It was 1987, and the Minnesota Vikings had a really good football team. After a 2-0 start all of that changed. A strike ensued and owners put replacement players on the field to continue the season. Some teams benefited greatly from the success of their replacements in the three weeks that would be the season. Minnesota did not.
Minnesota would exit the strike (and a new shortened schedule to fifteen games) at 2-3. The Vikings were outscored 70-33 in the three games. Minnesota had acquired Tony Adams, a backup quarterback from Kansas City, who had been out of football for about nine years. In his three games, Adams threw for 607 yards and three touchdowns. That might not sound like much, but Minnesota could not run the ball. The best any replacement back could muster in the three games was twenty yards by Jeff Womack. Adams' passer rating of 64.2 was actually well above his career NFL average of 55.5.
Originally, Minnesota fans were enjoying the receive and return efforts of Anthony Carter in 1987. Whether it was Tommy Kramer or later Wade Wilson throwing, Anthony Carter was there to haul it in.
Then the sudden strike.
Coach Jerry Burns found one good thing in a sea of misfortune during the replacement games. And that was wide receiver James Brim. Old veteran Adams seemed to have a good connection with Brim. In the three games, Brim caught eighteen passes for 282 and a pair of touchdowns. He also ran twice for thirty-six yards and another score. Brim scored three of the four total TDs Minnesota managed in the replacement frame. Those Vikings lost by seven to the Packers at home; then by twenty in Chicago; finally falling to Tampa Bay by ten. The oddity of it all was that striking NFL players actually had to cheer for the replacements as their efforts were part of the overall season. The games counted. Players grew angry with ex-NFLers and free agents whom willingly crossed their line. Scabs came in all sizes and experiences. But the strikers secretly hoped these scab players would win games for their eventual season.
Minnesota recovered from the 0-3 replacement record to finish 8-7. They made the wild-card game and upset both the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers before losing a heartbreaker to the Redskins, a team they had taken to overtime at the end of the season, only to lose. In the 49ers game, Anthony Carter had 227 receiving yards on ten catches.
It was a memorable season.
Some will remember the efforts of AC in the playoffs. Others will recall the destruction of the Saints despite New Orleans having the 2nd best record in the NFC. It was 44-10. Maybe some will recall the attack registered by Chris Doleman, Doug Martin, and Keith Millard. Or the intimidating safety Joey Browner. Most can only remember Darrin Nelson being unable to collar a Wade Wilson pass in the end zone that cost Minnesota a late tie in the NFC Championship.
For me, with the Bills in town and talk of a strike in 2011, I think to James Brim and Tony Adams.
Norm Van Brocklin (1961-66) did it for six years and never went to the playoffs. He was 29-51-4. But he did get stuck with building a new franchise surrounded by powerhouses Chicago and Green Bay.
Bud Grant (1967-1983, 1985) was head coach for eighteen seasons. He has the longest consecutive year tenure (1967-83) as well as most years. His 7-9 season after the 1984 Les Steckel (3-13) debacle would be his last. Grant was 151-87-5 with a 10-12 record in the playoffs, losing four Super Bowls including three in a four year span.
Longtime assistant Jerry Burns (1986-1991) was next after Grant re-retired. He was 52-43 with a 3-3 record in the playoffs. He is probably best known for local radio spoofs featuring his rough language.
Dennis Green (1992-2001), or the "Sheriff", had the second longest tenure, going 97-62 with a 4-8 playoff record. He has the 2nd highest winning percentage behind Grant in the regular season, but is tied for the worst percentage in the playoffs with (you guessed it) Brad Childress.
Mike Tice (2001-05) had a rough go of it, compiling a 32-33 record to be one of the three head coaches in Vikings' history not to have a winning record. Probably most known for his ticket selling scandal, Tice's 1-1 record in the playoffs is actually as good as any in team history, percentage-wise.
Brad Childress (2006 to present) is 36-29 to date. His playoff record is 1-2. The failure to defeat New Orleans in the NFC Championship last year, as well as the horrid start to 2010, has fans regretting the team's decision to hire and/or keep Childress. Rumors are plentiful that suggest there is little respect from players to coach. The Randy Moss fiasco has put the spotlight on a head coach that does not have the support of the community. But then again, neither did Green, Burns, Tice, or Steckel. Minnesota's fans expects lost Super Bowls at a minimum.
As the anti-Childress support grows, like dandelions in season, many look to a new coach. There is speculation that Leslie Frazier could be placed in the head coach role should Childress get axed. One thing is certain, Minnesota has missed capitalizing on coaches within their grasp. Securing Frazier might become a priority as Minnesota has watched too many good coaches get away.
Here are a few...
