1997 Season Archives

November 1, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Playoffs, at San Francisco

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.

img37_avatar.jpg

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.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:33 AM
October 31, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Playoffs, at N.Y. Giants

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 N.Y. Giants thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Playoffs: at New York Giants

“Luck is what happens
when preparation meets opportunity.”
Unknown

The New York team known as the Big Blue turned three shades of blue Saturday while slowly asphyxiating during the second half of the wild card game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants.

There was one huge difference in the game. Recently-named NFL Coach of The Year Jim Fassel coached his upstart Giants for fifty-seven minutes. Viking head coach Dennis Green coached his team for a full sixty minutes. And got some luck along the way.

During the second half of this game it was Lady Luck who reminded me of a long-ago incident which took place on December 27, 1969. Our Vikings were in a playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams. Coming out of the locker room at half time, our boys in purple trailed 17-7 and the Rams had been unstoppable.

Sitting by the television, my usually quiet grandfather simply said, “A man always has the right to try to change his luck.”

He said that right after I told him that I thought the Vikings never seemed to get any breaks. Grandfather had never been a sports fan but seemed to respect a similarly stoic and quiet man on the field coaching the Vikings: Bud Grant.

“The right to try to change his luck,” he said again, in a kind of distant, satisfied way, as if he liked the sound of what he had said. That’s one thing about grandfathers; they can be awfully repetitious. I guess they’ve got a lot of time on their hands in their retirement years, with nothing much to do but store up these wise sounding little one-liners.

But Grandfather was correct as the Vikings got some luck and won the game 23-20, sealing the victory when Viking great Carl Eller bulled his way into the end zone and tackled Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel for a safety. The offense had moved the ball when it needed to, led by quarterback Joe Kapp who had replaced the starting Viking quarterback at the beginning of the season, Gary Cuozzo. And Grant had his first NFL playoff victory after two previous playoff loses.

So it was no stretch of my imagination to hear my now-deceased grandfather whispering in my ear, “A man always has the right to try to change his luck” as I watched a coach get his first win in the playoffs due to a defense playing exceptionally well and an offense led by back-up quarterback Randall Cunningham.

What goes around, comes around.

Posted by maasx003 at 10:55 AM
October 30, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 15, Detroit

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 15, Detroit thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Week Fifteen: Detroit

There are terrible disasters in history, and there are always great catastrophes just waiting to happen.

But the most unbelievable one this year, the thing we’ve been holding our breath against, the capo de tutti capi of impending disasters, has happened to the Minnesota Vikings.

Like the Titanic steaming for its chunk of polar ice, like the Hindenberg looking for its Lakehurst, like the guy at Chernobyl wondering what that switch would do, it was inevitable, inexorable, a psychic juggernaut.

The once high-scoring Minnesota Vikings have not led in a game for sixteen straight quarters, not since winning against the Chicago Bears on November 9. Four straight games of trailing the opposition. Once tied atop the NFC Central division, they now are fighting for their playoff lives.

The latest NFL playoff possibilities show the Vikings can clinch a playoff berth with a win. Either beat the Detroit Lions or the Indianapolis Colts, and we are in the second season where everyone starts 0-0.

So why am I not leaping for joy? Look at the injury list alone: Cris Carter (broken finger and probable), Jeff Brady (neck and doubtful), Orlando Thomas (hamstring and probable), Brad Johnson (herniated disk and out), Jeff Christy (broken ankle and out), Scott Dill (back and doubtful), Todd Steussie (ankle and probable), Fernando Smith (various ailments and questionable) and Robert Smith (ankle and probable).

The Lions come to town this coming Sunday with an offense in full gear ready to take on a Viking defense that seems more adept at giving a tongue-lashing after plays than a good old butt-kicking during them.

The Colts arrive the following Sunday with a team that has nothing to lose and will let it all hang out, already having upset the team in green and yellow to the east and the New York Jets...at the Meadowlands no less.

So why have hope at all? Because with two Viking wins and one Tampa Bay loss, we are hosting a wildcard playoff game. And with the ankle injury that Buccaneer starting quarterback Trent Dilfer sustained Sunday coupled with an away game against the Jets (who Tuna WILL have ready to play) and a home game against the Bears (who have defeated the Bucs already this year), the odds seem good.

What can we do as fans? Put away the paper bags. Buy a ticket to the Lions or Colts game, and whenever the Viking defense is on the field, make as much noise as you may be able to generate short of a initiating a stroke. Let’s make those paper dragons into a fire-breathing, slashing, attacking force that will set up a playoff run reminiscent of the 1987-88 season.

One and we are in. Two and some help and we are at home to start.

Tailgate Jottings

Outside the Metrodome, early on during the Viking Underground Tailgate Party on a beautiful December day, Mindy Luczak of Fort Wayne, Ind., joined our festivities and immediately served up her famous Viking Venom drink.

Approximately four hours later, waking from a hallucinogenic-laced trip wherein I imagined the Viking defense playing their best game of the season, I looked up to the scoreboard to discover the Vikings had lost the game to the Detroit Lions, 14-13.

Special note to Mindy: Please break your vow of secrecy as to the recipe for this venomous drink. We all will have to do a lot more drinking before next Sunday just to keep our sanity and to keep track of the playoff possibilities for the Vikes which include the very real possibility of hosting a first-round game.

Also, send the recipe to the team. They need some venom in their game plan. The Vikings need to get back to their earlier state when the killer instinct was still very evident. If they had played like they did in Buffalo way back on Aug. 31, when they scored a touchdown while appearing to set up a field goal, they would have come away with a win yesterday, turning Eddie McDaniel’s fourth quarter interception into the play of the game. Instead, a missed Eddie Murray 37-yard field goal gave the Lions a second chance and the win.

So who do we blame? Was it the fans who started to leave after the McDaniel interception and thereby caused air currents to push the ball wide right as they left the Dome? Was it poor and questionable calling by the professional referees late in the game? Was it the decision to go into a prevent defense when pressure on All-Cafeteria Lion quarterback Scott Mitchell had him wishing he was downing cheeseburgers instead?

You can debate each of the above but it all boils down to a lack of killer instinct…no Viking Venom.

Mindy, I’ll expect that recipe soon so that I can personally deliver it to the front office and bring some bite back to the team.


Posted by maasx003 at 12:16 PM
October 29, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 14 at San Francisco

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 14, at San Francisco thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Week Fourteen: at San Francisco

The hottest horse will oft be cool,
The dullest will shew fire;
The friar will often play the fool,
The fool will play the friar.
Old Folk Song

There are terrible disasters in history, and there are always great catastrophes just waiting to happen.

But the most unbelievable one this year, the thing we’ve been holding our breath against, the capo de tutti capi of impending disasters, has happened to the Minnesota Vikings.

Like the Titanic steaming for its chunk of polar ice, like the Hindenberg looking for its Lakehurst, like the guy at Chernobyl wondering what that switch would do, it was inevitable, inexorable, a psychic juggernaut.

The once high-scoring Minnesota Vikings have not led in a game for sixteen straight quarters, not since winning against the Chicago Bears on November 9. Four straight games of trailing the opposition. Once tied atop the NFC Central division, they now are fighting for their playoff lives.

The latest NFL playoff possibilities show the Vikings can clinch a playoff berth with a win. Either beat the Detroit Lions or the Indianapolis Colts, and we are in the second season where everyone starts 0-0.

So why am I not leaping for joy? Look at the injury list alone: Cris Carter (broken finger and probable), Jeff Brady (neck and doubtful), Orlando Thomas (hamstring and probable), Brad Johnson (herniated disk and out), Jeff Christy (broken ankle and out), Scott Dill (back and doubtful), Todd Steussie (ankle and probable), Fernando Smith (various ailments and questionable) and Robert Smith (ankle and probable).

The Lions come to town this coming Sunday with an offense in full gear ready to take on a Viking defense that seems more adept at giving a tongue-lashing after plays than a good old butt-kicking during them.

The Colts arrive the following Sunday with a team that has nothing to lose and will let it all hang out, already having upset the team in green and yellow to the east and the New York Jets...at the Meadowlands no less.

So why have hope at all? Because with two Viking wins and one Tampa Bay loss, we are hosting a wildcard playoff game. And with the ankle injury that Buccaneer starting quarterback Trent Dilfer sustained Sunday coupled with an away game against the Jets (who Tuna WILL have ready to play) and a home game against the Bears (who have defeated the Bucs already this year), the odds seem good.

What can we do as fans? Put away the paper bags. Buy a ticket to the Lions or Colts game, and whenever the Viking defense is on the field, make as much noise as you may be able to generate short of a initiating a stroke. Let’s make those paper dragons into a fire-breathing, slashing, attacking force that will set up a playoff run reminiscent of the 1987-88 season.

One and we are in. Two and some help and we are at home to start.

Posted by maasx003 at 6:45 AM
October 28, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 13, Green Bay

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 13, Green Bay thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Week Thirteen: Green Bay

I rather imagine that I am quite mad. Nothing spectacular, you understand. Nothing calling for restraint or shock therapy. I can live on, dangerous to no one but myself.

The chair I sit on at the Metrodome is quite comfortable. During pre-game warm-ups I sit in the chair and watch the players go through their drills and think of Joe. He probably wouldn’t like the way I look today. My fingernails are chewed off and broken, my blonde, braided wig a disaster. Late last night I looked at myself in the mirror and my eyes were dead.

It was then that I decided that it might help for me to write all this down. I have no idea what I’ll do with it.

You see, I shared Joe’s dreams.

I now know those dreams are no longer possible for this season. I wonder if he learned how impossible they were in the final few seconds of a football game held on January 11, 1970.

There have always been people like Joe and me. For thirty-seven seasons our kind has looked at the stars and thought of reaching the ultimate goal. This team was to be the new frontier, the new world upon which our kind could expand and find the full promise of the Viking soul.

I never thought much about it until I saw Joe for the first time. Twenty-eight years ago. At that time I was a lad in front of the television on a Sunday afternoon. It was 1969. The year before, the Vikings had been the NFL Central Champions.

Joe Kapp. I thought I’d figured him out. A good looking man with dark hair and a careless grin and a swagger. That’s all I saw in the beginning. It was January 4, 1970, the NFL championship game against the Cleveland Browns. Kapp then showed me why I would be a Viking fan all my life as he rolled out of the pocket on a pass play.

The Brown’s linebacker, Jim Houston, awaited Joe down field. Joe didn’t head for the sideline or slide feet first when he saw Houston approaching. Instead he tried to hurdle him, the result of which was a knee to Houston’s jaw which knocked him out of the game. Kapp stayed in, the grin a little larger, the swagger a little more pronounced. The Vikings won 27-7. It was the season for 60. Forty men playing together for sixty minutes.

The following week the Vikings lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. As I sit here at my desk, I can imagine how it was for Joe those last few seconds of the game, :00 looming up large on the fourth quarter scoreboard. He must have given up reluctantly, calmed by the belief his team would be back again next year. 40 for 60.

