Tuesday, 5:35 a.m., the always-interesting Holiday station located northwest of Target Field and across the street from the garbage burner.
I'm at the cooler, loading up on the day's supply of Diet Cokes. Those new, smaller 99-cent bottles. Those are the ticket.
An employee is stocking nearby. He's also a Concerned Purple Fan. He says: "Patrick, what are the Vikings doing with the quarterbacks?''
Me: "I think they want a guy who can throw the ball 50 yards down the field. Josh Freeman can do that.''
CPF: "He might be OK, but he's not that great of a quarterback.''
Me: "They want a quarterback who can offer the football to Adrian Peterson, suck in the eight defenders near the line, take the ball away, step back and let it fly with some accuracy to Jerome Simpson, or Cordie Patterson, or to the Mad Mentorer (a k a, Greg Jennings).
"They found out in London that Matt Cassel can do that better than Christian Ponder, and there's a very good chance that Freeman can do that better than Cassel.''
CPF: "I don't know. If Freeman was better than average, why did Tampa Bay let him go?''
Me: "There are distractions for 25-year-old NFL quarterbacks. Rumor has it, Josh liked to stay up late, causing a bit of tardiness at the Bucs' practice facility. And with a coach [Greg Schiano] who acts as if he's still at Rutgers, rah-rah defeated reason and Freeman was run out of town.''
CPF: "I'm still surprised. His stats aren't that much better than Ponder's. What do the Vikings really see in him?''
Me: "I think they see last October, that Thursday night when Tampa Bay came in and ripped up the Vikings 36-17. The Vikings couldn't stop the runs of Doug Martin, and that gave time and opportunity to Freeman, and he had three touchdowns with no interceptions.
"I think they see Freeman and what he did a year ago in the Dome when he had an outstanding running game. And the Vikings figure they have that every game with Adrian Peterson on their side.''
CPF: "So, what's it going to take for this work?''
Me: "Freeman getting out of bed in the morning. He has to be getting up at this time of the morning, not getting home.''
* * *
I always stop at this Holiday on my one or two early mornings per week. Gas, Diet Cokes and seeing what the city folks and early commuters are up to ... that's the menu.
A couple of weeks ago, a guy in his 20s walked over and said, "I can give you a great deal on some cologne; $120 worth of Gucci cologne for 20 bucks.''
Response: "I'm not really a Gucci guy. Here's a buck. You keep the cologne.''
He seemed satisfied.
* * *
The majesty of the garbage burner is a reminder of my defiant middle years as a Twin Cities sports columnist (1979-present). It was 1990 and Target Center was the first major sports building in this area to carry a corporate name.
I rejected this. I was holding out for stadiums and arenas named after great people, such as Hubert Humphrey or John Mariucci, or noble concepts, such as Metropolitan Stadium and Center, or the Civic Center.
I went a couple of years without writing Target Center in a column. My favorite euphemism was the clumsy, "Marv and Harv's, the new arena near the garbage burner.''
Eventually, my spitting into the wind got tired, and it became Target Center, and Target Field, and TCF Bank Stadium.
As for Xcel Energy Center ... well, after going four days without power this spring and having my basement flooded, I'll probably go with "the Wild did such-and-such on whatever night in St. Paul'' when in attendance this winter.
The one corporate name I've never been able to choke down is Mall of America Field.
I proudly voted for Hubert to be the president of the entire 50 states of America in 1968. It was a loss more heartbreaking than the Twins to the Red Sox at the end of the Great Race in 1967, or the Vikings in the Super Bowl after the 1969 season.
Heck, one of the finest moments of my sportswriting career came at Met Stadium in 1970s, when I had a chance to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Hubert at the urinals in the small men's room behind the football press box on a cold December day.
That still stands as my No. 1 urinal moment, even though I was in the same position -- shoulder-to-shoulder -- with Leonardo DiCaprio at the Staples Center, during the Wolves-Lakers series in 2004.
