DETROIT - They flipped the football around like a drunken rugby team, trying for a miracle touchdown with the clock reading zeros, until flags flew and the last play of the most disappointing season in Vikings history died in a hail of whistles.
As more than a hundred players, coaches and staffers surged onto the field for a final round of handshakes, a man dressed like a burglar exited stage left.
Brett Favre, wearing black, sprinted toward the locker room, surrounded by cameras, preparing to announce his retirement, leaving the Vikings, finally, with a sense of clarity.
We know the Vikings need a quarterback.
We know the Vikings need a general manager.
We know that, according to the Star Tribune, Leslie Frazier is ownership's choice to become the full-fledged head coach of the Vikings.
So they have filled one of the three most important positions in a modern NFL hierarchy. How they fill the others will determine whether this year's last-place finish is aberration or omen.
Frazier finished 3-3 as an interim head coach, with two of his losses occurring in Detroit and the other at TCF Bank Stadium. It's not an impressive record unless you acknowledge that he was trying to bail out the Titanic with a thimble.
Frazier worked his entire adult life to become an NFL head coach, and was rewarded with a last-place team lacking a quarterback. It's like winning the lottery the day our economy becomes based on animal pelts and turquoise beads.
Forget about the 20-13 loss to the Lions. Forget about this season of the absurd. The Wilfs made the right call, hiring a good man, a good coach who commands the respect of his players and would have become a head coach somewhere else this winter.
Thus ends the easy part of the decision-making process. Now all the Wilfs need is a general manager and a quarterback, or a general manager who knows how to find a quarterback, and they'll have a chance to finish in the top three of the NFC North next year.
There were actually two positive developments Sunday: news of Frazier's imminent hiring and Joe Webb's regression.
Webb looked like the small-school rookie he is on Sunday. He threw into double coverage. He threw late across the middle, resulting in an ugly interception. He looked less sure of himself than he did five days previously in Philadelphia.
All of which is good, because Sunday's performance removed any vestiges of the notion that Webb could be a convenient, quick-fix answer to the quarterback void.
Imagine this: In August, the Vikings had Brett Favre, Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. They finished the season with Joe Webb, Patrick Ramsey and Rhett Bomar as their available quarterbacks, as Favre sat out because of a concussion.
Webb remains an interesting project, but this team needs more than a project.
"At some point every franchise has to find a franchise quarterback," said defensive end Jared Allen. "You look at the contenders, they have a franchise quarterback, as we did last year, the way Brett played."
Here are the names of this year's playoff quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford (or Matt Hasselbeck), Aaron Rodgers and Matt Cassel.
They all are or have been franchise quarterbacks. Of the 12, somewhere between five and eight of them could wind up in the Hall of Fame.
There are exceptions to this rule, but it is the rule: You need a big-time talent at quarterback to win in the NFL today.
The Wilfs should either give Rick Spielman the keys to the football operation or hire someone else to run the show, and demand that the new football boss procure a quarterback.
If they can't find the right quarterback, we'll never know whether they hired the right coach.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. firstname.lastname@example.org