You might not remember, but before he won a league MVP Award with the Oakland Raiders and became an analyst on CBS' NFL broadcasts, Rich Gannon played quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
In 1992, Gannon, who still lives in the Twin Cities, found himself at the epicenter of a remarkable group at Winter Park, a group including a handful of key figures in this weekend's playoff games.
In '92, the Vikings' defensive coordinator was Tony Dungy, now trying to guide the Colts toward a second consecutive Super Bowl victory. The receivers coach was Tom Moore, now Dungy's renowned offensive coordinator in Indianapolis.
The defensive line coach was John Teerlinck, who holds the same position now under Dungy. The middle linebacker was Jack Del Rio, now the head coach of Jacksonville, and the blocking tight end was Mike Tice, who would later become the Vikings' head coach and is now Jacksonville's assistant head coach/tight ends.
In '92, Gannon was benched at midseason in favor of Sean Salisbury, who will "analyze'' the action this weekend for ESPN. The Vikings' head coach in '92 was Denny Green, who will be seen this weekend on beer commercials.
Other notables from that '92 team: Receivers Anthony and Cris Carter, defensive linemen John Randle and Chris Doleman, tight ends coach Brian Billick (who went on to win a Super Bowl as head coach of the Ravens) and running backs coach Tyrone Willingham (who became head coach at Notre Dame and Washington), and linebackers coach Monte Kiffin (who popularized the Tampa-2 defense and became known as the best defensive coordinator in football.)
That '92 team looked promising before the sound of Salisbury's voice in the locker room created enough aural dissonance that the Vikings, bleeding from the ears, were upset in the first round by Washington.
Gannon chatted this week about his memories of that Class of '92, his observations of the teams playing this weekend, and his old buddy Salisbury, better known as The Arch Enemy of Silence.Gannon on ...
Rochester native Tom Moore
"He's done an unbelievable job there. He's a simple guy, but very smart. I'm not sure he ever wanted to be a head coach. He loves offensive football and the interaction with the quarterbacks and the game-planning. You think back on it, and when he was on Denny's staff, he was just wasting his time. He knew more than anyone else in that offensive room, and I don't know if anyone even listened to him that year. I'm sure it was a very frustrating time for him, but he's proved how great he is.''
That '92 season
"It was probably one of my least favorite years in football. Denny had come in and wanted to put his own stamp on things, and I just think he was inexperienced and a somewhat immature head coach.
"He turned out to have a pretty good run for a number of years with some players he inherited. I just think he handled the whole situation poorly. We had a lot of talent that year; we should have gone farther in the playoffs. The way he sat me down when we were 8-3 was as bad as it gets. It was disruptive in the locker room because of the way it was handled.
"We were never able to recover as a football team. We had Jack Burns as our offensive coordinator, and he had his own agenda. Our talent really was kind of wasted. We had a lot of talented players -- Terry Allen, Roger Craig, Jack [Del Rio] was playing well defensively, and a pretty good offensive line and Steve Jordan, and we lost close games. It was a shame.''
On Denny Green's handling of quarterbacks
"There was a time when he ran Wade Wilson out, then Jim McMahon out, then Randall Cunningham and Bubby Brister and Brad Johnson and Randall Cunningham out. When Brad and I went to the Super Bowl and played against each other, we were looking at each other and saying, 'We were good enough to go to the Super Bowl and Pro Bowls and win a league MVP award, but we weren't good enough to play for Denny.'''
The key to playoff football
"Coaching and quarterbacking. You look at all of the good coaches and quarterbacks, and they have a special relationship, and without that, you can't win in the NFL. I've lived it and watched it, every week. If you don't have consistency, stability and production at coach and quarterback, you can't win. You look at all the teams still playing, they all have quarterbacks who are very productive guys.
"The best are still playing.''
Del Rio & Tice
"Jack, as a player, was very analytical and methodical, very instinctive. He understood the game, put a lot of time into it, looking for personnel formations.
"He was a very smart player. Of all my former teammates, I thought Jack and Mike were the guys I could see getting into coaching. Mike Tice was very, very smart. I can remember him in the huddle, calling things out. It says a lot for Jack to hire a former head coach to work on his staff. That shows he's pretty secure and confident about his ability to lead.
"And watching Jacksonville, Mike has done an unbelievable job in certain aspects of that offense, protections, the running game and the tight ends.''
"For a guy who wasn't much of a player, he's a heck of a talker. And for a guy who didn't take many snaps in the league, he has a pretty good idea of how to play the position.''
Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson
"As a player, I got a chance to leave Minnesota, then leave KC and go to Oakland, and I learned to mature and handle situations better. I look back at my first five or six years in the league, my time in Minnesota, and I realize that I was walking around with blinders on. I look at Tarvaris, and he has no idea what he doesn't know. I'm not being critical of him -- it was the same for me early in my career.''
"I do the preseason games for the Packers, and I had a pretty good feeling about that team. Coming out of training camp, the Packers felt like the defense would have to carry the team the first five or six weeks of the season, but then it turned out that Brett Favre and the receivers came along quickly.
"The thing that makes that offense so great is that Brett understands his protections and gets the ball out so fast, and their receivers are the best in the NFL after the ball is in the air. They attack it. They go get it and compete and come down with it and they're No. 1 in the league in yards after the catch.''
"[Quarterback] David Garrard really impressed me, even going back to last year. He's really smart, really confident and his teammates love him. He's a good decisionmaker, he takes care of the football and he's hard to sack.
"They have probably the best running-back combo in the league in Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. The question is, can their defense slow down the Patriots?''
"I think Tony does as good a job as anybody in the league, not only in terms of explaining to his players what they need to accomplish every week, but how they will accomplish it. He commands such respect from his players; they love him. I love Tony Dungy. I have as much respect for him as his current players do.''
The AFC Championship Game
"I think it will be the Colts and Patriots, and that will be the Super Bowl, honestly. And I could see the Patriots winning three more straight and finishing undefeated, and a lot of that has to do with Tom Brady.
"Nobody in the league is more poised than he is. You saw that Giants game, he's getting hit, getting sacked, they fall behind, it's not looking good early, his receivers are dropping the ball.
"I just know that I would have come unwound. A lot of guys would have, but he does a great job of keeping the same demeanor. He reminds me of Joe Montana in that way.''
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP.