend my knee."
Steve Walsh replaced Dilfer and was 6-of-12 for 53 yards with an interception.
Tampa Bay also lost receiver Bert Emanuel, who suffered a left ankle injury while attempting to catch a pass early in the third quarter. After being helped to the sideline, he was carted off the field and did not return. Emanuel had 7 catches for 98 yards.
"This was a disappointing start, but they're a fine team," said Bucs coach Tony Dungy, who is 5-12 against NFC Central teams. "They made plays and outplayed us."
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Preseason, at Carolina thoughts.
Preseason at Carolina: Vikings 25, Panthers 22
I committed the ultimate sin this weekend. I was not near a television or radio in order to enjoy the Vikings-Panthers game on Saturday. Now before you write me off as some kind of Odin atheist, just hear me out.
I took my wife and two dogs camping this weekend. We left the big city behind and headed west toward Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Just north of Detroit Lakes lies a pristine body of water known as Strawberry Lake.
To give you a rough idea how old I am, this was the 25th straight year that I have made at least one visit to Strawberry. The dogs love to run along the shore; my wife reads and takes photos of wild flowers.
Me? I usually wake up around 5 a.m. I don’t shower. I don’t shave. I just pull on the same pair of Levi’s I cleaned fish in the day before, put on the lucky flannel shirt and the lucky fishing cap, fill my mouth full with sunflower seeds and head for the dock.
I stow my gear in the 14-foot Lund boat with the "cool green interior" and wooden seats, cut through the usual morning fog and head for my favorite fishing spots. Sometimes I catch a lot of fish but mostly I just listen to the loons and enjoy the scenery. Oh, and I think a lot about the coming football season. It’s at times like this when the clarity of the open woods brings one’s gray matter into crystal clear focus.
On one such morning this weekend, the "bite" was off and I found myself peering at the shoreline thinking of the times growing up in North Dakota when I could not be without a radio or television if a Vikings game was on. Fortunately, I had a father who understood my passion for the Vikings.
On a typical Sunday my dad would plant the family closest to the exit door at church. Once the sermon ended we bolted for the door, raced to the car and turned on the radio to catch the opening kickoff. We’d wait while my mother and sister caught up. Then it was the race home.
My father and I had mapped out a system to avoid as many stop lights and stop signs as possible. We could usually make it home eight minutes past noon. I believe our record was four minutes. Not bad for two-and-a-half miles on city streets. I was usually out of the car as it was still rolling into the garage, bounding up the stairs three at a time and switching on the television on the fly. We had no remote in those days otherwise I could have saved another 6.5 seconds. I’m sure of it.
The Nerf football had just been invented by Vikings kicker Fred Cox, and at halftime I would imagine myself kicking 60-yard winning field goals in the living room. Mom usually removed the breakable glassware at this time. Homemade pizza was served on TV trays, instantly instilling in me the great art of tailgating. Life couldn’t have been any better.
After the game it was outside to play with the neighborhood boys. We played in an empty lot across the alley from my house until well past dark. I was always quarterback because I was the only kid in the neighborhood with a Fran Tarkenton jersey. We drew plays in the dirt and the worst injury was usually a jammed finger or two.
I lived and breathed Vikings football and was depressed for days following the very rare loss. If I went back to my old report cards and stuck my grades into an Access database along with the Vikings game results, I’m sure I would find a direct correlation between straight A’s and the typical 12-2 Viking season.
When I finally flew the coop for the East Coast and the suburbs of Washington D.C., I only lasted there for three years. You see, in all the years I lived there, I only saw the Vikings when they played the Redskins or were in the playoffs. That just didn’t suit me. I followed that with a three-year stint in Texas. Again, I could only see Vikings games if they were playing the Dallas Cowboys or the Houston Oilers. The chorus of "Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers, number one" still wakes me up in the middle of the night as if from some horrid nightmare.
So I moved back home to the Upper Midwest. In fact, I didn’t move home until I had purchased Vikings season tickets. When my then wife-to-be asked me about maybe getting a job and finding a place to live first, I simply said, "A Vikings fan has certain priorities that you just wouldn’t understand."
And now here it is late on Saturday night. I know the Vikings have played Carolina but I don’t know the score and I won’t know until tomorrow morning when I go to the little campground store to buy homemade caramel rolls and a Sunday paper. But I am never without the team in thought and never will be.
As the loons cry eerily in the distance like lost souls without a purpose, I realize that in one aspect of my life I will never be alone. I have the Vikings, even without TV or radio or the Internet. I have a lifetime of memories from following the team. I have the friendships of the Vikings fans from all over the world that I’ve been fortunate to meet. The Vikings will always be there for me. So if I miss a preseason game here or there, I have comfort that I only have to drive a few hundred miles home to Plymouth, Minnesota to see the Dome in the distance.
And this year I have seen the gleam in the eyes of youngsters who are probably telling their dads the fastest way to get home from church so that they don’t miss a single minute of a Vikings game.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Preseason, Chiefs at Vikings thoughts.
Preseason at the Metrodome: Vikings 34, Chiefs 0
It used to be the Minnesota Vikings who lacked respect from other NFL teams. Now it’s the Vikings who are thumbing their noses. As the Kansas City Chiefs were being introduced at the start of the game last Saturday night, the logo of the Washington Redskins, not the Chiefs, appeared on the MetroDome’s Jumbotron. The sparsely attending Chiefs fans were livid. The mind game had begun.
Going back a few seasons, the mind set at Vikings games had not been us against whomever we were playing but rather us against the team and the ownership. As fans we are human. Our empathy for the Purple means we can never hide from what we feel and that’s good. But we must always walk the balance between hope and despair. For keeping the balance we pay a price. The danger of being human and allowing yourself to feel.
For this, we as Vikings fans must walk a narrow path high above rocky ground. On one side we have the descent into animalistic pessimism, on the other a godhead delusion. Both pull at us; both tempt. Without these forces tugging at our psyche, stirring it into conflict, you could never understand a true fan. They awaken us, you see, these warring sides. They arouse our passion. The past several years we have bottomed out at the end of each season, our emotions unsated.
But for the fans who always hang tough and have never lost hope, the reward of this coming season will be that much more special. We true fans are the ones who feel the deepest and suffer the most. Now it appears that our grief from previous playoff losses is about to be replaced with the awe-inspiring supremacy of my childhood, when the Vikings teams of the ‘70s so thoroughly dominated the NFC that sports writers only debated who was to finish behind the Vikings that year.
Some fans will still have a shiver of trepidation on opening day when the Vikings take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but I can guarantee that after only one quarter, the Dome will become the loudest spot on the planet as a release of pent-up tension escapes from what will be a sell-out crowd.
The older generations who sit on their hands will recall the familiar miscreant thrill of standing up and yelling at the top of their lungs like so many people did against the Chiefs. If a 70-year-old man about to write a check this Wednesday for $206 million can sit in the upper deck and not look the fool for "screaming ‘till he can’t screams no more," can you think of any reason why you can’t?
During the Tampa Bay game, I will see it in the faces of Vikings fans around me the moment they realize just how good this team is. They will laugh with delight and take on the opposing team with vengeful fury. On Sunday, September 6, the energy brought forth from screaming Vikings fans will bring the MetroDome roof fabric to its breaking point.
The typical Vikings fan is not the corporate suit, but the people who arrive four hours early to tailgate, maybe even buy a stylish Cadillac and then paint it all purple…including the engine. We Minnesotans work hard and fight hard, and, until the Twins won two World Championships, were despairingly resigned to losing out in life. We look down on individuals who can’t drive in snow and who move south for six months after Halloween because it’s "too cold up here." It wasn’t that way when Bud Grant coached this team, and it’s about to return to that way again.
During tailgating discussions the last several years, invariably someone would have an opinion on the ownership. I distinctly remember a Vikings fan from Duluth who heatedly said, "I think the present organization are all [buttheads]. I look at them the same way I look at corporate subsidy and potholes. I have just about given up and figure that the team we get every year will be the 8-8, 9-6 variety, with no commitment to excellence. They will never amount to anything."
After the second preseason shutout, it appears the Vikings are about to become something. The fans are blowing off steam in more positive ways than by fighting each other in the stands in order to get close enough to throw verbal taunts at the Vikings players as they come on and off the field. Against Kansas City, the Purple Fandom showed it will continue to become a forceful presence, holding up the game to rage at officials, for instance, or reveling in proud moments.
The past several seasons when the players’ intensity appeared not to be as great as the fans’, the fans booed. Their enthusiasm would fade when the offense faded. They would hold back, waiting for the Vikings to show them a reason to cheer their best. They were ready to hate the Vikings if it ever became clear that hating them would be more satisfying than loving them.
But not this year. We only need to know it’s game day and the purple blood begins to boil. We only need to see Cris Carter being introduced and we are already hoarse. We only need to hear Red McCombs’ voice on the PA announcing, "Welcome to the noisiest stadium in the NFL" and we comply….fanatically.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Vikings had the Chiefs pinned at their one-yard line on a third down. A horned character appeared on the Jumbotron, yelling so hard one could hardly believe he hadn’t passed out yet. The camera was focused on his shield, zooming in and out, in and out, and the crowd went wild. The noise reached its loudest peak of the game. The Vikings held and the Jumbotron revealed the same person with thumbs up while nearby a crazed Vikings fan danced ala Elaine Bennes from the famed Seinfeld episode.