Before last night no one else knew what I know. Maybe now they will guess. And then there will be an end to the proud dreams of a trip to San Diego. We are mired in mediocrity, a team of individuals. There will be no Super Bowl trip for us this year. We have made a mess of this season, and it is something that we cannot leave behind us. We must stay here and clean it up as best we can.

Maybe a few fans had already known. Maybe they had guessed it. Maybe they had guessed, as I did, on the basis of the dead eyes I saw as I walked past the Viking bench during the loss to the New York Jets. Yes, I saw the faces on the Viking players that day and last night. I looked into their hearts and saw the flaw. No 40 for 60.

There is no divisional championship this year. There is no home playoff game. There is only a team that, due to an unknown influence, is constantly deteriorating.

For a little time this year the team avoided that influence. That is why we all believed so much, why we couldn’t avoid the coming crash, and why I am quite mad.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:56 AM
October 27, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 12, at New York Jets

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 12, at New York Jets thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Week Twelve: at New York Jets

He was there on Friday. He was there on Saturday. Standing on the corner of 45th and Broadway in the heart of New York City. The first time my wife saw him, she laughed until tears streamed down her face. The second time she screamed in astonishment.

At first glance, all seemed normal enough: a middle-aged man wearing a Minnesota Vikings jacket. But to finish off the wardrobe, he chose to do the tourist thing…khaki shorts and black knee-high stockings. In late November.

We dubbed him the Viking Nerd. And little did I know at the time but he was an ominous portent for the way the lads in Purple would play that coming Sunday. Like nerds without a clue.

This is going to be one of those very rare columns wherein little of positive substance will be read. It is my hope that the team and coaching staff somehow get wind of what I’m about to say and come out against our bitter rival Green Bay next Monday and play the way we know they can.

For you see, late in the second quarter on Sunday with the team down to the New York Jets 20-7, I noticed something in common amongst most of the players as I walked behind the Viking bench. I saw disbelief amongst the young players and defeat among the veterans. Disbelief and defeat aren’t attributes that will win too many football games in the NFL.

During team warm-ups the players seemed normal enough. First on the field were John Randle and Robert Smith. The two found a place of solitude in one corner of an end zone and stretched together. Brad Johnson, still in street clothes, came out of the tunnel, took a few steps onto the turf and knelt down to test the damp Giants Stadium carpet. Seemingly satisfied, Brad went back in to suit up. On a bitterly cold day with the wind picking up, Chris Walsh decided to come out in shorts to warm up, a throwback from the Bud Grant days. The team went through a spirited workout and seemed ready to keep the losing streak at one game.

A Jets fan, showing himself a superior half-wit, decided to verbally attack Randle. Meadowlands security personnel at first seemed mildly amused but soon realized that this verbal attack could have an adverse reaction on Big Dog. Namely, it could fire up the Viking sack leader to the extent that he could dominate the game.

The security people turned to the fan and told him to shut up lest he fire up an already quarterback-hungry Randle. The fan didn’t shut up. But he soon ran out of vocal cords, and Randle was animated beyond belief. Unfortunately, so were the Jets’ special teams.

On the first punt of the game, Walsh, now in pads instead of shorts, missed his tackle and the Jets were up 7-0. Walsh was beside himself on the sideline and probably would have imploded had not several teammates intervened to settle him down.

The Vikings then drove for the end zone, quieting a boisterous Jets crowd along the way. I positioned myself along the goal line and knelt to take a photo of what I hoped to be a touchdown. Noticing Jake Reed lining up on the near side, I concentrated my lens on him. Reed made such an exceptional catch that I was left with my mouth open and camera unused; the shot missed but the game tied. I turned to sneer at the New York crowd as if to say, “In your face!”

Word of my defiance must have gotten to the Jets sidelines. Early in the third quarter I was kneeling on the 30-yard line with my lens focused on Keyshawn Johnson and Corey Fuller running an out pattern right towards me. The pass from Neil O’Donnell was thrown and I stayed with the players, not noticing that the ball’s slightly overthrown trajectory was taking it straight to me. The hard-thrown ball landed squarely on my upper right thigh. Four more inches upward and I would be a soprano unable to keep up certain contractual wedding vows to my lovely wife....namely, children.

It was at this point that I saw the defense start to take back some control of the game and some light comes back into the offensive players’ eyes. Reed made another great touchdown catch, dropped another one, but played a solid game and, unlike the week before, was one of the few players to give his all.

Let me try to summarize the last two minutes of the game, chaotic as they were, from my sideline perspective. Because from down there, my Purple Faithful, the game moves at lightning speed compared to the comfort of your easy chair and the great television camera angle.

Did the team seem hurried or unorganized? My assessment: no, not in the least. Communication from sideline to huddle was clear and without panic. Did Cris Carter cross the goal line on the 33-yard pass play? From my perspective he did before he fumbled and I was right on the goal line. I have yet to see any television reply and, frankly, I don’t care. I saw what I saw. Did Brad Johnson score on the one-yard quarterback sneak? Same answer and situation as I distinctly saw the ball cross the line with Brad’s right hand reaching forward.

It was at this point that I lost my professional demeanor and began barking at the side-judge, and everything became a blur that stretched out in slow motion. I remember Jeff Christy in severe pain and Walsh bending over him, screaming for Christy to get up and off the field. Christy struggled valiantly to do so with a strong will but an unresponsive body. Finally, just a few yards from the sidelines, nose tackle Jason Fisk assisted Christy off the field.

More images: The touchdown toss to tight-end Andrew Glover. The extreme joy amongst the Viking personnel on the field. Exchanging high-fives with fellow Viking photographers. The sudden realization that a two-point conversion must be made. The thought that the Vikings had not failed a two-point conversion all season long. The hand off to Robert Smith. A hole on the right side suddenly closing. The look on Robert’s face as he lay on the turf. The dejection apparent on David Palmer’s face on the sidelines.

The feeling that somewhere in New York City, the Viking Nerd is still out there, stalking the streets.....

Posted by maasx003 at 7:09 AM
October 26, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 11, at Detroit

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 11, at Detroit thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Week Eleven: at Detroit

In the living room the clock sang, Tick-tock, three o’clock, game’s over, time to get moving, time to get up from the couch, three o’clock!, as if it was afraid I would never move again.

The afternoon house lay empty save for one human and two dogs sprawled motionless in front of the television. The clocked ticked on, repeating and repeating its song into the emptiness. Game’s over, time to get up!

I finally moved, getting to my feet, my dogs following. I was angry. I did not even try to adjust my blood away from anger by attempting to remain calm. I stomped across the room by judgment, not by sight because I was blinded by fury. I could tell by the tails between my dogs’ legs that I must be broadcasting my anger throughout the house. I tried to calm down for their sake.

The television then burped that the Indianapolis Colts had won their first game of the year by defeating the Green Bay Packers, and I went back to being angry. A chance to be alone atop the division squandered.

Considerable poetry has been written about what happens when love for a team turns to anger. Psychologists could explain the cause as well as the effect, the mechanism of displacement. Energy has to go somewhere, and if one channel is blocked, another will be found.

Not that I have definitely rejected the Vikings as so many bandwagoners will do this coming week, and certainly my emotion for my team has not suffered a transformation.

Call it reorientation. I have never let myself believe that the Vikes would run the table the rest of this season. But my ego has been damaged and consequently the team will have to provide some justification, some assurance, that they will not fall into a tailspin with three very tough games approaching.

This, the sixth season of Minnesota Viking head coach Dennis Green’s high-hearted quest to reach the Super Bowl, has become more intense and perhaps more essentially heroic than the preceding ones.

This season, the Viking team has had to come to grips with a merciless opponent: itself. No longer as four-time playoff losers but as a team at 8-3, the team has learned to reshape itself out of its own inner resources, for there must not only be an end to a Super Bowl-winning season but also a beginning of team togetherness.

When there has been honor and winning, it has been shared. When there has been shame and losing, it has been faced. This balance is important for it takes as much strength of heart to share the one as to face the other.

Today, however, was a day of shame. Knowing that it was important to win all remaining division games to stay in contention for the division title and home-field playoff games, the Boys in Purple came into the game resting on their laurels and past victories instead of showing up to play the game.

The scene at Detroit today was one of unobstructed desolation. Dismal Viking faces struggled to show signs of life here and there, some with the pathetic air of striving for the type of enormous comeback seen previously this season.

But again and again the team found itself betrayed at odd times and in odd places. Kick-off returns to mid-field were followed by three-and-outs. The Lions, too rugged and too emotional to let the Vikings back in the game, suggested that the Vikings were no more than the desiccating remnants of the Les Steckel season.

And over all this loomed a ghastly final score.

Now and then, there will come soft rains.

Jottings from Detroit

Who’s the most valuable Viking free agent to sign next year? In my opinion it’s head coach Dennis Green. If the Vikings let Green go, look for Oakland maverick owner Al Davis to acquire Green and for Green to bring free agents John Randle, Todd Steussie, Robert Smith and Jake Reed along with him. If the Vikings keep Green and this year’s crop of free agents, it won’t get any easier after the 1998-99 season as Cris Carter, Ed McDaniel, David Palmer, Korey Stringer, Orlando Thomas, Corey Fuller, and Robert Griffith become free agents.

Joe Schmidt will be airing an hour-long pre-game show prior to Monday night’s Viking-Packer game. The beginning segment is not to be missed as yours truly takes on a Cheesehead in heroic games of one-upmanship including the trading of barbs, thumb-wrestling, head-bashing, and electric football. We taped the segment this past Wednesday night. Who comes out on top? All I will say is they had to bring in a back-up Packer fan after I wore the first one out!

Posted by maasx003 at 7:34 AM
October 25, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 10, Chicago

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 10, Chicago thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Week Ten: Chicago

We rose before dawn and broke our fast. We donned leather and purple, helming ourselves with iron and strapping steel to our hips. We slung heavy wooden shields over our shoulders and bound our arms and legs with hard leather. We loaded our vehicles, formed the ranks, and then moved silently through the streets to the field of battle. We are Viking fans.

Before daylight we assembled to tailgate below the hulking whiteness of the Metrodome and looked long upon the approaching storm swirling above it. I raised a horn to my lips, sending forth a long, ringing call to the forces. This weekend we gathered from the nearby lands of Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Montana, and Wisconsin and from faraway Norway and England.

We are Viking fans. We are the team’s strong arm, their shield and spear, their blade and helm. We are the blood in the players’ veins, the hard sinew of their flesh, the bone beneath their skin. We are the breath in their lungs, the clear light in their eyes, and the song rising to their lips. We are the sound and fury to their opponent’s ears.

When feasting was complete, we moved to surround the battlefield. Our warriors were attacking to hold the Bear clan at bay. Our defensive leader signaled to us and was greeted with long blasts on great Viking war horns, those blood-chilling harbingers of doom. The din across the field was deafening.

