I had a couple of blocks to walk in downtown Minneapolis on an early morning this week. I had heard on the car radio of the forecast for horrific cold on Sunday when the Vikings play Seattle in Minnesota’s first outdoor home playoff game since Dec. 27, 1976.
There was a bite in the wind on this morning, and with a forecast for deep cold over the weekend, I found myself thinking: “We’re headed for a genuine Calcutta Clipper.’’
The young couple I passed must have wondered why this old man was laughing to himself as he walked along Ninth Street.
The meteorological lesson Dennis Green delivered for the Arizona media as the Cardinals were getting ready to play the Bills in Buffalo on Oct. 31, 2004 is one of the most innocently funny sound bites ever delivered by a football coach.
We wind up playing Denny and the “Calcutta Clipper’’ about twice a month on the daily Sports Talk segment [3-4 p.m.] with my longtime radio partner Joe Soucheray at AM-1500.
A strange thing happened as I thought about this while walking toward my destination:
I started mentally kicking myself for not being able to patch things up with Denny in order to fully enjoy his goofiness during his decade as coach of the Vikings.
Through the years I balked at others and then came around to appreciate them. For instance:
Early in the ‘70s, the absolute reverence with which Bud Grant was treated by the trained local sports media drove me a bit crazy. I was only writing one general-interest sports column per week for the St. Paul Pioneer Press during that time, but when possible, I’d make light of Bud.
Frequently, I would refer to him as Horseshoe Harry, to spotlight my opinion that Grant and the Vikings were the recipients of more good luck than any team in the history of American sports.
Of course, I came around and started to appreciate Bud for the unique character that he was. When there’s only one of something, a reporter should appreciate that person, and there was (and remains) only one Bud.
This also took place with Harvey Mackay, the booster and businessman who was important in pulling off the phenomenal gambit of bringing Lou Holtz to town as the Gophers football coach in December 1983.
As with Grant, the adulation for Holtz initially drove me nuts, and I quickly started referring to him in print as “the Music Man.’’ Mackay’s role in the Holtz worship and then his grandstanding in the buyout of Twins’ tickets in 1984, led to several cheap shots aimed at Harvey in what were then five-days-a-week columns in the St. Paul newspapers.
Then one day, Harvey and I decided to play golf, and all was forgiven … and I realized he was another unique Minnesota character to be appreciated.
Another example is Mike Veeck. Generally, I’m not a fan of silliness as an attraction, and the credit the media was giving Veeck in the ‘90s for selling the Saints’ silliness caused me to put a gaff in Veeck on occasion.
Today, Veeck and I get along well, and I admire him greatly for being able to convince St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman that a Lowertown ballpark was doable. And the finished product from Veeck’s vision – CHS Field – is going to be bringing thousands of people to downtown St. Paul on summer nights for years to come.
In Veeck’s case, what couldn't be said was there was only one, because there was another one … his father Bill. And being an apple that didn’t fall far from the Bill Veeck tree, that’s a good thing for a baseball man and promoter.
So, I’ve managed to achieve kumbaya with a few people over the years, but it never happened with Coach Green.
Denny was hired in January 1992. The other finalist was Pete Carroll. Sid Hartman was pushing hard for Pete, a former Vikings assistant. Most other media members, including me, opined in favor of Green because of his experience as a head coach.
The first three seasons were fine with Denny and the local sporting press. He was the “New Sheriff’’ and his decisions were unquestioned.
Then, the Vikings were embarrassed as heavy favorites vs. Chicago in a playoff game at the Metrodome, and some criticism was aimed at Denny's 0-3 record in the playoffs.
He reacted with indignation, and then came the Star Tribune’s report on sexual harassment, and Green's infamous appearance from the Winter Park bunker, and it went downhill from there.
Denny won a lot of games as the Vikings coach, and we could have turned him into a character with his penchant for goofy quotes – “Football is about winning and losing, and we would rather win than lose’’ – if everyone had relaxed a little bit.
It never happened. He despised us and, while it never reached that point for me, I certainly did enjoy agitating him.
I mean, Calcutta Clipper … how are you going to do better than that in the Making of a Character?