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.
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.
The Vikings in two short weeks have gone from "What's Happening?" back to "Great Expectations". Sure, Minnesota is only 2-3 and still trails Chicago by 1 1/2 games. In addition, Green Bay is presently ahead of the Vikings by a 1/2 game and will host Minnesota on Sunday Night. Why would there be reason to be optimistic given this scenario? Let's examine...
Minnesota is 2-3. Lying ahead are games at Green Bay and a game at New England the following week. Most predict Minnesota will be 3-4 at best after the two games. But after that the schedule softens some. The Vikings only home loss was to the Dolphins, who then proceeded to beat the Packers in their home as well. Both were close games. Minnesota will have better success after the first half of their schedule, which most agree was one of the toughest assignments in the NFL. The toughest opponent in the second half appears to be the Giants, and that game is at home. Four games will be against North foes, where Minnesota has shown domination in recent times. Add Buffalo and Arizona at home and there is reason to hope.
Meanwhile the Packers are decimated by injuries. Key losses have changed the face of a good team. Gone are Ryan Grant (a bit overrated anyway), JerMichael Finley, Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett, and a host of others including defensive linemen and backs. Brian Poppinga the outside linebacker is also hurt. Even star Clay Matthews has been slowed by a hamstring issue. Add to that a sign that Aaron Rodgers can be rattled with pressure and Green Bay looks vulnerable.Throw in the fact that their next five games include Minnesota twice, on the road to the New York Jets, Dallas, and a road trip to Atlanta, and suddenly the Packers are not so favorable. Late in the season they face the Giants and Patriots.
The Chicago Bears have come out strong to start the season. But looking ahead at the second half schedule, the Bears have only one opponent that would be considered "easy", and that is the Lions in Detroit. We should be reminded that this 4-2 Chicago team barely beat the Lions at home due to Calvin Johnson's need to flip touchdown catches rather than contain them. A cynic might expect the Bears to crumble in the second half. It is conceivable that they finish with at minimum a losing second half record. Jay Cutler continues to be erratic, and Chicago has lost two if its' last three. It might be worse.
Minnesota has made efforts to get better. By adding Randy Moss the team has addressed their biggest need. Brett Favre's passer rating is starting to heat up, as he looks to pass the Sam Bradford's of the league and return to a level of Rodgers or Drew Brees. We saw a glimpse of this in the New York Jets game, where the offense exploded in the second half. In the Cowboys game, we saw just enough to get a win. In both games it was evident that Percy Harvin will play a valuable role in the return of a successful passing game. With the way Adrian Peterson is running in 2010, we are confident that the running game is there. The offense is improving.
The defense is playing outstanding. The loss of Cedric Griffin the one sore spot in a remarkable effort to date. Lito Sheppard was torched repeatedly by Tony Romo and Roy Williams last week, but I expect the Vikings' brass to identify and treat this issue before Sunday's game. Chad Greenway is playing at an All-Pro level. If the defensive line can find their sack 'stride' Minnesota's defense will be considered possibly the best in the league.
A few weeks ago it appeared that the Vikings were destined to the basement of the division. Now, as we near the halfway point of the season, fortune has smiled upon the team and opened doorways to the top. To succeed in 2010 Minnesota will have to take advantage of this opportunity, defeat their Northern rivals head-to-head, and watch as they fall maybe as fast as we rise. Despite a lack of a solid start to the season, the stairway to the division lead appears to be available...
Can Minnesota seize this opportunity? We may find out Sunday Night.
I am a reasonable man, eh brutus?
I could lament over the loss on Monday Night. We did nothing for nearly three quarters. We lost our best cover man in Cedric Griffin for the season. Brett Favre kept grabbing his elbow after each throw (it seemed). But for some reason when I try and get discouraged over the poor start I just smile. I picture myself dejected and then a big purple kool aid guy comes busting up my front door and everybody smiles.
I could tell you Brett Favre is presently 30th in passer rating in the league at 67.0, and that is up from last week! I could point out there is not a Minnesota receiver in the top thirty in the league. I could point to the fact that the Vikings have only six sacks in four games, Jared Allen only one all season. I could show you a schedule that has Dallas, Green Bay, New England, Arizona, Chicago, and Green Bay again for the next six weeks. But when I try and type it I just smile.
Hey, Kool Aid.
Maybe it is that Randy Moss is in town. He caught four passes for eighty-one yards and a touchdown. Favre's 37-yard TD to him was Brett's longest on the season. The Vikings offense woke up in the 3rd Quarter of last night's loss to the Jets. Suddenly, Percy Harvin looked impossible to stop in the middle of the field. Moss was consistently in position to make a play on long balls steadily hurled at he and defensive back Cromartie. Adrian Peterson was turning corners so quickly that the cameras struggled to keep pace. That same offense that tore up the Cowboys last year was back. And even better.
Maybe it is a defense that continues to shut down opponents. Sure the Jets moved the ball well in the first half, but that ended. When the Vikings needed a stop late in the game the defense arose to the challenge. And that was with Asher Allen and Lito Sheppard as the corners. The red zone defense was amazing. In four games the Vikings have stopped 35 third down attempts, while allowing only 16 conversions. As bad as the Vikings offense has been, they have out-rushed, out-averaged, out-possessed, and out-passed their opponents. That is how good the defense is.
I know many are unhappy with the coaching, game management, and philosophy of Brad Childress, coordinator Bevell, and others. They struggle with using time outs to think about extra-point attempts, or the lack of focusing on a running back that is third in the league in rushing, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and has zero fumbles. Others fear that the age factor and injuries to Brett Favre spell doom. His seven interceptions in the first four games puts him position to finish with 28 on the season. Even Sam Bradford has a better rating, for heaven's sake.
And Chicago is 4-1 on the season, with games versus Seattle, Washington, and Buffalo next. And the Bears are 2-0 in the division. Green Bay is 3-2, and scoring 23.6 points per game with a rabid air attack. Aaron Rodgers, JerMichael Finley, Greg Jennings, and Donald Driver are as skilled as any in the passing game. Both have a fairly large lead over Minnesota in the Central.
And then more kool aid.
Minnesota is about to explode. The surge last night was a sign of great things to come soon. The defense will only get better up front, and Favre is starting to connect long with his new receiver (Moss) and his young one (Harvin). Adrian Peterson is on fire, easily one of the strongest backs to ever play the game. He may cross the 2,000 yard mark this year. Childress and friends know enough to not get in the way, they will be able to let these players succeed.
And the Packers are reeling from injuries. Losing guys like Ryan Grant, Harrell, Aaron Rodgers, Finley, and many more are showing a lack of depth. Watching the Redskins attack around slow tackles and pummel Rodgers was proof that Green Bay may not waltz into the playoffs. The secondary was mediocre at best. If not for Clay Matthews, I am not sure any Packer would have gone noticed on defense. And the Bears, while facing an easy few weeks ahead, are certainly not a shoe-in for the division title. I think their defense is better than advertised, but I cannot endorse any offense that has Jay Cutler at the helm. Ever. And I believe the Bears could easily go 2-6 in the 2nd half of their schedule. Easily.
Yes, their is a lot of purple drink over at my place. Is it my forty years of understanding of the NFL, or is it complete denial? My brain tells me it is the former. This team that could have easily won the NFC Championship last year is as good as last year, and with the addition of Moss, maybe better. Then again, at 1-3 Minnesota is on the doorstep of a 1-4 start, which holds poor prognostics for its' owner.
Sure we could bury the Vikes, they might even deserve it. But the smile on my face tells a different story. A purply drink. And purply fun that awaits.
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