The opponents danced their defiance, taunting. This was soon regretted as the purple-clad warriors attacked in a swarm, chaos in motion. The sight of the churning mass rolling toward them caused the front rank to draw back involuntarily. So determined were our warriors that they forced the foremost rank back upon itself. Their leader screamed in rage.

From the first blow, the battle blazed. The Viking faithful breathed so much fury, the roof glowed white hot. Our world filled with the shattering sound of pad against pad, then bone against bone.

Our superior strength began to tell. Once the first wind of battle passed and the combatants settled into fighting rhythm, our warriors pushed out around their flanks. Our enemies were forced to steal men from their center to keep the Purple from closing behind and surrounding them entirely. But the Bear-clad opponent kept on.

Their leader had no sense of danger. He could not weigh one risk against another, causing him to do things in battle which, counted as courageous in certain situations, became foolhardy in others.

Then came the Viking warrior known as Big Dog. I have never seen a man so gloriously innocent in battle. He was a joy to watch. He became a terror.

A terror, for it fell to the opponents’ front ranks to protect their leader, and this was an impossible task. The enemy crumbled before Big Dog. We grew more frenzied with this sight and redoubled our vocal efforts. With every yell, we gained and the enemy lost. We were Viking fans.

We were the storm battering against their shore, dragging them grain-by-grain and stone by stone into the foaming maelstrom. I felt each successive sound grate in my bones. I waited for the shock of Big Dog’s hit on their leader to send me into the familiar, curiously distorted, battle frenzy. It came as I saw their leader surrounded, with their front line being forced into a circle. The death circle, we Vikings call it, for once adopted there is only one outcome for an opponent’s leader.

While there is no honor in slaughtering a fleeing foe, it must be done. Caught between forces on the field and in the stands, the enemy found itself unable to advance or retreat. Confusion seized them and shook them like a dog shaking a rat. Chaos closed its fist around them, and they gave in to it.

It is a curious thing with these Bear-clad opponents, but capture their leader, and the fight quickly goes out of them. They become confused and dismayed and are easily overcome. And our offensive warriors had yet to see battle.

Our offensive leader took the field. Their defense chided his attributes. The one known as Johnson took up the call and drove toward them. Into his path leaped two Bear-clad warriors. One thrust a arm past his ear; another jabbed toward his chest.

Johnson knocked them aside, kicking himself free as they thrashed at his feet. He ran forward to face two more warriors. One of them gave a shout and rushed at him.

Johnson saw the enemy move toward him, saw their faces dark and grim, their eyes gleaming hard like sharp iron. Sweat misted their faces, and cords tightened in their necks. He saw it all and more, with dreadful, heart-stopping clarity as the speeding flow of time dwindled to a bare trickle.

Every action slowed, as if all around him was suddenly overcome with an impossible lethargy. He saw the warriors edging towards him. He let the force of their blows spin him away so that as his attackers fell forward behind their quarry, he was gone.

Johnson looked first to the left, then to the right, and threw a ball of leather, which became as a shining circle of light. The one named Carter received this light, and men toppled like cordwood in his wake as he forced his way to the goal.

The Bear-clad warriors dared not come within the arc of this light the rest of the day. Their defense became leisurely, almost laughably so, each action non-determined and slow. Johnson had time not only to react, but to plan his next move and the one after that before the first had been completed. Once he fell into his fighting rhythm, he found he could move with impunity among the absurdly sluggish enemy.

In the stands we knew the battle was won. A wave of exultation rose within us. We began a high keening call, a war chant, a victory cry, and I recognized my own voice soaring from my throat.

The reaction of the enemy was immediate. They turned to meet the source of this unnerving sound, and I saw, in that extraordinary clarity, black despair fall across their features. They were undone. We were victorious again.

We are Viking fans.

Tailgate Jottings

What a fantastic weekend for Viking fans! Saturday morning I conducted a tour of Winter Park for our Viking friends who came from across the pond. Representing England Mike Salmon and Geoff Reader (a season ticket holder, no less) found themselves sitting in the comfy purple chairs of the Board Room and decided then and there to buy the team. No word yet if they are keeping the team here or moving them to London. We also talked shop with Viking Director of Research and Development, Mike Eayrs, who said to keep watch on the Viking offense the next few weeks for a special goal-line play that is sure to be “the featured story on ESPN the following day”. Recent Viking stadium developments have the team considering a deal with the University of Minnesota to build an open-air stadium on the U of M campus. Another possibility hinges on the outcome of the Twins initiative to be decided November 13. After that decision, the Vikings will gather the forces to make a determined pitch for a dual-purpose stadium once again.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:57 AM
October 24, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 9, New England

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 9, New England thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Week Nine: New England

“You go back and tell them that I’m coming and I’m bringing Hell with me!” Kurt Russell in Tombstone.

Early Sunday morning I had a dilemma. I noticed that NFL Films was doing a special on John Randle at 10:30 a.m. I was due to begin tailgating at 8:00 a.m. Then I looked outside, discovering a fresh powder of snow already on the roads. It was still falling in a heavy, gusty, bitterly cold wind with temperatures in the lower 30s and dropping. The decision was then easy.

No, I did not wrap myself up in a nice little blanket with a cup of the International Coffee flavor of the month. I set the VCR, then ran downstairs to kick my guest for the weekend, Mark Gresbach, out of bed.

We loaded up the Jeep and out the door we went, each sporting Russian fur hats, a cooler full of ribs and beer, and, oh yeah, a John Randle attitude.

Three hours later we grudgingly headed inside, not for warmth, mind you, but for the sheer delight of knowing that New England Patriot quarterback Drew Bledsoe would soon be splattered like the snowballs we had been throwing outside just hours earlier.

From my front row position in the mighty Thunder Zone (the original), whom did I spy immediately but one Henry Thomas, former Viking, and now Patriot, warming up in the end zone. Welcoming Henry back to his former haunt with some choice words that had several nearby fans blushing, I then focused on the line judge.

Explaining ever so politely that this individual in front of me had a tendency to hold and generally play dirty football, I pointed out that he, as an NFL referee, should pay particular attention to Thomas during the game. The line judge gave me a thumbs up, and the game was in the pocket before it even started.

Bledsoe sauntered over to chat with one of his teammates. Once again, engaging myself with a member of the enemy, I used my best poker face to explain to Bledsoe that in no way shape or form could he possibly be ready to play this game. Getting a quizzical look from Drew, I explained, “After all, Drew Baby, you can’t practice being miserable.” He soon found out what I meant.

As the team captains met at the 50-yard line for the coin flip, one of the team captains in purple held back a ways. Several Patriot captains attempted to shake hands with him. The purple-clad figure refused.

They couldn’t have known better. You see, the Patriots didn’t have a chance to see the NFL Films special that morning either. Otherwise they would have known that the man known to many as Big Dog or Knightrider or Road Warrior or Ruler of the Wasteland or even Lord Humongous does not shake hands with anyone before the game. John Randle had to go to work, and no one gets close to Randle when he’s on the job.

Defensively, Randle had help today with outstanding efforts from Stalin Colinet who quickly had Mark and I grabbing our Russian hats and doing a wild Cossack dance. Duane Clemons showed that the loose change in my pocket moved better than Bledsoe did in his. Fernando Smith and Derrick Alexander, both injured, played inspired football every play they were in. And Jason Fisk and Jerry “I’m Full” Ball kept Patriot running back Curtis Martin well in check through most of the game, holding him to a whopping 11 yards in the first half.

But it was in the second half, with the Patriots going for it on fourth-and-one deep in Viking territory, that the Viking defense displayed more character than at any other time this season. Simply, they held. As they left the field, they signified their thanks to the crowd whose decibel levels reached the loudest I have heard at the Dome in six years.

Last week, I told you that Brad Johnson has only one thing to keep in mind each game: When Cris Carter is covered, he’s open. This proved true once again when Johnson found Carter covered by Patriot’s defensive back Willie Clay and threw the ball anyway.

Seconds later, Carter was dancing in the end zone, the recipient of a 28-yard touchdown pass to seal the Viking victory. Keeping in tune with the defense, Carter recognized the fans’ efforts by running the length of the end zone, arms outstretched as if to thank the Purple Faithful for another strong show of support.

Returning home after the game, I rewound the VCR to see what I had missed that morning, John Randle on NFL Films. I learned something new, that John is a huge movie buff who earmarked Tombstone and Mad Max: The Road Warrior as some of his favorite flicks.

This leaves only one question for next week’s game against the Chicago Bears. Just who among the Bears will be Randle’s next huckleberry?

Posted by maasx003 at 7:43 AM
October 23, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 8, at Tampa Bay

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 8, at Tampa Bay thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Week Eight: at Tampa Bay

“We’ve got no place in this outfit for good losers. We want tough hombres who will go in there and win!” Admiral Jonas Ingram, 1926

The Minnesota Viking offense has dozens of different ways of delivering destruction via running and passing of one sort or another or scoring so widespread, so unselective, that the game is won because the opposing defense has ceased to exist. Because of this, sometimes a professional NFL referee will give the Vikes a touchdown even when it’s not clear if it was, in fact, one.

The Viking offense can also be selective, precisely applying the necessary play at the designated moment to make the game as personal as a punch in the nose. Vikings offensive coordinator, Brian Billick, has never had to tell his unit to march down the field by running only to the left, but if he told them to, they could. They will. They did. Ask Leroy Hoard.

Head coach Dennis Green has built a team in which he can tell the boys to go to a particular place at H-hour, occupy a designated field, stand on it, dig the enemy out of their locker room, and force them then and there to surrender or die.

You see, the definition of an atheist in the Viking locker room is a player who doesn’t believe in Coach Green. Green wins because he coaches people, not football.

One of those people is running back Robert Smith. Earlier this week, a Buccaneers fan I work with asked me just how fast Smith runs the 40-yard dash. I simply replied, “You should know. He’s run past your secondary enough times.” Smith, unfortunately, left the game with a slight ankle sprain. Let’s hope it’s not a high ankle sprain and we’ll see Robert back on the home field next week.

Occasionally, just for kicks, the Vikings decided that the running game and time management were going so well, why not try passing? All quarterback Brad Johnson needed to keep in mind during the first half was this: When Cris Carter is covered, he’s open. During the second half, it was Jake Reed making the Buccaneers try to cover him with eleven players and prayers.

A lot will be made of the huge amount of possession time the Vikings had. Remember the old adage “Time of possession only counts in jail.” The Vikings came up short today once they reached the red-zone. The armchair quarterbacks will be jumping all over that fact this week rather than relishing the reality that, pending the outcome of Monday night’s contest between the Packers and the Patriots, the Purple are alone in first place. The important thing about this game is we got another “W” in the win column and we got to keep the game ball.

