VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData and Patrick Donnelly, who has written on a variety of Minnesota sports topics. Mitchell and Donnelly are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

VikesCentric: Rudolph could be among the best

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: July 29, 2014 - 4:54 PM

I’m pretty sure I came close to inadvertently sabotaging the Kyle Rudolph contract negotiations this past weekend. I had no knowledge that the Vikings would be announcing a five-year contract extension with the big tight end Sunday when I asked offensive coordinator Norv Turner just how good Rudolph could be. I prefaced my question -- posed during his Saturday afternoon media availability -- with the common observation that he has previously coached a lot of successful tight ends. I merely wanted to get his initial impressions on how Rudolph stacked up with the likes of Antonio Gates, Jay Novacek or Jordan Cameron.

Had Turner raved: “He could be better than all of them” or “Rudolph has the ability to be the best tight end in the NFL,” just think how Rudolph’s agents might have reacted!

“Did we say $36.5 million? Norv thinks he’s the best… let’s make that $40 million!”

Okay, so my little question really didn’t come close to meddling with or completely derailing the last-second deliberations between the two sides. But the answer coach Turner gave was a little surprising nonetheless.

Turner submitted that Rudolph “has worked as hard as anyone in this organization and he is getting himself ready to have a great year.” That’s not exactly the same as, “We think Kyle can be a perennial All-Pro” or “He’s right there with Jimmy Graham as the best in the business.” Coach Turner was very measured with his praise and went on to outline the fact that Rudolph needs to improve on the mechanics of his route-running.

“The way he has been running routes has been the stop and change direction, a lot moves at the top of routes, cutting, stopping to cut. We try to keep him on the move a little bit more with a quicker change of direction, running out of breaks as we say, not turning and looking for the ball because we know where the ball is going to be placed.”

This isn’t Turner’s first rodeo. He’s done the training camp thing a time or two before. Needless to say he understands the concept of keeping players motivated. Rudolph isn’t a finished product. He has stuff to work on. The millions the Vikings threw at him suggest, however, that they think he’s on track to be among the best at his position in the NFL.

Having Turner as his coach certainly doesn’t hurt his chances. Norv has worked with aforementioned stars like Gates and Novacek and heavily utilized Cameron last year in Cleveland. To wit, Cameron was targeted 118 times, third-most among tight ends, caught 80 passes (again third-most), for 917 yards (second-most) and seven touchdowns. Beyond that, coach Turner has wrung every ounce of talent out of pedestrian tight ends such as Freddie Jones and Doug Jolley and slightly-above pedestrian-level talents such as Eric Johnson and Randy McMichael.

Rudolph is in a good position, and he knows it. He’s noted more than once that he wants to be the best tight end in the NFL. He’ll have a hard time attaining such a status as long as Jimmy Graham stays healthy and keeps the tight end (rather than wide receiver) label. He’ll also have a tough time surpassing Rob Gronkowski if the oft-injured party boy finds a cocktail which includes a magical elixir that keeps him on the field and off Injured Reserve.

Beyond those two, however, Rudolph can be as good as anyone in the league right now and as good as any tight end in Vikings history, including the likes of Steve Jordan and Joe Senser.

His efforts to do so started with losing 15 pounds this offseason, bringing him down from about 273 to 258. The weight loss provides him a little more quickness, enabling him to glide through his cuts more quickly as coach Turner wants to see him do.

We know he’s a huge red zone threat. He’s a ripped 6-5 with excellent hands -- a perfect target in the end zone. Rudolph caught nine touchdown passes in 2012, the second most by a tight end that season and second-highest single-season total by a tight end in franchise history (Visanthe Shiancoe had 11 in 2009). Now he needs to be more impactful between the 20s.

It’s definitely fair to say Rudolph has been under-utilized to this point in his career. Turner will showcase Rudolph this season more than he’s ever been showcased before. Clearly the Vikings wanted to get his contract extension on the books before he posted a breakout season and could ask for even more.