The season can’t come fast enough. The fans are happy and excited. Seats will be hard to come by. And somewhere a purple and yellow shield that simply says "Cheer Or Die" holds extra meaning this week.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Preseason, at New England thoughts.
Preseason at New England: Vikings 24, Patriots 0
The atmospheric conditions in the Twin Cities the last few days have been ominous portents of raging storms. Rain fell so heavily on rooftops, it was as if the rain drops themselves were individual hellish warriors striving to break through the shingles that served as the only barrier between them and me.
Little did I know that the strength of the wind gusts and downpours would reflect the enthusiastic play of the team in purple taking the field for the first time this season and the conviction with which they would play.
When the first titanic blast of lightning broke over the sky Sunday night, Dwayne Rudd was diving into the end-zone with such enthusiasm, it was as though the lightning had deliberately imparted its energy directly to him.
The winds howled outside, echoing the cries of New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe as he was sacked for the third time in as many drives. It seemed as though the wind tearing off tree branches was funneling its destructive pattern directly into the Vikings defense; the destruction spread out in vast ripples, looking like bomb blasts from above.
As clouds outside my living room window were being torn apart, reduced to cotton tufts spinning frantically in the grip of small ferocious whirlwinds, so, too, was Bledsoe spinning in a vain attempt to relinquish Rudd’s grip from his jersey. The Vikings defense, mini-typhoons, was plunging back and forth, accelerating the obliteration of the Patriots offense.
All the while the storm was brewing, my largest and most valuable trees remained steadfast, their roots anchoring them to the ground as the air around them filled with broken fronds and shredded leaves. My youngest sapling took heed from the towering elders and leaned into, then away from, the best the storm could offer.
The far skyline was ablaze with potent light storms. High above the tattered clouds, a purple veil formed across the horizon, a flashy haze riddled with hundreds of long, lurid scintillations like giant shooting stars with a speed, until now, unheard of. Bringing my concentration back to the television screen, a single wide receiver slid into alignment and drew my eye like a swallowing cyclone.
This lightning bolt leapt from the scrimmage line and reached its zenith mid-way down the field. His thrust of energy penetrated the tormented defense trying to stop the storm. His mind consumed the power given to him, and he blazed by his defender as outside my window another lightning strike shot up a stream of particles at lightspeed, spacefree and eternal. Randy Moss blazed into the end zone, his first professional touchdown now carved into memory like a lightning bolt etched into the inside of your eyelids.
Forecasts call for this Purple Storm to reappear next Saturday evening, feeding off the knowledge of its previous victory, searching for another, not stopping until that elusive ultimate win has been obtained.
After a shutout victory over a 1997 NFL playoff team, the Vikings showed they have a veteran team who knows what is needed to gain the next win. With that, hope is instilled in all of us for a step up to yet another level of play this coming season.
Until the regular season starts, I am content to observe and learn. And right now the forecast is very stormy, indeed, for the 16 teams who will face the Vikings this year. Once met, they will believe.
The reality: a storm is coming. Time for those weak of heart to head for the nearest shelter because it’s just going to keep growing stronger.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Training Camp Report thoughts.
1998 Training Camp Report
"If anyone doubts my veracity, I can only say that I pity his lack of faith."
Baron Munchausen 1737-1794
The past few seasons they’ve been referred to as pretenders but the Viking team that took the field before my eyes on Monday are contenders. The rest of the NFL better get used to it.
You can talk about Tarkenton, Foreman and the Purple People Eater defense.
You can talk about Kramer, Rashad, Studwell and Browner. You can talk about Wilson, A.C., Del Rio and Doleman. They made it big time: setting records, winning championships and Hall Of Fame Inductions. Fame and glory.
But they did not win a ring, thereby achieving their glory and their downfalls on the very same days. Lost playoff games, lost championship games, lost Super Bowls. Some still talk about the "lost" Super Bowl season in ’75 when the Hail Mary pass became forever etched in football lore. Time to let it go, people, for a new Purple Monster is taking the field.
Warning: Read on only if you have medical clearance because the report I am about to bring you from Mankato is going to give you severe heart palpitations and sweats. As you read, the blood will pump noisily through your veins, and you will lie awake at night moaning softly, "Bring on Tampa, bring on Tampa."
I was smoking a cigar after finishing my first tailgate meal of the day, steak and eggs, with my good buddy from Milwaukee, Mark Gresbach. Mark was tooting away on a three-foot purple party horn. I turned to him suddenly and told him to be quiet, for in the distance I heard the familiar sound of cleat on pavement.
It’s a sound instantly associated with tailgates, crisp autumn days, cheerleaders and touchdowns. You know, the stuff that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and your skin break out in goose pimples. The boys were making their way across the street.
All of you, of course, will want to know about the Viking’s No. 1 draft pick, Randy Moss, and my initial observation of him. So let’s not waste any time. Buckle up, people, and read on.
As the day progressed I grew utterly fascinated with Randy Moss. My metaphor for him is a black hole: defenders seem to swirl around but not adhere to him. Without any significant effort on his part, as if his presence distorts space so that all defenders led to him then disappear, Moss is running, no, zipping down the field without anyone around him.
Moss did nothing out of the ordinary. He caught balls over his shoulder. He caught sideline passes with one hand. He made slant cuts; he did hitch-and-go's. He broke away from two cornerbacks at the line. He made receptions of perfectly thrown Brad Johnson passes in between two defenders.
But then, we as Viking fans, expect that from our receivers. So if Moss was doing nothing special, why my fascination with him? The best way to explain is to put yourselves in the shoes of a cornerback. You see this lanky receiver running at you in a very easy first gear, the first 5 to 7 yards. He hits second gear somewhat normally and is running effortlessly beside you. That’s your first clue that you may be in trouble. This young receiver then hits third gear and you blink. During that blink, that millisecond of time, the receiver has gone from third to fourth gear in half a stride and you are saying, "Oh, merde!" and he is gone.
I do not exaggerate. I stretch the truth in no way. I can only tell you, the Purple Faithful, to watch that first game. Watch Moss explode from third to fourth gear in the blink of an eye. Watch it over and over again and your significant other will walk into the room to find you giggling like a idiot, finger pointing at the television, because your brain cannot register what your eyes are seeing. The Freak is now, and forever more, in your blood.
Let’s look at the other positions one by one, concentrating on the new faces in camp.
Specialists: The only thing of importance to report with this unit is that while Gary Anderson was in camp and dressed, he was not kicking. I asked Vikings officials about it and no one knew of any injury so I am just assuming he was simply a veteran with nothing to prove and taking an off-day. Also of note was Johnson sharing place-kick holding responsibilities with punter Mitch Berger.
Defensive Backs: The second most impressive player of the day behind Moss was Jimmy Hitchcock. Hitchcock broke up two consecutive Johnson balls and was playing the exact opposite of one Dewayne Washington, by blanketing the receiver step for step rather than doing the 10-yard back pedal we all remember Washington doing last year.
Hitchcock was first-unit right corner while Fuller was first-unit left corner. Larry Brown was backing up Fuller and playing nickel. Brown looked to be in great shape and was very focused throughout both practices, which tells me he has something to prove, and that’s no bad thing. Rookie Ramos McDonald also saw a great deal of scrimmage time at left corner and did a good job, except when covering Jake Reed, who seemed to be able to turn the rookie at will, then slant to the inside for an easy reception.
McDonald will need to work on his inside game but his outside play seemed solid. Orlando Thomas and Torrian Gray will be battling for a starting spot, and I give the nod to Gray at the moment as he played the majority of the first unit snaps…and looked good doing it. The hit of the day came from Fuller, who flattened tight end Hunter Goodwin, bringing back memories of Fuller’s big hits in recent years. Fuller was focused and I did not hear him trash talking at all, a change from previous training camps. Look for Kerry Cooks to make the team. I was pleased with this safety’s play and he seemed to catch some eyes Monday.
Linebackers: Night and day from last year. Call it an intangible, but I’m much more confident in the unit this year. First, Ed McDaniel has that look back in his eye. It was missing through all of last year and he didn’t seem to be enjoying the game. The old Eddie Mac is back with a vengeance! And he’s not taking prisoners.
The best example, and comical as well, occurred when Eddie Mac went to get a drink of water. John Randle was guarding the water station and would only allow Eddie Mac a drink by squirting him with the plastic nozzle. Eddie finally stormed Randle so fiercely that the Big Dog took off in a full run, whimpering like a dog just chased away from his favorite spot. McDaniel played first unit middle linebacker the entire day. My initial feeling is he will be fine covering the run but may need a few preseason games to pick up the pass plays in his new home.