Viking special teams could have won or lost this game. Eddie Murray, such a steady kicker that he practices missing field goals, apparently forgot that this was a real game day situation and missed an early 30-yard field goal.

But the sawed-off shotgun known as David Palmer blasted down the sidelines on a 57-yard punt return in the second half to set up a Viking score. Considering that Palmer wasn’t even going to play this game because of injury, he was limited to just two speeds–here he comes and there he goes.

Keep in mind what the soon-to-be-next-Viking head coach (written with heavy sarcasm), Lou Holtz, said a few years back. Lisping Lou said, “There isn’t anything wrong with winning ugly. As a matter of fact, there isn’t anything wrong with being ugly–as long as you’re successful.”

Posted by maasx003 at 6:29 AM
October 22, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 7, Carolina

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 7, Carolina thoughts.

img37_avatar.jpg

Week Seven: Carolina

I had been tailgating since 10:00 am., grilling brats, smoking cigars and playing catch. Maybe I should mention it was also pouring rain with wind gusts up to forty miles per hour. Life was good.

A group of us, now thoroughly soaked, walked into the Dome about one and one-half hours before kick-off. Hanging our wet garments over the concrete barrier to dry off, we were soon honored by having Stalin Colinet and John “Big Dog” Randle warm up in front of us.

Several Carolina Panther players were just coming onto the field to stretch. Randle began to swing his arms like machetes, slicing the air slowly. He laughed. The Panther players looked over but said nothing.

All these things, the stormy weather, the rowdy Viking crowd, and the big man himself, were neatly woven together like the elements of a honorable legend, the one in which Randle goes on safari...for Panther meat.

Late in the fourth quarter, Carolina quarterback Steve Beuerlein had been watching from the Panther huddle for several seconds before he registered the Big Dog’s presence. It seemed at first that a scrap of shadow had fallen onto the field and was being blown by a fitful breeze. Then he saw it was Randle who was inching along the line of scrimmage as if stalking prey.

Randle leaped high into the air, twisting and turning, and began to race up and down the line of scrimmage: a ribbon of purple color flowing across the green field. Beuerlein had never seen a defensive lineman taunting him quite like this before, and this alone was cause for concern. Most of all, Beuerlein wondered at the fact that here was his worst nightmare come to life.

Meanwhile in the stands, the Viking fans had been peering out onto the field of play, spying on Randle as if he was a magical creature. Their fear of the Panthers scoring on a last minute drive was swept away by the sight of the Big Dog. Like children pressing their noses against glass, they tried not to blink, anxious not to miss a single moment.

Back on the field, Beuerlein’s fear welled up. He tried to banish it, to tell himself that the presence of Randle could not possibly be what he thought. Randle snarled, a razor stroke of sound that slit the roar of the crowd as the Panthers came to the line of scrimmage.

Sensing Beuerlein’s fear, Randle sprang along the line, waving his machete arms. In a whirl of connected movements, Beuerlein took the snap and Randle leaped forward. Shouting at Beuerlein, Randle worked his arms and sprinted straight towards him.

Turning left, Beuerlein slipped behind a offensive lineman and staggered backwards. Something crashed behind him. Turning again, he glimpsed a huge purple shape struggling to free himself from a tangle of Panther linemen. Beuerlein darted around and braced for the hit, assuming the fetal position.

Beuerlein held his breath, his heart pounding. Listening, it seemed to him the whole world was holding its breath as well. The noises of the fans and players seethed behind him. The Metrodome roof poured a white radiance onto his helmet, and the Panther offensive linemen froze like peels of wallpaper left on a floor. He swallowed.

Then the air over him exploded, shattered by a giant paw. Splinters of pain spread throughout his body, and he screamed. The sleek wedge of Randle’s helmet thrust through the previously outstretched arms of a Panther lineman. Roaring, a gateway of gleaming teeth came right at him.

Half-paralyzed, Beuerlein jabbed weakly with one arm. Randle reached in with one arm, and seconds later a heavy thump resounded. Beuerlein, the once mighty Panther, fell back, yowling.

Randle had bagged another Panther, one more head for his trophy wall.

Tailgate Summary

In spite of heavy rain and high winds, the Viking Underground Tailgate Party went on as scheduled. Doug Sharp and the boys from Ohio were there as was Geoff Reader who came all the way from England just for the weekend. Also attending were Mark Gresbach, over from Milwaukee.

John Randle was on the KFAN Monday night radio show live from Joe Senser’s restaurant in Bloomington. Asked if he was going to try to test the free agent market after this season, Randle simply replied, “I like it here. I want to stay here. I want to end it here.”

Posted by maasx003 at 8:15 AM
October 21, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 6, at Arizona

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 6, at Arizona thoughts.

vik1-sm.gif

Week Six: at Arizona

Early Sunday afternoon I was standing along the Minnesota Viking sideline inside Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. And I was shaking and shaking like the filament in a light bulb just before it blows.

You see, in a stadium with no roof but the blue sky above and a red mountain in one corner behind its walls, I was next to the Big Dog himself. John Randle. He was wearing his trademark black war paint on his face, standing just inside the line designating the player boundary.

I had barely stepped inside from a tailgate party, and my life was suddenly clipping along just fine. This wonderful stadium was crammed with many Viking fans, young and old, skin tan and dried. In between them and me, this enormous man in purple was holding a football in his oversized hand, his eyes scanning the Arizona Cardinals while warming up.

“OK, don’t stare,” my wonderful life said to me. “Don’t ruin his concentration now. Try and talk to him later.”

I took a stroll around the field and then I was back where I started. I took out my cameras and began taking pictures. Mostly of Randle. So much energy. I hoped it could somehow be captured on film. The game began and the photos I took were of Randle. The second quarter started and still I concentrated my lens on Randle. Coming out of the tunnel after half-time, Randle spied me and said, “Nice to see you again.”

The rest of the third quarter this went on, trying to get up the nerve to say a few lines to the Big Dog. “Okay,” I told myself. “It will be the fourth quarter.” Then, late in the fourth quarter, with a scrap of wind coming off the mountain and the red desert sunset quickly approaching, I saw him huddled over a cup of Gatorade.

When he looked at me, he brushed away the sweat from his eyes with the back of his hand in the way I’d seen him do it so many times before. He was so huge, you would notice him in a very large room or in no room at all.

“Mr. Randle,” I said, going up to him, those words a stone in my throat, “Mr. Randle,” I said, “I’m out of film.”

Trip Reflections

My trip to the desert could be summed up by my flight back to Minnesota. The America West airplane was full of Viking fans returning to the homeland, proudly wearing purple hats and Cris Carter jerseys, and standing by their seats talking with people around them about the game.

Then a Cheesehead appeared. First there was one boo, then came a flood. Cat-calls followed, “Hey buddy! This is a cheese-free flight!” And, “When’s Holmgren bringing back T.J. Rubley to replace that bumblin’, stumblin’ idiot you got now?”

Unity. Pure, unadulterated Viking unity, the likes I have not seen since childhood. A new breed of Viking fan is coming. Present sideline season-ticket holders need not apply.

Observing from the field on Sunday, I witnessed a wondrous thing. Half of the 45,550 fans filling Sun Devil Stadium were Viking fans, and the great majority were behind the Viking bench, giving them the best sideline support they’ve had in quite some time, including home games. Chief amongst these purple faithful was Mike England of the Arizona Viking Fan Club, although he caught me taking pictures of the Cardinal cheerleaders at several points during the game.

The Cardinals fans there chose an easy target to pick on: Mitch Berger, especially after his botched hold on an Eddie Murray field goal attempt. “Hey, Cheeseburger! Way to go,” was called over and over again. (I didn’t say these were highly witty fans.) Finally, I walked over to Mitch and told him he would have another chance. He just smiled and shook his head in the affirmative.

The field conditions were unbearably hot. The thermometers read over 120 degrees and would have gone higher had they not already been maxed out. The Cardinals, also desiring a new stadium, gave free tickets to all the Phoenix media, placing them on the sunny side to let them roast.

Ingenious, I thought. I only wish they had given free tickets to our favorite Minneapolis media All-Negative team of Dan Barrerio and Bob Sansevere. Then, when they would have passed away from dehydration and sun stroke, the Vikings road-trip would have been a complete victory.

By the way, Phoenix wants the taxpayers to foot the bill for a proposed $600+ million sports complex which will include a retractable-roof football stadium. And the Arizona legislature decides the fate, not the taxpayer. Sound familiar?

The field was in good shape but the grass was cut short, and as Dewayne “Toast” Washington said during warm-ups, it was “tight.” I thought it felt almost like Astroturf. Two huge cooling fans were placed at each end of the Viking bench, with the hierarchy effect placing John Randle closest to the fan when the defense was off the field and Cris Carter nearest when the offense was off.

Then there was my man Chris Walsh who laid out Cardinal reserve safety Tommy Bennett twice right in front of me. The second time he was knocked cold, Bennett finally regained consciousness when smelling salts were applied. And I have the pictures to prove it.

After the game I talked to Chris about the hits as he posed for photos for the Viking Underground. He just smiled, reiterating what he had already said in the locker room. He had run a route with Cris Carter catching the ball and running up the field while Bennett gave chase. And then, lights out.

Carter enjoyed this victory a great deal. The Cardinals fans had started to express their collective dislike for him when they thought they had the game in hand. I’m sure Cris, now an ordained minister, did not appreciate what was coming out of their mouths. Carter held court in the locker room, enjoying every moment of the aftermath, and was the last person to board the bus.

It was a very enjoyable day for Brad Johnson, as well. Brad’s father made the trip to see his son play a game in which Brad talked his offense into the confident mindset needed to make the comeback. Outside after the game, the two hugged, mingled, and soaked up the victory.

Also posing for pictures afterwards for the Viking Underground were Jeff Christy, Charles Evans, Todd Steussie with his victory cigar, David Dixon, Robert Griffith, and Mitch Berger. The mail service and my photo shop willing, begin looking this weekend for these and other selections from the 396 photos I took from the sidelines.

I also meet with Stew Widdess, the Vikings’ V.P. of Marketing, in the locker room following the game. Stew is not going to give up on the fight against the decision by the Duluth Fox affiliate to show the Viking game against the New York Jets on November 23. Scheduled to be shown instead is the Green Bay game.

Stew told me that he has spoken with FOX headquarters in New York, and they would intervene on the Viking’s behalf if, and only if, the Viking fans speak out.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:13 AM
October 20, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 5, Philadelphia

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 5, Philadelphia thoughts.

vik1-sm.gif

Week Five: Philadelphia

My idea of the pessimistic arm-chair quarterback is an individual whose ideas on running a football team are dressed up with a glib, mechanistic pseudo-psychology based on the observed orders of precedence among barnyard animals and on Pavlov’s famous conditioned reflex experiments on dogs. This person fails to note that football players are neither dogs nor livestock.