A quick announcement before we go

Coming soon to a purple corner of the Internet near you, from the folks who brought you TwinsDaily.com: We’ll be launching VikingsJournal.com in mid-August and it will contain a smorgasbord of Vikings content sure to please every Helga-horn-wearing member of Vikings Nation. Don’t bother going there now; you won’t find anything yet. I’ll let you know when the ship sets sail, so don’t worry. I just wanted to give everyone a heads up. That is all.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Vikings’ draft earns passing mark (but not a letter grade)

Posted by: Bo Mitchell under Quarterbacks, Vikings, Lions, NFL draft, Adrian Peterson, Vikings draft Updated: May 10, 2014 - 10:03 PM

Immediately handing out letter grades to measure how well teams did in the NFL Draft can be a trite waste of time. Let’s be honest, nobody knows specifically how well the drafted players will pan out. Thus, assigning letter grades before any of them have suited up for their new teams – or even signed their contracts -- is presumptuous. It presumes the author or blogger has detailed insight on exactly how talented each player is, how hard they’ll work and how well they will fit the systems into which they’ve been drafted. More significantly, it presumes an ability to, you know, foretell the future. Coaching changes, roster changes, scheme changes, luck, suspensions, injuries, etc. are impossible to forecast.

However, my guess is that if you make your way around the Internet the next 48 hours looking for draft analysis you’ll see a lot of letter grades. They make for effective headlines. That’s about it. Show me a draft from five years ago and then maybe we can talk letter grades.

So what can we adequately ascertain in the immediate aftermath of the biggest weekend of the NFL offseason? We can gauge how well a team like the Vikings addressed their perceived needs… and not much more. We don’t know what their big board looked like. We don’t know what trades were offered or turned down. We can only surmise they followed their plan. In light of that, I’d give the Vikings a passing grade on the pass/fail system. Or maybe just a big thumbs up.

Going into the draft the Vikings appeared to have needs at every level of their defense as well as quarterback, backup running back and offensive line depth. To that end, the Vikings successfully checked every box. On defense, they wound up with two linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs (two corners, and a corner being converted to safety). On offense, they landed a possible long-term answer at quarterback, a versatile guard and an interesting running back.

As draft day approached general manager Rick Spielman was very open about his desire to accumulate more picks – to turn his eight picks into 10 picks. That’s precisely what they did. Again, to that end, the Vikings succeeded.

Prior to the draft, I went on the record in this space predicting (like many others did) that the Vikes would trade back and go defense with their first pick and then hope one of their top-three quarterbacks would still be available when it was their turn to pick again. I also suggested on radio airwaves (and really to anyone who asked) that the Vikings might look for a pass-catching type of tailback to complement Adrian Peterson – someone like a Darren Sproles, who thrived under Norv Turner in San Diego.

We have a bingo on all of the above.

Yes, the Vikings executed their stated plan of stockpiling picks, drafted players at positions of apparent need and even fulfilled some of my educated guesses. That’s a trifecta or something.

Anthony Barr gives them a raw athlete at linebacker, the likes of which the Vikings have never had. Barr will provide immediate help rushing the passer and should develop quickly into a versatile, three-down impact defender. Watching him on tape is reminiscent of watching Jason Taylor. The ceiling is extremely high. Did the Vikings take him too early? Who knows? Again, we’re not assigning letter grades. What we know is that the Vikings really wanted him and had to take him when they did. What we’ve heard is that the Lions (11th pick) coveted him, the Titans (12th pick) really liked him and the Cowboys (16th pick) were prepared to take him. Head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN that he heard from two other teams who picked soon after the Vikings that they would have taken Barr if he had still been on the board.

Anyone familiar with this VikesCentric space or my Twitter account (@Bo_Mitchell) knows I was beating the drum loudly for Johnny Manziel to be the quarterback the Vikings drafted. It would have been a lot of fun if they had done so. I’m a Manziel believer and love to watch him play. I think his skills will translate well enough to the NFL and his highlight reel plays will be on ESPN for years. Finding a replacement in Cleveland for rumored-to-be-suspended All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon will be tough to do so that hurts his immediate outlook, but I won’t back away from my overall Manziel assessment.

Having said all of that, I also really like Teddy Bridgewater. He won’t be as fun to watch as Manziel, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bridgewater has great mechanics and footwork; he’s calm under pressure, is as tough as they come and has football smarts. His arm is plenty strong enough and the metrics suggest clearly he was the most accurate passer in the nation last season. His work in a pro-style offense in college will definitely help – as will working with coach Turner. He might never be as fun to watch as Manziel, but few will be. Bridgewater might turn out to be better than Manziel for all I know. If I had to loosely compare him to a current NFL quarterback, it would be Russell Wilson… and he’s turned out okay so far.

