The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Unfortunately, my hard drive crashed after 1998 and with no backups, some of the 1998 season is basically recaps. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 7, Washington thoughts.
(Week Six: Bye)
Week Seven: Washington; Vikes 41, Redskins 7
If the Green Bay Packers couldn't stop Randall Cunningham and the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, did anyone think the winless Washington Redskins could at the Metrodome?
Cunningham continued his impressive season with two first-half touchdown passes as the Vikings overcame an early special-teams gaffe by rookie Randy Moss and scored 41 unanswered points in a 41-7 demolition of the Redskins, remaining unbeaten.
The 35-year-old Cunningham, who has been playing since starting quarterback Brad Johnson went down with a broken leg in Week Two, completed 20-for-34 passes for 259 yards. Since taking over, Cunningham has thrown for 1,237 yards and 12 touchdowns without an interception.
"Give a lot of credit to Coach (Dennis) Green, we don't get proud or overconfident," said Cunningham. "And he prepares us for the finer things we need to do. I want to cherish this win today and wait until tomorrow to start thinking about Detroit."
Robert Smith added 103 rushing yards while fullback Leroy Hoard scored two touchdowns on short runs for the Vikings (6-0), who are off to their best start since winning the first 10 games of the 1975 season.
"(It) doesn't matter what your record is at the start of the season," said Smith. "Six-and-oh is nice, but you remember Tampa started out last year 5-0."
Minnesota owns a two-game lead in the NFC Central over Green Bay, which lost at Detroit on Thursday night. The Vikings complete the road portion of their division schedule in the next two weeks with games at Detroit and Tampa Bay.
"Detroit has already been working on us, they're an outstanding team at home," said Green. "We have had our share of problems in the Silverdome, so we have a lot of work to do to catch up."
The Redskins (0-7), who only scored on a two-yard run by Terry Allen after Moss' miscue, took another step toward their worst start in 37 years. Washington, which went 0-9 to start the 1961 season, showed no offensive continuity under quarterback Gus Frerotte, who was starting for the first time since Week Two.
"That's as poor a performance as I've been involved with," fumed Redskins coach Norv Turner, whose job grows more tenuous with each loss. "Defensively, we have a chance to be a decent team. Offensively, we are totally inept. We can't snap off two consecutive plays. This is not acceptable."
Frerotte went 10-of-24 for 117 yards while Allen, a former Viking, added 62 rushing yards for Washington, which allowed 30 or more points for the fifth time this season. The Redskins have been outscored, 227-93.
"Those are harsh words, but they're true," Frerotte said when told of Turner's comments. "We couldn't get it done. The effort's there, we're not staying focused."
Turner also implied there will be changes made when the Redskins come back following their bye week.
"Maybe we can get some things corrected, we have a couple of days off. We're going to find the guys who really want to compete and put them on the field."
"This is the lowest. I've never felt like this," said Redskins cornerback Darrel Green, a 16-year veteran and member of three Super Bowl champions. "We've lost some games before, but this one hit me."
The teams traded empty possessions to start the game, but Moss, who was on punt coverage, accidentally touched Matt Turk's punt with his hand while his back was to the ball. Cornerback Darryl Pounds scooped it up at the Minnesota 2 and Allen promptly scored off right guard on the next play.
But it went downhill for the Redskins after that. Cunningham completed his first four passes as the Vikings went 68 yards on seven plays. After an offensive interference penalty on Cris Carter negated a one-yard TD pass, Cunningham hit tight end Andrew Glover over the middle from 11 yards on the next play.
The Redskins went three-and-out and Cunningham again went to work. After hooking up with Carter on a 36-yard pass, Moss atoned for his error by drawing a 35-yard interference penalty on Darrell Green, who tried to overcome his eight-inch height disdvantage by climbing on Moss as he ran a post pattern.
Hoard bulled up the middle on the next play as the Vikings took a 14-7 lead with 3:40 to play in the first quarter. By the end of the period, the Vikings held a 156-19 advantage in total yards.
Late in the first half the Redskins threatened, but Cary Blanchard hooked a 49-yard field goal wide left. Cunningham found Moss on consecutive plays for 38 yards and the pair hooked up again for a 12-yard pass to the 11 with 54 seconds to play.
Smith ran for five yards and Cunningham floated a pass to Hoard two plays later, converting a 3rd-and-4 to the 1. After Hoard was stopped with 21 seconds to go, the Vikings called timeout before Cunningham zipped a pass to Carter, who reached high for the TD.
Corey Fuller ended Washington's first second-half possession with an interception at midfield, and Gary Anderson booted a 49-yard field goal to make it 24-7 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Smith extended the margin to 31-7 on a 19-yard scamper 2:12 into the fourth quarter. Anderson drilled a 46-yarder before Hoard capped the scoring with a one-yard dive with 1:51 left.
"We really feel great. Anytime you have a week off and a bye, and you're able to take off where we left...," added Green. "The key today was our defense, our guys were focused and on the same page. We had a good game going into the bye and came out strong today."
Carter had five receptions for 109 yards and matched Anthony Carter's team record by catching a pass for the 105th consecutive game. Cris Carter moved within four catches of 700 for his career.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Unfortunately, my hard drive crashed after 1998 and with no backups, some of the 1998 season is basically recaps. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 5, at Green Bay thoughts.
Week Five: at Green Bay; Vikes 37, Packers 24
Rookie Randy Moss terrorized the Packers' secondary for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Minnesota Vikings obliterated Green Bay's 25-game home winning streak with a convincing 37-24 victory.
It was a breakout game for Moss, the 21st overall pick in this year's draft. The embattled 21-year-old, who scared away 19 teams due to off-the-field problems, caught 5 passes and had little trouble getting open. He leads the league with 6 receiving TDs and 463 yards.
"I think I showed tonight that I could play at this level of competition," Moss said. "I'm not surprised at the success I've had so far."
Unaffected by a game-long downpour, Randall Cunningham threw for 4 touchdowns ó 3 in the second quarter ó and the Vikings' defense stifled Brett Favre in a battle of NFC Central unbeatens.
Cunningham threw scoring strikes to Moss, Jake Reed and running back Robert Smith as the high-octane Vikings (5-0) amassed 265 yards in the second quarter en route to a 24-10 halftime lead. Cunningham completed 19 of 30 passes for 442 yards, the most ever against the Packers (4-1). He surpassed the old mark of 411 yards, set in 1990 by Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers.
"This was the greatest night of my career," said Cunningham. "To come in here and win at Lambeau, where no one ever wins, and to do what we did against the No. 1 defense in the league was amazing."
Cris Carter had 8 catches for 119 yards and Reed grabbed 4 for 89.
"It was a great game by Randall, but our offensive line did a great job and our receivers made some great plays on balls he threw downfield," Carter said.
The offensive line held the Packers without a sack and bottled up All-Pro defensive end Reggie White, who was held without a solo tackle.
"We couldn't stop them," confessed Packers coach Mike Holmgren. ďThey had 450 yards passing, that's an incredible number."
Favre's worst game in recent memory came on the heels of one of his best. He completed just 13 of 23 passes for 114 yards and 3 interceptions, 2 by safety Robert Griffith. Eight days ago, Favre tied his own team record with 5 touchdowns in a blowout victory over Carolina.
Against Minnesota, he passed for only 26 yards in the second half before being yanked midway through the final quarter for Doug Pederson, who threw 2 meaningless TD passes after the Vikings had things well in hand.
"We could sit here and blame it on a lot of things ó the conditions were terrible and all that stuff ó but they handled them well, that's what's kind of frustrating," Favre said.
The 35-year-old Cunningham, who was out of football two years ago, has thrown for a league-leading 13 touchdowns since taking over for injured starter Brad Johnson in the season's second game.
The Packers also had their 18-game home winning streak against NFC Central foes snapped with their first setback at Lambeau Field since Sept. 3, 1995, against the St. Louis Rams.
Griffith led the defensive charge for the Vikings, who had surrendered a combined 59 points in road wins at Chicago and St. Louis.
Minnesota gave the Packers a taste of what was to come on its first possession, when Cunningham and Moss provided some short-lived excitement with an 85-yard touchdown that was nullified by a holding penalty.
The Vikings settled for a 33-yard field goal by Gary Anderson.
Seven seconds into the second quarter, Ryan Longwell countered with a 40-yard field goal, the only points the Green Bay offense scored until the final period.
But with 12:09 left, Cunningham underthrew a pass of some 30 yards on the right sideline. Reed slowed to make the catch, then shook off cornerback Craig Newsome's attempted tackle and jogged the last 20 yards into the end zone for a 56-yard score. It was his 27th career TD catch and first this season.
The seven-point lead lasted exactly 17 seconds, which was how long it took Roell Preston to pick up a wall of blockers and dash down the left sideline for a 101-yard kickoff return that made it 10-10.
The quarter belonged to Cunningham and Minnesota thereafter.
Another designed underthrow netted the Vikings a 17-10 lead 5:04 into the second. This time, Cunningham thew down the left sideline, where Moss outjumped cornerback Tyrone Williams and avoided safety Darren Sharper en route to 52-yard touchdown.
After the Vikes' defense stuffed Green Bay's William Henderson on fourth-and-1 at the 35, Minnesota got on the board again. A 41-yard catch by Moss highlighted the 65-yard drive, which culminated when Smith took a screen pass 24 yards for a TD and a 24-10 advantage.
Smith caught 2 passes in addition to rushing for 78 yards on 25 carries.
Minnesota dominated in all aspects in the first half. The Vikings totaled 330 yards ó 282 through the air ó while holding Green Bay to only 119.Cunningham was 13-of-19.
Trailing 27-10 early in the third quarter, the Packers looked to be making a move. But on third down from the Vikings 20, their drive came to an abrupt halt when a strong wind allowed Griffith to intercept Favre's fluttery pass to a wide-open Antonio Freeman in the end zone.
"We really played well tonight, especially our defensive line," said Griffith, who leads the NFL with 5 interceptions. "They really took it to Favre and took away his reads."
Moss and Cunningham capped the Vikes' scoring with a 44-yard connection 4:44 into the final quarter.
Pederson threw scoring passes of 11 and 16 yards to Tyrone Davis and Bill Schroeder, respectively.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 4, at Chicago thoughts.
Week Four: at Chicago; Vikes 31, Bears 28
Randall Cunningham erased an 11-point second-half deficit with 3 of his 4 touchdown passes as the Minnesota Vikings set up next week's battle of undefeated Central Division teams with a 31-28 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Chicago led 21-10 at halftime before Cunningham found tight end Andrew Glover from 19 yards out and Cris Carter on a 35-yarder, giving the Vikings a 24-21 advantage. Cunningham's 44-yard TD strike to rookie Randy Moss five minutes into the fourth quarter increased the lead to 31-21.
"I knew it would be tough here today," Cunningham said. "You never go into someone else's stadium thinking you'll score 31 points."
In his second week as starter following the injury to Brad Johnson, Cunningham completed 16 of 27 passes for 275 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 67-yard TD pass to running back Robert Smith 2:17 into the game opened the scoring.
Minnesota (4-0) has won its first four games for the second time in three seasons, setting up next Monday night's game with the unbeaten Green Bay Packers (4-0).