Viking offensive coordinator Brian Billick, had correctly ignored these armchair know-it-alls, as he has ignored so many others who have blindly and foolishly blathered about the meaning of his important, and unlimited, game plan.

“Billickism” had not taken hold at once. During his tenure as Viking offensive coordinator, almost everyone, from snowplow driver to housewife, has had a scheme for setting the perceived Viking offensive woes right in one easy lesson. A surprising percentage manage to get their schemes voiced through sports radio talk shows.

The “Can Billick” philosophy had managed to gradually spread early in 1997. This call to fire Billick was particularly popular amongst the bandwagon pessimists everywhere who persuade themselves that their particular game plan is the indispensable one. Therefore, under the “natural order of the NFL,” they should be top dog.

With so many different, untested game plans available, such self-delusion was easy. These people had an underlying belief as armchair quarterbacks that their game plans would be preferred to Billick’s. Any other game plan, other than their own, is silly, visionary, and contrary to the team’s strengths.

Against the Philadelphia Eagles, the effort to can Billick took three steps back. Billick came in with the recipe for a masterful game plan: Take the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL today. Add the silky smooth speed of one Robert Smith. Heat to boiling with an over-abundance of exuberant Viking fans. Flavor with Viking ingenuity. A certain NFL defense in Tempe, Arizona, now is shaking in their cleats.

While one bird defense was trying to figure out how to stop the Viking offense on the field, and another bird defense watched on national television dreading the thought of attempting to do so the next Sunday, a particular referee, specifically Back Judge #135, was doing everything in his power to win the game for Philadelphia.

This particular inDUHvidual was involved in every controversial call of the game. Finally, mid-way through the third quarter, the Thunder Zone fans had had enough. To the right of the Viking team bench, the end-zone became literally covered with cups of available every color and size, some empty, some still full. It took a crew of eight people to clear the end-zone while play continued on the other end of the field.

My guest for the game and I took it upon ourselves to berate this sorry-excuse-for-an-official until game’s end. At one point this idiot smirked and gave us a thumbs-up, only increasing the amount of “Your mother is a …” type of response coming from the stands. I could only hope that the officiating crew was severely reprimanded for what was an embarrassing show on national television.

Many thanks to Ragnar and Vikadontis Rex for appearing during that Sunday’s tailgate party. We had another good turnout.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:50 AM
October 19, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 4, at Green Bay

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 4, at Green Bay thoughts.

vik1-sm.gif

Week Four: at Green Bay

Beating the Green Bay Packers has for years been called a Minnesota Viking fan’s “crowning glory”, but to every Viking fan who speaks of his intimate relationship with this rivalry, a loss can be a nightmare.

I don’t know any Viking fan who really takes a loss to the Cheese well. They usually just cope. This rivalry can be a living, powerful, mercurial, metaphysical energy force to be respected, reckoned with, and reconciled to, but the game’s outcome cannot be controlled any more than atomic fusion.

Occasionally, the game can be cajoled into becoming a rout (we refer to these lapses as “the ball’s bouncing our way today”) but it can never be coerced. Think of all the time, money, creative energy, and emotion we invest in our football team. Yet most of the time it insists on expressing its wishes, not necessarily ours. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted from battles waged every weekend on the gridiron, and the battle in Week Four was not the least of them.

Most football fans exist under a collective hallucination termed “on any given Sunday.” We have all been brainwashed that if we can get the right quarterback, running back, middle linebacker, place kicker, coach, and owner, our team will finally behave like it should and win a Super Bowl. Each year we would have a Super Bowl champion if we could just have certain key elements filled in. But that’s not real life for me, nor probably is it for you.

On any given game day, the Vikings never look the way they did the week before. They had yet to learn how to simultaneously play a good game offensively while doing the same on defense and special teams and vice versa. They can pass and score, run and score, intercept and score, but never on the same day, let alone the same half. Some days the team looks wonderful; other days, woebegone. Yet the process is virtually the same. Losing humbles us, and we need to make peace with it.

The way we do this is to accept the defeat and acknowledge the Vikings whether they lose by one or by thirty. Getting to know your team and working with them instead of constantly fighting them is the first step toward rapprochement and peace of mind.

While my alter-ego wears his hair in shoulder-length, Scandinavian blond braids, I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that the Vikings aren’t going to win every game this season, and I will be heckled at home and away for the way I dress at games. We will all have game days when we will scream, “Fire the owner, fire the coach, get rid of the place-kicker,” but those aren’t the days on which to do it.

Remember, the team you know is easier to handle than the team you don’t. But be open to change because there are few joys in life that can equal finally achieving the perfect season. And if the worst happens, after you dry your eyes, remember it’s only a game. It will come around again and you will be wiser. And so will our players.

While I’m sure many of you turned off your television or radio at half-time to do Sunday chores, thinking the game was over, the Viking players went to the locker room and obtained a self-confidence potion that was heavily scented with attitude, optimism and faith; later they gained experience, knowledge and wisdom through a loss.

But today we now know that every new challenge awaiting our team will be meet by an attitude of self-confidence even while most Viking fans’ self-confidence will be hanging in a closet. So next time we fall behind, act as though you are self-confident and the team will take you as such.

Above all, learning to accept the occasional defeat is part of the process of learning to love your team. A poet once said, “Your thorns are the best part of you,” and she was right.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:57 AM
October 18, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week Three, Tampa Bay


The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 3, Tampa Bay thoughts.

vik1-sm.gif

Week Three: Tampa Bay

J. H. Payne once said, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” On Week Three of the NFL season, we invited a guest into our home who ended up acting like everyone’s least favorite relative, the one who overstays his welcome and always mentions our weaknesses.

When the guest finally leaves, we breathe a sigh of relief from the agony of spending time with a person who would be otherwise despised, had he not been somehow related. By 3:00 p.m., over 60,000 sighs of relief were audible when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally left the Metrodome field.

The question to explore is whether the Bucs are really that good or did the Minnesota Vikings just have an off-day? It was an argument that could be made either way.

After all, Tampa quarterback Trent Dilfer fumbled twice, but each time Lady Luck ruled in his favor when the ball bounced immediately back to him. Another Bucs fumble on what proved to be their first scoring drive was saved by Viking Robert Griffith, as television replays showed, and incorrectly ruled as out-of-bounds by the referee.

Viking quarterback Brad Johnson seemed to be out of his groove yesterday, not finding a comfortable niche all day long. Normally sure-handed Cris Carter, perhaps trying a bit too hard, fumbled on a possible scoring drive in the second half. In short, the offense just wasn’t clicking.

But truth be told, the Buccaneers were a solid football team in 1997. They had an incredibly fast running back in Warrick Dunn, and in Mike Alstott, they had a full back whose heart and determination to never quit was seen in his second-effort touchdown run in the first half. The Bucs defense had three sacks on Johnson who seemed to have trouble reading the varying coverage patterns played out by their defensive backfield.

Earlier in the morning, at the Viking Underground Tailgate Party, I spoke to the group present on what I saw as the keys to a game win. I told them that we needed to pressure Dilfer into passing situations and make him throw more than 25 times. I believed the Vikings could establish a complete running game either up the middle or outside, utilizing Leroy Hoard or Robert Smith, knowing that the Bucs could not defend both. Instead it was the Vikings quarterback being harassed and throwing more than 25 times and the Tampa running combination, Alstott inside-Dunn outside, that burned up the running yardage.

The Viking players were obviously frustrated. At one point in the game, Hoard, after running into a pile of players for no gain, picked up the ball and threw it directly at Viking offensive coordinator Brian Billick. Hoard, nursing a sore hamstring, was seen little after that.

It was my opinion that Billick was perhaps over-coaching the offense too much, trying hard to draw attention away from NFC leading rusher Robert Smith by utilizing Charles Evans and throwing too much on first down. We had the tools to be a high-scoring offensive team, and with a relatively young and inexperienced quarterback, perhaps a simpler approach would have been the answer.

The thing to keep in mind is that the Vikings were still 2-1 going into Green Bay. A win at Lambeau Field, ending the Packer home winning streak at 24, would renew the Viking confidence we saw in the closing minutes of the Chicago Bears game earlier this month. The Packers would not be at full strength and would not have nose tackle Gilbert Brown or strong safety LeRoy Butler available for the game. After losing to the Philadelphia Eagles the previous week, the Packers did not look good in their win over a mediocre Miami Dolphins in Green Bay.

It would be a real gut-check for the Vikings after such a loss at our home opener. We were all interested see if they wanted to come back to the Metrodome as a 3-1 team or a 2-2 team.

The Viking Underground Social at the Atlas restaurant on the Saturday night before the home opener was mildly successful with about 15 people turning out over three and one-half hours. The food received many compliments, especially the steamed mussels. The Viking Underground Game Day Tour consisting of pregame access to the field was hugely successful with nearly 40 people joined by another group of 40 from Kentucky. The Viking Underground Tailgate Party was also highly successful with fans from California, Georgia, Indiana, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Iowa attending. Ragnar told me afterwards that he had heard about the tailgate party and planned to make an appearance at the Philadelphia game party in two weeks.

Posted by maasx003 at 8:27 AM
October 17, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 2 at Chicago

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 2 at Chicago thoughts.

vik1-sm.gif

Week Two: at Chicago

The clock read :37 on the scoreboard at Soldier Field. Minnesota Viking quarterback Brad Johnson was approaching the offensive line, and I spied Chris Walsh setting up on the left side. I turned to Jason Neuhring, my gracious Chicago host, and mouthed “touchdown.” The entire crowd was on its feet, the Bears fans expending as much energy to rally their defense as they did in spewing every epithet known to mankind in my direction.

In spite of the verbal assault on my appearance, my mother, my heritage and my team affiliation, I stood as Johnson did at the line: proud, poised and confident. This cock-suredness I had obtained the day before at Jason’s house during my visit to his Viking shrine.

We had spent the afternoon watching old NFL films of the Vikings. One in particular, the 1977 regular season game against the San Francisco 49ers, brought back a flood of memories. That game was significant for many reasons in addition to being the NFL Game of the Week. Down 21-0 late in the third quarter, then-coach Bud Grant brought in a young, proud, poised and confident quarterback to spark his team to a seemingly impossible victory. And the legend of Two-Minute Tommy was born as Kramer led the Vikings to a 28-27 come-from-behind victory.

As Jason’s youngest daughter, Autumn, signaled “touchdown” at the last Kramer score, I knew the stage was set for the next-day battle with the Bears. I knew that whatever the circumstances, the Vikings would win the game.

Later that afternoon we traveled to the O’Hare Hilton to see if the team had arrived yet. Parking my car, I looked into my rearview mirror only to see a Wisconsin plate reflected back. I began to complain to Jason that I can’t seem to travel anywhere without having some Cheesehead in my face.