In third-round pick Scott Crichton and the first of their three seventh-round picks Shamar Stephen, the Vikings added more depth for coach Zimmer’s blueprint of rotating defensive linemen. The trio of sixth and seventh-round picks they made to bolster their defensive secondary should help. None appear destined to start anytime soon, but depth is crucial in this pass-happy league. The more bites of the apple you take, the better chance one pans out, so for the Vikings’ sake hopefully at least one of the three – Antone Exum, Kendall James or Jabari Price – sticks around and has an impact.

Back on offense, fifth-round selection David Yankey has the makings of a superior backup or very solid starter. He should push Charlie Johnson and/or Brandon Fusco for playing time at guard at some point, perhaps early this season.

Lastly, the pick with whom I am most intrigued is cornerback-turned-quarterback/running back Jerrick McKinnon out of Georgia Southern (their third-round pick). I’m not sure what to make of him yet but his combine numbers were absurd. It sounds like the Vikings plan to use him as a speedy, pass-catching running back and possible punt returner – their version of Sproles. He could turn out to be a great deal of fun to watch and a good change of pace to Peterson.

Letter grade: incomplete, but it looks pretty good on paper.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: No mocking this draft

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: May 6, 2014 - 1:18 PM

There was a better chance of someone winning $1 billion from Warren Buffet for a perfect NCAA tournament bracket than there is of someone nailing a perfect first round of this year’s NFL Draft.

Most years I have a pretty decent handle on what’s going to take place in the NFL Draft. Admittedly not as good as Mel Kiper or Todd McShay or Charley Casserly or many of the nationally-known, plugged-in analysts that spend their days talking to scouts and doing mock drafts – but enough to have an inkling of what might happen. Heck, I usually publish a mock draft or two of my own.

Not this year.

This year’s upcoming NFL Draft is more puzzling than any I can remember. So much so that I didn’t even bother mocking up a first round. I’d be hard-pressed to confidently mock up a top-10 or even mock to the point where the Vikings are currently scheduled to pick at No. 8.

The foggy forecast begins with the fact that the biggest wildcard in this year’s draft also happens to be a position of need for a majority of the teams picking in the top 10… and the most important position in the game. There was a time not long ago that it seemed a slam-dunk that three quarterbacks would go in the top 10, and perhaps one might go first overall. Now it’s looking like we might only get three in the first round altogether – and maybe not the same three “we” thought would be in the top-10 two months ago. At this rate will Teddy Bridgewater even be drafted? (Editor’s note: yes, that last part was sarcasm.)

Johnny Manziel could still go No. 1. Or in the top five. Or the Vikings could get him at eight. Or he might red flag his way down the board to the 25 range. Blake Bortles has a similar outlook. The aforementioned Bridgewater has been supplanted as the consensus No. 1, 2 or 3 quarterback by Derek Carr on the draft board of many an analyst. These are the key dominos in round one, especially for those teams hoping to wait on a quarterback and take one in round two.

Just a week ago I had convinced myself that Jadeveon Clowney would be the first overall pick. Now I’m not even sold on that notion, especially if the Texans don’t find a trade partner for the top selection. Clowney remains the odds-on favorite to go at No. 1, but neither Khalil Mack nor Greg Robinson would stun me.

Regardless, I suspect the Texans will be trading that first pick to the Falcons or some other surprise team. I also think the Cowboys will be actively trying to move up. I never have any idea what the Raiders (pick five) will do. You can also bet your Vikings have already reached out to every team with the ninth through 32nd picks to gauge interest.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman has made no secret his desire to trade back and accumulate picks. Of course, it could be a smokescreen or a “reverse smokescreen” or something. General Managers are more apt to tell the world they don’t want to trade an asset in an effort to maintain leverage in trade negotiations so I don’t know what Spielman is doing by repeatedly suggesting the opposite. “Hey everyone, I want to trade our pick! Who wants it?” Maybe he’s employing the opposite strategy of most NFL front-office types at this time of year… and being honest. That’ll throw his fellow GMs for a loop. If so, that’s very crafty of him. It’s also an indication he’s a disciple of the wacky new draft philosophy called “stockpiling picks” discussed in various corners of the Inter-web this week. The more picks, the less chance of random bad luck. The more bites of the apple, the better. That’s what the statisticians say at least.

