Bumbling Vikings hardly playoff conquerors
by Jon Saraceno, USA Today
LANDOVER, Md. â€” At a man-mountain-like 6-feet-8 and a chili dog or two over 300 pounds, Mike Tice is as an imposing presence as a head coach as you're going to find on any NFL sideline, the Big Tuna included. What's so weird is how infinitesimally small his Minnesota Vikings can make him, and themselves, appear in critical late-season games.
Meet the wildly talented but wheezing and crumbling playoff-bound Minnesota Mediocres, who are quite at home in the Land of 10,000 Mistakes.
It's really this simple: The Vikings are playoff frauds.
Who cares if they started the season 5-1? That was October. By the way, here are the teams that Minnesota defeated in squealing tires and burning rubber to that jack-rabbit start: Dallas, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans and Tennessee. Whoop-de-doo.
The Vikings of November, December and January are wretched playoff imposters. Losers of seven of their last 10 and four of five. They should be working the Strip in Vegas as impersonators. The Vikings didn't back into the playoffs Sunday, they fell face-first, laying a big purple egg in Washington with a 21-18 loss. (Memo to Big Mike: Please remember to send Jim Haslett a holiday fruitcake and a cigar as a thank-you for his Saints beating the Panthers.)
"Believe it or not, I'm actually going to enjoy the fact that we got into the playoffs," Tice said. "We won enough to get in. (But) we're not, like, going to do cartwheels and some stupid (stuff) like opening a bottle of champagne or anything like that."
But he did try to pop a new source of motivation for his bedraggled team. After the game, Tice told the Vikings that "history is made to be changed," according to Daunte Culpepper.
"We are 8-8, but we really can win the Super Bowl," said the Vikings' star quarterback.
Sure. And Pamela Anderson really does have a brain.
Here's reality: The Vikings must now travel to Green Bay as the sixth seed for next Sunday's wild-card playoff game against the Packers. This is all you need to know about the Vikings' chances of advancing:
Lambeau Field is not climate controlled.
It has real grass and real dirt.
Oh, and this whopper of a flopper: The Vikings are 2-20 in games played outdoors.
OK, so I'm exaggerating a little. Actually, it isn't unthinkable that the Vikings could beat the Packers on the road. They almost did a week ago. And it's not as if the NFC, outside of Philadelphia, is loaded with consistently good teams.
When you think about it, who is more representative of the conference's face this season than the Minnesota Mediocres? Yikes, it took only 8-8 for the Vikes to stumble into the postseason.
"Well," Tice said upon greeting the media, "this team's going to drive me crazy, to be honest with you."
If his players don't get him fired first.
Which, inevitably, they will.
It's too bad, really. Tice seems like a lovable lunkhead who is as entertaining as they get. He gives great quotes. He makes fun of himself ("Everyone's calling me Coach Collapse," he said last week). And he's popular with his players. Maybe too popular. Maybe there's not enough fear factor.
A year ago, they let him down in a season-ending, last-play defeat to a very bad Arizona team. Sunday, they butchered the field with bonehead plays.
Tice isn't perfect. He makes goofy game-day decisions, and his teams are lousy against even lousier competition. Still, I hate to see Tice go. I don't care if Red McCombs anted up last week and exercised the coach's option for the 2005 season at $1 million. Tice, with a 23-26 record in the NFL, is on his last legs in Minny. He was hired in 2002 mostly because he was a cut-rate bargain. And now he finds himself working for the Wal-Mart of NFL franchises, one that keeps trimming its budget while it tries to find a suitable suitor. Buyer beware: You must assemble your own defense.
Speaking of that defense, Tice said he saw a handful of decent plays from it against the Redskins. He'll need bushels more against the Pack.
"Offensively," Tice added, "we definitely lacked a tremendous amount of rhythm. (In fact), we didn't have any rhythm. ..."
Then the lights went out. Literally. Standing in the pitch-black room, Tice muttered, "Believe me, that's how the whole season has gone."
The coach is a giant man lost on a tiny team.
E-mail Jon Saraceno [email protected]
Inhale it. Savor it. Drink with your eyes and taste with every fiber of your flesh, revelations come through experience.