There were many sounds of shoulder pads popping with running backs laid flat out, staring into Dixon Edwards’ eyes. Edwards seems very comfortable and should be a real force this season. Dwayne Rudd has definitely added some upper body strength this offseason. The best thing I can tell you about Rudd is I never saw him out of position Monday. So in addition to the added strength, it appears Rudd spent a lot of time reviewing game tape.
I watched rookie Kailee Wong closely for most of the afternoon drills. He’s big, easily the largest linebacker we have. Wong was mainly learning today and did not see too much scrimmage time. The same with Kivuusama Mays. But these are the big, bruising linebackers we’ve been wishing for. If they listen and learn from the first unit, they will be factors in the years to come.
Defensive Linemen: I’m waiting for the afternoon practice to begin and I am loading film by one of the tackling dummies. The players are beginning to filter onto the practice field. I hear this guy humming very loudly behind me. "I am unbeatable. I am the Big Dog!" boasts this person. I decide not to challenge John Randle on that statement, and he saunters by, wraps his arms around Tony Williams and starts yelling, "GoooAAAAALLL!" over and over into the young Williams’ ear. As I have tried to explain to Vikings fans before, don’t try to understand Big Dog, just sit back and enjoy.
The unit looked good and flustered every quarterback today except for Johnson. Time and time again Randall Cunningham was pursued by any number of defensive ends and broke up field or found himself wrapped in a tightly held bear hug. The only player I had any disappointment in was Duane Clemons who seemed to get turned around during a few of the scrimmages, allowing a running back through a huge hole. I’m hopeful that will be addressed as Clemons’ pass rush remains strong.
Offensive Linemen: Jeff Christy is back, Jeff Christy is playing, and Jeff Christy is on the first unit. There is joy in Purpledom. I was extremely happy to see Christy back in action and he looks as though the broken ankle was a thing that never occurred, never happened.
In perhaps the single strongest Vikings unit, the likes of Todd Steussie, Randall McDaniel, David Dixon, and a noticeably slimmer and more focused Korey Stringer should immediately put to rest any concerns you have on the offensive line.
St. Paul native Matt Birk was constantly getting yelled at but in years past, I have found that to signify a young player who the coaches want on the team. Everett Lindsay looked to be in great shape as did Bob Sapp and Eric Moss. Sapp and Moss could end up battling for the final offensive line spot, the loser ending up on the practice squad.
Tight ends: Andrew Glover caught everything thrown to him today. I repeat: everything. He ran every drill hard. He ran an extra 20 yards at the end of each reception. He looked like the Glover who won the Cardinals game for us last year. Glover also had something he lacked late last year: consistency. Hunter Goodwin and Greg DeLong have the other two positions sewn up in the least competitive unit on the Vikings team.
Wide Receivers: I don’t know who the guy in number 80 was. He was the only player out there with no name sewn on his jersey so I asked around to find out. Some guy named Cris Carter. Hard worker, catches everything thrown to him. Kept yelling at rookie Randy Moss to "Stay alert!" and "Hustle back!" and such. I mean, the arrogance. This Carter guy might make it, might not. Certainly seems to be able to get Brian Billick’s ear at will so maybe he’s got a connection.
Jake Reed made great sideline catches today. Matthew Hatchette continues to show he has good speed. Tony Bland made one very difficult sideline catch, coming down with both feet in bounds and a defensive back all over him. Chris Walsh is going to have a complex by the end of the season because the coaches count his 40-yard dash by a calendar compared to all the new-found speed in camp, but he will be running the slot behind Carter. Yes, I did see a lot of three receiver sets today: Moss by himself at one end, Reed at the other with Carter in the slot. My only question is whether Billick is going to use the set on things other than third-and-fifteen. We’ll have to wait until the first game to find out.
Running Backs: I never realized before how well Moe Williams can run in the middle until today. Granted, it was not full pads, but he bounced off tackles with ease, and before the defense could say, "Where did he go?" Williams was 20 yards down the field. Leroy Hoard impressed me all day with his pass catching.
Robert Smith, sporting new sideburns, came into camp beefed up, more so in the legs than last year when he added quite a bit of upper body mass. And he hasn’t lost a step, many times breaking into the defensive backfield. Again, these weren’t full contact drills but he still has that ability to break it any time he touches the ball. My only concern with this unit could be lack of depth.
Fullback is set with Charles Evans, the most underrated full back in the NFL today, but no one clear candidate is there to back him up. My vote would go to Scottie Graham simply because of Graham’s stellar special teams play while with the Vikings. You might see the Vikings scour the waiver wire in weeks to come for a backup full back.
Quarterbacks: Brad Johnson’s leg development has to be seen to be believed. Hopefully, my photos will turn out nicely and you’ll see for yourself by mid-week on the Viking Underground. The other impressive thing about Johnson is he has grown still further as a leader, involved in teaching the offense and pointing out weaknesses to Billick all day long.
If I had to vote on who the single-most focused player on the team is presently, I wouldn’t hesitate in selecting Johnson. Go to sleep at night knowing that while the Lions fans have nightmares about Scott Mitchell, and the Bucs fans cringe every time Trent Dilfer’s name is spoken, we have Brad Johnson, quite possibly the hardest working guy in the NFL today.
Cunningham has the number two job and looks much more comfortable in camp than last year. Much more. A real battle is taking place for that third spot, however. Todd Bouman and Jay Fiedler each played well today with a slight nod going in favor of Fiedler. But I look for Bouman to fight tooth-and-nail for the third spot.
And there you have it, folks, observations after Day One of training camp.
So, are you excited yet? If not, you will be. Everyone wants to say they picked the Super Bowl champion before the season began. And you’ll see for yourself very soon that the choice is easy. Pick purple!
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Mankato thoughts.
Picture a man walking down the street whistling. He trills four notes — dah, dah, dah, dum — and you know the tune. Reduced to a single melodic line, stripped of its orchestral trappings, Beethoven’s Fifth is still Beethoven’s Fifth.
Picture another man sitting in the last seat of the last row in the upper deck of the Metrodome. You know, the seat with the obstructed view. At the opposite end of the field a tiny speck in purple rolls out and throws a ball low and away to another man completely horizontal to the playing field, toes just inside the boundary line, who catches the ball with one — yes, just one — outstretched hand.
Even without seeing the jersey number, even with a partially obstructed view more than a football field away, the fan in the last row knows Cris Carter has made another incredible catch that will be shown over and over again on every highlight reel for the next week.
I’m a connoisseur of great Vikings receivers, and I have to say that the eight-year Vikings career of Carter deserves every award that it’s won and then some. Each year when I visit training camp he is the first player I look for. Even after all the years, all the spectacular catches, the man still simply amazes.
I like going to Mankato to watch Carter so much that I’ve been known to go without the usual excuse to my wife of “entertaining out-of-town guests.” Truth be told, I prefer it that way. I’m the kind of person who likes to watch the Vikings receivers run all the drills from stretching in the beginning to the gut-wrenching wind-sprints at the end after two hours of practice. And then watch it all over again in the afternoon.
Unlike going to a fine museum and spending 10 frantic minutes in each gallery, I would rather spend my full time and attention admiring the best item the museum has to offer. And Carter is the Mona Lisa of the Minnesota Vikings Fine Art Museum.
Even though Carter started out with the Philadelphia Eagles, he seems always to have belonged to the Vikings fans. More intimate with us than any other player, he tells us who we are and who we ought to be. Watching his face on game-day we recognize our best traits as a team: courage, wisdom, hope. Off the field, Carter epitomizes our best selves: compassion, kindness, fairness, strength.
Sometimes alone on the field, he is individualism personified. After scoring a touchdown, arm raised towards heaven, aglow, he embodies belief in God for all who seek Him. As a lighthouse to Christians, as a role model to children with a never-say-die attitude on the field, I fully expect the Vikings to honor the unquestionably best receiver in Vikings history by granting him a contract extension before training camp opens so that their leader is present from day one.
On July 26, the Vikings’ 33rd training camp in Mankato opens. The next day, I will make my way to observe it in person. Here’s my strategy for a perfect day: I pack all my tailgating gear, leave early to avoid traffic, and set up camp near the Vikings weight tent. Only when the coals are white hot and that first brat is on the grill will I look up to begin gathering in the moment as the players cross the street to the practice field.
While my fellow fans are elbowing each other into a frenzy to get any Vikings autograph, I’ll saunter over to the fence, where I have a good view of the field, in peace and quiet far from the maddening crowd spilling dangerously over into oncoming traffic.
My wife drags me to museums and symphonies all over the world to see and listen to truly fine work, but to me there is no finer work of art than the man who wears jersey No. 80. Seeing him run on to the practice field each year, I’m grateful that on Sept. 4, 1990, the Vikings claimed Carter off the waiver wire from the Eagles and took a chance on a man with some baggage.
And that’s why, when I load up my truck and head to Mankato for that very first 1998 practice, I will again snag a spot that gives me a good view of the receivers. And as Carter, that Vikings masterpiece, raises his arm in welcome, I’ll wave back.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be McCombs Named Owner thoughts.
