As a fan of all Minnesota sports I watched for years as the Timberwolves lost and lost only to miss out on franchise players in the draft. The NBA local team would win just enough to miss out on lottery success. While others relished in Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and the like, we found Paul Grant, Ricky Rubio, and Pooh Richardson. We were bad enough to deserve the number one pick, just never lucky in the lottery. Or the draft (except for Kevin Garnett).
Vikings' fans are not used to early draft picks. Since 1967 the Vikings have had five poor seasons (1984, 1990, 2001, 2002, 2006). The worst of those years was 3-13 with Les Steckel in 1984 that forced Bud Grant out of retirement. In 2001 the Vikings went 5-11. Those are the only two years potentially worse than this one in over forty years. In 1985 we used the lack of success to draft Chris Doleman. In 2002 we drafted Bryant McKinnie with the 7th selection.
More recently, after the 6-10 2006 season, we drafted Adrian Peterson from the 7th spot. Kevin Williams was taken with the 9th selection (you remember the non-pick?) in 2003 after a 6-10 season. Evidently, 6-10 is a good thing to be if you want quality players. Minnesota, now 6-9, stands on the cusp of a losing season. Presently there are six teams at 5-10, at it is quite probable that only one will improve to 6-10 (Arizona plays San Fran). That means the Vikings could finish anywhere from sixth to seventeenth in the draft dependent upon this week's games.
I am sure players and coaches could care less about draft position. I feel confident that they want to beat the Lions to finish the season. Detroit has been playing better of late, and the rookie defensive tackle Suh is already a Pro Bowler. This game is more about 'king of the hill' than it is about the draft. Frazier's contract talks have been sparked since the Eagles' win and a 4-2 finish would solidify his standing with management.
But we fans can look to the future. We must. Considering we face losing seasons about once every ten years, what else are we to do?
The Vikings face numerous free agents with the upcoming bargaining agreement changes, including potentially losing Chad Greenway, Ray Edwards, Ben Leber, Sidney Rice, and many more. On the flip side, the possibility of fourth and fifth year players becoming unrestricted free agents means the market is going to be large as well. The names read like a Who's Who in football. Suddenly, players like DeAngelo Williams, Haloti Ngata, Santonio Holmes, Jonathan Joseph, Eric Wright ... become unrestricted free agents.
So we face the Lions with much on the line in terms of the draft. A loss would benefit Minnesota greatly in the 2011 Draft. A win would simply keep the Lions in their place below us.
... Let's win.
I have had quite a few jobs in my life. A lot of bosses, too. I have been a boss (I guess) at times. It is easier being a boss than being bossed, for sure.
With the firing of Brad Childress stories are now coming out of confrontation and unhappiness. He made many mistakes in front of thousands of Vikings fans every game. Millions on television. During this turbulent year Childress had conflicts with his team more than once. Rumors were he was disrespected. Randy Moss came and verbalized the underlying current that started as far back as the playoff loss to the Eagles years ago. All was not well.
I have suffered under the leadership of bosses who were ill-equipped to manage. Inexperienced and prone to mistakes. Throw in confrontational, and you have the ingredients for disaster.
Ziggy Wilf's decision to fire Childress was supported by probably 80% of the community or greater. With the lease on the Dome nearing the end, talk of a lock-out and/or strike, and a sudden pro-Vikings majority in Minnesota Congress, public relations demanded something be done. Giving up a 3rd round pick for the Moss trade is proof that management needed to please the people now. 3-7 is not exactly how to do that.
I have had many good leaders for bosses. I am/was happy to work hard for them. Happy to do what it took to succeed.
Leslie Frazier is now on board as interim head coach. His story is both tragic and triumphant. He was a defensive back for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s. His career ended on the winning side of Super Bowl XX. And the tragic moment was a punt return that Keith Ortego botched by calling a fair catch and then handing off the ball anyway to Frazier on a called reverse. Frazier was down. Forever. The game was already in hand, the Bears 4-6 defense as good as any in football ever. But Frazier never played again.