Brian Billick. Billick served as the Vikings' offensive coordinator from 1992 to 1998 under the Green regime. Minnesota stuck with Green as Billick took the head coaching position in Baltimore in 1999. There he led the Ravens to an 80-64 record, and further 5-3 in the playoffs with a Super Bowl (XXXV) win in his 2nd year. Billick must have had a special eye for talent as six of his staff went on to head coaching positions, most of which are still active (Jack Del Rio, Marv Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan, Mike Singletary, and Mike Smith). Billick is an analyst now, though some wonder if he would come back if properly prompted.
Tony Dungy. Dungy was defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1995. He became the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996. His six year service included four playoff visits for a franchise used to losing. He next left Indianapolis, only to see John Gruden win the Super Bowl in his absence with the Bucs. But Dungy won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts. He retired in 2009, having a career record of 139-69 and a 9-10 playoff record. He is another name being tossed about for both the Gophers and the Vikings. But house money suggests he will stay on television.
Mike Tomilin. Tomlin was promoted to defensive coordinator when he joined Minnesota in 2006 by new coach Brad Childress. His success parlayed into an offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007, and a NFL record as youngest coach to win a Super Bowl (XLIII). He presently has a 37-19 career record, 3-1 in the playoffs. Without a doubt he is the most talked about "one that got away" coach. His job presently is very secure.
There are others. But lest we forget, sometimes assistants and coordinators do not pan out as head coaches. Some have success, but often with a steep price. Examples...
Buddy Ryan. Minnesota went to three Super Bowls with the Purple People Eaters from 1973 to 1978. Ryan was a gifted defensive coordinator who was mentioned but passed over frequently for head coaching positions. Minnesota loved Grant, so Ryan had no chance to climb the ladder in Minnesota. For that and other reasons he left for Chicago in 1978. His success with the Bears led to a Super Bowl win (XX) in which he was carried off the field with Mike Ditka. The two's feuds, however, were legendary. Minnesota then passed on re-acquiring Ryan in years 1984 through 1986. Finally in 1986 the Philadelphia Eagles gave Ryan his chance. Buddy would compile a 43-38-1 record with an 0-3 playoff record. Ryan was loved for his abrasive personality and boasts of success. But he did not live up to the hype. Ryan later took his act to Houston as defensive coordinator. In that short stint he punched offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in the jaw for his inability to use up the clock from a run and shoot offense. So off he went. 1994 the Arizona Cardinals offered a head coaching position to Ryan. In his two year stint he was 12-20. The Ryan Express finally ended.
Scott Linehan. Scott was offensive coordinator from 2002 to 2004. His name was tossed about during the time of Childress' hiring. But Linehan was passed over. He eventually was given the head coaching position in St. Louis in 2006. His two year tenure resulted in an 11-25 record. He now is the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions. A sentence worse than death itself.
Ted Cottrell. Cottrell was defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2005. He had an extensive career resume' of both NCAA and NFL positions. The Vikings passed on Ted. Later, Ted was given his chance to coach the New York Sentinels in the United Football League. He finished 0-6 as was never considered again for a head coaching position.
Marc Trestman. Trestman was an assistant in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was mentioned as a possibility when the team was looking for a head coach. Trestman was an offensive coordinator for numerous teams in the 1990 and 2000s. Not too long ago he became the head coach of the Montreal franchise of the Canadian Football League (a la Grant). In his three year tenure he has compiled a 38-16 record winning one Grey Cup, losing another, and a third year pending. Maybe now Trestman has entered into the thoughts of the Wilfs as his recent career suddenly parallels Grant.
Hindsight is 20-20 as they say. In a hind-sighted world Minnesota would have landed maybe Buddy Ryan, Tony Dungy and/or Brian Billick instead of Les Steckel, Jerry Burns, Dennis Green or Mike Tice. Instead of Childress running the show, we would have promoted Mike Tomlin ourselves.
There is considerable feeling that Minnesota will make a move at the end of this season, barring a miraculous return deep into the playoffs. Leslie Frazier is the assistant that could soon end up on this list of coulda-beens. The question is whether he will fit into the Dungy/Billick/Tomlin grouping or the Cottrell/Linehan one?
One thing is certain. We will be there in hindsight.
I am a Randy Moss lover. Not because I want my kids to grow up to be him. Not because I like the way he offers rides to traffic cops. And certainly not because of what he brings to team chemistry.
I like him for his talent.
Randy Moss is maybe the greatest wide receiver to ever don a Minnesota Vikings uniform. He also may be the biggest cancer. The Vikings gave up a third-round pick and are a reported six million dollars in the hole to acquire the cantankerous Moss. Now, with Brad Childress' decision to jettison Moss we fans are left wondering why. Why give up a third-round pick and spend all that money for three games of Moss? Why let go the player that opens up defenses and provides Brett Favre a deep threat?