Then I looked closer and read that Wisconsin plate. “GO VIKES” is what it said. That could only be one person, I thought to myself, then Viking E-Mail discussion list administrator Mark Gresbach. After greeting each other, our attention quickly turned to the sidewalk where Randall Cunningham and David Palmer were hanging out. We expressed our good wishes to them and proceeded to the lobby to greet Corey Fuller dressed to the nines: a killer on the field, a lady-killer off.

Quickly dumping off bags in our room, we moved to the Hilton sports bar to set up shop for the Viking Underground Social. Towards midnight we bid offensive-line coach Mike Tice and special teams coach Gary Zauner good night and good luck, then stuck around some more until we finally got kicked out ourselves at closing time. Still at the table were Jason; Mark; the just-flown- in-from- Salt Lake City Todd Grove; the nine-hour road trip gang from Nashville: Gordie Niles, Tom Brunsvold and John “Juice” Hewitson; and me. Earlier in the evening we had been joined by Dan Hildreth and his father and Scott O’Connor, Jon Mielke and their wives. Viking talk was non-stop. Viking trivia was played and stories were told, the best perhaps by Jon.

Jason and I had been talking about the 1996 Viking NFL Films clip in which Randle wore a microphone during last year’s Carolina game. During one segment, Randle is seen in pre-game warm-ups, stomping around his teammates and yelling, “Big Dog gotta eat, Big Dog gotta eat!”

Jon overheard us and began to tell of the time he had shown up very early for a Viking home game and was waiting outside the players’ entrance, intent on getting some autographs. The very first player to arrive was Randle. Finding the door locked, Randle began to pound on the door with his big paws, yelling, “Big Dog gotta got to work! Open up! Big Dog gotta go to work!” Jon thought they eventually had to replace the door because it had taken such a beating.

The next morning we were up at 5:00 a.m. and on the road at 7:00 a.m. Spying another Viking flag in the south parking upon our arrival at Soldier Field, we quickly headed for it and set up camp, only to be joined by many more Viking fans. As Gordie began cooking for the group, showing off that southern hospitality, I spied an older gentleman nearby wearing a Vikings cap. I grabbed one of the Viking shirts I had to give away and went over to him. We began to chat. Finding out I had stayed at the team hotel, he asked if I had seen Pete Bercich. I told him that I had but it was hard to recognize him since his haircut. Laughing, the gentleman said that the haircut had been about time. You see, he was Pete’s father.

Back at the Viking Underground Tail Gate Party, it was time for breakfast. It was now about 8:00 a.m., and the lot was almost completely full. The verbal abuse was just beginning and would not stop until the gun sounded in the fourth quarter. But we dished out enough of our own trash talk to make Orlando Thomas and Corey Fuller proud. Only once did it turn ugly when a fight broke out nearby after the game. Believe me, the parking lot was a powder keg ready to blow, and no Viking fan was allowed to run the Bears gauntlet to the bathrooms without having at least two other Viking supporters with him or her.

At the same time, a common thread amongst Bear and Viking fans was found: mutual hatred of the Packers. During the post-game tailgate party, Viking and Bear fan alike listened to the Packer-Eagles game with great interest. One Bears fan had a life-sized Packer doll strung up on his flag pole, and after the game, placed it on the ground and allowed everyone, be they Viking or Bear, to stomp the effigy to our hearts’ content.

Later that evening as I filled up my truck with gas, I listened to the Pack line up for what could be an eventual game-winning field goal. I was nauseated as much with that possibility as I was with the Packer announcers who are as cocky as the players on the team. I heard them refer to the kicker as having the “eye of the tiger.” When the kicker missed, not only did I yell, so did everyone else filling up with gas just outside of Chicago. The Packers didn’t have the eye of the tiger after all. Neither they nor the Dallas Cowboys later that evening could triumph in a game they were suppose to win on the road. When it came to crunch time, they both folded.

Johnson had taken that snap from Jeff Christy and looked right towards Jake Reed and Cris Carter, then immediately turned to his left and threw a perfect pass to his roommate Chris Walsh.

A big pressure game. A big drive at the end. Three playoff teams from last year found themselves in the same scenario yesterday. Only one came away victorious.

The slogan “Have YOU checked out our Johnson yet” was born?

Posted by maasx003 at 9:48 AM
October 16, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Week 1, at Buffalo

The 1997 Season

Note: 1997 was the first season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1997 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1997 entry will be Week 1 at Buffalo thoughts.

vik1-sm.gif

Week One: at Buffalo

A seemingly impossible case to solve. A call goes out for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson? No, for this was no literary case but instead a mystery of the sporting kind: The Buffalo Bills 3-4 defense that up until opening day of the 1997 season had remained unsolved by the Minnesota Vikings.

Instead of Holmes, we found Viking offensive coordinator Brian Billick. Playing the surgeon, Dr. Watson, was the young quarterback Brad Johnson.

The strong, masterful personality of Billick dominated the play calling from the sidelines. The surgical preciseness of Johnson’s arm dominated on the playing field, and all the supporting cast were equally puppets in his hands.

We could imagine the following conversation on the Viking sideline right before kick-off:

BB: Come, Dr. Johnson! The game is afoot!
BJ: My good Billick. Have you solved the singular case of the 3-4 defense?
BB: Elementary, my dear Johnson, elementary!
BJ: Enlighten me, old boy!
BB: Inside to CC in the first half, then let Robert Smith run all day in the second.

Sherlock Billick’s game plan went as planned in the first half as Dr. Johnson threw at will to Cris Carter for seven first half receptions and one touchdown. In the second half, Robert Smith took any remaining steam out of the Bills’ defense when he ran untouched for a 78-yard touchdown, the longest run of his Viking career. Smith did receive a tongue lashing from Carter, though, for laughing towards the end of his run as Cris was busily blocking, ensuring the Smith touchdown.

Then, as from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel, came the “Hounds of the Sackervilles” defense. John “Big Dog” Randle, Ed “Mad Dog” McDaniel and Robert “Junkyard Dog” Griffith all delivered memorable hits on various Bill players that they undoubtedly felt well into the next week. But the game was put out of reach when Jeff “Hound Dog” Brady went sniffing for a fumble and came up with his first NFL touchdown on a 30-yard fumble recovery when Bills quarterback Todd Collins dropped the snap from center. Orlando “Howlin’ Dog” Thomas and Dewayne “Huntin’ Dog” Washington came up with interceptions for the Vikes while Dixon “Pretty Dog” Edwards had a fumble recovery as the “Hounds of the Sackervilles” defense came up with four Bills’ turnovers. “Big Dog” Randle came away with two sacks to lead the team.

The first challenge of the season was accepted and met by Sherlock Billick and Dr. Johnson and impressively so. And it made for a good read.

Posted by maasx003 at 6:30 PM
1997 Summary Continued: Kick-Off Luncheon

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 Kick-Off Luncheon thoughts.

vik1-sm.gif

1997 Kick-Off Luncheon

In August of 1997 it was my pleasure once again to attend the annual Viking Kick-Off Luncheon held at the Minneapolis Hilton on Monday. All the players and coaches were in attendance with a good time had by fan and Viking alike. In years past I had the good fortune to sit with Vencie Glenn, Scottie Graham and Jack Del Rio.

This year I was able to reserve a table for the fellow Viking fans in my company, and we were honored to have the pleasure of dining with none other than Chris Walsh. Chris, like all the previous players, was a great conversationalist and gentleman letting everyone get in questions and comments, answering each and every one with the same seriousness as the question before. Here were some comments from Chris:

On the cuts: Everyone gets cut eventually. My advice is to try and prolong it as long as possible.

On being compared to Fred Biletnikoff: (laughs) I hear that and I hear Steve Largent a lot. Steve Tasker too.

On what he says to the defensive backs he scores touchdowns on: I say, “Don’t feel bad. I do it to all you guys.”

On playing special teams this year: I think they’re [the coaches] going to put me into the ground this year, playing special teams and third receiver (laughs). We were just talking about that. It’s a lot of plays to be involved with doing both.

On the 3-4 defense: Yeah, we’ve been having some difficulties because they’ve been going with the quicker linebackers out there. We end up having Todd Steussie who is like 330 pounds on a linebacker who is 200 to 250 pounds. We can get around that with a good run game but with the passing game, it makes it harder for a guy like Korey Stringer or Todd to keep up quickness-wise with those speedy linebackers. Kind of give-and-take a little bit.

On the game plan: We always try to take advantage of the other teams’ weaknesses. Every week we have between 80 and 100 plays that go into a game plan. We probably have 200 to 300 total offensive plays. We just vary depending on what the opposing defense does. The game has become so specialized it’s become a game of mismatches. Who can you get the best advantage on a mismatch? Like David Palmer. There’s no linebacker in the league who can cover him. If they bring in a defensive back to cover Palmer, which means a linebacker will be on Cris Carter. That’s a mismatch. If they bring in six or seven defensive backs, we’re going to run the ball on them. It’s like a chess game, they make a move and we make a move and they make another move to counter it and we make another move to go against what they do.

Cris Carter also got up to speak mid-way through the luncheon. Here’s the best part of what he had to say:

“Good afternoon. How’s everyone doing? (smattering of applause) Come on, let’s get more excited! (louder applause) As Denny [Green] said earlier, it’s nice to be associated with the Vikings. It’s nice that we do have a very wide variety of young gentlemen on the football team who not only play well on the field but who are involved in the community. We love the community.

And we do realize, being Minnesota Vikings, that we are role models. We don’t have the Charles Barkley philosophy that ‘he’s not a role model’. I’m glad he said that because I don’t want him to be a role model for our kids. But I think as Vikings we understand that, yes, we are in the community; yes, we are a big part of the community; and yes, we do have a lot of young people who are looking up to us.

But that’s only a part of it. The other part of it is when we go onto the field, we have to be able to throw on those helmets, throw on those uniforms and let people know that, yes, we are proud to be part of Minnesota and the Vikings.

We have a very exciting team this year. The good thing about this year’s team is that the core of our team is effectively our draft picks of the past four or five years. We don’t have that many veterans. We don’t have that many younger players but the core of our team comes from Todd Steussie, Korey Stringer, Orlando Thomas, Corey Fuller, Dewayne Washington and those people who as younger players had to play key roles probably before they were ready to play key roles. Because the system now in the NFL is as soon as you draft a player he has to be ready to play.

And now those players, Derrick Alexander and Fernando Smith and those players, are the core group of our team. They’re going to lead our team to the successes that we expect from one another. And even the expectations that the community has for us are nothing compared to the expectations the 53 players on the final roster have for one another.

When we take the field this weekend, we’re taking names and we’re kicking butt (loud applause and whistles). Even the people in Minnesota aren’t convinced that we can win a championship. But don’t be concerned because the people that we do have on the team, the coaching staff, and the organization realize that this is the most exciting team that we’ve had in the six years since Denny’s been here. We’re going to take the field and do the best we can.

