Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe backed up the Saints' Jeremy Shockey when both were with the Giants.

Shockey tutored Shiancoe on how to play the position, and that extra help paid off this season when Shiancoe was second among NFL tight ends with 11 touchdown receptions. San Francisco's Vernon Davis had 13 TD catches.

Shiancoe and Shockey continue to be very close personal friends even though they'll be on different sides in the Superdome for the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

"A lot of what you see with me is a product of him teaching me a lot of the ins and outs," said Shiancoe, who caight 56 passes this season for 566 yards. "Yeah, I'd sit back and watch him and just soak it all in like a sponge."

Anything specific he helped you with?

"Man, it's just endless things," Shiancoe said. "I couldn't even think of all of them."

They are often in contact.

"I talked to him [Tuesday], as a matter of fact," Shiancoe said. "Well, I mean talking a little bit of junk. He was very supportive, of course, of me and my season and said he was proud of me, and I'm proud of the deal that he's done. But you talk a little bit of trash, talking about our linebackers and what he's going to do and what their corners are going to do to us ... and I said, 'OK, we'll see.'"

Shiancoe described Shockey as a "great guy playing at a high level, even with injuries, still playing with a high level. Sometimes his 80 percent is better than somebody's 110 percent."

Shiancoe said Shockey, who caught 48 passes for 569 yards and three touchdowns this season, is definitely someone who has to be accounted for in the Saints' potent offense.

"He is elusive, able to create separation, speed, great hands, great locator of the ball when it's in the air, very quick, fast, and he's just a competitor," Shiancoe said. "He brings a lot of tenacity to that offense."

While Shiancoe gets high marks when it comes to cooperating with the media, Shockey is the opposite.

"No, I didn't follow [his example] when it came to the media," Shiancoe said. "I don't want to cause any sort of controversies and all sorts of things like that. I'm just being myself."

Gets national attention

Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice continues to get national publicity with a front-page sports story in Thursday's USA Today and a briefer story Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal's sports section.

"Sidney Rice is Redefining 'Breakout Year'" read the Wall Street Journal's headline. The story begins: "Seven months ago, wide receiver Sidney Rice was on the verge of becoming an NFL bust. Now, he's one of the driving forces of a Vikings team that has passed its way to within one game of the team's first Super Bowl since 1977."

The story points out that Rice caught only 15 passes in 13 games a year ago, when he was slowed because of a knee injury. This year he caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns.

The article also points out that since the 1970 NFL merger, only Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce has made a larger one-year statistical jump than Rice, from 272 receiving yards in 1994 to 1,781 yards in 1995, an increase of 1,509 yards. Rice increased 1,171 yards from last year to this year, from 141 to 1,312.


Former Vikings football coach Bud Grant, who took the team to four Super Bowls, was asked by owner Zygi Wilf if he would be an honorary captain for the NFC Championship Game. Grant accepted and will be on the plane with the team to New Orleans.

Because the Vikings refused to extend their Metrodome lease, which expires at the end of the 2011 season, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission earned a profit of $600,000 on a 10 percent ticket tax and gross revenue of $900,000 in concession sales for last Sunday's playoff game against the Cowboys.

Vikings guard Anthony Herrera, in his sixth season, plays next to rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt and sees great progress from the former Oklahoma player. "He's doing quite well," Herrera said. "He's learning. Every week he's learning, he's taking coaching, he wants to get better, so he's doing great. Every week I can [see the improvement], because we talk a lot, we communicate a lot, not just when you're on the field but off the field, thinking about what can happen. He's taking coaching, man, he's getting better, every week you can see him getting better. He's a prideful person, so if he misses a block, then more than likely he'll know what he did wrong and he corrects it."

Vikings punt returner/wide receiver Darius Reynaud is a native of New Orleans, growing up a fan of the Saints and former wide receiver Joe Horn. "Oh man, that will be exciting to go back home in front of the family," said Reynaud, who has secured 20 tickets for the game and is looking for more.

Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel was here Wednesday to recruit Cretin-Derham Hall offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson, then stopped to visit friends at the Vikings office.

One of the reasons former Bird Island-Lake Lillian star Barry Wohler's Orono boys' basketball team has a 10-3 record is because of the outstanding play of sophomore guard Brady Wohler, his son.

Five Gophers hockey recruits (Ryan Walters, Nate Condon, Nate Schmidt, Seth Ambroz and Erik Haula) will play for the West Division in Tuesday's USHL All-Star Game in Indianapolis. Walters has 12 goals and 27 assists in 35 games for Des Moines. Condon and Schmidt are among the top scorers for Fargo. Condon has 16 goals and 12 assists in 35 games while Schmidt, a defenseman, has nine goals and 18 assists in 35 games. At Omaha, Haula has 15 goals and 29 assists in 33 games and his teammate, Ambroz, has 13 goals and 12 assists in 31 games. ... Four Minnesotans -- Nick Jensen (Rogers), Tyler Barnes (Eagan), Nick Mattson (Chanhassen) and Anders Lee (Edina) -- will play for the East Division.

Among former Gophers, Ryan Stoa has 18 goals and nine assists in 41 games for Lake Erie of the AHL. ... John Pohl is the fourth-leading scorer for Chicago of the AHL with 12 goals and 15 assists in 36 games. ... Goalie Jeff Frazee has a 10-9 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .915 saves percentage for New Jersey's AHL farm team, Lowell.

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