The legend is that Dennis Green always had a rocky relationship with sports columnists from the Twin Cities dailies. This is not true, unless you want to count the fact that Sid Hartman publicly confronted Roger Headrick at Green’s initial news conference, with Sid claiming that Headrick had told him Pete Carroll would get the job.
As always, Sid rallied to have a better relationship with Green than the rest of us columnists during the coach’s successful 10-year run as the Vikings coach.
Green’s family revealed Friday that he had died at 67. It would be preferable at this time to offer some grand, personal recollections of Denny’s decade in charge of the Purple, but there are really none.
Permit me to insist on this:
The Twin Cities sports media greeted Green in January 1992 as a proper choice made by Headrick. The reporters and sporting public in unison celebrated Green’s proclamation that he was the “new sheriff in town.”
He was referred to as the Sheriff for months, if not years. He went 11-5 and won the NFL Central in his first season of 1992, and we were all on board, even with a disappointing home loss to Washington in the wild-card round.
I had my longest conversation with him before the start of his second season. Several reporters were invited to Winter Park that summer for one-on-one conversations.
Denny had trimmed down, he was wearing a perfect white shirt with a tie, and there was jazz playing on the sound system in his office. He turned the music down, and we talked for quite a while, and everything was hunky-dory.
The Vikings returned to the playoffs in 1993 at 9-7, which was quite a coaching feat considering a washed-up Jim McMahon was the retread quarterback. The Vikings couldn’t move the ball and were whipped by the Giants in a road playoff game.
And then came 1994: The Vikings again won the NFC Central with a 10-6 record. Warren Moon threw for 4,264 yards that season and Cris Carter set an NFL record with 122 receptions.
The Vikings had a home playoff game against the Bears. Steve Walsh had taken over at quarterback after an early-season injury to Erik Kramer. Considering the Bears’ feeble offense, this looked as if it should be a walkover for Green’s first playoff victory.
Walsh lit up the Vikings for a 35-18 victory. It came off as a clear case of Green and his staff being outcoached by Dave Wannstedt and his.
There was heavy criticism of the Vikings’ effort and apparent lack of preparation for this upset loss. Green was now 0-3 in playoff games and we were skeptical if he ever would win one.
The Green-media relationship might have survived this, but the Star Tribune soon surfaced with its investigation of sexual harassment at Winter Park and Green’s history with such matters.
That was it. Denny offered his response on video from a small room at Winter Park, and the comparisons between this and Saddam Hussein’s Desert Storm videos to the world were made with relish by smart-aleck columnists.
What can be said without a doubt is that Denny Green was an outstanding NFL coach — second only to Bud Grant in the Vikings’ archives. He missed the playoffs only once in his first nine seasons.
He drafted Randy Moss when the rest of the league was avoiding him. That is something that could have gone off the rails. Instead, Green got the most out of Moss more often than not.
Moss completed a phenomenal offense for Green in 1998, and that team ranked with the defensive monsters of 1969 as the best in Vikings history, in my opinion. Coaching has been blamed for the loss to Atlanta in the NFC title game, and not enough credit has been given to Chris Chandler and the Falcons playing phenomenally well in a phenomenal game.
I don’t see that loss as a bad mark on Green’s coaching record, even if Den-knee Green has remained a joke repeated by Vikings fans nearly two decades later.
Here’s something else that I insist upon:
Cocky fellows that we sportswriters are, we always thought we were agitating Denny with pointed questions, but more often he actually was agitating us with his babbling responses.
One afternoon in the Silverdome, after Green’s postgame remarks had been particularly all over the map, he was walking out of the room and his security guy said, “That was great, Coach; you didn’t say anything.”
To which Green nodded, winked and said in a low voice: “Thanks. If I ever stop messing with ’em, let me know.”
You can rest in peace, Coach, knowing that you never did.