Red McCombs Named Owner
I got up early one morning this past week feeling grand. I marmaladed a slice of toast with something of a flourish, and I don’t suppose I have ever come much closer to saying ‘Tra-la-la’ as I did the spreading, for I was feeling in mid-season form. God, as I once heard my wife put it, was in His Heaven and all was right with the world. (She added, I remember, some guff about larks and snails, but that is a side issue and need not keep us.)
It is no secret with those who have stayed with us that Mr. Cheer Or Die, though as boisterous as a Viking fan could wish when the whistle has sounded and the game has begun, is seldom a ball of fire at the breakfast table. Confront him with eggs and bacon, and he tends to pick cautiously at them, as if afraid they may leap from the plate and snap at him. Listless, about sums it up. Not much bounce to the ounce.
But today vastly different conditions prevailed. All had been verve, if that’s the word I want, and animation. Well, when I tell you that after sailing through a couple of sausages like John Randle through a offensive line I was now, as indicated, about to tackle the toast and my wife’s homemade marmalade, need I say more.
The reason for this improved outlook on the proteins and carbohydrates is not far to seek. My wife was back, filling the household with her charm and vibrancy. She had left last week for a family reunion and I had to stay back to mind our two pet dogs. And she was not here when they announced Red McCombs had won the ownership battle over Glen Taylor, my original man of choice.
I had caught myself staring at the television on the 6’o’clock news in which they announced that McCombs was the man. My eyebrows rose until they nearly disarranged my front hair. I needed someone to administer spiritual solace, which is a wife’s job. Men can’t cry even though there is nothing better for the nervous system. It does something, my wife told me once, I forget, to the glands.
Despondent, I had called my wife in North Dakota the very next morning where she was staying with her parents. Her mother answered the phone. There was no mistaking that lovely voice. As always when we converse on the phone, it had nearly fractured my ear-drum and started my dogs howling.
This woman could make herself heard not only in a open corn field but in several adjoining counties. Retired now from farming, she still tends to address me in the tone of voice previously reserved for calling in my father-in-law from the fields, while he was threshing the crop.
"So you’re up and about, are you?" she boomed. "I thought you’d still be in bed snoring your head off."
"It is a little unusual for me to be in circulation at this hour," I agreed, "but I need to speak with my wife immediately! The Vikings have made a horrendous error in judgment! Disaster looms!"
Finally getting my wife on the phone and frantically explaining the situation while flaying my arms about, I was soon winded and she had an opportunity to respond.
"I had heard the news and thought you’d be upset."
"So would you be, if, for example, another gardener that you particularly disliked had got hold of a thing you’d have given your eyeteeth to have."
"I see what you mean," she said, probably wondering why she had married a loony who could attach so much value to a football team that he dressed up crazy and at those times whom she personally would have preferred not to be found dead in a ditch with.
"It gave me the worst attack of indigestion I’ve had since you left that pasta salad on the counter over night and fed it to me the next day," I replied.
"I don’t see why this has you so worked up," my wife said.
It was a subject on which I was a well-informed source, but I hesitated for a moment, asking myself if I ought to reveal to this frail young bride what she was letting herself in for. Then I decided that the truth must be told and nothing held back. Cruel to hide the facts from her and allow her to come home uninformed and unprepared for the state I was in.
"Those inmates of the leper colony know as the Gang Of Ten at Winter Park sold this team to a man from San Antonio, Texas, and he has been looking to get a team for their own version of the Dome."
She seemed to weigh this. A moment or two passed before she surfaced again.
When she spoke, it was with a spot of wariness in her voice.
"Sounds like a wanker," she said going back to her favorite British word,
"Would you call him a wanker?"
"Not to his face, perhaps."
"If he did meet you face-to-face he’d probably think you’re crazy," she voiced.
"Very possibly, but if you think a busy man like myself has the time to go giving my opinions to a billionaire from Texas and rubbing him either with or against the grain, you are greatly mistaken."
We conversed some more and she gave me the impression, when we ended our call, of being a bit pensive, which I could well understand, and I wasn’t feeling too unpensive myself. Another possibility of a Minnesota team moving to Texas was raising its ugly head again, and the whole thing struck me as sinister. I had a …what’s the word?…begins with a p…pre-something… premonition, that’s the baby…I had a premonition that I was being tipped off by my Viking guardian angel that evil was afoot and that I would be well advised to watch my step and keep my eyes open.
I fixed myself a martini, two in fact, which is generally my limit, but with my poise shattered as it was I felt that a third wouldn’t hurt.
Indeed, had it not been a weeknight I would have been willing to go even more deeply into the thing. I once read about a man who used to drink twenty-six martinis before dinner, and the conviction was beginning to steal over me that he had had the right idea.
Then suddenly I caught myself laughing. A few months earlier, I had jumped for joy with the news of a Baltimorian man, Tom Clancy, had won the bidding process. One problem though, he had no cash, as so many people do these days.
Not Red McCombs, though. In the evening of his life he has more than a sufficiency. It would not be going too far, indeed, to describe him as stinking rich. For a great part of his adult life he had been an automobile dealer and had made a vast fortune.
I can well imagine that a casual observer, if I had confided to him my qualms at the idea of this Texan owning my Vikings, would have raised his eyebrows and been at a loss to understand, for McCombs is undeniably rich, cordial, returns all calls, takes no bull, and never moved the Denver Nuggets when he owned that NBA franchise.
So I decided to ask my Packer fan neighbor for an impartial view of his thoughts on the McCombs deal. He was standing outside watering his yellow tiger lilies, humming a light song. It died on his lips as he saw me, and he stood staring at me aghast. He reminded me of one of those fellows who spend the night in haunted houses and are found the next morning dead to the last drop with a look of awful horror on their faces. I greeted him and he swallowed painfully in return.
"You seem upset about something," said the Cheesehead snidely.
"It’s this McCombs thing, and I’ve come to ask your opinion," I replied, speaking austerely, for the old codger’s attitude had offended me. I could make allowances for him, because naturally a man who follows the Packers faithfully doesn’t like suddenly finding Mr. Cheer Or Die in his midst, but I did feel that he might have made more of an effort to lighten up.
This painful encounter, a conversation really, if you could call it a conversation, might have been expected to depress me, but this was far from the case. For this Green Bay fan reminded me of one simple fact: that McCombs, and this man alone, would own the team. Something I’ve wanted for over seven years now. It was to all intents and purposes with a song on my lips (‘Beating on the Cheeseheads’) that I made my way back home. He had pointed out one positive, but somehow still it wasn’t enough.
To say that when I turned in to bed I fell into a dreamless sleep would be deceiving my readers. I passed a somewhat restless night. I could have sworn, indeed, that I didn’t drop off at all, but I suppose I must have done, because the next thing I knew sunlight was coming through the window and my wife was making me breakfast.
I laid in bed and thought back, clearing the morning cob webs from my mind.
Twenty-four hours earlier I had been in front of the television sinking forward in my chair, face buried in my hands and my dogs in the throes of nausea. It has always been my policy to look on the bright side, but in order to do this you have to have a bright side to look on, and with the announcement of a out-of-state bidder becoming the owner of the Vikings there wasn’t one. This, as the Germans once said in 1945, was the end.
Then the call to find my wife, and having to first deal with my mother-in-law whose strong personality finds no difficulties, when displeased, in reducing me to a spot of grease in a matter of minutes. Did I mention previously that pheasant hunters who crossed her farm land without permission were rebuked so harshly by her that they are never the same again and for months go about in a sort of stupor, starting at sudden noises?
But here now was my wife and some order was returning to my life. As stated in the beginning of this column, I was ravenous at breakfast and busy marmalading my toast. When yesterday it didn’t seem possible, the sun had actually risen again. The day looked bright.
"Read the sports section," said my wife.
"The paper. Pick it up and read the sports section," she said again.
I was unable to follow her motive. But I did so anyway and read with great zeal every story about the possible new Viking owner.
"What does it say," she asked placing more sausage on my plate.
"Says here he’ll never move the team out of Minnesota," I said skeptically.
"Didn’t you once tell me that when you lived in Texas that a hand-shake held more water than any legal document ever could?" said she.
"Why, yes, I did." And I saw it all then. And her idea was a good one. My wife’s brain has been enlarged by constant helpings of fish, and she has the most annoying habit of seeing things before I do but here again she had found a formula acceptable that would give me a good night’s rest the remainder of the year. A rush of emotion filled me as I picked up the phone. Minutes later Dan Hildreth and I were going to be attending the McCombs press conference that would introduce our possible new owner to the Viking fans around the world.
After the press conference as the media throng pushed forward to speak further with Gary Woods and McCombs, I found myself face-to-face with the man himself.
"Uh, Mr. McCombs, I’m a Viking fan and season ticket holder and there is a favor that is within your power to bestow."
"Name it, son. Ask of me what you will."
"If you could see your way to telling me Texan to former-Texan that you won’t move the team and shake on it, it will go a long ways to your eventually being accepted amongst the Purple Faithful. Purple Pride I believe you called it, sir."
He stuck his hand out and I gazed upon it. The late morning light played on it, and another man’s hand never looked so steady, so self-assured.