"We feel great," said Vikings coach Dennis Green. "They've all been battles. We haven't had an easy time of it."
The Bears (0-4) led at halftime for the fourth straight game but still fell to 0-4 for the second straight season. They have outscored opponents, 58-24 in the first half but have been outscored, 75-20 in the second, including 44-0 in the third quarter.
Chicago answered Cunningham's 67-yard screen pass to Smith with a 7-play, 84-yard drive, capped by Erik Kramer's 33-yard TD pass to Bobby Engram.
While setting career highs with 372 yards passing and 4 TDs, Kramer threw for the fourth highest passing total in franchise history, completing 25 of 39 passes. Engram set personal bests with 123 yards receiving and 2 scores.
Kramer finished off a pair of long first-half drives with 2 more TD strikes, a 23-yarder to Chris Penn and a 4-yarder to Engram, giving the Bears their biggest lead, 21-10 with 4:18 left.
Chicago dominated play in the first half, totaling 15 first downs and 257 yards of total offense, including 208 yards passing and 3 scores from Kramer.
David Palmer woke up the Vikings in the second half, setting up their first TD with a 53-yard punt return. Cunningham capped the 34-yard drive five plays later with his 19-yard strike to Glover, cutting the deficit to 21-17.
"The field position got us," said Chicago coach Dave Wannstedt. "We've got to find a way. They returned a punt. They returned a kickoff. The field position killed us, particularly in the second half."
The Bears immediately embarked on a 14-play drive but Kramer's second-down pass intended for Fabien Bownes at the goal line was deflected and intercepted by Corey Fuller, who returned the ball to the Minnesota 36 yard line.
"The interception down in the red zone to take away the points was the biggest play of the game," Green said.
ďCory made a great play, probably the biggest play on defense today," added Smith.
Cunningham took advantage, throwing on each down in the ensuing four-play drive, culminated by a 35-yard TD to Carter with 1:44 left in the third quarter, giving the Vikings a 24-21 edge.
After holding Chicago to a total of one first down on the next two possessions, Minnesota needed just one play to grab a 10-point lead. Moss atoned for a 15-yard clipping penalty on the Vikings' previous drive by hauling in Cunningham's 44-yard bomb.
"Randall made a nice play," Moss said. "We had the wind in our favor and it kind of held it up. The ball was thrown my way and I had to jump up and get it."
The Bears got to within a field goal with 1:53 left, chewing up 82 yards in just 45 seconds. Kramer completed 5 of 6 passes on the drive, connecting with tight end Ryan Wetnight from 19 yards out on third-and-7.
"It's real simple," Wannstedt said. "They made three plays in the second half and we didn't make any plays. Anybody who has seen Minnesota play and, we talked about it, knows they throw the ball up and make big plays."
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 3, Detroit thoughts.
Week Three: Detroit; Vikes 29, Lions 6
Gary Anderson kicked 5 field goals to move into second place on the all-time scoring list and Randall Cunningham threw a scoring pass to rookie Randy Moss as the Minnesota Vikings beat the Detroit Lions, 29-6 in an NFC Central showdown.
Anderson was the difference for the unbeaten Vikings (3-0) in their battle of backup quarterbacks with the winless Lions (0-3). With his second field goal, he passed Jan Stenerud for third place on the all-time scoring list, breaking the 1,700-point plateau. He finished the game with 1,713 points, vaulting Nick Lowery for second place with his final field goal.
"I think it was a game where we knew we might have to slug it out," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "We're extremely happy we're 3-0. Now we'll get some rest and look forward to playing to Chicago on the road."
While Detroit rookie Charlie Batch was given his first NFL start because of the ineptitude of Scott Mitchell, Cunningham was in because of an injury to Brad Johnson last weekend. Cunningham, who is in his 13th NFL season and second as a backup with the Vikings, completed 20-of-35 passes for 220 yards and 1 touchdown.
"I think it is the right situation for me at this part of my career," he said. "It's a group of great people. I am always enthusiastic about playing, but I know my role, and it's that of a backup quarterback. I knew they would be a tough defense, especially in the red zone. They get tight, like Tampa Bay, and they do not let you score touchdowns."
Batch was 20-of-40 for 160 yards with 2 interceptions and carried 8 times for 63 yards.
"We started beating ourselves. We made drive-killers here, drive-killers there," Batch said. "We would be driving, moving the ball, and something would happen. Once we got down, it put us in a passing situation and their defensive linemen just teed off."
"The score is not evidence of how he played," Vikings cornerback Corey Fuller said. "The guy did a good job of keeping some drives alive. When that guys gets some games, he is going to be a good player."
The Vikings also finally succeeded in containing superstar Barry Sanders, who had five straight 100-yard rushing games against Minnesota. Today, he was limited to 69 yards on 22 carries and caught 5 passes for 29 yards.
"I think when you look at the game, we just wanted to concentrate with the inside game and not give Batch a lot of good looks downfield," said Vikings nose tackle Jerry Ball. "What we tried to do was put our strength against their weaknesses. Our strategy was to get into the gaps and cover the gaps. We tried to get him (Sanders) to bounce outside away from their scheme."
It took nearly 20 minutes for Cunningham to get out the rust. He found the tight end combination of Andrew Glover and Greg DeLong 3 times for 36 yards, leading to Anderson's 27-yard field goal at the 8:36 mark of the second quarter. He threw passes of 27 yards to Jake Reed and 18 yards to David Palmer en route to Anderson's 28-yard tying field goal with less than two minutes left in the first half.
That was the field goal that put Anderson over the 1,700-point mark and past Stenerud, who played for the Vikings, among other teams, during a long career.
Cunningham connected with Moss, who has 3 touchdowns in as many NFL games, on a 5-yard score 3:19 into the third quarter to make it 13-6. Palmer returned a punt 44 yards to the 22 to set up the score.
"Randy came up with a play," Cunningham said. "He was double-covered and I just threw it in there and he caught it."
Anderson converted from 42 and 29 yards in a 2:34 span late in the third quarter to increase the Minnesota lead to 19-6. The last field goal was set up when linebacker Ed McDaniel recovered a fumble by Pete Chryplewicz at the Detroit 29.
Leroy Hoard added an 11-yard touchdown run 15 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it a 20-point game. Anderson passed Lowery with less than two minutes left in the game when he kicked a 34-yarder to make the final margin.
"It was exciting," said Anderson, a 17-year veteran who is 39 years old. "I am really blessed to play as long as I have injury-free. Records don't mean a lot if you lose, but it's nice to break records and have your team win."
Anderson trails only George Blanda, who recorded an astounding 2,002 points in his career as a kicker and quarterback.
"I think George Blanda played until he was 50, so at least I have a couple of years left," Anderson quipped. "Some days you're not going to be able to score 5 touchdowns. I just came in and did my part."
In his first drive as a professional, Batch moved the Lions 61 yards in 14 plays over 6:41, leading to Jason Hanson's 37-yard field goal that opened the scoring. Batch completed 4-of-8 passes for 32 yards on the drive and ran for 11 yards on a 3rd-and-5 to the Minnesota 21. Sanders ran 4 times for 25 yards and caught Batch's first pass, a 16-yarder that started the drive.
But the Vikings allowed the rookie only one more scoring drive, a 9-play, 42-yard march that led to Hanson's 49-yard field goal that gave Detroit a 6-0 lead just over two minutes into the second quarter.
Minnesota's Robert Smith was limited to 39 yards on 15 carries a week after rushing for a career-best 174 against St. Louis. Minnesota's receiving was well-balanced. Moss led the way with 5 catches for 37 yards, while Glover, Reed and Cris Carter added three catches apiece.
Herman Moore caught 9 passes for 66 yards and Johnnie Mortonadded 5 for 57.
"I think there were two things to that game," Lions coach Bobby Ross said. "We went along fairly well in the first half and it was a 6-6 ballgame and we were playing fairly competitively and doing things fairly well. In the second half, the tents unfolded. We had poor field position and we never started with the ball beyond our 25. Our special teams, our kickoff return was poor, I don't know exactly what happened."
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 2, at St. Louis thoughts.
Week Two: at St. Louis; Vikes 38 Rams 31
Randall Cunningham replaced an injured Brad Johnson and hit Cris Carter with a 19-yard touchdown with 2:09 left and then the Minnesota Vikings stopped St. Louis quarterback Tony Banks just shy of the end zone on the game's final play and held on for a 38-31 victory over the Rams.
Cunningham, who replaced Johnson early in the fourth quarter, hooked up with Carter to cap a 6-play, 45-yard drive that began when cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock intercepted a pass by Banks.
The winning drive almost came to a halt with 2:55 remaining, but on a 3rd-and-8 from the Rams' 33-yard line, Cunningham scrambled, and just before crossing the line of scrimmage, completed a 21-yard strike to Carter.
But the Rams mounted a late drive and had a 4th-and-6 from the Minnesota 9-yard line with six seconds remaining. Banks dropped back to pass, and after failing to find an open receiver, took off for the end zone. It appeared he had a good chance of scoring, but four Minnesota defenders converged quickly to bring him down and preserve the victory.
"On a play like that, you know we only have one play to run and I had a shot," said Banks. "And if maybe I get in the air I get in, but it is all hindsight. I just looked up and I saw zeros on the clock."
"Well, needless to say we are disappointed we weren't able to come back and tie the ballgame up," said Rams coach Dick Vermeil. "We did enough things to win the game. We did enough things to lose the game. I didn't anticipate Minnesota being able to run as good as they did."
Robert Smith carried 23 times for a career-high 179 yards and 2 touchdowns for the Vikings, who are 2-0 for the third straight season. Carter hauled in 4 catches for 61 yards and tied James Lofton for seventh-place on the all-time receptions list with 765.
"Well, it clearly was a barnburner," said Vikings coach Dennis Green. "We've been in games like that, but not with as many points on the board."
Johnson left the game with 13:40 remaining with a strained leftankle. He completed 18-of-31 passes for 208 yards, a touchdown and 2 interceptions before yielding to the veteran Cunningham, who was 3-of-6 for 41 yards and the 1 TD.
"We're concerned about Brad's ankle," Green added. "He's got a sprain. We're not sure if its a high one or if it's kind of low. Randall came in and was solid. He did what he could do. Sometimes the protection wasn't there."
The Vikings jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead after one quarter, getting a 24-yard scoring run from Smith and a 3-yard TD strike from Johnson to tight end Andrew Glover.
Greg Hill's 1-yard run on the first play of the second quarter got the Rams on the scoreboard before the teams traded field goals, Gary Anderson connecting from 24 yards for Minnesota and Jeff Wilkins hitting on a 53-yarder for St. Louis. But Smith's 74-yard scoring run gave the Vikings a 24-10 halftime lead.
St. Louis immediately got back in the game in the third quarter. First, Greg Hill's 5-yard run following a Mike Jones 38-yard punt return brought the Rams within a touchdown. Eddie Kennison then tied it in electric fashion with a 71-yard punt return.
But Minnesota responded by mounting a 7-play, 60-yard drive that was capped by Leroy Hoard's 1-yard plunge with 46 seconds to play in the third quarter. In a game of big plays, the Rams answered with the longest of the day, an 80-yard scoring strike from Banks to Isaac Bruce to tie the game at 31-31.
