Brad Childress spent Sunday watching football, and it didn't surprise the Vikings coach to see the Bears lose to Arizona and the Packers fall to the Bucs.

The losses by the Bears and the Packers gives the Vikings a three-game lead in the North Division.

"Yeah, I'm surprised, but anything can happen on any Sunday in this deal," he said. "Just like I'm watching Carolina beating New Orleans [they were leading 17-6 when I called him] and all of a sudden there's New Orleans coming back now." (The Saints eventually won 30-20.)

"If you go on the road, it's hard to win if you don't have that mindset, you know," he said. "You need your 'A' game at all times.

"I haven't had a chance to cover the Bears because we don't play there for a while, but Arizona's got a hell of an offense, you know that. I saw where Tommie Harris got kicked out of the game [for fighting]. It's not every day you can sit home and make progress while you're not playing.''

The Vikings play host to the Lions this week, and nothing is a cinch even though the Vikings beat Detroit earlier this season on the road.

"Well, Detroit isn't playing terrible," Childress said, despite Sunday's 32-20 loss to Seattle, which left the Lions at 1-7. ''What you want to do is you want to put yourself into position to win as many as you can, and we want to play in the Metrodome at the end of the season.''

Childress expects everybody to report today in good health after a week off. Cornerback Antoine Winfield has been getting treated daily and hopes to be back in the lineup after missing two games because of a foot injury.

Childress told me last week that reports about quarterback Brett Favre being injured were exaggerated.

Wants Cabrera, too

Ron Gardenhire is excited about the acquisition of shortstop J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez, but the Twins manager said he has encouraged General Manager Billy Smith to also bring back free-agent infielder Orlando Cabrera, who hit over .300 in the last part of the season.

"Gomez, I liked him a lot. He's got a lot of talent. But this is a good deal," Gardenhire said.

"Hardy is a really good player. He's got a chance to do some damage offensively. He can really play defensively. We've got outfielders, and we need infielders, so this is a good thing.

"I would like to have Cabrera back, and I told Billy that. He's one guy that I would like to still make an effort to sign. You need good players, and Cabrera's one of them.''

Gardenhire said he could put Cabrera at second and Nick Punto at third: "If we get enough good players that can hit a bit we can do some damage.''

Gardenhire reported that Justin Morneau, who had back trouble at the end of the year and didn't play, "got his wrist fixed and his back's fine.''

And the Twins manager said he bumped into Joe Mauer at the Fort Myers airport recently and the doctor reports on the catcher were good, and Mauer was going to relax in Florida for a while.

U opponent loses

The Gophers' opponent this week -- South Dakota State -- got rolled over Saturday by Southern Illinois in a Missouri Valley showdown, 34-15. In the game played in Brookings, S.D., the winners scored 24 consecutive points in the second and third quarter. The Salukis are 8-1 and ranked third in Division I-AA. South Dakota State dropped to 7-2, 6-1 in league play, and is ranked ninth. South Dakota State quarterback Ryan Crawford was sacked six times, and Southern Illinois had 388 yards in offense to 342 for the Jackrabbits, with 280 yards of it on the ground. Crawford was replaced by second-teamer Thomas O'Brien on the second possession in the second half and led the team on two touchdown drives. O'Brien, who played at Winona Cotter, finished the game with 16 completions in 25 attempts for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.


Gophers receiver Eric Decker said the surgery on his foot was a success and he is not feeling too much pain. He has to keep his foot up and relax at home for a week before starting some rehab.

The NCAA allows athletes to take out insurance in case they can't play, and Decker's parents took out a policy before the baseball season that costs in the area of $15,000. It will pay him about $1 million if he can't play football. Decker, who is a candidate for several awards this year, is one of 16 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, given by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame for academic excellence. The winner gets $25,000 in scholarship money, and all finalists receive an $18,000 scholarship toward postgraduate studies.

Illinois had 11 sacks in eight previous games but had seven against the Gophers on Saturday. ... Something is strange about student attendance at TCF Bank Stadium. On Saturday half of the student section in the second deck was empty. Those students had bought tickets but didn't go to the game. On the other hand, the 10,000 students who bought tickets for the Gophers games at the Metrodome might have left early but they filled up the section. Maybe the absence of alcohol being sold at the games is one reason.

This doesn't happen very often -- the visiting team won in all five Big Ten conference games Saturday. And Michigan State won its home nonconference game.

Ray McCallum of Detroit Country Day School is an outstanding point guard, ranked 36th in the country by some recruiting services. He is being recruited hard by the Gophers and will visit the campus this weekend. McCallum, whose father, Ray, is the coach at Detroit Mercy University, is being recruited by powerhouses UCLA and Arizona. This is an indication how good he is. But he might wind up playing for his father.

Bloomington native Zach Parise is the leading scorer for the New Jersey Devils with seven goals and 10 assists in 15 games. ... Former Gophers defenseman Paul Martin is out for about another month because of a broken arm for the Devils. ... Former Gopher Phil Kessel scored his first goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and now has three points in his first three games since returning from shoulder surgery. ... Bloomington native Toby Petersen has two goals and one assist in 15 games for the Dallas Stars. ... Former Gopher Blake Wheeler is the fourth-leading scorer for the Boston Bruins with four goals and four assists in 16 games.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. •