As I took the hand I said, "I suppose you know that you can never break our hearts by moving."
"I realize that, son. And you don’t have to worry."
"Because the people of Minnesota and the sports world in general couldn’t take another hit like that."
"Very well," said McCombs. "So be it. This team will always be in Minnesota."
I gave him a wink. While a part of me felt like a father reluctantly throwing his child from the sleigh to divert the attention of the pursuing wolf pack, as I believe happens all the time in Russia in the winter months, I went away knowing that I have to place my trust in a Texan’s handshake. And I will make a point of doing so.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be July thoughts.
This week I had to go to Wisconsin, the land of cheese curds and hobby farms.
My business had led me to a two-day client visit in the small town of Janesville. It’s a lovely rural town with friendly people, reminding me of Jamestown, ND, my own hometown.
After the first day of business, I decided to take my group into Madison for an exceptional meal at L’Etoile on the square overlooking the Capitol. We arrived in town with time to spare before our reservations, so we stopped into a nearby cocktail lounge called Genna’s beforehand to socialize.
Wearing my Viking Underground dress shirt, I noticed some Packer fans staring at me from across the bar, mouths agape, not quite sure of what they were seeing. One person — I refer to him as "One Eyebrow" — slouched over to me after a short while, hairy knuckles scraping the wooden floor, sniffing the air as if checking for immediate danger. The ensuing conversation went something like this:
OE: Ugh, we kick your butts again this year.
Mr. COD: Oh really? You think you can stop our offense?
OE: Vikings have offense?
Mr. COD: We sure do, my mentally challenged friend. How ’bout we see how you will match up on defense and how your team can stop our top offensive players?
OE: Me understand.
Mr. COD: You know we just drafted Randy Moss. How do you plan to stop him?
OE: Easy. Cornerback and strong safety double team.
Mr. COD: Wow! Well, that takes care of Moss. What about Jake Reed?
OE: Reed big and strong but we play other corner deep and weak-side linebacker up.
Mr. COD: Hmmmm. I guess that will slow him down. Now what about perennial All-Pro Cris Carter? How will you stop him?
OE: Carter old and slow now. Nickel back covers. No problem.
Mr. COD: Are you sure you’re not Mike Holmgren? I mean, how will my team even get a first down against your brilliant thinking?
OE: (Big toothless grin) That right! No first downs, no first downs!
Mr. COD: Let me get this straight. You’ve doubled up Moss, have Reed covered short and long and can effectively take care of Carter.
OE: You almost as smart as me.
Mr. COD: Well, let’s say we run Robert Smith in a trap play. How can you possibly stop that? You’ve got all your D-backs and one linebacker committed now.
OE: We have stud defensive line. Smith never get through.
Mr. COD: So the D-line stays home to take care of Smith?
OE: Smash him to bits.
Mr. COD: Well, what if, just maybe, Brad Johnson fakes a hand-off to Smith which commits your D-line. Johnson rolls around to the strong side, which keeps the middle and strongside linebackers home, not knowing if Johnson will run or throw. There is no pass rush because the D-line is all on top of Smith and your weakside linebacker is committed to Reed. Moss is streaking down the sideline with a corner and safety hanging on for dear life while Carter has made the nickel back turn around in his jock. So what you’re telling me is there is no one covering our big tight end, Andrew Glover, and Johnson completes a 25-yard pass right down the middle of the field. Or did you have a plan for that too?
OE: (Long pause. Sound of crickets can be heard.) Oooh! We cover tight-end with safety!
Mr. COD: So now you’ve pulled the safety off Moss and your cornerback ... by the way, how fast is your corner?
OE: Fast. Him got 4.45 speed.
Mr. COD: Molasses in January, my friend. Moss has 4.28. So once you’ve pulled the safety off, Johnson just hits Moss for an 80-yard touchdown instead of throwing to Glover.
OE: (Sound of hairy knuckles scratching prominent brow ridge) We pull strong-side linebacker to slow Moss down!
Mr. COD: Which frees up the strongside so that when Smith breaks through, and believe me, that Vikings All-Pro offensive line will make a hole, the Viper ends up going, and going, and going all the way into the Thunder Zone.
OE: We have weakside linebacker shadow Smith. That take care of that.
Mr. COD: Which leaves 6-foot-3 Jake Reed against one of your shrimp corners and the game becomes boring with Jake catching pass after pass after pass.
OE: We bring up Nickel! Nickel save us!
Mr. COD: And then I get to see Carter point to God in the end-zone after each of his many touchdowns that day!
OE: (Now severely glassy-eyed and it’s not due to the beer) Me no play this game no more. Head hurt bad!
Mr. COD: Wait! You didn’t tell me how you will take care of Johnson if he decides to throw another touchdown to himself again this year! Well, thank you for the enlightening chat. Stop by anytime.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be June and the Ownership Battle thoughts.
Clancy Denied: Ownership Battle Renewed
I was in Phoenix two weeks back on business and as usual worked late each day. Lying on my bed, finally resting, I would vegetate in front of the television.
One evening as I flipped through the various channels available at my resort hotel, I came across an all-time classic, Patton. Early in the movie, George C. Scott, as the volatile World War II commander, directs his driver to a deserted battlefield, littered with shards and stones from a millennia-old massacre of Carthaginians by Roman legions.
"Two thousand years ago, I was here," muses Patton. In the background, unobtrusively, though hauntingly rendered, is a somber, scintillating ghostly piece of music marked by soft trumpet flourishes and the steady throb of a bass drum. And the musical score put me in deep thought. Yes, here we are again as in a time before.
Again, we must battle through another ownership bidding war, possibly just as hard on us, the troops, as it was earlier in the year. Which general will emerge to take the Viking legions to the ultimate victory?
Shruti Misra: Last time I checked, a person still couldn’t make a snowball in Hell, and that’s about the odds of this bid being accepted. Her first bid was under the $200 million minimum asking price and with a built in clause to move the team. The next bid was reportedly at $225 million but is structured improperly. The present ownership has stated that it won’t be the highest bid that wins, but the one they feel is best for the team and community. This isn’t it.
Carl Pohlad: Valued at over $1.3 billion, Carl is the one of the richest of possible bidders. That’s great for the slew of free agents we have next year but Carl was never one to easily part with his money. I think Carl would like to own the Vikings so that he can rework the Metrodome lease in favor of himself…and the Twins. I don’t want the Vikings taking a back seat to baseball. I also wonder what will happen when Carl passes away (God rest his soul) within the next 5 to 10 years. Will there be a legal battle all over again for ownership of the team? Chances are yes, and that’s why I really don’t like Carl as Viking owner. But thanks, Carl, for those World Series championships in ’87 and ’91!
Roger Headrick: It is really a matter of finance that you find Roger so far down my list. He just does not have the money unless he recruits a ton of minority owners and then we’re really back where we started, aren’t we? Roger’s heart is in the right place. He’s always wanted what is best for the team and the fans but has been hindered in the past by the other nine owners on the Viking board. And the mere mention of Headrick brings to mind the Alabama connection we have all read about. Would Roger move the team to Alabama eventually? I doubt it, but I don’t want to roll the dice either. Headrick could become a compromise candidate if the remaining nine lock up votes between Glen Taylor and J. Bruce Llewellyn or Red McCombs. And Headrick has NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in his corner. Consider Headrick a dark horse.
Red McCombs: I favored McCombs during the last season when this all started. But keep in mind the only other name mentioned as a possible bidder at that time was Mike Lynn. McCombs is worth $1 billion and the name Two Minute Tommy Kramer has been mentioned as a possible part of the McCombs team. Wouldn’t you just love to see the Vikings driving down the field late in the fourth quarter with Kramer’s head hanging out the owner’s box yelling, "Just throw the damn ball already, Billick, you moron!" And McCombs owns FOX29 in the Twin Cities so you know he would advertise this team from sun-up to sun-down, something that I have wanted for several years. So what’s bad about Red? If a car salesman looks you straight in the eye and says, "Son, I would never, ever move this team out of Minnesota," are you going to believe him or will you, like me, get that squirmy feeling in your underwear, just like when your wife asks you, "Do you think I’m fat"?
J. Bruce Llewellyn: I like this guy very, very much. He’s my kind of guy. Started small and made it big. He’s got the money, reportedly worth over $900 million. And wouldn’t you just love the Cola War on November 26 this year when the Coke-endorsed Minnesota Vikings demolish the Jerry Jones/Pepsi-endorsed Dallas Cowboys on national television? Yikes! But there are several things wrong with the Llewellyn proposed bid. The reported offer is less than the minimum $200 million. It does not involve a 100 percent sale of stock, another requirement. And it involves Lynn, a man whose motives always appear genuinely for the good of the team but down the line always turn out to have been the best for himself. The man is still making $1 million per year off the Dome lease he wrote a decade ago.
Glen Taylor: Yes, I have saved the best for last. Or at least whom I consider the best of the bunch thus far. At the beginning of 1998, Taylor was reported to be worth over $1.5 billion. So there is no worry about the coming up with money. Since that time, Wall Street's love of printing companies has grown stronger, and Taylor's company has become even more valuable. Using the estimates of DeWese, who consults on printing company deals nationally with Compass Capital Advisors in Radnor, Pa., and a revenue figure of $900 million, Taylor Corp. could be worth $2 billion, after subtracting its relatively modest corporate debt. That would value Taylor's ownership interest at $1.78 billion, making him the richest Minnesotan. Already a saint in the Twin Cities for saving the Timberwolves franchise from moving to New Orleans, Taylor would most assuredly keep the team in Minnesota. No question about it. And Taylor would be the perfect owner. He just signs the pay checks and hands over the operations to those nearest the game. With the Timberwolves, Taylor hired Duluth native and Boston Celtic great Kevin McHale to run the show. Rest assured that Taylor would bring in a football-minded person, very close to the game, to be the Viking GM. He’s talking with, and has the endorsement of, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. A possible new lease for the Dome could be in the works since both parties are on friendly terms. Taylor’s marketing department is ready to move in and sell the Vikings to a community hungry for the season to start. So what’s my reservation about Taylor? One name, Leslie Alexander, the Houston Rockets basketball team owner. Should Taylor, God forbid, meet an untimely death or sell his share of the team, Alexander could feasibly become majority owner by just purchasing an additional five percent. Then it would be a matter of time for a rare losing season to come along and dwindle the ticket base, giving Alexander the impetus to move the team to Texas. But Taylor receives my endorsement, albeit not a ringing one. And he is certainly capable of being the General Patton we need to go toe-to-toe with the Sports Commission and the minority owners he will have under him. Meet Glen "The Tank" Taylor, new majority owner of the Minnesota Vikings.
How The Central Division Was Formatted
I came across a little known fact the other day I thought I would share with everyone. After the merger with the AFL, the old NFL had to be reduced to three divisions, but the owners couldn’t agree on how. (Some things never change!) So the alignment of the NFC was determined by none other than commissioner Pete Rozelle’s secretary, Thelma Elkjer. When eight months after the merger found the owners still stalemated, Rozelle came up with a decision-making process. He had his secretary reach into a vase and pick one of five plans. She pulled out plan number three. It was the only one that kept the black-and-blue division (Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, and Minnesota) intact. If she’d selected any of the other four, the Vikings would have been in the Eastern Division. Earlier there had been nine plans. The possibilities were positively absurd. Two broke up the Bears-Packers rivalry. Another put Philadelphia and Detroit in the West. The current set-up isn’t perfect, but it could have been a lot worse. Thanks, Thelma!
Tice Smarter than Brian "The Genius" Billick?
As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, the suspension rules have been relaxed this year, permitting guys like Onterrio Smith to work with players and coaches as long as they do not participate in practice.
The Genius didn't know about this new rule when running back Jamal Lewis received his two-game suspension. As The Genius told David Ginsburg of the AP last month: "We can talk to him, but he's not allowed to be in the building, which I really think has to be revisited during the offseason. When you have an athlete in this position, this is when he needs the organization most. He needs to be around the counseling and the mentoring we have here.
"To totally isolate a guy from the team, I don't think is in the best interest of the team, it's not in the best interest of the athlete, it's not in the best interest of the league."
This is a major screw-up by the Ravens, if they coulda/woulda/shoulda had Lewis in the building during his suspension -- and someone within the organization needs to be answering some tough questions about how it came to be that they didn't know that the changes The Genius is advocating already have been implemented.
Tice 1, The Genius 0
Why Not Us?
The Cowboys are going to get a new stadium with a minimum of teeth-gnashing.
The Dallas Cowboys won voter approval for taxpayers to fund half the cost of a new $650 million domed football stadium in Arlington, Texas, to replace the 33-year-old Texas Stadium in Irving. Voters in Arlington, 10 miles west of Dallas, approved the proposal with support of 55.2 percent of voters to 44.8 percent opposed with 97 percent of precincts reporting.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be May thoughts.
May 1998 Prophecy
Rise up, bold warriors,
take steel in your strong hands,
the foeman stands below, loudly shouting.
Sound the horn and iron, gather spear and shield;
the day is bright for battle,
and glory for the taking.
Mount up, brave warband,
the battlechief is fearless;
bold leader, keen in victory,
he will win the hero’s portion,
and the bards laud his name in song-making.
Old Celtic poem
I was in Denver this week on business. I always have trouble sleeping when I’m away from the confines of my own bed and usually can’t fall asleep until the time between times, when the world awaits the renewing light of day and dreams finally come, dreams which can foretell the future. This is what the wise men of other ages believed and taught. And with the dream I had on one of those nights in Denver, I am not persuaded that they were wrong.
I was standing on the outskirts of a great battle. A Viking army in purple and gold had succeeded in driving through the enemy the first time, but the second charge had bogged down. There were simply too many against them. Even when a man killed with every stroke, as the Viking army did, two more barbarians leapt up to drag him from his horse before the blade was clear of the dead weight.
In the middle of the fray a barbaric battle lord, a fair-haired giant, rose up before the Viking war lord with an enormous hammer in his hand. Slavering with rage, he bellowed his challenge to the Viking leader and planted his feet, swinging that hammer, thick-sinewed shoulders and arms bulging with the effort. He stood like an oak tree as the Viking war lord urged his horse toward him. Sunlight glinted in the barbarian’s yellow hair, his blue eyes clear and unafraid, taunting the Viking, the hammer in his hands dripping blood and brains from the skulls he had smashed.
The one in purple spun toward him and waited until the barbarian swung the hammer up for the killing blow. The Viking lifted his sword and his first stroke ripped low across the brute’s unprotected stomach.
A lesser man would have fallen, but the golden giant stood his ground and swung the hammer down with such force that his wound burst. Blood and entrails gushed forth, and the Viking leader laughed to see it.
The hammer swung wide, and as the barbarian’s hands came down to grab his belly, the one in purple plunged the point of his sword through the giant’s throat. Dark blood spewed out over the Viking war lord’s hand.
The enemy giant stood a moment, his eyes rolling up in their sockets, then collapsed. The sword was jerked free by the Viking and he stood laughing, laughing, roaring with the absurdity of it.
When their war chief went down, the barbarians fell into confusion. They had lost their leader, their heart, and their ruthlessness. The slaughter of the barbarians by the Vikings became appalling. Then it was over. My alarm was going off.
I raised my head and looked out the window on the Denver landscape. A storm had passed, and the moon still shone. A vision had been shown to me. I am sure of it.
Beware. The Vikings are coming. And no mercy will be granted.
While this is strictly a Minnesota Vikings related sports blog, I have to post my own feelings on the 2004 presidential election. And I predict that I'll receive more comments on this single piece than any of the previous 40-plus Vikings related postings to date. But that's OK, as I do think that if you are not having a fight with somebody, then you are not sure whether you are alive when you wake up in the morning.
I could just rant over all that has been said before but I'd rather quote someone that sums up my own feelings very well. From the desk, and the pen of arguably America's greatest current writer and author of the 1987 epic Bonfire of the Vanities, Novelist Tom Wolfe. As a member of the Manhattan intelligentsia. Wolfe seems a lonely defender of George Bush's conservative values.
"Here is an example of the situation in America," he says: "Tina Brown wrote in her column that she was at a dinner where a group of media heavyweights were discussing, during dessert, what they could do to stop Bush. Then a waiter announces that he is from the suburbs, and will vote for Bush. And ... Tina's reaction is: 'How can we persuade these people not to vote for Bush?' I draw the opposite lesson: that Tina and her circle in the media do not have a clue about the rest of the United States. You are considered twisted and retarded if you support Bush in this election. I have never come across a candidate who is so reviled. Reagan was sniggered it, but this is personal, real hatred.
"Indeed, I was at a similar dinner, listening to the same conversation, and said: 'If all else fails, you can vote for Bush.' People looked at me as if I had just said: 'Oh, I forgot to tell you, I am a child molester.' I would vote for Bush if for no other reason than to be at the airport waving off all the people who say they are going to London if he wins again. Someone has got to stay behind."
Where does it come from, this endorsement of the most conservative administration within living memory? Of this president who champions the right and the rich, who has taken America into the mire of war, and seeks re-election tomorrow? Wolfe's eyes resume the expression of detached Southern elegance.
"I think support for Bush is about not wanting to be led by East-coast pretensions. It is about not wanting to be led by people who are forever trying to force their twisted sense of morality onto us, which is a non-morality. That is constantly done, and there is real resentment. Support for Bush is about resentment in the so-called 'red states' - a confusing term to Guardian readers, I agree - which here means, literally, middle America. I come from one of those states myself, Virginia. It's the same resentment, indeed, as that against your own newspaper when it sent emails targeting individuals in an American county." Wolfe laughs as he chastises. "No one cares to have outsiders or foreigners butting into their affairs. I'm sure that even many of those Iraqis who were cheering the fall of Saddam now object to our being there. As I said, I do not think the excursion is going well."
And John Kerry? "He is a man no one should worry about, because he has no beliefs at all. He is not going to introduce some manic radical plan, because he is poll-driven, and it is therefore impossible to know where or for what he stands."
