We remember. It was a season coming off of one of the harshest losses the Minnesota Vikings had ever suffered in an NFC Championship. Beaten on the road after a decisive win at home in the previous round. Fans who disliked the coach for his lack of playoff success grew. But their was hope by many as the team had a new quarterback who had played very well in getting the team to the NFC Championship.
And then, tragedy struck.
A player would not be available to start the season. It would be a blow to the offense, who had counted on this player for its' success. They would start poorly without him, losing their first two games. Then they would win one they should at home to be 1-2 in the standings. A tough schedule lay ahead.
The 2010 Minnesota Vikings you say?
Or maybe the 2001-02 Vikings. Back then it was Daunte Culpepper, fresh off his successful first year with the team. The much maligned Denny Green had disappointed in the playoffs again. The New York Giants disposed of Minnesota 41-0 at the end. During the following training camp, Korey Stringer died tragically, and the team was scrambling to replace such an important member of the offense.
They started the season by losing 24-13 to Carolina. The Panthers would win only one game the entire year. Next, Minnesota lost 17-10 to Chicago. After a 31-26 win over Tampa Bay, they stood at 1-2. The city was nervous. Things were not clicking like they had in the previous year. And they were right to be nervous. Minnesota would make it to 3-3, and then proceed to lose nine of the last eleven games, to finish at 5-11.
Dennis Green was let go before the end of the year. He had not done enough with the talent he was given. That final year, Minnesota had an exceptionally poor Draft, with Michael Bennnett being the top selection with the 27th pick. Mike Tice replaced Green in the final game, and would go on to a mediocre few years before being let go. Both Green Bay and Chicago had success in those years while Minnesota floundered.
The loss of Sidney Rice just before the season has had an obvious impact on Minnesota. The Vikings are 29th in total offense. Brett Favre, who tore the league up in 2009, has a 60.4 passer rating (that's really low). He has only 597 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games. Despite the number two rusher in the NFL, the offense is just not getting it done.
Brad Childress is a coach walking the plank, so to speak. He has had improved success in regular season each year, but little in the playoffs. Minnesota fans are not happy with just getting there. Childress has been given plenty of talent to obtain that elusive first Super Bowl. Positive drafts have yielded players like Adrian Peterson, Rice, Percy Harvin and much more. Acquisitions, like Favre and Steve Hutchinson, have given the team elite offensive talent. Their are many veterans on the defense who are candidates for All-Pro consideration this year. It is now or never for the coach.
Some are hoping that Childress' trend of improvement every year will also apply to the playoffs. Most fans would concede that the Vikings certainly had the team necessary to win one. The humbling of the Cowboys and the strong effort in New Orleans demonstrated just that. But this year's slow start, or more specifically, the loss to the Dolphins at home, has fans on edge. The Childress haters are convinced we have no chance. The realists see a very tough schedule in the upcoming weeks and more talent on both the Bears and Packers than a true Viking fan could stand. And the optimist correctly assessing available talent, is sure that this is still the strongest team in the NFC North. They remember that this team was a play (or huddle) away from winning the NFC Championship. And they have faith that Brett Favre will begin to return to last year's form.
We did experience 2001. It was not fun. This season's start has been somewhat depressing, given the talent and expectation coming into the opener in New Orleans. If it is to be deja vous all over again, it will probably come at the expense of a head coach. Many would like that. Sacrifice a season to get a new head coach. But what if the next one is Mike Tice? I think we should just start winning again with the same coach.
We will find out soon after the bye week is over.
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?
We can sure get spoiled fast. For example, my family just purchased our first HD TV, with the HP 1080, and whatever else makes it sound groovy. We had held out, what with the economy and costs of growing children. But shopping in a local Target we found a deal to good to pass up, and even though it was last year's model, made the move to HD. Love it!
Minnesotans just experienced the best season/career by a starting quarterback in their forty-nine years. Brett Favre's 107.2 passer rating in the 2009 season easily bests the second highest Vikings career rating, that of Randall Cunningham's 94.2 (excluding Todd Bouman's 98.6 in his three 2001 starts). For comparison, Fran Tarkenton was a lifetime 80.1, Tommy Kramer 72.9, Warren Moon 82.8, Brad Johnson 82.5, and Daunte Culpepper 91.5. There is no doubt that Favre was the missing piece for a Super Bowl-type team. We now have one.
Favre's recent disclosure of the needed surgery to play in 2010 has cast some doubt on his return. Those that witnessed the brutalization of Favre at the hand of the dirty Saints pass-rushers have to wonder why he would want more of the same? Sure, he is a tough old hombre, but I wouldn't wish that kind of beating on Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler (OK, maybe Cutler). With his long list of NFL successes, Favre could retire an NFL Hall-of-Famer and still be able to walk to the podium. Why return?
Meanwhile, the NFL draft came and went, and Minnesota passed on a couple of quarterback prospects that has media and friends concerned about Minnesota's future. Notre Dame grad Jimmy Clausen, the first-round talent who was absent in the "Green Room", was available the first two days of the draft, yet we avoided him. Later, Tony Pike of Cincinnati, sat atop the 'best available' list of draft choices, and once again the Vikings went elsewhere. Critics cried "foul", citing Favre's ego as the reason Minnesota avoided addressing the future at quarterback. Never mind that both of these QBs dropped in value faster than the riders of Valley Fair's Power Tower, the Vikings had blown it due to the coddling of their superstar. Yea, right.