Having said all that, if I had to guess at the Vikings’ plans – and I suppose I better get something on the record since you’ve read this far – I’d say they do in fact trade back. I think their goals are to trade down to get another pick or two, go defense first and then hope one of their top-three quarterbacks is still there when it’s their turn to pick again. I count C.J. Mosley, Justin Gilbert and Anthony Barr among the most likely defensive selections for the Vikings in this scenario.

Furthernore, I think Clowney winds up going No. 1, Manziel goes before the Vikings’ pick at eight, and the Cowboys make a splashy move. In addition, Bridgewater will go in the first round, but not before Carr goes off the board. That’s as close to a mock as I’m getting this year.

Kudos in advance to those of you who manage to get 10 picks correct in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft. Please feel free to brag if you do.

C’mon, Mr. Buffet… there’s still time for another contest!

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Cassel is the first piece of the offseason puzzle

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: March 7, 2014 - 10:23 PM

A few weeks ago in this space I lobbied the Vikings to bring back Matt Cassel. I did so amidst rumors that the Houston Texans were going to consider signing him once free agency opens next Tuesday. Well, it appears someone over at Winter Park took my eloquent musings to heart. Either that or re-signing Cassel was pretty much the plan all along and I’m trying to take some credit where no credit whatsoever is due. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Anyway, the news broke late Friday that Cassel will be returning to the Vikings on a two-year contract. Jason La Canfora of CBSsports.com – who earlier Friday predicted Cassel would sign with the Texans and the Vikings would sign Josh McCown – was among the first to report Cassel’s new deal with the Vikings, saying it will pay him $10 million over the two years.

There’s no word yet on whether Adrian Peterson thinks the re-signing of Cassel instantly (or intently) makes the Vikings a playoff team. Peterson’s infamous tweet Thursday night in which he pined for Michael Vick while seemingly throwing Christian Ponder under the bus and slamming the door on Cassel, obviously wasn’t enough to derail the negotiations. Funny how quickly that tweet was deleted. I can only imagine how that phone call went with Vikings brass.

As I tweeted, I respectfully agree to disagree with Adrian’s choice in quarterbacks. Vick turns 34 in June, is a turnover machine and an injury waiting to happen. He hasn’t played a full season since 2006 when he was still with the Falcons. Cassel is two years younger than Vick and would have been the best of a middling group of free agent quarterbacks had he been allowed to hit the open market.

Does Cassel instantly make the Vikings a playoff team? Not at all. But he gets them closer than Vick would have. His return is just step one. But it’s an important step one.

Cassel will be penciled in as the Week 1 starter for the Vikings, and in theory he will serve as the bridge to their “quarterback of the future,” whoever that turns out to be. Whether the Cassel-bridge spans half a season or two seasons also remains to be seen. Regardless, having a starting quarterback is a significant piece of the puzzle to have in place. The rest of the roster puzzle will begin to take form next week when free agency opens.

The Vikings have a ton of room under the NFL’s new salary cap – more than enough to make a splashy move or two. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman wisely insists on wanting to build through the draft, but he said that last year too and they opened the wallet wide for Greg Jennings.

Remember, the period between the end of the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft is primetime for smokescreens, deception and flat-out lying by NFL front offices.

In a related note maybe I’m misreading the tea leaves, but Cassel’s return probably increases the likelihood of Ponder being let go. Despite the company line (smokescreen?) to this point of the offseason, I truly can’t imagine the Vikings bringing Ponder back after the way things went down last season.

The Vikings still need another quarterback on the roster – two if Ponder is let go. Therefore, I’d still like to see them draft one of the chosen three quarterbacks (Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater) with the eighth overall pick if one falls that far. But having Cassel back in the fold might make that less likely. The Vikings will probably still draft a quarterback, but maybe they’ll wait on one now. Perhaps they’ll trade down out of the eighth spot and accumulate another pick or two (as Spielman said he wants to do) and take a quarterback later in the first or earlier in the second round. Or maybe all that stuff about wanting to get 10 picks in this year’s draft (they have eight now) is just another smokescreen.