It was the longest-scoring pass and reception in the respective careers of Banks and Bruce. Banks completed 25-of-45 for 283 yards but was intercepted a career-high four times.
The Vikings were unable to handle Bruce all afternoon. He hauled in 11 passes for 192 yards while gaining 30 yards on an end-around run.
"We played like we normally do," said Vikings safety Robert Griffith. "We know that Isaac is the guy they are going to go to. We did not change our philosophy or anything. We were able to give our offense good field position and that is important."
"It is tough to win on the road in an adverse situation like this when we lost our quarterback," said Smith. "But Randall came in and did a great job. We gave up some big plays like the punt return. We just have to step up and make adjustments."
Randy Moss caught 6 passes for 89 yards for Minnesota. In his first two games as a professional, the often-troubled star has aught 10 passes for 184 yards.
"You have to find a way to win one or two and get some things going your way," Vermeil added. "You have to execute a higher percentage of plays. There is an accumulation of a lot of little things when you play a real good football team and they beat you."
Earlier in the week, some of the Rams' players complained that Vermeil's practices were too grueling. St. Louis, which lost by a touchdown to New Orleans in its season opener, is 0-2 after finishing 5-11 in Vermeil's first year.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Week 1, Tampa Bay thoughts.
Week One: Tampa Bay; Vikes 31, Bucs 7
Brad Johnson is just fine after offseason neck surgery and it appears rookie Randy Moss is the real deal. Johnson matched a career high with 4 touchdown passes and Moss made an immediate impact with scoring catches of 48 and 31 yards in his NFL debut as the Minnesota Vikings rolled to a surprising 31-7 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Both NFC Central teams are hoping to dethrone the Green Bay Packers as division champion, but it was the Vikings who took immediate control in the first half against a Bucs team that allowed an NFC-low 263 points last season.
There were questions concerning Johnson's ability to throw the deep ball after he underwent surgery last December for a herniated cervical disc in his neck. But he did not shy away from throwing the bomb today and finished 15-of-25 for 189 yards with an interception.
"Hopefully, this performance will silence the critics," Johnson said. "I'm 100 percent and I think I proved I was ready to run this offense. We have a lot of weapons and this was a great start to the season."
Having a new weapon like the 6-foot-4 Moss, who was regarded as one of the top five players available in the 1998 draft, will only help Johnson. Moss was considered by most NFL scouts to be among the top five players available in the 1998 draft, but most general managers were scared away by his off-the-field problems. As a result, he slipped in the draft until the Vikings grabbed him with the 21st overall pick and he paid immediate dividends today.
Moss displayed his marvelous athletic ability when he caught a 48-yard touchdown bomb down the left sideline with 1:44 left in the quarter to give Minnesota a 14-0 lead. He faked second-year cornerback Floyd Young to the inside, sprinted down the sideline and made a juggling catch in the end zone after Young managed to get his hand on the ball.
Moss then endeared himself to the Metrodome fans with a flying leap into the end zone stands, a touchdown celebration that was made famous by the Packers at Lambeau Field.
"I was not nervous, just somewhat anxious," said Moss. "Cris (Carter) was more nervous than I was."
Moss cut toward the middle and caught a perfect 31-yard scoring pass from Johnson with 6:14 left in the second quarter to increase Minnesota's lead to 21-0. He beat cornerback Donnie Abraham to the inside and had a clear path in the middle of the field since safety John Lynch moved up to play the run.
"They just threw the ball up there and he (Moss) went and got it," said Abraham. "Their offense just added another dimension. Moss is doing a great job."
After finishing with 4 catches for 95 yards in the first half, the Vikings played more conservatively in the second half. Johnson was 8-of-12 for 131 yards in the first half and 7-of-13 for just 58 yards in the second half.
Carter also had a pair of touchdown catches for the Vikings, giving him 91 for his career. He had a 1-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and an 18-yard scoring reception in the fourth quarter. Carter finished with 5 catches for 31 yards and needs 4 receptions to pass James Lofton (764) for sixth-place on the all-time list.
Robert Smith rushed for 90 yards on 18 carries and Gary Anderson kicked a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for Minnesota.
"It was a great weekend," said Vikings coach Dennis Green, who signed a three-year contract extension on Saturday. "We were explosive on offense. Randy played well, but it's not surprising. We ran the football well too."
Tampa Bay's Trent Dilfer completed 12 of 15 passes for 139 yards in the first half, but failed to engineer a scoring drive until the third quarter.
Tampa Bay scored its only points when Dilfer hit fullback Lorenzo Neal with a 3-yard touchdown pass with 5:14 left in the third quarter. But Dilfer sustained a thigh bruise in the scoring drive and was forced to leave the game. He did not return and finished 17-of-25 for 207 yards.
"Nothing I hate more than coming out of a game," said Dilfer. "You always think you can do it. But I couldn't bend my knee."
Steve Walsh replaced Dilfer and was 6-of-12 for 53 yards with an interception.
Tampa Bay also lost receiver Bert Emanuel, who suffered a left ankle injury while attempting to catch a pass early in the third quarter. After being helped to the sideline, he was carted off the field and did not return. Emanuel had 7 catches for 98 yards.
"This was a disappointing start, but they're a fine team," said Bucs coach Tony Dungy, who is 5-12 against NFC Central teams. "They made plays and outplayed us."
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Preseason, at Carolina thoughts.
Preseason at Carolina: Vikings 25, Panthers 22
I committed the ultimate sin this weekend. I was not near a television or radio in order to enjoy the Vikings-Panthers game on Saturday. Now before you write me off as some kind of Odin atheist, just hear me out.
I took my wife and two dogs camping this weekend. We left the big city behind and headed west toward Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Just north of Detroit Lakes lies a pristine body of water known as Strawberry Lake.
To give you a rough idea how old I am, this was the 25th straight year that I have made at least one visit to Strawberry. The dogs love to run along the shore; my wife reads and takes photos of wild flowers.
Me? I usually wake up around 5 a.m. I donít shower. I donít shave. I just pull on the same pair of Leviís I cleaned fish in the day before, put on the lucky flannel shirt and the lucky fishing cap, fill my mouth full with sunflower seeds and head for the dock.
I stow my gear in the 14-foot Lund boat with the "cool green interior" and wooden seats, cut through the usual morning fog and head for my favorite fishing spots. Sometimes I catch a lot of fish but mostly I just listen to the loons and enjoy the scenery. Oh, and I think a lot about the coming football season. Itís at times like this when the clarity of the open woods brings oneís gray matter into crystal clear focus.
On one such morning this weekend, the "bite" was off and I found myself peering at the shoreline thinking of the times growing up in North Dakota when I could not be without a radio or television if a Vikings game was on. Fortunately, I had a father who understood my passion for the Vikings.
On a typical Sunday my dad would plant the family closest to the exit door at church. Once the sermon ended we bolted for the door, raced to the car and turned on the radio to catch the opening kickoff. Weíd wait while my mother and sister caught up. Then it was the race home.
My father and I had mapped out a system to avoid as many stop lights and stop signs as possible. We could usually make it home eight minutes past noon. I believe our record was four minutes. Not bad for two-and-a-half miles on city streets. I was usually out of the car as it was still rolling into the garage, bounding up the stairs three at a time and switching on the television on the fly. We had no remote in those days otherwise I could have saved another 6.5 seconds. Iím sure of it.
The Nerf football had just been invented by Vikings kicker Fred Cox, and at halftime I would imagine myself kicking 60-yard winning field goals in the living room. Mom usually removed the breakable glassware at this time. Homemade pizza was served on TV trays, instantly instilling in me the great art of tailgating. Life couldnít have been any better.
After the game it was outside to play with the neighborhood boys. We played in an empty lot across the alley from my house until well past dark. I was always quarterback because I was the only kid in the neighborhood with a Fran Tarkenton jersey. We drew plays in the dirt and the worst injury was usually a jammed finger or two.
I lived and breathed Vikings football and was depressed for days following the very rare loss. If I went back to my old report cards and stuck my grades into an Access database along with the Vikings game results, Iím sure I would find a direct correlation between straight Aís and the typical 12-2 Viking season.
When I finally flew the coop for the East Coast and the suburbs of Washington D.C., I only lasted there for three years. You see, in all the years I lived there, I only saw the Vikings when they played the Redskins or were in the playoffs. That just didnít suit me. I followed that with a three-year stint in Texas. Again, I could only see Vikings games if they were playing the Dallas Cowboys or the Houston Oilers. The chorus of "Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers, number one" still wakes me up in the middle of the night as if from some horrid nightmare.
So I moved back home to the Upper Midwest. In fact, I didnít move home until I had purchased Vikings season tickets. When my then wife-to-be asked me about maybe getting a job and finding a place to live first, I simply said, "A Vikings fan has certain priorities that you just wouldnít understand."
And now here it is late on Saturday night. I know the Vikings have played Carolina but I donít know the score and I wonít know until tomorrow morning when I go to the little campground store to buy homemade caramel rolls and a Sunday paper. But I am never without the team in thought and never will be.
As the loons cry eerily in the distance like lost souls without a purpose, I realize that in one aspect of my life I will never be alone. I have the Vikings, even without TV or radio or the Internet. I have a lifetime of memories from following the team. I have the friendships of the Vikings fans from all over the world that Iíve been fortunate to meet. The Vikings will always be there for me. So if I miss a preseason game here or there, I have comfort that I only have to drive a few hundred miles home to Plymouth, Minnesota to see the Dome in the distance.
And this year I have seen the gleam in the eyes of youngsters who are probably telling their dads the fastest way to get home from church so that they donít miss a single minute of a Vikings game.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Preseason, Chiefs at Vikings thoughts.
Preseason at the Metrodome: Vikings 34, Chiefs 0
It used to be the Minnesota Vikings who lacked respect from other NFL teams. Now itís the Vikings who are thumbing their noses. As the Kansas City Chiefs were being introduced at the start of the game last Saturday night, the logo of the Washington Redskins, not the Chiefs, appeared on the MetroDomeís Jumbotron. The sparsely attending Chiefs fans were livid. The mind game had begun.
Going back a few seasons, the mind set at Vikings games had not been us against whomever we were playing but rather us against the team and the ownership. As fans we are human. Our empathy for the Purple means we can never hide from what we feel and thatís good. But we must always walk the balance between hope and despair. For keeping the balance we pay a price. The danger of being human and allowing yourself to feel.
For this, we as Vikings fans must walk a narrow path high above rocky ground. On one side we have the descent into animalistic pessimism, on the other a godhead delusion. Both pull at us; both tempt. Without these forces tugging at our psyche, stirring it into conflict, you could never understand a true fan. They awaken us, you see, these warring sides. They arouse our passion. The past several years we have bottomed out at the end of each season, our emotions unsated.
But for the fans who always hang tough and have never lost hope, the reward of this coming season will be that much more special. We true fans are the ones who feel the deepest and suffer the most. Now it appears that our grief from previous playoff losses is about to be replaced with the awe-inspiring supremacy of my childhood, when the Vikings teams of the Ď70s so thoroughly dominated the NFC that sports writers only debated who was to finish behind the Vikings that year.
Some fans will still have a shiver of trepidation on opening day when the Vikings take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but I can guarantee that after only one quarter, the Dome will become the loudest spot on the planet as a release of pent-up tension escapes from what will be a sell-out crowd.