His coaching career began a few years later at Trinity College in Illinois. He took an unheralded program and turned it around to the point he won two NAIA titles. In 1997 he was promoted to defensive back coach of Illinois. In 1999 he joined the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles as a DB coach. The Eagles suddenly turned their team around. He then was hired in 2003 by Cincinnati as defensive coordinator. The Bengals immediately ended a long streak of consecutive losing seasons. That Cincy team was renowned for its' ability to create turnovers. In 2005 Frazier was hired by Tony Dungy as DB coach and Special Grand Inquisitor's Assistant or something like that. That Colts team improved in its' pass defense from 15th to 6th and won Super Bowl XLI. Finally, Frazier was hired by Minnesota (and Brad Childress) in February, 2007.
Frazier has been a part of many successes as both a player and a coach. He also has experienced as tragic an end to an NFL career as any. Frazier has seen the highs and lows that provide opportunity for respect from his players. I expect the Vikings to play hard for him.
Bringing in a new boss does not always work.
Sometimes even a bad boss is not why an organization does not function well. Most bosses have bosses. The front office for Minnesota has to accept responsibility for drafts, signings, and team direction. And the owner is their boss. If the organization is ill it is a safe bet that the higher-ups are easily as responsible for the mess as the underlings. Sure, players have to accept responsibility for poor play. And if the players under performed for Childress, who is to say they will not continue to under perform? But where is the gauge on the front office? How do we know when they are to blame?
I welcome Leslie Frazier as the new coach. But he is not a Bill Parcells that will completely turn around an entire organization. Besides Childress, all the other pieces of the 3-7 season are still around. Was it really all on Childress? Can one bad boss destroy a 12-4 team in a single season? However did we get within a play of the Super Bowl if that were true?
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.
I call it Bud Grant Syndrome, or BGS. Minnesota joined the NFL in 1961 and Norm van Brocklin was the coach for the first six years. He has a tough assignment as the coach of a new franchise. The NFL has a history of teams that struggled in their early years. Only a few have avoided this pitfall. Minnesota was not one. Van Brocklin went 29-51-4 in his tenure, which equates to a winning percentage of .363.
Bud Grant, a local hero from both the Gophers (football, basketball, baseball) and the NBA Minneapolis Lakers, had coached the previous ten years in the Canadian Football League (CFL) for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He originally started as a member of the Lakers, and was a part of the 1950 NBA Championship team. After two years as a reserve in the NBA, Grant changed careers and joined the NFL's Eagles in 1951. Grant had been drafted in the first round after college by the NFL, but chose to stay in the area and play for Sid Hartman's Lakers. Grant had nearly 1,000 yards receiving in 1952, a year after leading the team in sacks in 1951. Grant would hold out for more money and leave the Eagles for the CFL in 1953. There he had a great career cut short by a move to coaching in 1956. He coached there for the ten years, winning four championships (ended up in the CFL Hall of Fame) before Minnesota lured him away to replace Van Brocklin.
Grant had a rough first year, going 3-8-3 in 1967. And then the transformation occurred. From 1968 to 1978 Grant won the division ten times. After his 8-6 year in 1968, he was 35-7 the next three years, including the Vikings first Super Bowl visit. After a mediocre 7-7 season in 1972, Grant reeled off six straight division titles and three more Super Bowl visits. Minnesota was consistently one of the best teams in the NFL every year in the 1970s. Minnesota fans grew accustomed to his winning ways, as Grant compiled a lifetime record of 151-87-5, or a winning percentage of .634.
But all good things must end, and Grant was replaced in 1984 by Les Steckel. Steckel went 3-13 in what many felt was the worst season in Vikings history. It was so bad, they talked Grant out of retirement, and he coached the team in 1985, compiling a 7-9 record. But then he left again.
Jerry Burns followed, sporting a 52-43 (.547) record from 1986 to 1991. He was followed by Dennis Green, who coached the team from 1992 to 2001. Green had better success than any other coach not named Grant, and led the Vikings to their best regular season record in 1998 at 15-1. Green's lifetime record was 97-62, a winning percentage of .610. But Minnesota could not seem to get back to the Super Bowl with him despite good talent. Mike Tice took over in 2001 and struggled to a 32-33 record, Minnesota's first losing coach since Steckel. Vikings brass removed Tice before the 2006 season and brought in Brad Childress.
Childress has been a work in progress. It is interesting to note that he has improved by two games every year, from his first in 2006 (6-10) to last year's fourth season of 12-4. Childress is a lifetime 36-28, or .563. Last year Childress returned the Vikings to the NFC Championship, but as we all know, fell short to the Saints.