As far as Wolfe is concerned, "the great changes in America came with the second world war, since which time I have not seen much shift in what Americans fundamentally believe. Apart from the fact that as recently as the 1970s, Nelson Rockefeller shocked people by leaving his wife of 30 years, while now celebrities routinely have children outside marriage, the mayor of New York leaves his wife for his lover and no one blinks. But a large number of people have remained religious, and it is a divided country - do not forget that Al Gore nearly won the last election. The country is split right along party lines."
And there has been a complete climate change in the nation which elected Bill Clinton twice, to that which may confer the same honour on George Bush tomorrow. This, says Wolfe, began not with the election of Bush, but on the morning of September 11 2001.
None of us who were in New York that day will ever forget it, and Wolfe is no exception. "I was sitting in my office when someone called to tell me two light planes had collided with the World Trade Centre. I turned on my television, before long there was this procession of people of all kinds, walking up the street. What I remember most was the silence of that crowd; there was no sound.
"That day told us that here was a different kind of enemy. I honestly think that America and the Bush administration felt that something extreme had to be done. But I do not think that the Americans have become a warlike people; it is rare in American history to set about empire-building - acquiring territory and slaves. I've never met an American who wanted to build an empire.
So, there you go. A very well thought out summation of what is occuring in America today. And I couldn't be more proud that President Bush has been chosen again to lead the country. While those who oppose Bush shake their heads wondering "how could you?", also realize that there are more of us that are asking "how could you not"!
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Off-Season thoughts.
I open my eyes, blinking at the bedroom’s unexpected brightness, then lazily reach out to place one hand in a patch of sunlight spilling onto the bed from a gap between the blinds. Dust motes drift across the shaft of light, appearing for all the world to be conjured into, and out of, existence.
It evokes a childhood memory of contentment. I feel utterly refreshed, and utterly disinclined to give up my present state of comfort. I don’t know why I’ve slept so late, and I don’t care. I spread my fingers on the sun-warmed sheet, a dog curled on either side of me, smell the coffee my wife is brewing, and think about drifting back to sleep.
Something’s troubling me, though. A dream? A nightmare? I pause and try to dredge up some trace of it, without much hope; unless I’m catapulted awake by a nightmare, my dreams tend to be evanescent. And yet- I leap out of bed, crouch down on the carpet, fists to my eyes, face against my knees, lips moving soundlessly. The shock of realization is a palpable thing: The Vikings for sale. The Vikings sold. The sale disputed. An overwrought process to determine ownership. All reminiscent of a hammer blow to the thumb and tinged with the very same mixture of surprise, anger, humiliation, and idiot bewilderment.
I rock back and forth, on the verge of laughter, trying to keep my mind blank, waiting for the panic to subside. And eventually, it does, laced by one simple, perfectly coherent thought: Paul Tagliabue has ruled in favor of Tom Clancy.
The View From Britain
The team’s supporters had taken over the city, flight after flight descending from blue skies to disgorge their raucous cargo. Hotels were so overcrowded that one even rented out its sauna as a bedroom while home owners advertised rooms for rent.
The urban hymns of the finest fans could be heard down every avenue and alley. The neat streets around the stadium resounded to the team’s chants. The stadium itself was decked largely in the color of its visiting majority. A scenario for the Viking Underground Reunion at the home and season opener?
Actually, the town was Stockholm, Sweden. The team was Chelsea. The game was soccer and the event was the Cup Winners’ Cup versus VfB Stuttgart, Germany. It was a magical night, a rhapsody in blue with the final technical flaws forgotten amid the majesty of Gianfranco Zola’s 71st-minute strike and the ecstatic celebrations it produced. As the blue and white Chelsea masses chorused their delight while swaying on the terraces, the players and coaching staff embarked on some sustained revelry at the final whistle.
So what in the world does this have to do with the Viking’s upcoming season, you ask? It’s an interesting story, really. And you’ll come out of it more confident about the Viking’s chances of winning the Super Bowl than ever before.
I had been on holiday in Great Britain with my wife for almost two weeks. Starved for any kind of sport to follow, I began to watch two different things in earnest late at night: snooker and soccer. Snooker is a pool game of intricate skill, foresight, and steady nerves, but boring as hell to my wife. Soccer, a childhood favorite, had lost my interest as I became older, but I had always greatly admired the dedication of the fans (hooligans excepted). And it captured my wife’s imagination as well. Soccer it was then.
We had begun to follow Chelsea’s plight through the Cup Winners’ Cup matches. They had a Cris Carter-type player in Zola: a player who hogs the limelight and pouts when he’s not in it. Against VfB Stuttgart after nine months of grappling forlornly for his best form and watching while others on the Chelsea side took the plaudits, Zola finally stole back his place in the sun when he provided a glorious climax to his team’s trophy-laden season.
Chelsea also has a Brad Johnson-type leader in Dennis Wise, the captain whose bright outlook kept his team resolutely positive, even when the Germans intermittently punctured their tempo. Against the Germans, Wise proved an influential figure, tackling stoutly and often propelling his team-mates forwards.
And Chelsea showed they love their fans, much like the Vikings. They made this crystal clear after the game, when Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea’s player-manager, broke away from the team’s on-field post-game celebration and began celebrating on his own, leaping up and down, punching the air, a man intoxicated by the roaring fans. Then the team all joined hands and ran towards their fans, diving full length en masse, medals gleaming around their necks while the Cup bounced in their midst. It was line-dancing gone mad.
The day before I had met three fellow Viking fans, Mike Salmon, Geoff Reader, and Ian Manning, in the small town of St. Albans, England. They have all been to home Viking games; Geoff even has season tickets. I discussed the merits of soccer versus American football and the relationship with their fans. I told the English three that I loved soccer’s fans but found the 1-0 scores quite boring and maybe the fans did too, thus their raucous behavior. They needed to be organized and loud otherwise they would fall asleep.
I further postulated that American football fans are so into observing the game’s eccentricities that the best they can do is occasionally start the wave, which is usually the result of a boring game. I pointed out that just a few days earlier a soccer team’s fans had become so disgusted with their tournament play that all 45,000 people in the stands rose and turned their backs on coach and team. You couldn’t get 45,000 people at the Dome to even stand together let alone do an organized chorus move, I said. I was abruptly cut off from any more pints. The alcohol, I was told, was making me lose my senses.
At the fourth pub in eight hours, Mike (Limey Vike) then gave me his vision of the upcoming Viking season which I mentioned previously in this column: that the destiny of Arsenal, his soccer team, and the Vikings are inexplicably linked. Earlier in the year, Arsenal was given no chance to repeat as the division winners, needing to win something on the order of eight of its last nine games. They did. And the team went on to win the domestic double, only the second to do that this century. Limey Vike feels the Vikings will win the NFC and the Super Bowl this year based on the success of Arsenal.
Not to be outdone, Geoff shot back that there is no correlation between Arsenal and the Vikings simply because Arsenals name can be shortened to "Arse." A better correlation, Geoff believes, is with his team, Leicester City, because there is a surprise board room shuffle going on at the moment, and their best coach in a long time may be about to walk! That’s when Ian and I cut Mike and Geoff off from any more pints, moving to lemonade instead.
So the Viking season may be predestined by the success of the British soccer team of your choice: Chelsea, Arsenal, or Leicester. Anyway you look at it, it correlates to one hell of a successful year for, not America’s Team, but the World’s Team. And the celebration will most likely be what my wife and I observed coming back from a curry after the Chelsea win.
We were waiting for our next west-bound train on the London Underground. An east-bound train rolled into the station. On board a half-dozen cars was a sea of Chelsea blue jerseys shouting the Chelsea victory chant in unison. And each car was bouncing so violently I feared they would jump the track. The train moved on into the next tunnel; the chanting fans still heard over the roar of our approaching train.
"God", I said to my wife, "just once in my life I hope to experience that kind of joy." And this will be the year.
1998 Significant Off-Season Events
The first-ever Viking Underground Reunion continues to take shape. The ticket order has been placed for the block of seats. I will receive the exact location in late July and distribute the game tickets at the VU events leading up to the game.
Brad Johnson visited VU’s Purple Thoughts in May, chatting live with regulars for over an hour.
The Viking Underground Tailgate Recipe section first appeared in May. This new section has received a lot of attention with the Hot Viking Cider recipe being mentioned recently in Beckett’s magazine and my own appearance in the John Madden Tail Gate Cook Book.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Draft Day thoughts.