The older generations who sit on their hands will recall the familiar miscreant thrill of standing up and yelling at the top of their lungs like so many people did against the Chiefs. If a 70-year-old man about to write a check this Wednesday for $206 million can sit in the upper deck and not look the fool for "screaming Ďtill he canít screams no more," can you think of any reason why you canít?
During the Tampa Bay game, I will see it in the faces of Vikings fans around me the moment they realize just how good this team is. They will laugh with delight and take on the opposing team with vengeful fury. On Sunday, September 6, the energy brought forth from screaming Vikings fans will bring the MetroDome roof fabric to its breaking point.
The typical Vikings fan is not the corporate suit, but the people who arrive four hours early to tailgate, maybe even buy a stylish Cadillac and then paint it all purpleÖincluding the engine. We Minnesotans work hard and fight hard, and, until the Twins won two World Championships, were despairingly resigned to losing out in life. We look down on individuals who canít drive in snow and who move south for six months after Halloween because itís "too cold up here." It wasnít that way when Bud Grant coached this team, and itís about to return to that way again.
During tailgating discussions the last several years, invariably someone would have an opinion on the ownership. I distinctly remember a Vikings fan from Duluth who heatedly said, "I think the present organization are all [buttheads]. I look at them the same way I look at corporate subsidy and potholes. I have just about given up and figure that the team we get every year will be the 8-8, 9-6 variety, with no commitment to excellence. They will never amount to anything."
After the second preseason shutout, it appears the Vikings are about to become something. The fans are blowing off steam in more positive ways than by fighting each other in the stands in order to get close enough to throw verbal taunts at the Vikings players as they come on and off the field. Against Kansas City, the Purple Fandom showed it will continue to become a forceful presence, holding up the game to rage at officials, for instance, or reveling in proud moments.
The past several seasons when the playersí intensity appeared not to be as great as the fansí, the fans booed. Their enthusiasm would fade when the offense faded. They would hold back, waiting for the Vikings to show them a reason to cheer their best. They were ready to hate the Vikings if it ever became clear that hating them would be more satisfying than loving them.
But not this year. We only need to know itís game day and the purple blood begins to boil. We only need to see Cris Carter being introduced and we are already hoarse. We only need to hear Red McCombsí voice on the PA announcing, "Welcome to the noisiest stadium in the NFL" and we complyÖ.fanatically.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Vikings had the Chiefs pinned at their one-yard line on a third down. A horned character appeared on the Jumbotron, yelling so hard one could hardly believe he hadnít passed out yet. The camera was focused on his shield, zooming in and out, in and out, and the crowd went wild. The noise reached its loudest peak of the game. The Vikings held and the Jumbotron revealed the same person with thumbs up while nearby a crazed Vikings fan danced ala Elaine Bennes from the famed Seinfeld episode.
The season canít come fast enough. The fans are happy and excited. Seats will be hard to come by. And somewhere a purple and yellow shield that simply says "Cheer Or Die" holds extra meaning this week.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Preseason, at New England thoughts.
Preseason at New England: Vikings 24, Patriots 0
The atmospheric conditions in the Twin Cities the last few days have been ominous portents of raging storms. Rain fell so heavily on rooftops, it was as if the rain drops themselves were individual hellish warriors striving to break through the shingles that served as the only barrier between them and me.
Little did I know that the strength of the wind gusts and downpours would reflect the enthusiastic play of the team in purple taking the field for the first time this season and the conviction with which they would play.
When the first titanic blast of lightning broke over the sky Sunday night, Dwayne Rudd was diving into the end-zone with such enthusiasm, it was as though the lightning had deliberately imparted its energy directly to him.
The winds howled outside, echoing the cries of New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe as he was sacked for the third time in as many drives. It seemed as though the wind tearing off tree branches was funneling its destructive pattern directly into the Vikings defense; the destruction spread out in vast ripples, looking like bomb blasts from above.
As clouds outside my living room window were being torn apart, reduced to cotton tufts spinning frantically in the grip of small ferocious whirlwinds, so, too, was Bledsoe spinning in a vain attempt to relinquish Ruddís grip from his jersey. The Vikings defense, mini-typhoons, was plunging back and forth, accelerating the obliteration of the Patriots offense.
All the while the storm was brewing, my largest and most valuable trees remained steadfast, their roots anchoring them to the ground as the air around them filled with broken fronds and shredded leaves. My youngest sapling took heed from the towering elders and leaned into, then away from, the best the storm could offer.
The far skyline was ablaze with potent light storms. High above the tattered clouds, a purple veil formed across the horizon, a flashy haze riddled with hundreds of long, lurid scintillations like giant shooting stars with a speed, until now, unheard of. Bringing my concentration back to the television screen, a single wide receiver slid into alignment and drew my eye like a swallowing cyclone.
This lightning bolt leapt from the scrimmage line and reached its zenith mid-way down the field. His thrust of energy penetrated the tormented defense trying to stop the storm. His mind consumed the power given to him, and he blazed by his defender as outside my window another lightning strike shot up a stream of particles at lightspeed, spacefree and eternal. Randy Moss blazed into the end zone, his first professional touchdown now carved into memory like a lightning bolt etched into the inside of your eyelids.
Forecasts call for this Purple Storm to reappear next Saturday evening, feeding off the knowledge of its previous victory, searching for another, not stopping until that elusive ultimate win has been obtained.
After a shutout victory over a 1997 NFL playoff team, the Vikings showed they have a veteran team who knows what is needed to gain the next win. With that, hope is instilled in all of us for a step up to yet another level of play this coming season.
Until the regular season starts, I am content to observe and learn. And right now the forecast is very stormy, indeed, for the 16 teams who will face the Vikings this year. Once met, they will believe.
The reality: a storm is coming. Time for those weak of heart to head for the nearest shelter because itís just going to keep growing stronger.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Training Camp Report thoughts.
1998 Training Camp Report
"If anyone doubts my veracity, I can only say that I pity his lack of faith."
Baron Munchausen 1737-1794
The past few seasons theyíve been referred to as pretenders but the Viking team that took the field before my eyes on Monday are contenders. The rest of the NFL better get used to it.
You can talk about Tarkenton, Foreman and the Purple People Eater defense.
You can talk about Kramer, Rashad, Studwell and Browner. You can talk about Wilson, A.C., Del Rio and Doleman. They made it big time: setting records, winning championships and Hall Of Fame Inductions. Fame and glory.
But they did not win a ring, thereby achieving their glory and their downfalls on the very same days. Lost playoff games, lost championship games, lost Super Bowls. Some still talk about the "lost" Super Bowl season in í75 when the Hail Mary pass became forever etched in football lore. Time to let it go, people, for a new Purple Monster is taking the field.
Warning: Read on only if you have medical clearance because the report I am about to bring you from Mankato is going to give you severe heart palpitations and sweats. As you read, the blood will pump noisily through your veins, and you will lie awake at night moaning softly, "Bring on Tampa, bring on Tampa."
I was smoking a cigar after finishing my first tailgate meal of the day, steak and eggs, with my good buddy from Milwaukee, Mark Gresbach. Mark was tooting away on a three-foot purple party horn. I turned to him suddenly and told him to be quiet, for in the distance I heard the familiar sound of cleat on pavement.
Itís a sound instantly associated with tailgates, crisp autumn days, cheerleaders and touchdowns. You know, the stuff that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and your skin break out in goose pimples. The boys were making their way across the street.
All of you, of course, will want to know about the Vikingís No. 1 draft pick, Randy Moss, and my initial observation of him. So letís not waste any time. Buckle up, people, and read on.
As the day progressed I grew utterly fascinated with Randy Moss. My metaphor for him is a black hole: defenders seem to swirl around but not adhere to him. Without any significant effort on his part, as if his presence distorts space so that all defenders led to him then disappear, Moss is running, no, zipping down the field without anyone around him.
Moss did nothing out of the ordinary. He caught balls over his shoulder. He caught sideline passes with one hand. He made slant cuts; he did hitch-and-go's. He broke away from two cornerbacks at the line. He made receptions of perfectly thrown Brad Johnson passes in between two defenders.
But then, we as Viking fans, expect that from our receivers. So if Moss was doing nothing special, why my fascination with him? The best way to explain is to put yourselves in the shoes of a cornerback. You see this lanky receiver running at you in a very easy first gear, the first 5 to 7 yards. He hits second gear somewhat normally and is running effortlessly beside you. Thatís your first clue that you may be in trouble. This young receiver then hits third gear and you blink. During that blink, that millisecond of time, the receiver has gone from third to fourth gear in half a stride and you are saying, "Oh, merde!" and he is gone.
I do not exaggerate. I stretch the truth in no way. I can only tell you, the Purple Faithful, to watch that first game. Watch Moss explode from third to fourth gear in the blink of an eye. Watch it over and over again and your significant other will walk into the room to find you giggling like a idiot, finger pointing at the television, because your brain cannot register what your eyes are seeing. The Freak is now, and forever more, in your blood.
Letís look at the other positions one by one, concentrating on the new faces in camp.
Specialists: The only thing of importance to report with this unit is that while Gary Anderson was in camp and dressed, he was not kicking. I asked Vikings officials about it and no one knew of any injury so I am just assuming he was simply a veteran with nothing to prove and taking an off-day. Also of note was Johnson sharing place-kick holding responsibilities with punter Mitch Berger.
Defensive Backs: The second most impressive player of the day behind Moss was Jimmy Hitchcock. Hitchcock broke up two consecutive Johnson balls and was playing the exact opposite of one Dewayne Washington, by blanketing the receiver step for step rather than doing the 10-yard back pedal we all remember Washington doing last year.
Hitchcock was first-unit right corner while Fuller was first-unit left corner. Larry Brown was backing up Fuller and playing nickel. Brown looked to be in great shape and was very focused throughout both practices, which tells me he has something to prove, and thatís no bad thing. Rookie Ramos McDonald also saw a great deal of scrimmage time at left corner and did a good job, except when covering Jake Reed, who seemed to be able to turn the rookie at will, then slant to the inside for an easy reception.
McDonald will need to work on his inside game but his outside play seemed solid. Orlando Thomas and Torrian Gray will be battling for a starting spot, and I give the nod to Gray at the moment as he played the majority of the first unit snapsÖand looked good doing it. The hit of the day came from Fuller, who flattened tight end Hunter Goodwin, bringing back memories of Fullerís big hits in recent years. Fuller was focused and I did not hear him trash talking at all, a change from previous training camps. Look for Kerry Cooks to make the team. I was pleased with this safetyís play and he seemed to catch some eyes Monday.
Linebackers: Night and day from last year. Call it an intangible, but Iím much more confident in the unit this year. First, Ed McDaniel has that look back in his eye. It was missing through all of last year and he didnít seem to be enjoying the game. The old Eddie Mac is back with a vengeance! And heís not taking prisoners.
The best example, and comical as well, occurred when Eddie Mac went to get a drink of water. John Randle was guarding the water station and would only allow Eddie Mac a drink by squirting him with the plastic nozzle. Eddie finally stormed Randle so fiercely that the Big Dog took off in a full run, whimpering like a dog just chased away from his favorite spot. McDaniel played first unit middle linebacker the entire day. My initial feeling is he will be fine covering the run but may need a few preseason games to pick up the pass plays in his new home.