So how does BGS affect Childress? For one, Minnesota fans consider any season short of the Super Bowl a failure. Moreover, since Grant, fans have pointed a finger at the head coach more than the owners, GMs, or players when the season ends short of the Super Bowl. Dennis Green had great success for a period, but fans were constantly upset with his decision-making. Jerry Burns suffered the same fate. Neither did well in the PR part of the job, struggling with reporters keen on asking why they made the coaching decisions that they did. Minnesota Nice did not apply to questioning and criticizing head coaches for the Vikings. Mike Tice and Les Steckel were given shortened assignments because Minnesotans do not tolerate losers coaching the Vikings. BGS has insured that this will always be.
For the last twenty-five years I have watched as friends, strangers, and those in-between bemoaned the poor coaching in Minnesota. I heard complaints in the 15-1 season in 1998. I heard complaints last year regarding Childress and the 12-4 season that was a play or two away from a Super Bowl visit. I guarantee Childress will be criticized if he continues his trend and goes 14-2 this year. It has to be. It is BGS.
We loved stoic Grant sitting on the sidelines in the cold of the Met. Our eighteen season love affair ended in 1985. Since then Minnesota fans have been sure that their coaches are basically morons. I do not think I have watched a single game in the last twenty years where some arm-chair, drunk, athletic has-been does not call me or talk to me about the lack of good coaching. Any mistake, from fumbles to penalties, falls on the leader of the team: the coach. Never mind that management won't draft offensive linemen early, or that we refuse to add a needed free agent. Come that first loss of the season people begin to call for the coach's head.
Can we cure BGS? Yes, definitely. But getting to the Super Bowl won't cut it, Grant did that four times. The only known antidote for this disease is a Super Bowl win. And it would not surprise me if even that didn't do it.
We really liked Bud.
The Top 10 reasons it will be the Vikings and not the Saints heading to the Super Bowl in 2010.
10. The Saints defense. It was the first game of the season when the Saints won 45 to 27 over the Lions. Only later would I learn just how wrong it is to give up that many points to Detroit. Then, the Dolphins would score 34, mostly in a single half. The Redskins 30, which was about 20 more than average. The Saints are not winning by defense.
9. The 40 omen. This is the 40th NFC Championship. Our new quarterback, Brett Favre, just turned 40. Gives you goose bumps, doesn't it? I remember when George Blanda quarterbacked as a 38 year-old. I thought that was ancient.
8. The 0-39 streak. The Saints, along with the aforementioned Lions, are the only two teams in the NFC that have never won an NFC Championship. This is the Vikings 8th try, while New Orleans is 0-1. Makes you almost content with losing four Super Bowls. Almost.
7. Chris Kluwe. Kluwe is wise. Kluwe learns from mistakes. Last year when the Vikings won in New Orleans on Monday Night Football, Reggie Bush performed a Billy "White Shoes" Johnson show on the Vikings kick coverage. After watching him perform masterfully against the Cowboys, I am expecting Kluwe to avoid Bush.
6. MNF. Last year's game against the Saints had fans partying all day to prepare. As someone who has partied with the people of New Orleans, I can state that it would easily rival Packers fans. They were obnoxious, they were loud. They chanted "Who Dat". And we won. That game was the best preparation for this one possible.
5. Childress and Staff. Not so much for their play calling, but for adding Phil Loadholt, Percy Harvin, and Brett Favre to our offense in 2009. We are far better. And people are always grateful when you pick them up at the airport, should one do that.
4. The Hurricane. No, not the effects of Katrina, I am not going there. It was that drink that I had too many of... people in New Orleans drink a lot! Maybe the reason teams never win it all in Louisiana is that they party too much. This atmosphere is not counducive to winning Championships. Fun, but not dedicated.
3. Superdome experience. The Vikings played and won last year in the Superdome. Brett Favre won his Super Bowl with the Packers there. It is safe to say every Viking player has enjoyed their time in the Superdome. Call it a home away from home.
2. Who Dat Syndrome. At first it was catchy, like the Icky Shuffle. The it was familiar, like the electric glide of LT. Now, it feels more like Rain Man. Without the ability to count numbers.
And the number one reason the Vikings will win on Sunday ....
1. Destiny. Seriously, think about it... Remember when you were watching us lose to the Eagles last year in the Dome? Now fast forward to the team that just beat the Cowboys 34-3. That type of change is not human. The addition of Favre transformed us to the mystical. Nothing can stop us now. There is no point in denying what will be.
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