And just because you lose games don’t mean you lose the battle. We know that there will be potholes along the way. We know it’s going to be a long, hard journey, but we’re willing to sacrifice and do what ever it takes so that we might be able to win a championship. And trust me, we don’t look at the Packers and look at them as the champs. Because they are going to have to come here and win, and we’re going to Lambeau and win this year.

Get excited about the Vikings this year and we’ll bring a championship to you (loud applause and whistles).”

We also heard from Dennis Green throughout the luncheon. The following is what Denny had to say about Buffalo, which was the opener in 1997:

“For us it starts this Sunday at Buffalo, a team that we’ve played before in the regular season and a team that we’ve played before in the pre-season. The pre-season and regular season are as different as night and day. We have determined in our minds that when we go on the road for three of the first four games, we have to have the kind of mental toughness that will enable us to really deal with it.

There’s going to be 80,000 fans at Rich Stadium in Buffalo. Those 80,000 fans really support their team. Their team has been to the playoffs seven of the past eight years. They’re going to come out onto the football field ready to play.
We’re going to go on a business trip. We’re going to get on an airplane and fly out there with one thing on our mind. We’re not going to be worrying about if the steak’s cooked right or the airplane ride. We know from the time we leave Minneapolis what we’re going there for. We’re not going to Buffalo for a trip. We’re going for a business trip to win a football game and it’s going to be a great football game.

Get your favorite chair or spot and sit down and watch this football game.”

Needless to say, everybody left this pep rally anxious for the season to begin.

Posted by maasx003 at 8:33 AM
October 15, 2004
1997 Summary Continued: Summer & Training Camp

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 Summer & Training Camp thoughts.

vik1-sm.gif

June

During the first few weeks of June you’ll find the Maas family busy at work cultivating flower and vegetable gardens. For the he-man reading this article and thinking he’s about to be turned off by the thought of gardening, keep this in mind: the more gardens you have, the less you’ll have to mow.

The structure of landscaping gardens often evolves from practical needs: you may want to view a variety of hues as you sit under an ivy-covered terrace. You may want to put in wild grasses that you romped in as a youth or trees and climbing vines to block the putrid team colors of your non-Viking fan neighbor.

But, no matter how you satisfy it, even the most mundane requirement of gardening can add meaning to your life. My wife and I plant based on our family histories and the beloved colors of purple and gold. We have created contrasts of wild and cultivated scenery to offer an experience suggestive of the endless life cycle. Thus, memories and metaphor find expression in the earth.

One of the richest metaphors in planning a successful garden, and in building a successful football team, is the journey. Both need stopping points for observation and insight. In gardening, the ritual of walking a garden path acknowledges our life and its gifts. A garden path often wanders in and out of sunshine, uphill and down, past art-filled and empty spaces. The walk can have an air of mystery, obscuring views, then offering glimpses of brilliance through the hedges. The garden path can help you recount the things you’ve read and places you’ve been, and in the process, find inspiration for future possibilities. The best of gardeners is always in motion.

With free agency and the lack of player loyalty to any one football franchise, Dennis Green, the Viking gardener, found himself and his coaching staff in constant motion. His garden walks at Winter Park, home of the Minnesota Vikings, found him wandering in and out of sunshine as the team has a terrific regular season winning percentage but no playoff wins. There were the cloudy days of off-field allegations coupled with the sunny brilliance of the birth of a beautiful baby girl. The Vikings have had an uphill time against the bigger NFC East teams while thoroughly dominating the NFC Central with the result being two years of wild-card entries in hostile domains and two upsets at home, smacking of an air of mystery as to just how good this team can be.

Seasonal injuries to key players, which can obscure the view of the entire team, have often led to glimpses of brilliance yet to come, something I observed while peering from the sidelines at Winter Park. Scottie Graham, James Stewart and Leroy Hoard fertilized the need at running back as the injury bug infested Robert Smith’s knee. Brad Johnson, the seedling planted and cultivated by Green, had matured into a mighty oak, ready to be admired by the masses of football fans everywhere.

Walking the path to his office, Dennis Green must each day recount the things the Vikings have done and the places they’ve been, giving him inspiration for future possibilities. Team photos from the dominating seventies and late eighties, the Hall of Fame photos of Fran Tarkenton, Bud Grant and Alan Page, give constant reminders of a winning program. Everyday Green stopped along that path for observation and insight and to reflect on his coaching journey of cultivating a successful football team.

July

In July of 1997 I treated Jeff Dohn, head football coach at a Missoula, Montana high school, to a private tour of Winter Park, home of the Minnesota Vikings. As we waited in the lobby, Cris Carter’s wife Melanie, told the receptionist to let Cris know she was there to pick him up and joked that he should be out “within five minutes or take a taxi back to the hotel.” Well, guess what? Cris, liked any married man, obeyed and appeared in the lobby sooner than the five minute allotted by his beautiful wife. While waiting for Cris to appear, Melanie renewed an acquaintance with another football wife, Mrs. Randall Cunningham.

Jeff’s biggest thrill was to visit with Strength and Conditioning assistant coach Jeff Friday as we observed DT Jason Fisk and QB Todd Bouman go through a series of reps. Fisk looked to be in excellent shape as he moved through the various drills. Roger Headrick was hard at work behind his desk, but all of the coaching staff was on vacation except for retired head coach Bud Grant who made an appearance in one of the hallways

Training Camp

Training camp finally rolled around and it appeared that Lady Luck had finally swung back to the side of the Minnesota Vikings. She had been missing the past few years and had finally tired of wearing cheese on her head and opted instead to wear a more regal purple crown. Case in point during early preseason games: Moe Williams caught a 65-yard touchdown off the shoulder pads while Green Bay Packer (The Team Formerly Known As The Super Bowl Champions) lost its starting running back, Edgar Bennett, for the season.

While other teams were having trouble just attempting to bring players into camp, the Vikings had all its players reporting, including the rookie crop from the past two years. And what a crop it was.

The left side of the offensive line: Todd Steussie and Randall McDaniel would prove to be a formidable foe for the defense. Having worked together for four years, they had become one unit and would serve Brad Johnson well.

Cris Carter: One early football rag had said Cris was on the declining side of his career. Cris served up notice to that writer that he should do more research before putting pen to paper.

Leroy Hoard: Shades of Bill “Boom-Boom” Brown, the best north to south runner of all-time? The Vikings did well to resign Leroy as he would break many a linebacker’s resolve that season.

First down play calling: Brian Billick came to a game well-prepared, and it showed in the amount of turf the Vikings ate up on first down.

Brad Johnson: Brad had worked hard that off-season. He wanted to prove the previous year was not a fluke and that he deserved the millions he signed for.

Defensive Backs: Dennis Green was justifiably concerned about the state of his defensive backfield going into the season. With slight injuries to Corey Fuller (hamstring) and Dewayne “Toast” Washington (back), his fear was solid. But Fuller and Washington had several outstanding plays during the preseason to tell me that their play would be elevated that coming season.

Robert Tate: Qadry who? Tate was burning up the sidelines in training camp and in preseason games.

The drives: A 93-yard and a 98-yard drive, pre-season or not, is nothing to laugh at. These drives were sustained by key plays, and for the most part, penalty-free. It set the tone for a ball control offense in 1997.

Of course I would be remorse to not mention some problems the Vikings would worry about in 1997.

Right side of offensive line: Yeah, Korey Stringer and David Dixon are big, over 700 pounds of beef, but they only got passing grades on pass protection and failing grades on run blocking during preseason games. They both needed improvement by the time the regular season began.

Second down play calling: Every so often the Vikings failed to pick up ten yards on first down. Maybe it was just pre-season experimentation, but Billick’s play calling on second down was atrocious. Especially the use of David Palmer out of run formation. But Billick never shied away from using Palmer in the backfield and it actually worked during the ‘97and ’98 seasons.

Delay of games:. If the play or formation isn’t sent in fast enough, the result is delay of game. Billick and Special Teams Coach, Gary Zauner, still had some major work to do in this area.

Drive-stopping penalties: Johnson had several preseason drives stopped because of stupid penalties, especially inside the red zone. This was something that haunted the Vikes n 1996 and is something that Dennis Green would not tolerate again in 1997.

Place kickers: Anybody got Fuad Reveiz’s home phone number? Anytime that our place kickers took the field, I just shut my eyes. The 1997 season would end up with journeyman Eddie Murray kicking for the Vikings.

Preparing for the 1997 Season

Around the Minneapolis area and around the country many Vikings fans were gearing up for the coming season. There was the Second Annual Viking Fan Club Convention fast approaching. Jim Allgren of Youngstown, Ohio, reported a great Viking turnout at Canton for a preseason game as the Vikings participated in the Hall of Fame game to open the preseason. NFL Films caught the purple fans in action. It was one of the very last times ol’ Jim got to have that much fun as he was married on August 24. Viking Underground shirts went on sale with a portion of the proceeds going to the Viking Children’s Fund.

In 1997 the Vikings could actually go into the season with an air of cockiness at the quarterback position. You know all those pennies you saved and saved for a rainy day? Remember the feeling you got when those pennies paid off, and you finally obtained what you’d been thinking about for an extended length of time? Well, my Purple readers, Brad Johnson was starting to look like the pay off for all our savings.

Ask Viking fans to describe their emotions when Brad trots onto the field, and you hear many a splendored thing. As for myself, each time he took the field, I felt confidence.

Back in the early 90’s I knew Sean Salisbury was taking the field because my heart was pounding, my palms were sweaty, and my mouth was dry. I wasn’t confident. When Brad jogged to the huddle from the sidelines, my heart beats slowly, I have two thumbs up, and I wore a confident smirk on my face. This was not a random sensation.

During my first year in college I took a class in which I studied randomness. I learned that building a machine to generate truly random numbers is impossible. Most people probably feel that the universe is not only random; it is perversely so. Most football fans feel that acquiring a truly great NFL quarterback is also random, a roll of the dice. But serious mathematicians all know that there is no mathematical trick, no equation, capable of producing a truly random series of numbers. The current Viking coaching staff understood there was no draft day trick, no hope capable of producing the truly random discovery of an NFL quarterback who could dominate the league.

The birth of a great NFL quarterback isn’t a big machine built cunningly by the Cosmic Coach nor is it a roulette wheel where the atoms rattle around like white balls, settling each team’s fate by chance alone. No. The birth is something else, something in between, something weird, something completely numerical that remains quite unpredictable.

For example: Pour a glass of quarterback DNA into the ocean and wait a few years for that DNA to mix with all the other DNA in the ocean. Go down to the beach again and scoop a glass of DNA back from the sea. The water you scoop out will contain several molecules of DNA you poured in several years back.

Surprised?

The explanation is simple. There are far more DNA molecules in a single glass of water than there are glasses of water in the ocean. Brad Johnson was our single glass of DNA in a sea of Salisbury’s, Rich Gannon’s, Jim McMahon’s and Warren Moons. What the Viking coaching staff had done with that single glass was amazing.