Cassel was the first necessary move. Now it’s time for a splashier move in free agency – Michael Johnson? Alterraun Verner? I also can’t help but think offensive coordinator Norv Turner will be calling Darren Sproles, who is being released by the Saints and has perfectly fulfilled the duties of the change-of-pace, pass-catching running back in Turner’s offense before.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Vikings need to bring Cassel back

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: February 13, 2014 - 9:23 AM

I’m hearing a lot of pundits lately suggesting the Vikings should just wait to draft a quarterback rather than reaching for one with the eighth overall selection. I would gladly co-sign on that idea assuming Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are all off the board by the time the Vikings are on the clock, which could absolutely happen.

Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles have separated themselves from the pack as the consensus top-three signal callers (in whatever order) in this year’s draft class and if I were the Vikes, I would be happy with any of the three. My fairly well-documented preference remains Johnny Football, though I could see him going No. 1 overall to the Texans. Having said that, I would not consider any of them a “reach” with that eighth pick, as all three have the potential to be good or very good at the next level.

But what if all three are gone? The Texans, Jaguars, Browns, Raiders and Buccaneers could all potentially use a quarterback, and all five of those teams pick ahead of the Vikings. If all three quarterbacks get scooped up ahead of the purple they’ll need to wait on drafting a quarterback and pluck a blue-chip defender in Round 1 instead. In fact, the Vikings might want to use at least six of their eight picks to patch holes in their leaky defense. General Manager Rick Spielman is on record as saying he wants even more picks; he wants to deal his way into 10 draft picks. If he does so, I say he should spend at least eight on defense.

But the fact remains, as many needs as their defense has, the Vikings aren’t going anywhere without a solution at quarterback. Nor can they count on finding a Tom Brady, Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick – very good to elite quarterbacks that slip through the cracks and out of the first round (a.k.a. outliers). The Vikings just don’t have that kind of luck.

That’s why the Vikings can’t wait until the draft to figure it out. And they can’t close the door on Matt Cassel coming back.

The NFL year starts anew in one month, on March 11, and with it free agency begins. Jay Cutler is no longer an option, leaving the free agency quarterback crop mighty thin. The best fit of the bunch is probably none other than Cassel, who wisely opted out of his deal with the Vikings last Friday. It was the best move for Cassel and should result in a few million more dollars in his pocket. The Vikings have wisely been talking with him about potentially returning. Granted, he’s not the ideal long-term solution, but said solution doesn’t exist on the free agency (or trade) market. Cassel can do an adequate job, which will get the Vikings by for a few years – or until they find a better fix, whichever comes first.

Of the free agents, I’d prefer Cassel in purple to Michael Vick, who is too much of an injury risk and not known for his accuracy or taking care of the football. I’d probably put Josh McCown on about the same level as Cassel, maybe a little lower. His numbers last year with the Bears were unquestionably helped by two Pro Bowl wide receivers. After that, the free agency quarterback list gets murky in a hurry. Josh Freeman, anyone? Shaun Hill? Tarvaris Jackson? I hear Tim Tebow is still looking for work.

Yes, all this assumes that Christian Ponder will not be in Mankato when the Vikings begin training camp in July. Norv Turner had to discuss Ponder last week in meetings with the press because, well, he’s the only quarterback actually on the roster right now. Considering his history with the team, however, you have to believe Ponder won’t be a Viking much longer. I’m guessing Ponder won’t mind.

Read between the lines of what Turner had to say regarding what he looks for in a quarterback last week:

“I think this league has gotten to a point where the mental part of it is really, really critical; guys that can grasp concepts, who can make quick decisions, guys who understand how to play the game,” Turner said. “That is easier said than done, after that the physical skill set it takes to play and to me accuracy is an important as any skill in terms being a passer. You look at all the great passers in there, the starting point is that they have great accuracy.”

Making quick decisions and great accuracy… not exactly hallmarks of the Ponder tool kit.

So it’s come to this: the Vikings kind of need to pursue Cassel. They actually need him back to a certain extent. That gives Cassel some leverage -- unless the Vikings start exploring trades or some other quarterbacks get released to the free agency market.

