October 28, 2006
[size=13pt]A Reintroduction To Everything Purple [/size]
By: Bob George/BosSports.net
MINNEAPOLIS -- These guys lose Super Bowls as well as the Buffalo Bills do.
Neither Fran Tarkenton nor Joe Kapp (the last Boston Patriot quarterback) could overcome their AFL/AFC foe in January. The Chiefs, Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders all found a way to beat back Bud Grant's boys in the early days of the Big Show. The song Purple People Eater was more than just a Halloween ditty in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but it never added up to a Vince for this watery corner of the United States.
To think of the Minnesota Vikings only for their Super Bowl failures (0-4 in franchise history in the Big Show) is disrespectful, of course. You had a defensive line which boasted the Lou Gehrig of the NFL and a future Supreme Court Justice of the State of Minnesota. Tarkenton had some of the great wideouts of his day to throw to, including one who would go on to become a top policeman in the league office. Kapp is a former Patriot, but so also is arguably the best running back in Viking history.
The Patriots and Vikings don't meet very often. These aren't the same Vikings you grew up with, if you remember Tarkenton and his gang. Even if you have clearer memories of Tommy Kramer throwing to Sammy White, you won't know them. The name Daunte Culpepper will ring a more familiar tone, except he now plays in Miami and isn't even starting there.
This Monday night will mark only the tenth meeting between these two teams, with the Patriots holding a 5-4 edge in the series. The teams last met at Gillette Stadium in 2002, with the Patriots jumping out to a 21-0 lead but having to hold on in the end to win, 24-17. Randy Moss caught 8 passes for 92 yards in that game, but he plays for the Raiders now and won't be a factor on Monday.
Two games in this series stand out. Their second meeting, at old Metropolitan Stadium, was one of the biggest victories of the Jim Plunkett era. Getting off to the best start since moving to Foxborough, the 5-1 Patriots came to Minnesota on October 27, 1974, facing a Viking squad that was both defending and future NFC champs. A late touchdown pass from Plunkett to Bob Windsor lifted the Patriots to a colossal upset win, 17-14 over the Vikings in their crib. But injuries would ruin this potentially stunning season, and the 6-1 Pats would finish at 7-7 and out of the playoffs.
Twenty years later, Drew Bledsoe had arguably his finest game as a pro. With the Patriots trailing the Vikings 20-0 at old Foxborough Stadium, Bledsoe went on a record-breaking rampage to rally the Patriots to a 26-20 win in overtime, hitting Kevin Turner from 14 yards out for the game winner. Bledsoe set NFL records with 45 completions and 70 attempts, throwing for 426 yards and three touchdowns.
The Patriots visit the Metrodome for the first time since 2000. In the third game coached by Bill Belichick, the Patriots dropped a 21-13 decision. Bledsoe was 21 of 35 for only 190 yards, while Culpepper was 19 of 28 passing and also rushed for 59 yards on 12 carries. Robert Smith had 91 rushing yards on 29 carries, suggesting that the Patriot run defense was not quite as stout as it is today.
Tom Brady comes into this game undefeated in domed stadiums. But this domed stadium is notorious for loud crowds helping the home team (not always; in World Series play, the Twins are 8-0 here, but have won only one home playoff game since then). The Patriots can practice in noisy conditions, but for this place, they may want to bring in more stereos (or some of Spinal Tap's bass amps which crank up to "11" on the volume meter).
The Patriots don't know the Vikings particularly well, which should be obvious given that the teams have met only twice since Y2K. But they do know that someone named Chester Taylor ripped off a 95-yard touchdown run against Seattle last week, the longest scoring play in team history. They do know that the team has a steady quarterback named Brad Johnson, who can say he has won a Super Bowl as a starting quarterback. They do know that the Vikings have a speedy defense which loves to blitz. They do know a certain tight end from East Boston named Jermaine Wiggins and a mercurial wideout named Bethel Johnson.
Other than that, this will be a game of great unfamiliarity for the Patriots. And if you want one coach in the league to learn an unfamiliar team quick, it's Belichick.
Despite the great job that counterpart rookie head coach Brad Childress has done, Belichick will probably learn the Vikings better than Childress will learn the Patriots. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, for example, Belichick did a brilliant job of mastering a Carolina Panther team the Patriots knew precious little about, and the game was close only because both Patriot starting safeties were lost to injury by the middle of the fourth quarter. Belichick breaks down film perhaps better than any other head coach in the league, and can be counted on as always to give his players the right game plan for Monday night.
The biggest issue surrounding this game is the health of Richard Seymour. In a throwback to the Denver Monday night game in 2003, Seymour's injury status (injured elbow last week at Buffalo) is being downplayed, but he could very well not even make the plane trip to the Twin Cities. If Seymour doesn't play, it could prove to be a critical matchup problem for the Patriots in dealing with the formidable duo of Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson on the left side of the Vikings' offensive line. This right here could turn out to be the biggest factor in who wins on Monday.
Otherwise, both defenses are stout and should hold both teams down in scoring points. Where Brady will likely have to make his money is short, quick passes and perhaps screens to cut down on blitzes. Laurence Maroney is coming home to his former crib, but the Vikings will be ready for the former Golden Gopher. Minnesota is number one in the NFL against the run, allowing only 70.8 rushing yards per game, but they are only 18th in the league against the pass.
This game won't conjure up any old memories of the Vikings you may have been more familiar with in days gone by. Interconference games engender strange matchups with rarely any animosity (unless the previous year's Super Bowl combatants should meet). The Patriots don't have much history with this club, so this game merely comes down to an interesting meeting between two fine teams, and to see which team gameplans better.
Still, you might want to close your eyes and try to envision Tarkenton scrambling away from Seymour, and who would win that chase.