I have heard that Randy was not working hard in practice since coming back to Minnesota. I have heard he was late for events. When I heard him on television tell the viewing audience what a great coach Bill Belichick was, I understood he was stabbing his head coach in the back. On the radio I heard Paul Allen give his inside info that players (some) were unhappy at his lack of effort on the play where he was interfered with near the Patriots' end zone. It all makes sense.
But then, we knew this already. It is Randy Moss.
If I drink booze for thirty years and complain of cirrhosis you have no pity. If I smoke for forty years and then develop lung cancer, you receive little compassion. If I spoil my child all of his/her life and then they become brats, all I get is a knowing nod of disapproval.
Are we missing something here?
Brad Childress used his authority to let Moss go. I can understand why he would want to do that. Just like film, we fans are not privy to all that goes on. When we debate which players are contributing and which are not all we have is TV angles and commentary from guys like Cris Collinsworth, Dan Dierdorff, and friends. We do not see the film. When we examine the Moss situation we (as fans) have to realize most of what goes on in the Vikings' organization is behind doors. This makes us uneducated, or "rubes", as KFAN likes to proclaim.
But we are angry rubes.
We will hear in the 11:00 conference today from Childress exactly why he did what he did. I saw last night that owner Ziggy Wilf is trying to intervene, or at least attempt to open lines of communication. It all seems so discouraging as a loyal Minnesota fan. Sad that we are losing our top receiver. Sad that we are out a third-round pick. Even a little sad that the organization may be out six million dollars. Depressed that we are 2-5 and losing personnel.
I can feel the Roberto Duran in me starting to rise like a black bile. Sugar Ray Leonard (the 2010 season) has hit me too many times. I just want to call out .. no mas.
The cuts are made. Decision 2010 is over. There are not really any surprises, Javon Walker was let go despite two late preseason touchdowns. Sage Rosenfels and Darius Renaud, two players who looked very good in the preseason, find themselves traded to the Giants. Still, Minnesota appears to lack depth at wide receiver and cornerback, where they have an unusually low number kept on this year's roster.
Wide Receivers (5): Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Greg Lewis, and Greg Camarillo. Sidney Rice is on the PUP list, unavailable for the first six games..
Cornerback (5): Asher Allen, Chris Cook, Lito Sheppard, and Antoine Winfield. Cedric Griffin will not start the season in New Orleans, but is expected to return from his ACL injury of last year.
So the question is asked,"What out there?".
As of yesterday's cut there is quite a few wide receivers looking for a home. Included in this group are: T.J. Houshmandzadeh; Demetrius Williams; Chad Jackson; James Hardy; Bobby Engram; Troy Williamson, Josh Reed; Juaquin Iglesias; Kelly Washington; Brandon Jones; Michael Clayton; and Bobby Wade. There are others as well.
One that stands out is T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Before T.J. decided on Seattle it was Minnesota who showed interest in acquiring his talents. They are now available, and possibly a negotiated cheaper price than a few years ago. Ex-Vikings on the list include Williamson, Wade, and Engram. It would not be too big of a stretch to see one of them return, though my money is certain it would not be Troy.
As for defensive backs, the list is just as long. A few of the available DBs have plenty of NFL experience. Included in this list would be: Chevis Jackson; Brandon McDonald; Dre' Bly; Jacques Reeves, Nathan Vasher; Tye Hill; and Quinton Demps. Again, there are plenty more.
The name that jumps out at Vikings' fans is Bly. He had a long career playing for Detroit before ending up with the 49ers. He has forty-three career interceptions. Last year he was credited with sixteen pass defends, twenty-nine tackles, and three interceptions. Obviously there are reasons these DBs are available, but Dre' comes with a pedigree. Nathan Vasher spent six years with the Bears and logged fourteen interceptions. McDonald, let go by the Browns, has eight interceptions in his first three years, along with eleven pass defends last year. Help is there.
Do the Vikings make moves before Thursday's opener? Are they set on the 53 they have? How long until Cedric Griffin becomes the bona fide starter he was in 2009?
The questions mount.
The answers await.
The news is bleak. Sidney Rice will have hip surgery and is expected to be out eight games. Percy Harvin, dealing with intensive migraines, could be unavailable for some to all of the upcoming season. What ever will the Vikings do? The top receiver in camp is Bernard Berrian, and after that maybe Greg Lewis. Things have soured to the point that the Vikings called in Javon Walker, who did not even play last year. Should we Vikings' fans despair?
Our future may be answered by looking at the ten greatest receivers in our Vikings' history...
10. Hassan Jones. Hassan played 100 games for Minnesota from 1986-1992. He caught 222 passes for 3,733 yards and 24 tds. Jones only saw the NFC Conference Championship once, in 1987 (the strike shortened-season). Jones was on a 1991 team that featured four top ten Vikings' WRs. That team went 8-8.
