The look on a small child's face when their mommy's face appears from behind something hidden is precious. I would learn in school studying the work of Jean Piaget and others that this process was called "object permanence" or the lack thereof. When the object leaves the sight of the underdeveloped brain, presto, it is gone. That is what makes Peek-A-Boo such a fun game. It is like finding your parent new each time.
Sure we all knew the talent existed. We have developed brains, we do not need to see something to know it is there. You can hide behind losses to the Dolphins and Packers are home, it does not matter. Most of us still remember that game in New Orleans last season, or the team that completely dismantled the Cowboys and even the Giants, albeit their reserves at the end of last year.
The ground game provided 190 yards, Adrian Peterson over one hundred with three TDs. Toby Gerhard added over fifty more. Tarvaris Jackson ran twice for twenty-two additional yards. All of that with guard Steve Hutchinson replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Chris DeGeare. Sidney Rice caught five for over one hundred yards including a Jackson pass that went through a pair of defender's hands and ended up being wrestled over for Rice's first score. The defense, led by the disappearing front line, was stalwart. Star rookie Steve Johnson of the Bills caught TWO passes.
No, this is not time to start looking at the playoff schedule. Unfortunately, most of the teams Minnesota is trying to catch also won. Only Tampa Bay faltered and that was because they faced a good Atlanta Falcons team now 10-2 and on top of the NFC. There are a few 8-4 teams that the Vikings would have to catch in order to make the playoffs, and presently our 5-7 record is woefully short. One of them, the New York Giants, comes to town next week.
No, we are not suddenly giddy like a two year old child. We have developed brains. We all knew the good team was right behind the wall, set of hands, or whatever blocked our view. We know this week it was only the Buffalo Bills, too.
The smile you see is because we missed them so very badly.
The good team, that is.
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.
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?
It is a rivalry that dates back to October 22, 1961. At Metropolitan Stadium the fledgling Vikings took on the powerful Packers led by quarterback Bart Starr. Green Bay would score on a 78-yard TD pass on their first play from scrimmage and win 33-7.
The Cheese would go on to win nine of the first ten matches, including sweeps in 1961-63, and 1965. Minnesota did not win a home game versus the Pack until 1968, the same year of the first Minnesotan sweep. The 1960s saw two Super Bowl wins for Green Bay and one loss for Minnesota. Though the decade belonged to the Pack, the late 60s saw a changing of the guard.
The 1970s were dominated by Minnesota. Six times Minnesota swept the head-to-head competition, including 1975-1978. But this domination resulted in only three Super Bowl losses, or if you are an eternal optimist, three NFC Conference titles. Despite being the far superior team, Minnesota was unable to win the NFL's ultimate prize.
In the 1980s saw a return of Green Bay, as they swept Minnesota five times (1980, 84, 85, 87, 88) compared to Minnesota's one (1986). But neither team ever made it to the Super Bowl, leaving that honor to the Chicago Bears. The 1980s were highlighted by two strike seasons, that of 1982 and 1987. In 1982 there was a 57-day outage, forcing the NFL to go to a nine game schedule and an expanded playoffs.This was the only season that the Pack and Vikes did not play two regular season games against each other. In 1987, the owners were ready, and a strike season turned into a replacement one, and then when settled, an asterisk for records. I recall the 87 season as a frustrating one in that our replacement players were very bad. They went 0-3, while the Pack's replacement went 2-1. Minnesota, however, went to the playoffs that year as the true team went 8-4 while the true Packers went 3-8-1.
The 1990s saw Minnesota sweep three times (1992, 93, 98) while Green Bay swept once (1997). But with the addition of Brett Favre to the Pack, it was Green Bay whom won two consecutive conference titles and Super Bowl XXXI. Minnesota had teams capable of getting there, but even a 15-1 season would not be enough as Minnesota choked away a shot at Super Bowl XXXIII.
The 2000s saw four sweeps for Green Bay (2000, 04, 06, 07) and two for Minnesota (2005, 09). Brett Favre was the QB in five of the sweeps as he transitioned from Green to Purple. In the 2004 season the two teams met for the first time in the playoffs, in January 2005, where the Vikings, losers of seven of their last ten regualr season games that year, entered Lambeau Field and whipped the Packers 31-17 behind Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss' behind. That was probably the most humiliating defeat the Pack had suffered at the hands of the Vikings.
The 2010s decade has started with another close game between the two. Green Bay won and looks to add their 15th all-time sweep of Minnesota this Sunday (compared to 13 sweeps for Minnesota). Green Bay has survived many injuries to post their 6-3 record. I stated before the season that Green Bay would struggle some this year because Ryan Grant was just not that good. What I (and others) did not realize is that while true, it just did not matter. Aaron Rodgers and a decent defensive scheme has been enough. Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn have been more than enough at RB despite limited skills. Grant's injury proved that it was never he that drove this team. Green Bay's ability to overcome injuries all over the field in the 2010 season has been admirable (and that was hard to say).
The hometown team stares at a season suddenly on the line, a lifetime 48-50-1 record vs. Green Bay, and the multitude of obnoxious Green Bay fans scattered all through the Twin Cities and surrounding area lurking like a vultures near a road kill. I have been telling myself all season that we are more talented, and that talent survives. The loss to the Chicago Bears (along with the home Miami loss) has dampened the spirit. We look to Sunday's game against our most hated rival as the ante dote for a troubled year. Win, and most of us can walk away from a bad season with a smile. Lose, and the fans will disappear in droves. Or continue the witch hunt for a new coach.
Which will it be in the 100th meeting? My heart says the more talented Vikings will prevail by a decent margin. My head says it will be a battle that is decided by the team that wants it more, which appears to be Green Bay in 2010.
Let's go with the heart: Minnesota 31 Green Bay 21.
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.
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