After the Shame, Vikings Pursue Virtue in Victory
From The New York Times;
[size=18px]After the Shame, Vikings Pursue Virtue in Victory [/size]
By LEE JENKINS
Published: December 9, 2005
MINNEAPOLIS, Dec. 8 - The ultimate comeback story of the N.F.L. season includes all the most compelling elements - drugs, sex, ticket scalping and an extended winning streak.
The Minnesota Vikings, those antiheroes who introduced football fans everywhere to the Whizzinator and Lake Minnetonka, are now giving the sports world its latest reminder that the fastest way to forgiveness is through the playoffs.
If the 2005 Vikings do not make the postseason, they will be remembered mainly for the tailback who was caught with a prosthesis used to beat drug tests, the head coach who scalped some of his Super Bowl tickets and the group of players accused of lewd behavior with strippers on a party boat.
But if they do make the playoffs, Minnesota will undoubtedly be hailed for its perseverance in the face of adversity, even if the adversity was self-inflicted. The Vikings, with just a few more victories, can go from a source of civic shame to a source of civic pride in record time.
"We've gotten some people back on our side," linebacker Keith Newman said. "We haven't gotten them all back. But the more we win, the more we think we can get them behind us again."
Even the prosecuting attorney deciding whether to file criminal charges against some of the players for their alleged lascivious activities on Lake Minnetonka in October has detected a shift in public sentiment. Steven Tallen, the attorney investigating the so-called Love Boat, received some legal advice recently from a member of his family. The advice, it should be noted, came in the midst of the Vikings' current five-game winning streak.
"I was told," Tallen said, "that I better not do anything anymore."
Such is the fickle nature of football fans, moralizing one Sunday and cheering the next. When Minnesota had a 1-4 record and was seasick from its nautical misadventure, a 42-year-old fan named Bryan Rice attended a home game dressed in drag. He wore platform shoes, a cheerleading skirt and a sailor's hat on top of a blonde wig. He carried a sign that read: "I was on that boat."
"Trust me," Rice said. "It was ugly."
Since that day, when the Vikings came back from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Green Bay Packers, the costume has hung in Rice's closet and the team has won six of seven games. At 7-5, the Vikings are in second place in the National Football Conference North behind the 9-3 Bears.
"I'm still sick and tired of seeing what goes on with young athletes who have all this money," Rice said. "But I'm back on the bandwagon."
Rarely has a team evoked more conflicting emotions than the Vikings. Their off-field indiscretions make them easy to root against. But their obvious talent makes them difficult to ignore. "I am a big Red Sox fan, and if what happened with us had happened to the Red Sox, I would have been mad," Vikings tight end Jermaine Wiggins said. "But you don't turn your back on your team."
Minnesota's loyalty has been tested many times before. Starting in the mid-1980's, the Vikings began cultivating their renegade image as the Raiders of the N.F.C. In one five-year period, nine players were arrested for drunk driving. This region known for its long winters and heartland values became numb to assault charges and sex scandals.
Trading Randy Moss last off-season was supposed to rid the organization of embarrassment, but the controversies became more colorful and harder to stomach. When tailback Onterrio Smith was caught in an airport with a drug-masking device - famously called The Original Whizzinator - he spawned enough jokes to fill late-night talk shows. Those quips were soon enriched, of course, by any and all references to Viking ships.
"Because we have been so humbled, because we have heard so many bad things about ourselves, you know our heads won't ever get big again," safety Corey Chavous said.
Players have incurred the wrath of their new owner, Zygi Wilf, who hired a former F.B.I. agent as the team's director of security. They have been admonished by state politicians, who threatened to sack the club's proposal for a new stadium. And, on a more personal level, they have had to answer to parents, wives and children.
Their coach, however, could not assume the high ground. Fined $100,000 last off-season for scalping tickets, Mike Tice went into training camp atop the list of those most likely to be fired. That was before the blowout losses, the police investigations and the locker-room criticisms. Yet Tice managed to keep his job and, even more startling, has garnered a few endorsements for coach of the year.
Tice reached his personal low point last month at the Meadowlands when he was sprawled out on the sideline after getting barreled over by Giants special-teams player Jamaar Taylor during a punt return. Lying there, hurt and humiliated, he received little sympathy. Looking back, it put him in perfect position to lead Minnesota's resurgence.
"Win a game and maybe you have 60 percent of the guys believing," Tice said. "Win another game and you have 75 percent of the guys believing. Win another game and now you have 90 percent of the guys believing."
Asked what percentage of believers he had six weeks ago, Tice said, "Below 10 percent."
No one acknowledges any benefit to the boating incident, but the negative fallout occurred early enough in the season that players were able to bond over it. They started defending one another against criticism. Take away their starting quarterback, their superstar receiver, their top tailback and all of their dignity, and suddenly they mesh into a contender.
The Vikings were picked by many to reach the Super Bowl this season, mainly on the strength of the right arm of quarterback Daunte Culpepper. But only after Culpepper tore three ligaments in his knee did the Vikings really become competitive. The 37-year-old backup quarterback Brad Johnson, who played alongside Tice a decade ago in Minnesota, has made the Vikings efficient and even somewhat endearing.
"It's been a good story, but it's not over," Johnson said. "It has the potential to be a really great story."
Johnson, the portrait of calm amid chaos, clearly understands that the strength of this team is its defense. While Minnesota used to be more exciting with Culpepper throwing 60-yard fly patterns to Moss, the stars are now the defensive backs, and the big plays are often interception returns.
Even the high jinks can seem more conservative. On Thursday morning, several veteran players hazed a rookie by freezing his clothes in the snow. When the rookie discovered what had been done to his designer jeans, the veterans tried to get his reaction on camera for ESPN.
"Tell Michael Irvin what happened," one veteran instructed. "Oh wait ... he's still suspended!"
The reference to Irvin, a television analyst and former N.F.L. receiver who is immersed in his own scandal, drew uproarious laughter from every corner of the locker room. Minnesota can rejoice. The jokes are finally on someone else.
Re: After the Shame, Vikings Pursue Virtue in Victory
I saw the whole hazing thing in the news, I wasn't paying that much attention coz I definitely missed that part about Irvin, oh well, they were laughing like crazy that's all at E james
Re: After the Shame, Vikings Pursue Virtue in Victory
im tired of hearing about the whizzinator and tice ticket scalping, i wish the vikings would win the superbowl cause that would be one of the best nfl stories ever!!!