It sounds like the Texans will save themselves some money by releasing Matt Schaub. Does he do anything for you? More than Cassel? Not me. What about Brandon Weeden? He wants out of Cleveland (who can blame him?) and it sounds like the Browns might oblige him. I’d rather have Cassel than him too.

The more interesting discussion is Kirk Cousins of the Redskins, who reiterated Wednesday that he wants a chance to start elsewhere. If you give me the choice of Cousins or Cassel, I’d opt for rolling the dice on Cousins. The guess here, however, is the Redskins would be looking for a second or third-round draft pick in exchange for sending any team a starting quarterback (which Cousins would likely be regardless of who they trade him to). At that price, give me Cassel. I’m guessing the draft-pick hoarding Spielman would agree.

I’m bracing for the onslaught of Derek Carr or Zach Mettenberger apologists in the comments section below, but to me the Vikings absolutely have to have Cassel, Bridgewater, Bortles or Manziel in Mankato this summer. Ideally, they’d have two of the four.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: The "other" All-Metrodome team

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly under Vikings, Ex-Vikings Updated: December 27, 2013 - 3:37 AM

(Setting: Your living room, Sunday morning. You’ve turned on the big-screen plasma and three men in yellow blazers with ABC patches appear. Their images flicker for a moment, then come to life on the screen. In the background, Vikings and Lions players warm up on the field.)

Holographic Image of Howard Cosell: THE DATE! Sunday, December the 29th, Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Thirteen. THE PLACE! Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the erstwhile Hubert Horatio Humphrey Metrodome, renamed in recent years for a local shopping destination in the most blatant and embarrassing cash grab since the great Muhammad Ali came out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes in Miami in 1980. THE EVENT! The final gridiron contest in the 32-year history of the venerable stadium that rose like a Colossus over the skyline of this great Midwestern metropolis in 1982.

This is the holographic image of Howard Cosell. I’m joined as always by my partners in pigskin pundrity, the holographic image of “Dandy” Don Meredith …

Holographic Image of Don Meredith: Howdy, y’all!

Cosell: … and the holographic image of the Giffer himself, Frank Gifford.

Holographic Image of Frank Gifford: Hey, I’m still alive!

Cosell: You’ll have to take that up with your agent, Giff.

Gifford: I’m just saying, I could have flown in for the game. Anything to get away from that loon of a woman I married. Did you know she drinks wine while she aerobicizes in the rec room? I’m starting to think she might have a problem …

Cosell: Nevertheless, Giffer, we come here not to discuss your marital histrionics because we only have a three-hour broadcast. Nay, we are here to memorialize the monumental moments in the history of this esteemed edifice that has been home to the Minnesota Vikings for lo these past 32 years. This National Football League franchise has already honored their greatest gladiators in the Metrodome era. Today, we gather to shine the spotlight on another group of august warriors who deserve a tip of our collective caps before they’re shuffled off to the dustbin of history. Men who made their mark in spectacular or ignominious fashion on these hallowed grounds but for a variety of reasons did not make the cut for the Vikings’ All-Metrodome team. Men who merit recognition for their own unique contributions to the history of this Teflon terrarium.

Ladies and gentlemen, we now present … The All-Metrodome Team of the Damned!

Gifford: We’ll start with Tony Dorsett. Gentlemen, we were here the night that he set an NFL record that will never be broken, when he ran 99 yards …

Meredith: … and a half!

Gifford: … yes, Don, 99 and a half yards for a touchdown against the Vikings. If you look closely you might still see Willie Teal trying to slap him out of bounds on the right sideline like an old woman hitting a pickpocket with her purse.

Cosell: Tony Dorsett – or Anthony, as I called him, because we were very close – once told me he asked to be listed as Tony in the program so his initials would be “TD.” He figured “AD” wouldn’t be a fitting nickname for a running back, reasoning with which I concurred although I understand Adrian Peterson would beg to differ.

Gifford: The Vikings’ quarterback that day was Tommy Kramer. There’s Two-Minute Tommy waving to the fans, who no doubt remember the numerous late-game drives he engineered, which of course is how he got his nickname.

Meredith: I called him “494 Tommy” because he loved the nightlife the way only a good-old boy from Texas could!