There were many sounds of shoulder pads popping with running backs laid flat out, staring into Dixon Edwardsí eyes. Edwards seems very comfortable and should be a real force this season. Dwayne Rudd has definitely added some upper body strength this offseason. The best thing I can tell you about Rudd is I never saw him out of position Monday. So in addition to the added strength, it appears Rudd spent a lot of time reviewing game tape.
I watched rookie Kailee Wong closely for most of the afternoon drills. Heís big, easily the largest linebacker we have. Wong was mainly learning today and did not see too much scrimmage time. The same with Kivuusama Mays. But these are the big, bruising linebackers weíve been wishing for. If they listen and learn from the first unit, they will be factors in the years to come.
Defensive Linemen: Iím waiting for the afternoon practice to begin and I am loading film by one of the tackling dummies. The players are beginning to filter onto the practice field. I hear this guy humming very loudly behind me. "I am unbeatable. I am the Big Dog!" boasts this person. I decide not to challenge John Randle on that statement, and he saunters by, wraps his arms around Tony Williams and starts yelling, "GoooAAAAALLL!" over and over into the young Williamsí ear. As I have tried to explain to Vikings fans before, donít try to understand Big Dog, just sit back and enjoy.
The unit looked good and flustered every quarterback today except for Johnson. Time and time again Randall Cunningham was pursued by any number of defensive ends and broke up field or found himself wrapped in a tightly held bear hug. The only player I had any disappointment in was Duane Clemons who seemed to get turned around during a few of the scrimmages, allowing a running back through a huge hole. Iím hopeful that will be addressed as Clemonsí pass rush remains strong.
Offensive Linemen: Jeff Christy is back, Jeff Christy is playing, and Jeff Christy is on the first unit. There is joy in Purpledom. I was extremely happy to see Christy back in action and he looks as though the broken ankle was a thing that never occurred, never happened.
In perhaps the single strongest Vikings unit, the likes of Todd Steussie, Randall McDaniel, David Dixon, and a noticeably slimmer and more focused Korey Stringer should immediately put to rest any concerns you have on the offensive line.
St. Paul native Matt Birk was constantly getting yelled at but in years past, I have found that to signify a young player who the coaches want on the team. Everett Lindsay looked to be in great shape as did Bob Sapp and Eric Moss. Sapp and Moss could end up battling for the final offensive line spot, the loser ending up on the practice squad.
Tight ends: Andrew Glover caught everything thrown to him today. I repeat: everything. He ran every drill hard. He ran an extra 20 yards at the end of each reception. He looked like the Glover who won the Cardinals game for us last year. Glover also had something he lacked late last year: consistency. Hunter Goodwin and Greg DeLong have the other two positions sewn up in the least competitive unit on the Vikings team.
Wide Receivers: I donít know who the guy in number 80 was. He was the only player out there with no name sewn on his jersey so I asked around to find out. Some guy named Cris Carter. Hard worker, catches everything thrown to him. Kept yelling at rookie Randy Moss to "Stay alert!" and "Hustle back!" and such. I mean, the arrogance. This Carter guy might make it, might not. Certainly seems to be able to get Brian Billickís ear at will so maybe heís got a connection.
Jake Reed made great sideline catches today. Matthew Hatchette continues to show he has good speed. Tony Bland made one very difficult sideline catch, coming down with both feet in bounds and a defensive back all over him. Chris Walsh is going to have a complex by the end of the season because the coaches count his 40-yard dash by a calendar compared to all the new-found speed in camp, but he will be running the slot behind Carter. Yes, I did see a lot of three receiver sets today: Moss by himself at one end, Reed at the other with Carter in the slot. My only question is whether Billick is going to use the set on things other than third-and-fifteen. Weíll have to wait until the first game to find out.
Running Backs: I never realized before how well Moe Williams can run in the middle until today. Granted, it was not full pads, but he bounced off tackles with ease, and before the defense could say, "Where did he go?" Williams was 20 yards down the field. Leroy Hoard impressed me all day with his pass catching.
Robert Smith, sporting new sideburns, came into camp beefed up, more so in the legs than last year when he added quite a bit of upper body mass. And he hasnít lost a step, many times breaking into the defensive backfield. Again, these werenít full contact drills but he still has that ability to break it any time he touches the ball. My only concern with this unit could be lack of depth.
Fullback is set with Charles Evans, the most underrated full back in the NFL today, but no one clear candidate is there to back him up. My vote would go to Scottie Graham simply because of Grahamís stellar special teams play while with the Vikings. You might see the Vikings scour the waiver wire in weeks to come for a backup full back.
Quarterbacks: Brad Johnsonís leg development has to be seen to be believed. Hopefully, my photos will turn out nicely and youíll see for yourself by mid-week on the Viking Underground. The other impressive thing about Johnson is he has grown still further as a leader, involved in teaching the offense and pointing out weaknesses to Billick all day long.
If I had to vote on who the single-most focused player on the team is presently, I wouldnít hesitate in selecting Johnson. Go to sleep at night knowing that while the Lions fans have nightmares about Scott Mitchell, and the Bucs fans cringe every time Trent Dilferís name is spoken, we have Brad Johnson, quite possibly the hardest working guy in the NFL today.
Cunningham has the number two job and looks much more comfortable in camp than last year. Much more. A real battle is taking place for that third spot, however. Todd Bouman and Jay Fiedler each played well today with a slight nod going in favor of Fiedler. But I look for Bouman to fight tooth-and-nail for the third spot.
And there you have it, folks, observations after Day One of training camp.
So, are you excited yet? If not, you will be. Everyone wants to say they picked the Super Bowl champion before the season began. And youíll see for yourself very soon that the choice is easy. Pick purple!
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Mankato thoughts.
Picture a man walking down the street whistling. He trills four notes ó dah, dah, dah, dum ó and you know the tune. Reduced to a single melodic line, stripped of its orchestral trappings, Beethovenís Fifth is still Beethovenís Fifth.
Picture another man sitting in the last seat of the last row in the upper deck of the Metrodome. You know, the seat with the obstructed view. At the opposite end of the field a tiny speck in purple rolls out and throws a ball low and away to another man completely horizontal to the playing field, toes just inside the boundary line, who catches the ball with one ó yes, just one ó outstretched hand.
Even without seeing the jersey number, even with a partially obstructed view more than a football field away, the fan in the last row knows Cris Carter has made another incredible catch that will be shown over and over again on every highlight reel for the next week.
Iím a connoisseur of great Vikings receivers, and I have to say that the eight-year Vikings career of Carter deserves every award that itís won and then some. Each year when I visit training camp he is the first player I look for. Even after all the years, all the spectacular catches, the man still simply amazes.
I like going to Mankato to watch Carter so much that Iíve been known to go without the usual excuse to my wife of ďentertaining out-of-town guests.Ē Truth be told, I prefer it that way. Iím the kind of person who likes to watch the Vikings receivers run all the drills from stretching in the beginning to the gut-wrenching wind-sprints at the end after two hours of practice. And then watch it all over again in the afternoon.
Unlike going to a fine museum and spending 10 frantic minutes in each gallery, I would rather spend my full time and attention admiring the best item the museum has to offer. And Carter is the Mona Lisa of the Minnesota Vikings Fine Art Museum.
Even though Carter started out with the Philadelphia Eagles, he seems always to have belonged to the Vikings fans. More intimate with us than any other player, he tells us who we are and who we ought to be. Watching his face on game-day we recognize our best traits as a team: courage, wisdom, hope. Off the field, Carter epitomizes our best selves: compassion, kindness, fairness, strength.
Sometimes alone on the field, he is individualism personified. After scoring a touchdown, arm raised towards heaven, aglow, he embodies belief in God for all who seek Him. As a lighthouse to Christians, as a role model to children with a never-say-die attitude on the field, I fully expect the Vikings to honor the unquestionably best receiver in Vikings history by granting him a contract extension before training camp opens so that their leader is present from day one.
On July 26, the Vikingsí 33rd training camp in Mankato opens. The next day, I will make my way to observe it in person. Hereís my strategy for a perfect day: I pack all my tailgating gear, leave early to avoid traffic, and set up camp near the Vikings weight tent. Only when the coals are white hot and that first brat is on the grill will I look up to begin gathering in the moment as the players cross the street to the practice field.
While my fellow fans are elbowing each other into a frenzy to get any Vikings autograph, Iíll saunter over to the fence, where I have a good view of the field, in peace and quiet far from the maddening crowd spilling dangerously over into oncoming traffic.
My wife drags me to museums and symphonies all over the world to see and listen to truly fine work, but to me there is no finer work of art than the man who wears jersey No. 80. Seeing him run on to the practice field each year, Iím grateful that on Sept. 4, 1990, the Vikings claimed Carter off the waiver wire from the Eagles and took a chance on a man with some baggage.
And thatís why, when I load up my truck and head to Mankato for that very first 1998 practice, I will again snag a spot that gives me a good view of the receivers. And as Carter, that Vikings masterpiece, raises his arm in welcome, Iíll wave back.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be McCombs Named Owner thoughts.
Red McCombs Named Owner
I got up early one morning this past week feeling grand. I marmaladed a slice of toast with something of a flourish, and I donít suppose I have ever come much closer to saying ĎTra-la-laí as I did the spreading, for I was feeling in mid-season form. God, as I once heard my wife put it, was in His Heaven and all was right with the world. (She added, I remember, some guff about larks and snails, but that is a side issue and need not keep us.)
It is no secret with those who have stayed with us that Mr. Cheer Or Die, though as boisterous as a Viking fan could wish when the whistle has sounded and the game has begun, is seldom a ball of fire at the breakfast table. Confront him with eggs and bacon, and he tends to pick cautiously at them, as if afraid they may leap from the plate and snap at him. Listless, about sums it up. Not much bounce to the ounce.
But today vastly different conditions prevailed. All had been verve, if thatís the word I want, and animation. Well, when I tell you that after sailing through a couple of sausages like John Randle through a offensive line I was now, as indicated, about to tackle the toast and my wifeís homemade marmalade, need I say more.
The reason for this improved outlook on the proteins and carbohydrates is not far to seek. My wife was back, filling the household with her charm and vibrancy. She had left last week for a family reunion and I had to stay back to mind our two pet dogs. And she was not here when they announced Red McCombs had won the ownership battle over Glen Taylor, my original man of choice.
I had caught myself staring at the television on the 6íoíclock news in which they announced that McCombs was the man. My eyebrows rose until they nearly disarranged my front hair. I needed someone to administer spiritual solace, which is a wifeís job. Men canít cry even though there is nothing better for the nervous system. It does something, my wife told me once, I forget, to the glands.
Despondent, I had called my wife in North Dakota the very next morning where she was staying with her parents. Her mother answered the phone. There was no mistaking that lovely voice. As always when we converse on the phone, it had nearly fractured my ear-drum and started my dogs howling.
This woman could make herself heard not only in a open corn field but in several adjoining counties. Retired now from farming, she still tends to address me in the tone of voice previously reserved for calling in my father-in-law from the fields, while he was threshing the crop.
"So youíre up and about, are you?" she boomed. "I thought youíd still be in bed snoring your head off."