"How's life?'' I asked.
"Very good,'' Leonardo said.
Anyhow, any chance that I would ever willingly have Mall of America Field appear under my name ended in 2010. The Vikings had been trumpeting Mall of America Field as the title of their stadium ... and had been lobbying hard with decision-makers at local media outlets to do the same.
Then, the roof collapsed under the stress of a monumental blizzard, and suddenly all those Vikings' news releases promoting Mall of America Field started referrring to the stadium as the Metrodome.
The Vikings even started telling us that another good reason for giving them a new stadium was that the "Metrodome was dangerous'' to their customers. Apparently, those customers were safe in Mall of America Field, but they had a chance to be mortally wounded in HHH's Metrodome.
Hopefully, we can all make it out alive until January, and then start working on the new place, the Taj Ma Zygi, where the main danger will be the bloody ends faced by songbirds, ducks, geese, owls and bald eagles after they smash into all that glass as they head for the lights at night.
The Vikings spent the week describing this as a must-win game. If they couldn't win at home against the Cleveland Browns, it was almost a certainty that the season would be lost for the Purple.
The quarterback, in his second full season as a starter, had little to offer in the first half. There were boos for him and the Vikings as they left the field at halftime.
The Vikings increased the defensive intensity and the home team started to rally in the second half. Eventually, victory was there to be had, but it would take a well-arced heave to the end zone by the quarterback and maybe a lucky ricochet.
And there it was: the ball tipped perfectly into the hands of the veteran receiver, and he secured it, and the crowd responded madly, and the Must Win was just that for the Vikings.
Excuse me. You didn't think we were referring to Sunday's game vs. Cleveland Browns II at the Metrodome, where the Vikings came in 0-2 and would be dead in the water with a loss, did you?
This was a recollection of the game with the original Cleveland Browns on Dec. 14, 1980, at Met Stadium. The Vikings at 8-6 and in need of a win to squeeze into the NFC playoff field. A loss would've sent them to Houston in need of a win against Earl Campbell and the Oilers in the regular-season finale.
The Browns led 13-0 at halftime. There were boos for quarterback Tommy Kramer and his mates.
The Vikings scored to open the second half, on a 31-yard pass from Kramer to Joe Senser, but Cleveland came back to make it 23-9 in the fourth quarter. That was the score into the final five minutes, when Kramer threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Ted Brown, and then a 12-yard TD to Ahmad Rashad.
There was no two-point attempt in 1980, so Rick Danmeier's PAT made it 23-22. By the time the Vikings got the ball back, there were14 seconds left and they had the ball at the 20 ... their 20.
No chance? That was never the case with team coached by Bud Grant, who already had been dubbed "Horseshoe Harry'' by a smart-alecky St. Paul sports columnist, in honor of the luck that Bud's boys seemed to find.
On the first play, Bud ordered his favorite late-gamer -- the hook-and-ladder. Kramer made a quick throw to tight end Senser, halfback Brown came scooting past to take a pitch, and it went for 35 yards. That gave the Vikings one shot (4 seconds on the clock) from Cleveland's 45.
Kramer arced the ball toward the end zone, Cleveland safety Thom Darden and Vikings receiver Terry LeCount battled for it, and it went to Rashad on a rebound. Ahmad corraled the football and the Vikings had a 28-23 victory and a place in the playoffs.
They lost the regular-season finale in Houston 20-16, and then lost to Philadelphia's first Super Bowl team, 31-16, in a playoff opener.
On Sunday, Christian Ponder, in his second season as the starting quarterback, had one heave toward the end zone that could have reversed the Browns' 31-27 lead, and it was knocked down. On with the final gasp, Ponder was swallowed up by defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (a guy from Harvard) for a sack, and that was it.
No final play heave to the end zone. No fortunate ricochet. No "Miracle Catch.'' And a lost season with 81 percent of the schedule remaining.
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