In pro football, nothing is more important than the small leather object at the heart of the competition.
It causes grown men to drool. It decides the fate of coaches and franchises. It is the owner's wallet.
Sunday, the Vikings beat Houston because Zygi Wilf spends money on free agents as if they come preapproved with subprime mortgages.
This year, the TOA (Triangle of Authority) asked Wilf to pay an exorbitant sum to Bernard Berrian. Wilf raised those Groucho Marx eyebrows and nodded. Sunday, Berrian caught two passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. He leads the team with 621 receiving yards.
The TOA (Triad of Authenticity?) begged to spend a ransom in dollars and draft picks for defensive end Jared Allen. Wilf applied the Jaws of Life to his money clip. Sunday, Allen recorded two sacks and forced a fumble.
The TOA (Trio of Autocrats?) suggested acquiring a 37-year-old quarterback considering retirement. Wilf stuck his hand between his couch cushions. Sunday, Gus Frerotte threw three touchdown passes and improved to 4-2 as a starter.
The TOA (Triumvirate of Awesomeness?) hinted that signing the one Bengals safety who wasn't in jail might improve the Vikings secondary. Wilf handed over his Plutonium American Express card. Sunday, Madieu Williams made a key interception in the end zone, defended another pass, made eight tackles and became the 18th member of the Vikings defense named Williams.
Eight games into this season of high expectations, the Vikings finally looked, on Sunday, as if all of their moving parts were connected. They beat Houston 28-21 and, while they weren't dominant, they resembled the team that resided in the cartoon bubbles clinging to fans' heads all summer.
The previous batches of free agents complemented the current class. Visanthe Shiancoe caught a touchdown pass, then revealed the key to every Vikings game plan. "I'm just glad that the defense is game-planning me a little bit and taking pressure off of other people, like Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade,'' he said. (No, really. He said it! Imagine what Jerry Rice could have accomplished if only he had played with The Shank.)
Steve Hutchinson, the most expensive guard this side of Allen Iverson, anchored an offensive line that kept Frerotte healthy and wore down the Texans until Peterson could pop for 103 yards in the second half. Antoine Winfield (Free Agent Class of 2004) intercepted a pass, and Darren Sharper (FAC '05) fielded the Texans' onsides kick.
As Vince Lombardi might have said about the Vikings' roster: Money isn't everything; it's the only thing. Without free agents, the Vikings would be thinner than a John Daly alibi.
Even with free agents, or perhaps because of them, the Vikings took a while to look like a team. Throw out the Lions game -- please -- and the offense has surged since the beginning of October.
"The more tools, the better,'' Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "The more good players, the better.
"I think Madieu will get comfortable, more comfortable and more comfortable back there.
"It's one thing in [practices]. It's another thing playing with those guys and learning all the nuances back there. In a perfect world, yeah, you get what you pay for.''
Hutchinson joked that Frerotte "has played in probably every offense in the league, so it took him a while to figure out which one he was in.
"He's the veteran you expect to do this. He's seen every defense, he knows when a blitz is coming, he takes leadership in the huddle. He's our leader.''
Maybe the Vikings are gelling. Maybe they just had a good day.
Either way, whatever success they've had this season stems from Zygi Wilf's willingness to stretch his wallet.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • firstname.lastname@example.org