"It is a little unusual for me to be in circulation at this hour," I agreed, "but I need to speak with my wife immediately! The Vikings have made a horrendous error in judgment! Disaster looms!"
Finally getting my wife on the phone and frantically explaining the situation while flaying my arms about, I was soon winded and she had an opportunity to respond.
"I had heard the news and thought youíd be upset."
"So would you be, if, for example, another gardener that you particularly disliked had got hold of a thing youíd have given your eyeteeth to have."
"I see what you mean," she said, probably wondering why she had married a loony who could attach so much value to a football team that he dressed up crazy and at those times whom she personally would have preferred not to be found dead in a ditch with.
"It gave me the worst attack of indigestion Iíve had since you left that pasta salad on the counter over night and fed it to me the next day," I replied.
"I donít see why this has you so worked up," my wife said.
It was a subject on which I was a well-informed source, but I hesitated for a moment, asking myself if I ought to reveal to this frail young bride what she was letting herself in for. Then I decided that the truth must be told and nothing held back. Cruel to hide the facts from her and allow her to come home uninformed and unprepared for the state I was in.
"Those inmates of the leper colony know as the Gang Of Ten at Winter Park sold this team to a man from San Antonio, Texas, and he has been looking to get a team for their own version of the Dome."
She seemed to weigh this. A moment or two passed before she surfaced again.
When she spoke, it was with a spot of wariness in her voice.
"Sounds like a wanker," she said going back to her favorite British word,
"Would you call him a wanker?"
"Not to his face, perhaps."
"If he did meet you face-to-face heíd probably think youíre crazy," she voiced.
"Very possibly, but if you think a busy man like myself has the time to go giving my opinions to a billionaire from Texas and rubbing him either with or against the grain, you are greatly mistaken."
We conversed some more and she gave me the impression, when we ended our call, of being a bit pensive, which I could well understand, and I wasnít feeling too unpensive myself. Another possibility of a Minnesota team moving to Texas was raising its ugly head again, and the whole thing struck me as sinister. I had a Öwhatís the word?Öbegins with a pÖpre-somethingÖ premonition, thatís the babyÖI had a premonition that I was being tipped off by my Viking guardian angel that evil was afoot and that I would be well advised to watch my step and keep my eyes open.
I fixed myself a martini, two in fact, which is generally my limit, but with my poise shattered as it was I felt that a third wouldnít hurt.
Indeed, had it not been a weeknight I would have been willing to go even more deeply into the thing. I once read about a man who used to drink twenty-six martinis before dinner, and the conviction was beginning to steal over me that he had had the right idea.
Then suddenly I caught myself laughing. A few months earlier, I had jumped for joy with the news of a Baltimorian man, Tom Clancy, had won the bidding process. One problem though, he had no cash, as so many people do these days.
Not Red McCombs, though. In the evening of his life he has more than a sufficiency. It would not be going too far, indeed, to describe him as stinking rich. For a great part of his adult life he had been an automobile dealer and had made a vast fortune.
I can well imagine that a casual observer, if I had confided to him my qualms at the idea of this Texan owning my Vikings, would have raised his eyebrows and been at a loss to understand, for McCombs is undeniably rich, cordial, returns all calls, takes no bull, and never moved the Denver Nuggets when he owned that NBA franchise.
So I decided to ask my Packer fan neighbor for an impartial view of his thoughts on the McCombs deal. He was standing outside watering his yellow tiger lilies, humming a light song. It died on his lips as he saw me, and he stood staring at me aghast. He reminded me of one of those fellows who spend the night in haunted houses and are found the next morning dead to the last drop with a look of awful horror on their faces. I greeted him and he swallowed painfully in return.
"You seem upset about something," said the Cheesehead snidely.
"Itís this McCombs thing, and Iíve come to ask your opinion," I replied, speaking austerely, for the old codgerís attitude had offended me. I could make allowances for him, because naturally a man who follows the Packers faithfully doesnít like suddenly finding Mr. Cheer Or Die in his midst, but I did feel that he might have made more of an effort to lighten up.
This painful encounter, a conversation really, if you could call it a conversation, might have been expected to depress me, but this was far from the case. For this Green Bay fan reminded me of one simple fact: that McCombs, and this man alone, would own the team. Something Iíve wanted for over seven years now. It was to all intents and purposes with a song on my lips (ĎBeating on the Cheeseheadsí) that I made my way back home. He had pointed out one positive, but somehow still it wasnít enough.
To say that when I turned in to bed I fell into a dreamless sleep would be deceiving my readers. I passed a somewhat restless night. I could have sworn, indeed, that I didnít drop off at all, but I suppose I must have done, because the next thing I knew sunlight was coming through the window and my wife was making me breakfast.
I laid in bed and thought back, clearing the morning cob webs from my mind.
Twenty-four hours earlier I had been in front of the television sinking forward in my chair, face buried in my hands and my dogs in the throes of nausea. It has always been my policy to look on the bright side, but in order to do this you have to have a bright side to look on, and with the announcement of a out-of-state bidder becoming the owner of the Vikings there wasnít one. This, as the Germans once said in 1945, was the end.
Then the call to find my wife, and having to first deal with my mother-in-law whose strong personality finds no difficulties, when displeased, in reducing me to a spot of grease in a matter of minutes. Did I mention previously that pheasant hunters who crossed her farm land without permission were rebuked so harshly by her that they are never the same again and for months go about in a sort of stupor, starting at sudden noises?
But here now was my wife and some order was returning to my life. As stated in the beginning of this column, I was ravenous at breakfast and busy marmalading my toast. When yesterday it didnít seem possible, the sun had actually risen again. The day looked bright.
"Read the sports section," said my wife.
"The paper. Pick it up and read the sports section," she said again.
I was unable to follow her motive. But I did so anyway and read with great zeal every story about the possible new Viking owner.
"What does it say," she asked placing more sausage on my plate.
"Says here heíll never move the team out of Minnesota," I said skeptically.
"Didnít you once tell me that when you lived in Texas that a hand-shake held more water than any legal document ever could?" said she.
"Why, yes, I did." And I saw it all then. And her idea was a good one. My wifeís brain has been enlarged by constant helpings of fish, and she has the most annoying habit of seeing things before I do but here again she had found a formula acceptable that would give me a good nightís rest the remainder of the year. A rush of emotion filled me as I picked up the phone. Minutes later Dan Hildreth and I were going to be attending the McCombs press conference that would introduce our possible new owner to the Viking fans around the world.
After the press conference as the media throng pushed forward to speak further with Gary Woods and McCombs, I found myself face-to-face with the man himself.
"Uh, Mr. McCombs, Iím a Viking fan and season ticket holder and there is a favor that is within your power to bestow."
"Name it, son. Ask of me what you will."
"If you could see your way to telling me Texan to former-Texan that you wonít move the team and shake on it, it will go a long ways to your eventually being accepted amongst the Purple Faithful. Purple Pride I believe you called it, sir."
He stuck his hand out and I gazed upon it. The late morning light played on it, and another manís hand never looked so steady, so self-assured.
As I took the hand I said, "I suppose you know that you can never break our hearts by moving."
"I realize that, son. And you donít have to worry."
"Because the people of Minnesota and the sports world in general couldnít take another hit like that."
"Very well," said McCombs. "So be it. This team will always be in Minnesota."
I gave him a wink. While a part of me felt like a father reluctantly throwing his child from the sleigh to divert the attention of the pursuing wolf pack, as I believe happens all the time in Russia in the winter months, I went away knowing that I have to place my trust in a Texanís handshake. And I will make a point of doing so.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be July thoughts.
This week I had to go to Wisconsin, the land of cheese curds and hobby farms.
My business had led me to a two-day client visit in the small town of Janesville. Itís a lovely rural town with friendly people, reminding me of Jamestown, ND, my own hometown.
After the first day of business, I decided to take my group into Madison for an exceptional meal at LíEtoile on the square overlooking the Capitol. We arrived in town with time to spare before our reservations, so we stopped into a nearby cocktail lounge called Gennaís beforehand to socialize.
Wearing my Viking Underground dress shirt, I noticed some Packer fans staring at me from across the bar, mouths agape, not quite sure of what they were seeing. One person ó I refer to him as "One Eyebrow" ó slouched over to me after a short while, hairy knuckles scraping the wooden floor, sniffing the air as if checking for immediate danger. The ensuing conversation went something like this:
OE: Ugh, we kick your butts again this year.
Mr. COD: Oh really? You think you can stop our offense?
OE: Vikings have offense?
Mr. COD: We sure do, my mentally challenged friend. How íbout we see how you will match up on defense and how your team can stop our top offensive players?
OE: Me understand.
Mr. COD: You know we just drafted Randy Moss. How do you plan to stop him?
OE: Easy. Cornerback and strong safety double team.
Mr. COD: Wow! Well, that takes care of Moss. What about Jake Reed?
OE: Reed big and strong but we play other corner deep and weak-side linebacker up.
Mr. COD: Hmmmm. I guess that will slow him down. Now what about perennial All-Pro Cris Carter? How will you stop him?
OE: Carter old and slow now. Nickel back covers. No problem.
Mr. COD: Are you sure youíre not Mike Holmgren? I mean, how will my team even get a first down against your brilliant thinking?
OE: (Big toothless grin) That right! No first downs, no first downs!
Mr. COD: Let me get this straight. Youíve doubled up Moss, have Reed covered short and long and can effectively take care of Carter.
OE: You almost as smart as me.
Mr. COD: Well, letís say we run Robert Smith in a trap play. How can you possibly stop that? Youíve got all your D-backs and one linebacker committed now.
OE: We have stud defensive line. Smith never get through.
Mr. COD: So the D-line stays home to take care of Smith?
OE: Smash him to bits.
Mr. COD: Well, what if, just maybe, Brad Johnson fakes a hand-off to Smith which commits your D-line. Johnson rolls around to the strong side, which keeps the middle and strongside linebackers home, not knowing if Johnson will run or throw. There is no pass rush because the D-line is all on top of Smith and your weakside linebacker is committed to Reed. Moss is streaking down the sideline with a corner and safety hanging on for dear life while Carter has made the nickel back turn around in his jock. So what youíre telling me is there is no one covering our big tight end, Andrew Glover, and Johnson completes a 25-yard pass right down the middle of the field. Or did you have a plan for that too?
OE: (Long pause. Sound of crickets can be heard.) Oooh! We cover tight-end with safety!
Mr. COD: So now youíve pulled the safety off Moss and your cornerback ... by the way, how fast is your corner?
OE: Fast. Him got 4.45 speed.
Mr. COD: Molasses in January, my friend. Moss has 4.28. So once youíve pulled the safety off, Johnson just hits Moss for an 80-yard touchdown instead of throwing to Glover.
OE: (Sound of hairy knuckles scratching prominent brow ridge) We pull strong-side linebacker to slow Moss down!
Mr. COD: Which frees up the strongside so that when Smith breaks through, and believe me, that Vikings All-Pro offensive line will make a hole, the Viper ends up going, and going, and going all the way into the Thunder Zone.
OE: We have weakside linebacker shadow Smith. That take care of that.
Mr. COD: Which leaves 6-foot-3 Jake Reed against one of your shrimp corners and the game becomes boring with Jake catching pass after pass after pass.
