I used to like the Pro Bowl. The images of Hawaii, the relaxed look at the players, the sideline interviews, and the chance to see the league's best perform against each other were enough reasons to warrant viewing of the end of the season highlight game. When the game was played in Honolulu at teh end of the NFL season, it was the perfect showcase for the NFL. It was an end of the year celebration. It was never really about who won the game, but rather, which players could dominate it. Four times Minnesota Vikings won that honor, the MVP of the Pro Bowl. Fran Tarkenton was the first in 1965, and Adrian Peterson the last only a few years ago.
Today's Pro Bowl, cast between conference championships and the Super Bowl, is more a showcase of how little the players think of the game. Sure, ten of the twenty-eight missing players will be excused because they are in Super Bowl XLV, but isn't that who we wanted to see? For whatever reason Aaron Rodgers was left off of the roster, but six other Packers will be absent. But fear not, there was six Cowboys selected. Add five Giants and five Eagles and the NFC roster takes on an East feel, despite their ineptness in 2010.
The missing list includes a who's who of the NFL. Offense? Try missing Rodgers, Andre Johnson, Greg Jennings, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Gates, Tom Brady, Maurice Jones-Drew and a few of the league's best linemen. On the defense, Dwight Freeney, Nnamdi Asomugha, Lance Briggs, Ed Reed, Asante Samuel, Ndamukong Suh, and Brian Urlacher, to name a few. I will even miss watching Clay Matthews, the dominant long-haired pass rusher of Green Bay. The long hair really bugs me, but can he play!
While I would not place the Pro Bowl in the same light as the All-Star games in the NBA and NHL (absolutely no defense), I think MLB has a better game. No, not the call-it-a-draw game, but the chance to see the game's best play hard. In baseball, one can play hard and not risk injury. Such is not the case in the other sports. The NFL simplifies defenses so as to avoid injuries. The result is a lot more scoring. While it is similar to the other sports, football's intensity seems to hide the softness of the All-Star venue better than hockey or basketball. I know when I am watching a 14-12 hockey game something is missing.
So today we sit back and watch the Pro Bowl if we has absolutely nothing else to do. I am debating taking the ice out of the gutters or viewing the game.
And it is a tough decision...
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.
Early in the game the Packers moved the ball at will. Cornerback Chris Cook looked like he had on the wrong spikes, falling down, making poor cuts, and getting taken to the cleaners by James Jones. The defensive line had their now normal lack of any pass rush. E.J. Henderson disappeared. And yet Minnesota was in the game.
On offense, the Vikings ignored the fact that they had Randy Moss, choosing to throw underneath coverage to Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin. For a while it looked like the two offenses traded dinking and dunking to move the ball. Only Green Bay was doing it better. Adrian Peterson was his usual dominant self, and at game's end most Vikings' fans were unhappy that he 'only' had 23 carries on the game. AP was the best player on the field.
Late in the game mistakes cost Minnesota big. An interception returned for a TD by the Packers made it a 28-17 game. But even as the situation crumbled, I confess I was not worried. Minnesota showed it could move the ball. The talent on offense strong enough to at least give hope in an eleven point deficit in the second half. And I was right.
Back came Minnesota.
Never mind that earlier Minnesota chose not to ask for a replay on the Quarless TD. Replay did show that the ball was bobbled as he landed on the back of the end zone line. It appeared he did not fully land in bounds as his elongated backside covered both in and out of bounds. But with the quick extra-point try the coaching staff of Minnesota (Brad Childress) was left to an instant decision to challenge. And we did not. This was a 3rd down attempt that would have ended in a field goal try. Instead, it was a questionable score that meant the Vikings' final drive was from behind instead of tied.
Late in the game, as the Vikings drove for that winning TD, they made two crucial mistakes. The first was on Visanthe Shiancoe, who flipped a ball high in the air after a key first down put the Vikings inside the 15-yard line with a minute left. He was given a delay of game penalty and Minnesota was pushed back five yards. On the ensuing play, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt put his hands to the facemask of an onrushing Clay Matthews (that long-haired player you love to hate) and was awarded a fifteen yard personal foul. It was clearly a foul. I thought the referee's let holding calls go throughout the game, but they have this thing about hands to the face. The first and thirty result was too much to overcome. Percy Harvin had a foot out and the last play and the Packers coaching staff challenged for the umpteenth time in the game and won. Finally, there was a desperation throw toward Randy Moss, who looked to have three or four guys covering him.
The Vikings lose a close one.
We can blame mistakes, penalties, and turnovers. Those are a part of the game. But losing via instant replay (or lack thereof) is a new disease. One that affects non-cognizant coaches. I have defended Childress in the past because I saw it more as a player/personnel issue. But not challenging a questionable TD in a division rivalry has me concerned. Losing via the instant replay leaves me cold.
P.S. I still think we will win this thing. Our rivals are not that good.
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.
In this, the fiftieth year of the Minnesota Vikings franchise, we find a team in need of a cornerback. It could be that he is on the team right now. Antoine Winfield occupies one starting spot. Until he was injured he was definitely one of the best in our half-century history. Now he is still a hard-hitting strong corner, who may or may not have lost a step.
The other corner should be Cedric Griffin's. He has shown skills worthy of a starting position. But he is not available as he recovers from last year's significant injury. Chris Cook, drafted to offer some depth is also hurt. Lito Sheppard was signed to add depth but he is in the later stages of his career. Asher Allen is improving, but has shown signs of his inexperience already in this preseason.
How important is a good corner?
Other positions carry a host of famed players for the Purple on both offense and defense. Minnesota can boast all-time greats such as: Fran Tarkenton, Daunte Culpepper, Chuck Foreman, Adrian Peterson, Robert Smith, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Anthony Carter, Sammy White, Steve Jordan, Ron Yary, Gary Zimmerman, Randall McDaniel, Mick Tingelhoff, Matt Birk, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Chris Doleman, Alan Page, Kevin Williams, John Randle, Matt Blalr, Roy Winston, Scott Studwell, Jeff Siemon, Paul Krause, Joey Browner.
And the best we can do at corner is Bobby Bryant?
It is hard to believe that the best corner in Vikings' history is Bobby Bryant. I watched him play. He was not very big, maybe 170 pounds. He was not very fast. He was injured a fair amount of his career.
But he was.
He played from 1968 to 1980 with the team when the defensive front four was nicknamed the "Purple People Eaters". With an outstanding pass rush Vikings' defensive backs benefited tremendously. Bryant had fifty-one interceptions, second all-time to safety Paul Krause, who had fifty-three. Both were great benefactors of that outstanding pass rush. Bryant was a hard tackler who was very aggressive. In addition to his interceptions, Bryant forced thirteen fumbles and recovered fourteen. In other words, six times a season Bryant helped create a turnover.
The question then is can Minnesota find Bobby Bryant? Is it Cedric Griffin? Will Allen or Cook rise to the occasion? Many of the national media has questioned Minnesota's ability to finish ahead of the Green Bay Packers in 2010. Besides concerns in the offensive line and Brett Favre's durability (despite being probably the most durable player in NFL history), pundits point to defensive back. They see the injuries and the inexperience.
Which is why management must find a Bobby Bryant, Or maybe even better. We would take the skills, aggressiveness, and fortune and add size, speed and durability that number twenty lacked. It might be in a trade, Or off of the waiver wire. Because the pass rush is there. Jared Allen and Ray Edwards are good. The Williams' wall All-Pro worthy. Backups like Fred Evans and others are better than most teams.
He just has to be out there. He can be better than Bobby Bryant.
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