What they all fail to realize is that as good as Favre was, the reason for the Vikings' success is many, not singular. The addition of Percy Harvin; the improvement of Sidney Rice; the drafting of Phil Loadholt; Adrian Peterson; the emergence of Ray Edwards; the Williams' wall. Too many factors to decide that Favre was the only reason. The fact that Minnesota won the division in 2008 with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte at the helm should at least suggest the overall talent of the Vikings is presently superior to the Packers, Bears, and obviously the Lions.
I am not afraid of life without Favre. True, like my HD-TV, it is certainly better. I would much prefer it. But these forty plus years have taught me to be patient (a skill all true Vikings' fans have had to own). For every Tarkenton, there will be a Tommy Kramer. For every Cunningham, a Jeff George. For every Culpepper ... you get the picture. The best playoff record of any Vikings' QB is only 6-5 (Tarkenton). Brett Favre's is presently 1-1, which is no better than Joe Kapp (2-2).
I love my new HD, it is better than before. But it is only TV after all, it cannot do the dishes. LAF will be tough, we will have to find a replacement or probably return to T-Jack. Or find someone at least as good as Todd Bouman. I hear the 2011 draft might have the answer.
Fifty years of drafts. It began in 1961 with the selection of running back Tommy Mason from Tulane. That first year the Vikings also selected quarterback Fran Tarkenton of Georgia in the third round. As the new franchise struggled in the early years, their draft picks were causal to the futility. Only 1964 first round pick DE Carl Eller from Minnesota was considered significant. Then in 1967 the Vikings landed a slew of talent with the three first round selections of RB Clinton Jones, WR Gene Washington, and DT Alan Page. Then came the real change to whom the Vikings would become. In 1968 the Vikings selected OT Ron Yary from USC; and in 1969 chose OG Ed White of California with their first pick in the second round. The Vikings then had the foundation for their four Super Bowl visits.
In the first forty-nine years the Vikings have used their first first-round pick a total of three times to select an offensive lineman. Those three players were Yary, Randall McDaniel (1988), and Bryant McKinnie (2002). Considering that OL make up over 20% of all every down starters on a football team, Minnesota's percentage of 6.1% is paltry. In the year 2010, at this the 50th NFL draft for Minnesota, most are hoping for the gift of an offensive lineman. Of course, with the success of 2009, the Vikings have been relegated to the 30th selection, followed by the 62nd, 93rd, 128th, and two 5th round picks at 161st and 167th. There are more picks, but rare is a 6th or 7th rounder of value.
A look at the last ten years of drafting suggests good picks often, but also great picks lost. A quick review, with Vikings picks bold and missed picks to follow....
2009 WR Percy Harvin 22nd, OT Michael Oher 23rd, DB Vontae Davis 25th.
2008 S Tyrell Johnson 43rd, RB Matt Forte 44th,WR DeSean Jackson 49th.
2007 RB Adrian Peterson 7th, DB Darrell Revis 14th, WR Sidney Rice 44th.
2006 LB Chad Greenway 17th, DB Antonio Cromartie 19th.
2005 WR Troy Williamson 7th, DB Antrel Rolle 8th, DE DeMarcus Ware 11th, Shawne Merriman 12th, OT Jammal Brown 13th, DE Erasmus James 18th, OT Alex Barron 19th, DE Marcus Spears 20th, DB Fabian Washington 23rd, QB Aaron Rodgers 25th, WR Roddy White 27th.
2004 DE Keneche Udeze 20th, RB Steven Jackson 24th, DB Ahmad Carroll 25th.
2003 (the year of the blunder) DT Kevin Williams 9th, QB Byron Leftwich 7th, OT Jordan Gross 8th, LB Terrell Suggs 10th, DB Marcus Trufant 11th, DB Troy Polamalu 16th, RB Willis McGahee 23rd, TE Dallas Clark 24th, RB Larry Johnson 27th.
2002 OT Bryant McKinnie 7th, DB Roy Williams 8th, TE Jeremy Shockey 14th, DT Albert Haynesworth 15th.
2001 RB Michael Bennett 27th, WR Reggie Wayne 30th, QB Drew Brees 32nd, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch 34th.
2000 DT Chris Hovan 24th, LB Keith Bulluck 30th, LB Rob Morris 28th, WR Dennis Northcutt 32nd, DE John Engleberger 35th, OT Chad Clifton 44th, DT Fred Robbins 55th, DE Michael Boireau 56th, DB Deon Grant 57th.LB Marcus Washington 59th, OL Brad Meester 60th.
In my humble opinion, the 2010 Draft needs to address offensive line and defensive back. Throughout our history we have neglected these two position despite the fact that they are nine of the twenty-two regular positions.
Further, the Vikings have a track record that includes some great picks. I hope that we can include 2010 with years like 1961, 1967, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2007, and maybe 2009. Included in those years is Mason, Tarkenton, Washington, Page, Randy Moss, Matt Birk, Williams, EJ Henderson, Nate Burleson, Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin, Ray Edwards, Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Phil Loadholt.
That would be a better present than years like: 2005 Troy Williamson, 2004 Keneche Udeze, 1995 Derrick Alexander, 1994 DeWayne Washington, 1989-1992 when we had no 1st rounders, and many more. The list of missed All-Pros and needed position players is too extensive to review in full.
The draft is only a few days away. The excitement has begun to grow. It has grown enough to bring me away from my passion for the Twins in this early Spring, and re-focused my sport love for football. 2009 was very close indeed. Dominating the Saints and Cowboys showed we are not far away form the prize. A solid draft in 2010 could be the difference.
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