OE: We bring up Nickel! Nickel save us!
Mr. COD: And then I get to see Carter point to God in the end-zone after each of his many touchdowns that day!
OE: (Now severely glassy-eyed and itís not due to the beer) Me no play this game no more. Head hurt bad!
Mr. COD: Wait! You didnít tell me how you will take care of Johnson if he decides to throw another touchdown to himself again this year! Well, thank you for the enlightening chat. Stop by anytime.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be June and the Ownership Battle thoughts.
Clancy Denied: Ownership Battle Renewed
I was in Phoenix two weeks back on business and as usual worked late each day. Lying on my bed, finally resting, I would vegetate in front of the television.
One evening as I flipped through the various channels available at my resort hotel, I came across an all-time classic, Patton. Early in the movie, George C. Scott, as the volatile World War II commander, directs his driver to a deserted battlefield, littered with shards and stones from a millennia-old massacre of Carthaginians by Roman legions.
"Two thousand years ago, I was here," muses Patton. In the background, unobtrusively, though hauntingly rendered, is a somber, scintillating ghostly piece of music marked by soft trumpet flourishes and the steady throb of a bass drum. And the musical score put me in deep thought. Yes, here we are again as in a time before.
Again, we must battle through another ownership bidding war, possibly just as hard on us, the troops, as it was earlier in the year. Which general will emerge to take the Viking legions to the ultimate victory?
Shruti Misra: Last time I checked, a person still couldnít make a snowball in Hell, and thatís about the odds of this bid being accepted. Her first bid was under the $200 million minimum asking price and with a built in clause to move the team. The next bid was reportedly at $225 million but is structured improperly. The present ownership has stated that it wonít be the highest bid that wins, but the one they feel is best for the team and community. This isnít it.
Carl Pohlad: Valued at over $1.3 billion, Carl is the one of the richest of possible bidders. Thatís great for the slew of free agents we have next year but Carl was never one to easily part with his money. I think Carl would like to own the Vikings so that he can rework the Metrodome lease in favor of himselfÖand the Twins. I donít want the Vikings taking a back seat to baseball. I also wonder what will happen when Carl passes away (God rest his soul) within the next 5 to 10 years. Will there be a legal battle all over again for ownership of the team? Chances are yes, and thatís why I really donít like Carl as Viking owner. But thanks, Carl, for those World Series championships in í87 and í91!
Roger Headrick: It is really a matter of finance that you find Roger so far down my list. He just does not have the money unless he recruits a ton of minority owners and then weíre really back where we started, arenít we? Rogerís heart is in the right place. Heís always wanted what is best for the team and the fans but has been hindered in the past by the other nine owners on the Viking board. And the mere mention of Headrick brings to mind the Alabama connection we have all read about. Would Roger move the team to Alabama eventually? I doubt it, but I donít want to roll the dice either. Headrick could become a compromise candidate if the remaining nine lock up votes between Glen Taylor and J. Bruce Llewellyn or Red McCombs. And Headrick has NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in his corner. Consider Headrick a dark horse.
Red McCombs: I favored McCombs during the last season when this all started. But keep in mind the only other name mentioned as a possible bidder at that time was Mike Lynn. McCombs is worth $1 billion and the name Two Minute Tommy Kramer has been mentioned as a possible part of the McCombs team. Wouldnít you just love to see the Vikings driving down the field late in the fourth quarter with Kramerís head hanging out the ownerís box yelling, "Just throw the damn ball already, Billick, you moron!" And McCombs owns FOX29 in the Twin Cities so you know he would advertise this team from sun-up to sun-down, something that I have wanted for several years. So whatís bad about Red? If a car salesman looks you straight in the eye and says, "Son, I would never, ever move this team out of Minnesota," are you going to believe him or will you, like me, get that squirmy feeling in your underwear, just like when your wife asks you, "Do you think Iím fat"?
J. Bruce Llewellyn: I like this guy very, very much. Heís my kind of guy. Started small and made it big. Heís got the money, reportedly worth over $900 million. And wouldnít you just love the Cola War on November 26 this year when the Coke-endorsed Minnesota Vikings demolish the Jerry Jones/Pepsi-endorsed Dallas Cowboys on national television? Yikes! But there are several things wrong with the Llewellyn proposed bid. The reported offer is less than the minimum $200 million. It does not involve a 100 percent sale of stock, another requirement. And it involves Lynn, a man whose motives always appear genuinely for the good of the team but down the line always turn out to have been the best for himself. The man is still making $1 million per year off the Dome lease he wrote a decade ago.
Glen Taylor: Yes, I have saved the best for last. Or at least whom I consider the best of the bunch thus far. At the beginning of 1998, Taylor was reported to be worth over $1.5 billion. So there is no worry about the coming up with money. Since that time, Wall Street's love of printing companies has grown stronger, and Taylor's company has become even more valuable. Using the estimates of DeWese, who consults on printing company deals nationally with Compass Capital Advisors in Radnor, Pa., and a revenue figure of $900 million, Taylor Corp. could be worth $2 billion, after subtracting its relatively modest corporate debt. That would value Taylor's ownership interest at $1.78 billion, making him the richest Minnesotan. Already a saint in the Twin Cities for saving the Timberwolves franchise from moving to New Orleans, Taylor would most assuredly keep the team in Minnesota. No question about it. And Taylor would be the perfect owner. He just signs the pay checks and hands over the operations to those nearest the game. With the Timberwolves, Taylor hired Duluth native and Boston Celtic great Kevin McHale to run the show. Rest assured that Taylor would bring in a football-minded person, very close to the game, to be the Viking GM. Heís talking with, and has the endorsement of, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. A possible new lease for the Dome could be in the works since both parties are on friendly terms. Taylorís marketing department is ready to move in and sell the Vikings to a community hungry for the season to start. So whatís my reservation about Taylor? One name, Leslie Alexander, the Houston Rockets basketball team owner. Should Taylor, God forbid, meet an untimely death or sell his share of the team, Alexander could feasibly become majority owner by just purchasing an additional five percent. Then it would be a matter of time for a rare losing season to come along and dwindle the ticket base, giving Alexander the impetus to move the team to Texas. But Taylor receives my endorsement, albeit not a ringing one. And he is certainly capable of being the General Patton we need to go toe-to-toe with the Sports Commission and the minority owners he will have under him. Meet Glen "The Tank" Taylor, new majority owner of the Minnesota Vikings.
How The Central Division Was Formatted
I came across a little known fact the other day I thought I would share with everyone. After the merger with the AFL, the old NFL had to be reduced to three divisions, but the owners couldnít agree on how. (Some things never change!) So the alignment of the NFC was determined by none other than commissioner Pete Rozelleís secretary, Thelma Elkjer. When eight months after the merger found the owners still stalemated, Rozelle came up with a decision-making process. He had his secretary reach into a vase and pick one of five plans. She pulled out plan number three. It was the only one that kept the black-and-blue division (Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, and Minnesota) intact. If sheíd selected any of the other four, the Vikings would have been in the Eastern Division. Earlier there had been nine plans. The possibilities were positively absurd. Two broke up the Bears-Packers rivalry. Another put Philadelphia and Detroit in the West. The current set-up isnít perfect, but it could have been a lot worse. Thanks, Thelma!
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be May thoughts.
May 1998 Prophecy
Rise up, bold warriors,
take steel in your strong hands,
the foeman stands below, loudly shouting.
Sound the horn and iron, gather spear and shield;
the day is bright for battle,
and glory for the taking.
Mount up, brave warband,
the battlechief is fearless;
bold leader, keen in victory,
he will win the heroís portion,
and the bards laud his name in song-making.
Old Celtic poem
I was in Denver this week on business. I always have trouble sleeping when Iím away from the confines of my own bed and usually canít fall asleep until the time between times, when the world awaits the renewing light of day and dreams finally come, dreams which can foretell the future. This is what the wise men of other ages believed and taught. And with the dream I had on one of those nights in Denver, I am not persuaded that they were wrong.
I was standing on the outskirts of a great battle. A Viking army in purple and gold had succeeded in driving through the enemy the first time, but the second charge had bogged down. There were simply too many against them. Even when a man killed with every stroke, as the Viking army did, two more barbarians leapt up to drag him from his horse before the blade was clear of the dead weight.
In the middle of the fray a barbaric battle lord, a fair-haired giant, rose up before the Viking war lord with an enormous hammer in his hand. Slavering with rage, he bellowed his challenge to the Viking leader and planted his feet, swinging that hammer, thick-sinewed shoulders and arms bulging with the effort. He stood like an oak tree as the Viking war lord urged his horse toward him. Sunlight glinted in the barbarianís yellow hair, his blue eyes clear and unafraid, taunting the Viking, the hammer in his hands dripping blood and brains from the skulls he had smashed.
The one in purple spun toward him and waited until the barbarian swung the hammer up for the killing blow. The Viking lifted his sword and his first stroke ripped low across the bruteís unprotected stomach.
A lesser man would have fallen, but the golden giant stood his ground and swung the hammer down with such force that his wound burst. Blood and entrails gushed forth, and the Viking leader laughed to see it.
The hammer swung wide, and as the barbarianís hands came down to grab his belly, the one in purple plunged the point of his sword through the giantís throat. Dark blood spewed out over the Viking war lordís hand.
The enemy giant stood a moment, his eyes rolling up in their sockets, then collapsed. The sword was jerked free by the Viking and he stood laughing, laughing, roaring with the absurdity of it.
When their war chief went down, the barbarians fell into confusion. They had lost their leader, their heart, and their ruthlessness. The slaughter of the barbarians by the Vikings became appalling. Then it was over. My alarm was going off.
I raised my head and looked out the window on the Denver landscape. A storm had passed, and the moon still shone. A vision had been shown to me. I am sure of it.
Beware. The Vikings are coming. And no mercy will be granted.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Off-Season thoughts.
I open my eyes, blinking at the bedroomís unexpected brightness, then lazily reach out to place one hand in a patch of sunlight spilling onto the bed from a gap between the blinds. Dust motes drift across the shaft of light, appearing for all the world to be conjured into, and out of, existence.
It evokes a childhood memory of contentment. I feel utterly refreshed, and utterly disinclined to give up my present state of comfort. I donít know why Iíve slept so late, and I donít care. I spread my fingers on the sun-warmed sheet, a dog curled on either side of me, smell the coffee my wife is brewing, and think about drifting back to sleep.
Somethingís troubling me, though. A dream? A nightmare? I pause and try to dredge up some trace of it, without much hope; unless Iím catapulted awake by a nightmare, my dreams tend to be evanescent. And yet- I leap out of bed, crouch down on the carpet, fists to my eyes, face against my knees, lips moving soundlessly. The shock of realization is a palpable thing: The Vikings for sale. The Vikings sold. The sale disputed. An overwrought process to determine ownership. All reminiscent of a hammer blow to the thumb and tinged with the very same mixture of surprise, anger, humiliation, and idiot bewilderment.
I rock back and forth, on the verge of laughter, trying to keep my mind blank, waiting for the panic to subside. And eventually, it does, laced by one simple, perfectly coherent thought: Paul Tagliabue has ruled in favor of Tom Clancy.