The development of a great NFL quarterback can be looked at as a random event without cause. Think of it as a veil through which we, the fans, cannot pass, an ephemeral, flimsy veil, a barrier more mental than physical, yet totally impenetrable.

I can imagine this veil to be like a curtain blowing in an open window on a summer night. The Viking coaching staff is the warm breeze making the veil dance. The veil begins to whisper to us. It tells us something special is being born. All we have to do is listen with all our attention and the veil will tell us all we need to know.

The Viking coaching staff behind this veil was still at work, crafting the emerging Brad Johnson, solving for the first time the great puzzle of the offense. Just like us, they were eager to find out what will happen next.

Posted by maasx003 at 8:55 AM
October 14, 2004
1997 Summary

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 Key Draft Picks and Off-Season thoughts.

vik1-sm.gif

1997 (9-7): Fourth in NFC Central
Head Coach: Dennis Green

8/31 W 34-13 @ Buffalo 79,139
9/7 W 27-24 @ Chicago 59,263
9/14 L 14-28 Tampa Bay 63,697
9/21 L 32-38 @ Green Bay 60,115
9/28 W 28-19 Philadelphia 55,149
10/5 W 20-19 @ Arizona 45,550
10/12 W 21-14 Carolina 62,625
10/26 W 10-6 @ Tampa Bay 66,815
11/2 W 23-18 New England 62,917
11/9 W 29-22 Chicago 63,443
11/16 L 15-38 @ Detroit 68,910
11/23 L 21-23 @ N.Y. Jets 77,716
12/1 L 11-27 Green Bay 64,001
12/7 L 17-28 @ San Francisco 55,761
12/14 L 13-14 Detroit 60,982
12/21 W 39-28 Indianapolis 54,107
NFC First-Round Playoffs
12/27 W 23-22 @ N.Y. Giants 77,170
NFC Divisional Playoffs
1/3/98 L 22-38 @ San Francisco 65,018

Key Draft Picks

The first day of the draft for 1997 found yours truly sitting in the VIP section of the Minnesota Viking Draft Party at the Mall Of America. While everyone and their mother, and grandmother, gave their two-cents on who was drafted, I attempted to build a story on how Viking alumni and current players spent the day behind the scenes at the Draft Party.

I must briefly touch on the satellite Draft Party held in Fargo, North Dakota, in one of the few dry establishments to be found because of the massive flooding by the Red River that spring. On the Saturday morning of the draft a weary sandbagger could look up to see the likes of Dave Osborn, Carl Eller, Mick Tinglehoff and Bud Grant filling hundreds of sandbags in a effort to save an already devastated town. Ed McDaniel visited local hospitals to help spread smiles all around. A bone weary Bud Grant called into the Minneapolis radio station WCCO late in the day to talk draft but instead spoke on the hearts and courage of the local residents in Fargo and nearby Grand Forks.

At the Draft Party locally, I found myself alone in the VIP section at 9 a.m. The main doors had yet to open so I decided to catch up on reading the expert opinions. But halfway into the first paragraph, in walked former Viking great Bill Brown and current Viking center Jeff Christy. After exchanging pleasantries, Jeff and I found ourselves in the middle of another of those great Bill Brown stories that only he could tell.

The subject of training camp had come up and Bill told us that the ride down to Mankato could be an exceptionally exciting one if you happened to find yourself sitting shotgun with one Jim Marshall. Seems Marshall had a penchant for driving fast and his car had a dashboard full of every radar detector known to mankind. Brown remembered one such drive, speeding along at 85 mph himself when he spied a fast moving car quickly approaching him from behind. It was Marshall. Going about 130 mph according to Brown. Marshall always took back roads because Bud Grant would have had a fit if Marshall would have been caught. Another player, according to Brown, had purchased a Jaguar just to outrun Marshall. The player was picked up one night returning to the Twin Cities, the Jag alongside the road, both rear tires blown out, trying to keep up with Marshall, the unnamed player muttering to himself.

I asked Jeff Christy which position he wanted the Vikings to draft for, which position was the greatest need. “Guard”, replied the young center. Christy had talked with fellow offensive lineman Everett Lindsay the night before about his play in the WLAF. Lindsay had been player of the week for his outstanding play. Lindsay had reported back that the league was somewhat of a joke but that he was getting into great shape and was awaiting training camp with much enthusiasm.

The draft started and Viking players and former greats filtered in and out of the VIP area all day long. James Manley, Duane Clemons, Jeff Brady, Greg DeLong, Brown, Christy, Leo Lewis, Ricky Young and Mike Morris to name a few. When the Vikings announced their first pick, Dewayne Rudd, Morris looked up from his table and muttered, “Who?” and when told it was an outstanding linebacker from Alabama he proclaimed that it was a great pick for the Vikings. Meanwhile, starting middle linebacker Jeff Brady quickly left the VIP area with his agent, which I was unable to confirm. Brady was later on WCCO radio touting the pick as a great one for the Vikings and that Rudd would be an outstanding addition to the team.

Off-Season

Ownership

After the 1996 season ended the Viking board of directors submitted a proposal to the NFL laying forth their plan to comply with the NFL’s request that at least one member of the ten member Viking board own at least 30% of the team. The plan stated that the end of 1997 would complete the process. The NFL agreed, and everyone started to look for a real power struggle between Roger Headrick and the team of Wheelock Whitney and Jaye Dyer for that 30% ownership.

Questions About The Coach

During the off-season much of the discussion amongst Viking Fans On-Line members was focused on Dennis Green as the head coach. This topic has annually popped up after each season and it usually signifies the midway point of the off-season when Viking fans look for anything to talk about. This topic usually lasts two weeks until the focus then turns to the NFL draft, traditionally one of Green’s strengths.

By the 1997 draft Green had proven that he knew talent as proved by the players his coaching staff had developed since 1992. The names were many: Brad Johnson, Robert Smith, Jake Reed, Hunter Goodwin, Andrew Jordan, Todd Steussie, Korey Stringer, Jeff Christy, David Dixon, Fernando Smith, Derrick Alexander, Corey Fuller, Robert Griffith, Orlando Thomas, Dewayne Washington and Mitch Berger.

I wrote in 1997 that I was hard pressed to come up with a Denny bust unless you looked at the loss of Gilbert Brown who the Vikings lost when they tried to slip him through the waiver wire.

It had already been established that the players loved playing for Green. Cris Carter, R. Smith and F. Smith had all been quoted as saying they’d play for no other team as long as Denny was coaching the Vikings.

So why were the message boards filling up with any debate whatsoever about Denny? It boiled down to the team having a great wealth of young talent and veteran leadership, dedication to a coach and not a single playoff win. How could this be corrected? I met with Stew Widdess, Viking VP of Marketing, in early January and the topic came up. The problems, which were clearly evident, included the lack of revenue for signing bonuses to bring in those one or two big name free agents that could bring the right mix for playoff victories. It also had lead to the decrease in ticket sales over the past two seasons.

In 1997 the Vikings lease agreement with the Metrodome ranked thirtieth in the league for income and only two teams were worse off financially than the Vikings. The Vikings lost money in 1996 so how could they compete financially with Dallas and Carolina who seemed to have deeper pockets? Person A off the street says in order to plunk down forty dollars to see a game at the Dome, the team must first win. But the team can’t win unless it has the income to sign more talented football players and keep the young talent it has. Do we put the horse before the cart or the cart before the horse?

In spite of the small decrease in season ticket sales the Vikings were doing everything possible to accommodate ticket purchasers. Five thousand season tickets were upgraded to better locations in 1996. Roger Headrick had installed a budget into the organization, which benefited front office expenditures. Before that, Mike Lynn had to approve everything from the Herschel Walker signing to a new light bulb for the broom closet that served as Bud Grant’s office. Widdess had become more aggressive in selling corporate sponsorships and ticket sales. He would have liked to see more media control through production of their own radio broadcasts and implementing phase two of his marketing plan to increase suite sales. Prior to Widdess, the Vikings had no such marketing strategy.

In a follow-up meeting with Gina Dillon, Viking Ticket Manager, I found out that season ticket sales were ahead of 1996 despite the modest increase in price amongst the higher priced seats. The implementation of partial season ticket packages was announced when the schedule rolled out in April. This added to an increasing revenue stream and kept the number of television blackouts to a bare minimum or none at all.

So let’s return to our original topic, Dennis Green. We had young, playoff-experienced talent. We had a coach committed to a winning program. We had office personnel aggressively marketing the Vikings to stimulate ticket sales and fan interest. We had an owner aggressively pursuing $140 million to renovate the Dome in the face of the Twins’ proposed stadium plan. All that was needed for the mix were wins, and Minneapolis would be purple crazy once again. The feeling at Winter Park was when that first game rolled around in September, the Metrodome doors won’t be able to open up fast enough.

Free Agents

There are many games in which a professional sports player can go from hero to scapegoat and back again faster than slicing a piece of mozzarella. Ask a Minnesota Viking fan to name such a player in the ‘90s and the unanimous name you’ll hear in return is that of the speedster out of Syracuse: the Missile, Qadry Ismail.

Fans in purple can recall the games in which Qadry played to the crowd as he awaited the kick-off, only to fumble it moments later and turn the ball over. Then, when the game was on the line, Qadry would make a miraculous play to win the game. Such was the case on November 6, 1994, when the Vikings beat New Orleans at the Metrodome with five seconds left after Warren Moon threw a eleven yard touchdown reception to Ismail. The hero.

But there were also those times when Ismail was to be found riding the pine. Ismail was an elite member of Dennis Green’s doghouse, the result of too many ill-timed fumbles, dropped passes, and pass routes run incorrectly. The goat.

This off-season found Ismail shopping his wares around the League, another victim of a team unable or unwilling to meet his salary demands. This is something not uncommon to football fans over the last decade. A marginal player with some impact abilities packing his bags and shuffling off to another team. In fact, it wasn’t all that uncommon in the good old days. But the one thing you hardly every saw in the good old days was a player switching allegiances to play for the hated opposition.

Had Ismail gone to the New Orleans Saints as was initially rumored, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. In fact, the Q-Man most likely would have been welcomed warmly on a return visit back to the Metrodome.

Had Ismail gone to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which was also reportedly in the works, I would have winced slightly, thinking that Qadry would have had better fashion sense than to be seen playing professional football in the obtrusive colors of the Bucs. On a return visit, he most certainly would have heard a smattering of the boos expected for a player jumping to another team in the Central Division, albeit the Hapless Buccaneers.

But on Friday, May 30, Qadry Ismail committed a capital crime. He signed with the Green Bay Packers. Ismail must have understood what he was doing and that he would get what was coming to him on September 21 and December 1 of the coming season when the two teams collide. Being crazy enough to sign with the most hated rival in Viking history is considered a sickness. And they shoot mad dogs right? But it was not meant to be as the Packers cut Ismail before the season even started.

Posted by maasx003 at 11:21 AM