Cosell: That was something with which you and Kramer were both quite familiar, my good man. As I recall, he broke your Texas high school record for single-season quarterback rating and your NFL record for single-season blood-alcohol level.

Meredith: Well, you’re a fine one to talk, you whiskey-soaked, rug-wearing, big-mouthed son of a …

Gifford: Hey guys, let’s try to keep it civil here. Besides, you’re holograms so you wouldn’t hit any harder than Willie Teal. Moving on, there’s the old trapper himself, Bud Grant, who was the Vikings’ head coach for three of their first four seasons in the Metrodome.

Cosell: Harry Peter Grant. The man never cared for me. I couldn’t understand the animosity. I merely mentioned his string of four Super Bowl losses multiple times in every game we broadcast, regardless of whether the Vikings were playing at the time. It had the benefit of being true. I stand by my decision.

Gifford: Walking behind Grant is Les Steckel, his hand-picked successor who led the Vikings to a 3-13 record in 1984. Steckel’s team lost its last six games by an average of 27 points.

Meredith: I don’t wanna say his boys quit on him, but I’ve seen a treed coon put up a better fight against a yella hound dog on full moon Friday.

Gifford: I don’t even know what that means.

Cosell: Grant restored order to the franchise by gracing them with his immense talent for one more futile attempt at reaching the Super Bowl. Then he was replaced by that man – RIGHT THERE! Jerome Monahan Burns, affectionately known as “Burnsie” to the purple-clad faithful. We’d best turn off our closed-captioning services and advise lip readers to look away from their consoles as Burns greets the team ball boys and cheerleaders on the sidelines.

Gifford: There’s Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back out of Georgia who spent three years with the Vikings.

Cosell: Herschel Walker single-handedly turned around the fates of a once-proud franchise, resurrecting them from a decade of mediocrity and thrice sending them to the pinnacle of professional football. Unfortunately for the Vikings, that franchise was the Dallas Cowboys.

Meredith: Yee-haw! I remember the look on Mike Lynn’s face when he realized Jimmy Johnson was gonna take the players AND the draft picks. Ol’ Mike looked like had just chewed through a mouthful of roadkill possum on a hot August day.

Cosell: Mike Ditka is here today. He of course coined the term “RollerDome” as a derisive affront to the Metrodome’s troublesome acoustical idiosyncrasies. It’s a little-known fact that the seats in the Metrodome once were green, but they turned blue due to the wave of profanity that one Michael Keller Ditka spewed at quarterback Jim Harbaugh following an ill-fated audible in 1992.

Gifford: Next up is another Chicago great, Jim McMahon. The Punky QB had his share of big games in the Metrodome as a member of the Bears, but he also led the Vikings to the playoffs in 1993.

Meredith: And over on the other sideline, standing all alone at the 5-yard line waving like a maniac, is Eric Guliford.

Cosell: And speaking of malodorous memories for the Vikings’ neighbors to the east, Packers fans, we urge you to avert your eyes upon the arrival of Theron Joseph Rubley.

Gifford: T.J. Rubley, obviously overwhelmed by the standing ovation he’s receiving … and that’s former Vikings linebacker Jeff Brady cutting in front of him to wave to the fans!

Cosell: A hush has fallen over the crowd as Gary Anderson enters the stadium. One can even hear a smattering of catcalls from the peanut gallery. The man flirted with perfection and this is the thanks he gets? It appears he will only be forgiven if he takes a knee at the 28-yard-line and commits ritual seppuku to satisfy the rabid throng’s thirst for blood.

Meredith: Too soon, Howard. Too soon. You just can’t say “take a knee” around these parts.

Gifford: Well, there’s more of them lined up in the tunnel but we’re getting close to kickoff here. Mike Tice, Onterrio Smith, Fred Smoot, Wasswa Serwanga, Brad Childress, Greg Lewis, Naufahu Tahi, Visanthe Shiancoe, Dwayne Rudd … they all had their moment in the sun – so to speak – here at the Metrodome. It’s nice to see them get one more chance to hear the roar of the crowd and the blast of the Gjallarhorn.

Cosell: Thirty-two years worth of memories for this star-crossed franchise, my friends. There’s just one thing left to say. Dandy?

Meredith: Turn out the lights … the party’s over … They say that all … good things must end …

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

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