The View From Britain
The teamís supporters had taken over the city, flight after flight descending from blue skies to disgorge their raucous cargo. Hotels were so overcrowded that one even rented out its sauna as a bedroom while home owners advertised rooms for rent.
The urban hymns of the finest fans could be heard down every avenue and alley. The neat streets around the stadium resounded to the teamís chants. The stadium itself was decked largely in the color of its visiting majority. A scenario for the Viking Underground Reunion at the home and season opener?
Actually, the town was Stockholm, Sweden. The team was Chelsea. The game was soccer and the event was the Cup Winnersí Cup versus VfB Stuttgart, Germany. It was a magical night, a rhapsody in blue with the final technical flaws forgotten amid the majesty of Gianfranco Zolaís 71st-minute strike and the ecstatic celebrations it produced. As the blue and white Chelsea masses chorused their delight while swaying on the terraces, the players and coaching staff embarked on some sustained revelry at the final whistle.
So what in the world does this have to do with the Vikingís upcoming season, you ask? Itís an interesting story, really. And youíll come out of it more confident about the Vikingís chances of winning the Super Bowl than ever before.
I had been on holiday in Great Britain with my wife for almost two weeks. Starved for any kind of sport to follow, I began to watch two different things in earnest late at night: snooker and soccer. Snooker is a pool game of intricate skill, foresight, and steady nerves, but boring as hell to my wife. Soccer, a childhood favorite, had lost my interest as I became older, but I had always greatly admired the dedication of the fans (hooligans excepted). And it captured my wifeís imagination as well. Soccer it was then.
We had begun to follow Chelseaís plight through the Cup Winnersí Cup matches. They had a Cris Carter-type player in Zola: a player who hogs the limelight and pouts when heís not in it. Against VfB Stuttgart after nine months of grappling forlornly for his best form and watching while others on the Chelsea side took the plaudits, Zola finally stole back his place in the sun when he provided a glorious climax to his teamís trophy-laden season.
Chelsea also has a Brad Johnson-type leader in Dennis Wise, the captain whose bright outlook kept his team resolutely positive, even when the Germans intermittently punctured their tempo. Against the Germans, Wise proved an influential figure, tackling stoutly and often propelling his team-mates forwards.
And Chelsea showed they love their fans, much like the Vikings. They made this crystal clear after the game, when Gianluca Vialli, Chelseaís player-manager, broke away from the teamís on-field post-game celebration and began celebrating on his own, leaping up and down, punching the air, a man intoxicated by the roaring fans. Then the team all joined hands and ran towards their fans, diving full length en masse, medals gleaming around their necks while the Cup bounced in their midst. It was line-dancing gone mad.
The day before I had met three fellow Viking fans, Mike Salmon, Geoff Reader, and Ian Manning, in the small town of St. Albans, England. They have all been to home Viking games; Geoff even has season tickets. I discussed the merits of soccer versus American football and the relationship with their fans. I told the English three that I loved soccerís fans but found the 1-0 scores quite boring and maybe the fans did too, thus their raucous behavior. They needed to be organized and loud otherwise they would fall asleep.
I further postulated that American football fans are so into observing the gameís eccentricities that the best they can do is occasionally start the wave, which is usually the result of a boring game. I pointed out that just a few days earlier a soccer teamís fans had become so disgusted with their tournament play that all 45,000 people in the stands rose and turned their backs on coach and team. You couldnít get 45,000 people at the Dome to even stand together let alone do an organized chorus move, I said. I was abruptly cut off from any more pints. The alcohol, I was told, was making me lose my senses.
At the fourth pub in eight hours, Mike (Limey Vike) then gave me his vision of the upcoming Viking season which I mentioned previously in this column: that the destiny of Arsenal, his soccer team, and the Vikings are inexplicably linked. Earlier in the year, Arsenal was given no chance to repeat as the division winners, needing to win something on the order of eight of its last nine games. They did. And the team went on to win the domestic double, only the second to do that this century. Limey Vike feels the Vikings will win the NFC and the Super Bowl this year based on the success of Arsenal.
Not to be outdone, Geoff shot back that there is no correlation between Arsenal and the Vikings simply because Arsenals name can be shortened to "Arse." A better correlation, Geoff believes, is with his team, Leicester City, because there is a surprise board room shuffle going on at the moment, and their best coach in a long time may be about to walk! Thatís when Ian and I cut Mike and Geoff off from any more pints, moving to lemonade instead.
So the Viking season may be predestined by the success of the British soccer team of your choice: Chelsea, Arsenal, or Leicester. Anyway you look at it, it correlates to one hell of a successful year for, not Americaís Team, but the Worldís Team. And the celebration will most likely be what my wife and I observed coming back from a curry after the Chelsea win.
We were waiting for our next west-bound train on the London Underground. An east-bound train rolled into the station. On board a half-dozen cars was a sea of Chelsea blue jerseys shouting the Chelsea victory chant in unison. And each car was bouncing so violently I feared they would jump the track. The train moved on into the next tunnel; the chanting fans still heard over the roar of our approaching train.
"God", I said to my wife, "just once in my life I hope to experience that kind of joy." And this will be the year.
1998 Significant Off-Season Events
The first-ever Viking Underground Reunion continues to take shape. The ticket order has been placed for the block of seats. I will receive the exact location in late July and distribute the game tickets at the VU events leading up to the game.
Brad Johnson visited VUís Purple Thoughts in May, chatting live with regulars for over an hour.
The Viking Underground Tailgate Recipe section first appeared in May. This new section has received a lot of attention with the Hot Viking Cider recipe being mentioned recently in Beckettís magazine and my own appearance in the John Madden Tail Gate Cook Book.
The 1998 Season
Note: 1998 was the second season that I wrote down thoughts the entire year. Therefore, the 1998 season summary will come in multiple additions to my blog. Today's 1998 entry will be Draft Day thoughts.
The 1998 Season
1998 (15-1): NFC Central Champions
Head Coach: Dennis Green
9/6 W 31-7 Tampa Bay 62,538
9/13 W 38-31 @ St. Louis 56,234
9/20 W 29-6 Detroit 63,107
9/27 W 31-28 @ Chicago 57,783
10/5 W 37-24 @ Green Bay 59,849
10/18 W 41-7 Washington 64,004
10/25 W 34-13 @ Detroit 77,885
11/1 L 24-27 @ Tampa Bay 64,979
11/8 W 31-24 New Orleans 63,779
11/15 W 24-3 Cincinnati 64,232
11/22 W 28-14 Green Bay 64,471
11/26 W 46-36 @ Dallas 64,366
12/6 W 48-22 Chicago 64,247
12/13 W 38-28 @ Baltimore 69,074
12/20 W 50-10 Jacksonville 64,363
12/26 W 26-16 @ Tennessee 41,121
NFC Divisional Playoffs
1/10/99 W 41-21 Arizona 63,760
1/17/99 L 27-30 OT Atlanta 64,060
Key Draft Picks
Once upon a time there lived a Minnesota Vikings fan named Chicken Little. A few days before the 1998 NFL Draft, Chicken Little was telling all his farm yard friends, "We need a cornerback; we need a cornerback." And all of Chicken Littleís friends shook their heads in agreement.
On draft day Chicken Little was watching the coverage on his 60 inch big screen TV inside his chicken coop when the Vikings picked, not a cornerback, but a speedy wide receiver. In fact, the Vikings didnít even pick a cornerback until round three. "Good gracious me!" said Chicken Little, "Weíre going to lose every game. I must go to the Viking Underground Purple Thoughts page and tell everyone."
The only computer was way over on the other side of the farm in Farmer Greenís house so he was rushing through the farm yard when he met Cocky Locky. "Where are you going, Chicken Little?" said Cocky Locky. "Oh! Iím going to tell all the Vikings fans that weíre going to lose every game," said Chicken Little. "May I come with you?" asked Cocky Locky. "Certainly," said Chicken Little. So Chicken Little and Cocky Locky went to tell all the Vikings fans the team was going to lose every game.
So they rushed along and rushed along through the farm yard when they met Ducky Daddles. "Where are you going to, Chicken Little and Cocky Locky?" said Ducky Daddles. "Oh! Weíre going to tell all the Vikings fans that weíre going to lose every game," said Chicken Little. "May I come with you?" asked Ducky Daddles. "Certainly," said Chicken Little and Cocky Locky. So Chicken Little, Cocky Locky and Ducky Daddles went to tell all the Vikings fans the team was going to lose every game.
So they rushed along and rushed along through the farm yard when they met Goosey Poosey. "Where are you going to, Chicken Little, Cocky Locky and Ducky Daddles?" said Goosey Poosey. "Oh! Weíre going to tell all the Vikings fans that weíre going to lose every game," said Chicken Little. "May I come with you?" asked Goosey Poosey. "Certainly," said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky and Ducky Daddles. So Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, and Goosey Poosey went to tell all the Vikings fans the team was going to lose every game.
So they rushed along and rushed along through the farm yard when they met Turkey Lurkey. "Where are you going to, Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, and Goosey Poosey?" said Turkey Lurkey.
"Oh! Weíre going to tell all the Vikings fans that weíre going to lose every game," said Chicken Little. "May I come with you?" asked Turkey Lurkey. "Certainly," said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, and Goosey Poosey. So Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey went to tell all the Vikings fans the team was going to lose every game.
So they rushed along and rushed along through the farm yard until they finally reached Farmer Greenís house and Chicken Little sat down on the computer to sign onto America Online and tell all the Vikings fans that the team was going to lose every game by leaving a posting on Purple Thoughts on the Viking Underground.
Chicken Little tried six times but the line was busy on all six. Thatís when Farmer Green walked into the room. "What are you doing Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey?" asked Farmer Green. "The Vikings didnít draft a cornerback with their first or second round pick so we are going to tell all the Vikings fans that the team will lose every game this year," said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey.
"Oh! But maybe they wonít lose every game this year Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey," said Farmer Green. "I know what to do; shall I tell it to you?" "Oh, certainly, Farmer Green," said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey. So Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey all listened to Farmer Green speak. They listened along, and listened along, and listened along, until it was time for the first regular season game. Now this was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a divisional game and very important indeed.
Farmer Green said to Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey, "Letís see how this game turns out, and then the next, and then the next, then perhaps you should decide how many games the team will lose this year?" "Why, of course, certainly, why not?" said Chicken Little, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey.
So Farmer Green turned up the volume and brought out the chips and beverages, and they hadnít eaten very much when Brad Johnson threw an 85-yard touchdown to that new speedy receiver. "Hrumph," Chicken Little said, "The Buccaneers will score twice as fast because we didnít get a good cornerback." It was then that John Randle flushed Trent Dilfer from the pocket right into the arms of that new defensive end. Dilfer fumbled and that new cornerback scooped up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. "Hrumph," Chicken Little said, "That was just lucky."
But no one was paying attention to Chicken Little any longer for Farmer Green, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, and Turkey Lurkey were all doing the wave out in the farm yard as the Vikings had won their first of many games that season.
Chicken Little, feeling very stupid, strutted out into the farm yard to join them on the wagon that Farmer Brown had brought out from the barn. Farmer Brown was driving them all into town to buy tickets for the next game so they could watch the Vikings in person.
And Chicken Little never got to tell all the Viking fans that the team was going to lose every game.