The 1998 Season
1998 (15-1): NFC Central Champions
Head Coach: Dennis Green
9/6 W 31-7 Tampa Bay 62,538
9/13 W 38-31 @ St. Louis 56,234
9/20 W 29-6 Detroit 63,107
9/27 W 31-28 @ Chicago 57,783
10/5 W 37-24 @ Green Bay 59,849
10/18 W 41-7 Washington 64,004
10/25 W 34-13 @ Detroit 77,885
11/1 L 24-27 @ Tampa Bay 64,979
11/8 W 31-24 New Orleans 63,779
11/15 W 24-3 Cincinnati 64,232
11/22 W 28-14 Green Bay 64,471
11/26 W 46-36 @ Dallas 64,366
12/6 W 48-22 Chicago 64,247
12/13 W 38-28 @ Baltimore 69,074
12/20 W 50-10 Jacksonville 64,363
12/26 W 26-16 @ Tennessee 41,121
NFC Divisional Playoffs
1/10/99 W 41-21 Arizona 63,760
1/17/99 L 27-30 OT Atlanta 64,060
Key Draft Picks
Once upon a time there lived a Minnesota Vikings fan named Chicken Little. A few days before the 1998 NFL Draft, Chicken Little was telling all his farm yard friends, "We need a cornerback; we need a cornerback." And all of Chicken Little’s friends shook their heads in agreement.
On draft day Chicken Little was watching the coverage on his 60 inch big screen TV inside his chicken coop when the Vikings picked, not a cornerback, but a speedy wide receiver. In fact, the Vikings didn’t even pick a cornerback until round three. "Good gracious me!" said Chicken Little, "We’re going to lose every game. I must go to the Viking Underground Purple Thoughts page and tell everyone."
The only computer was way over on the other side of the farm in Farmer Green’s house so he was rushing through the farm yard when he met Cocky Locky. "Where are you going, Chicken Little?" said Cocky Locky. "Oh! I’m going to tell all the Vikings fans that we’re going to lose every game," said Chicken Little. "May I come with you?" asked Cocky Locky. "Certainly," said Chicken Little. So Chicken Little and Cocky Locky went to tell all the Vikings fans the team was going to lose every game.
So they rushed along and rushed along through the farm yard when they met Ducky Daddles. "Where are you going to, Chicken Little and Cocky Locky?" said Ducky Daddles. "Oh! We’re going to tell all the Vikings fans that we’re going to lose every game," said Chicken Little. "May I come with you?" asked Ducky Daddles. "Certainly," said Chicken Little and Cocky Locky. So Chicken Little, Cocky Locky and Ducky Daddles went to tell all the Vikings fans the team was going to lose every game.
So they rushed along and rushed along through the farm yard when they met Goosey Poosey. "Where are you going to, Chicken Little, Cocky Locky and Ducky Daddles?" said Goosey Poosey. "Oh! We’re going to tell all the Vikings fans that we’re going to lose every game," said Chicken Little. "May I come with you?" asked Goosey Poosey. "Certainly," said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky and Ducky Daddles. So Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, and Goosey Poosey went to tell all the Vikings fans the team was going to lose every game.
So they rushed along and rushed along through the farm yard when they met Turkey Lurkey. "Where are you going to, Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, and Goosey Poosey?" said Turkey Lurkey.
"Oh! We’re going to tell all the Vikings fans that we’re going to lose every game," said Chicken Little. "May I come with you?" asked Turkey Lurkey. "Certainly," said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, and Goosey Poosey. So Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey went to tell all the Vikings fans the team was going to lose every game.
So they rushed along and rushed along through the farm yard until they finally reached Farmer Green’s house and Chicken Little sat down on the computer to sign onto America Online and tell all the Vikings fans that the team was going to lose every game by leaving a posting on Purple Thoughts on the Viking Underground.
Chicken Little tried six times but the line was busy on all six. That’s when Farmer Green walked into the room. "What are you doing Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey?" asked Farmer Green. "The Vikings didn’t draft a cornerback with their first or second round pick so we are going to tell all the Vikings fans that the team will lose every game this year," said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey.
"Oh! But maybe they won’t lose every game this year Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey," said Farmer Green. "I know what to do; shall I tell it to you?" "Oh, certainly, Farmer Green," said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey. So Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey all listened to Farmer Green speak. They listened along, and listened along, and listened along, until it was time for the first regular season game. Now this was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a divisional game and very important indeed.
Farmer Green said to Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey, "Let’s see how this game turns out, and then the next, and then the next, then perhaps you should decide how many games the team will lose this year?" "Why, of course, certainly, why not?" said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey.
So Farmer Green turned up the volume and brought out the chips and beverages, and they hadn’t eaten very much when Brad Johnson threw an 85-yard touchdown to that new speedy receiver. "Hrumph," Chicken Little said, "The Buccaneers will score twice as fast because we didn’t get a good cornerback." It was then that John Randle flushed Trent Dilfer from the pocket right into the arms of that new defensive end. Dilfer fumbled and that new cornerback scooped up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. "Hrumph," Chicken Little said, "That was just lucky."
But no one was paying attention to Chicken Little any longer for Farmer Green, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey were all doing the wave out in the farm yard as the Vikings had won their first of many games that season.
Chicken Little, feeling very stupid, strutted out into the farm yard to join them on the wagon that Farmer Brown had brought out from the barn. Farmer Brown was driving them all into town to buy tickets for the next game so they could watch the Vikings in person.
And Chicken Little never got to tell all the Viking fans that the team was going to lose every game.
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 Playoffs, at San Francisco thoughts.
Playoffs: at San Francisco
A football season that is not sated
Calls from a poisoned bed,
Where Viking fans half-created
writhe, unliving and undead.
None knows for what they’re fated;
None knows on what they’ve fed.
I felt cold and weak, strangely, intolerably, inhumanly weak with a faintness of the blood and bone, of the mind and soul. I saw my surroundings dimly, but I also saw other things that had no meaning to me with a swimming clarity. I saw causes and effects as tangible before me as I have seen trees and snow. But remote, indifferent, part of another world.
Before me was a television showing the end of a football game. I reached vaguely...
It was almost wholly a reflex gesture that moved my finger toward the remote control. The television screen went blank.
I stared at the remote. I felt baffled. My hopes for a Super Bowl season had suddenly spat at me and died. Nineteen weeks ago I had thrown the main switch on the new season, fresh with hopeful thoughts. But the only result was a growing suspicion that this season would not be The Year. Like the team itself, it was architecturally extreme, like a poorly built house where the wires are sealed in such a way that the whole unit has to be replaced if they go bad.
Minor irritations bothered me unreasonably. I had wanted the team in perfect running order for the season I was expecting. The Vikings have been chasing the Super Bowl crown for a long time, and this season I had thought the right moves had been made to tip the balance in the right direction.
The season began just as when a guest visits your house. The chimes were still echoing softly as I opened the front door, preparing a smile for my team. But it wasn’t my team on the doorstep. It was a blank man.
I stood staring at the strange emptiness of the face that returned my stare without really seeing me. The man’s features were so typical they might have been a mask, without the variations that combine to make up the recognizable individual. But I thought that even if I had known those features, it would be hard to recognize a man behind such utter emptiness. You can’t recognize a man who isn’t there. And there was nothing here. Some erasure, some expunging, had wiped out all trace of character and personality. Empty.
And empty of strength, too, for the man had the look of questions in soulless eyes. It came to me then, this composite of a man was, in fact, made to represent the ten current owners of the football team. A composite, then. And looking back now, I can see the visitor again and the result of the season strikes me with an impact as violent as lightning.
Call it reorientation. I never quite let myself believe that we couldn’t go all the way. But our Viking fan egos had been damaged when it became clear that we didn’t quite have the talent to compete at the top of the league. Consequently our ego had to find some other justification, some assurance, and it was unfortunate for Head Coach Dennis Green that displacement had to occur when he was available as scapegoat. He was doomed.
Not at once. In the beginning I would have been shocked and horrified had I seen the end result of Green’s plans. He is no villain, for there are only responsible owners who need to stop sitting in the board room, comfortably luxuriating in speculation.
One would think these ten owners of the golden goose must live under considerable strain. Every season when they go out to look in the nest, they must feel a quaking wonder whether this time the egg will be white and valuable for only a limited playoff run or golden treasure whose end result is the Lombardi trophy.
Green and the players are prisoners, but a prisoner handcuffed to the jailers...the owners. Both owners and coach/player are chained. The owners think of Green as a venomous snake whose poison fangs have to be removed each time they are renewed. But they dare not cut out the poison sacs themselves for there is no way to do that without killing the golden goose. The mixed metaphors from these ten owners are indicative of the state of the team.
And we fans are almost as much prisoners of Winter Park as Green is.
This season has been like a perpetual time bomb. I never knew what would happen next or when or where. And all along were ten owners who sat in a board room sitting quietly, staring at nothing, doing nothing. Now there is a shattered season that once held promise of the golden egg.
Help in the free agent market is what this team needs. Some players of substantial import. This cure is possible. I know it, you know it, Green knows it. But the owners still don’t.
The 9-7 type seasons must mercifully end, and the mantra that takes over again and again that this team is all right must end also.
The owners must recognize Green’s face reflected in the mirror beside their own, both pale with exhaustion, both stunned and empty. They know who Green is, they know what motivates the fans, what corroding irony had made their punishment for not signing key players just. But by the time they knew, it was already far too late to alter the future of this season or the past.
Next season I will again answer the door when the chimes play softly. Only this time, I hope the blank man isn’t there waiting for me to open the door.