9. Paul Flatley. Flatey played from 1963 to 1967. Flatley caught 202 passes for 3,222 yards and 17 tds. He was named Rookie Of the year in 1963. He played in the Pro Bowl in 1966. But those were fledgling years for Minnesota and Paul never saw a championship game.
8. Gene Washington. Gene was on the team from 1967 to 1972. Gene played in 81 games, catching 172 passes for 3,087 yards and 23 tds. In 1967 Washington averaged an amazing 29.5 yards per catch as a rookie. He did play in the 1969-70 first Super Bowl loss, averaging over 21 yards a catch. In his final season with Minnesota he was teamed up with another top WR, John Gilliam. That team went 7-7 and was the only non-winning team in a very good stretch.
7. Jake Reed. Jake played from 1991 to 2001. He totaled 134 games, with 413 catches, 6,433 yards and 33 tds. Reed played on two teams that went to the NFC Championship (1998, 2000), but both lost. In those years he teamed with Cris Carter and Randy Moss to form a dangerous trio. Reed never went to a Super Bowl.
6. Sammy White. White played from 1976 to 1985. In 128 games, White caught 393 passes for 6,400 yards and 50 tds. He was a three time All-Pro (1976-1978). He was named Offensive Rookie Of the Year in 1976, the year of the Vikings' last Super Bowl visit. In that year he averaged over 18.0 yards a catch and scored 10 times.
5. Anthony Carter. AC played from 1985 to 1993, totaling 133 games. He caught 478 passes for 7,636 yards and 52 tds. He went to the Pro Bowl three times (1987-89). In his nine years Carter saw the NFC Championship game once, that of the 1987 season, with Hassan Jones. Carter never saw a Super Bowl.
4. John Gilliam. Gilliam only played from 1972 to 1975. In those four years John played in 56 games, he caught 165 passes for 3,297 yards and 27 tds. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each season. Gilliam would be the only elite Vikings' receiver to make it to two Super Bowls (1973-1974). In his first year 1972, John averaged over 22 yards a reception.
3. Ahmad Rashad. Rashad was a Viking from 1976 to 1982. He played in 98 games, caught 400 passes for 5,489 yards and 34 tds. He was named to four Pro Bowls (1978-1981) and was even named Pro Bowl MVP in 1979. In 1976 Rashad went to the Vikings' last Super Bowl and then was a member of the 1977 team that lost an NFC Championship.
2. Cris Carter. Carter played from 1990 to 2001. Carter played in 188 games. He caught 1,004 passes for 12,383 yards and 110 tds, all team records by far. Carter went to eight Pro Bowls (1993-2000). In 1995 he caught 122 passes for 1,371 yards and 17 tds. Again that team went 8-8. Carter never played in the Super Bowl.
1. Randy Moss. It is hard to believe anyone could outdo Cris Carter in our history, but Moss did. he played in 109 games, caught 574 passes for 9,142 yards and 90 tds. Moss was named Rookie Of the Year in 1998. He went to five Pro Bowls in his seven years. Moss was Pro Bowl MVP in 2000. He was named All-Pro three times (1998, 2000, 2003). Moss made it to two NFC Championships, but Minnesota lost both. Moss' only Super Bowls would be for New England.
What does this tell us? Most of the Vikings' successful teams had a deep threat. In 1969 it was Gene Washington. The 1973-1974 seasons it was John Gilliam, and in 1976 rookie Sammy White. But the most talented years with receivers yielded little accomplishments in the post-season. The 1998-2001 seasons with Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed were explosive offensively, but did not provide even a Super Bowl appearance. The stats can be skewed by the fact that losing teams need to pass more, but the numbers suggest a load of talent at receiver is not required for success.
It is hard to compare the success of the 1970s to modern day football. The game has changed, it is far easier to pass the football with the rule changes inhibiting the defensive secondary. But the reality is that the Vikings have not needed elite receivers to be the best team in the NFC. They have typically been a strong defensive team with an ability to run. Chuck Foreman was a member of three NFC Champions. The Purple People Eaters were there.
In 2010, Minnesota is suddenly lacking the production of Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. Together they teamed for 124 catches for 2,102 yards and 14 tds. Names like Greg Lewis, Taye Biddle, and Freddie Brown are being tossed around as possible new contributors. But one name does remain from 2009: Bernard Berrian. In his two seasons with Minnesota he has had 103 catches for 1,582 yards and 11 tds. His first season he averaged 20 yards a reception. That type of deep threat is just what past Vikings teams have needed to succeed. And Adrian Peterson, Visanthe Shiancoe, the Williams wall, Jared Allen and Ray Edwards are all returning.
Maybe it is the sign of something bigger?
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