From Doug Grow, columnist at the Star Tribune:
Could it work again? Could a Carl Eller-like figure walk into the Vikings locker room before today's game against the Green Bay Packers, utter some fiery words, knock over a blackboard and inspire the team to victory?
Or would today's ultra-rich athletes respond to such a display by pulling out their cell phones and calling their agents: "Get me out of here"?
"Then" and "now" are core to much of our dialogue. "Then" is when things were good and orderly. "Now" there's chaos and selfishness.
Nowhere is this then-and-now discussion more prominent than in sports. This year's Vikings team especially has inspired yearning for the days when players were filled with character, responded to challenge -- and won.
The moment that defines now? To many, it's Randy Moss walking off the field last week with two seconds remaining and his teammates still on the field.
The moment that defines "then" came on Dec. 30, 1973. The Vikings had finished the regular season with a 12-2 record and were playing the Washington Redskins in the first round of the playoffs.
It was halftime. The Vikings had played poorly and were trailing 7-3. In the locker room, defensive end Carl Eller, whom teammates called "Moose," launched into a tirade, knocking over a blackboard in the process. The team responded to the speech by playing well in the second half and winning 27-20.
Would a blackboard smash work on these Vikings?
"Think I'd need a whole truckload of blackboards," Eller said, laughing.
But he quickly backed off. "I love these guys," he said. "I bleed for these guys."
Today's players make far more money than did the players in Eller's era and, for business reasons, players don't stay with one team as long as they once did.
But pride hasn't changed, Eller said. Neither has effort. Players of all generations have always known that there's more effort in losing than winning.
"Losing makes the game hard work," he said. "Winning makes it almost effortless."
Given the right circumstances, an Ellerian halftime outburst still would have impact. But this team is different from the one in 1973. The veteran-laden Vikings of "then" were coming off a great season, filled with confidence.
"We go into the locker room, and we're losing a game we should be winning," Eller recalled. "It just got to me. I'm thinking, 'This is it. This could be the season.' "
He has never been sure what he said. He assumes it was profane. Knows it was from the heart. And, after he was finished and the blackboard was on the floor, he felt a little sheepish.
"I looked around and wondered, 'What did I just do?' " Eller said.
Vikings coach Bud Grant entered the locker room as Eller was finishing his tirade. Though he never was a curser or a screamer, Grant said he was impressed by Eller's performance.
"Carl is one of the guys who could do it," Grant said. "He was a leader on the team. And he had a very imposing presence."
How did the coach respond to the player's speech?
"I just picked the blackboard up and got down to business," Grant said.
Grant, ever the pragmatist, laughs at how Eller's blackboard event has come to symbolize an era.
"The blackboard incident mattered because we won," Grant said. "Do you suppose anybody would have mentioned it if we'd lost?"
Would busted blackboards help these Vikings against the Packers?
"Knowing Mike [Vikings coach Tice], I have the feeling he's done that," Grant said, laughing. "I'm sure he's had several, ahhhh, emphatic conversations with the players."
Tice admits he's shattered a few blackboards.
"Especially when I was an assistant coach," he said. "The players used to keep track of how many I broke."
Tice believes the vast salaries paid to contemporary players do make them more difficult to coach than athletes of previous eras. "It spoils a kid a little," he said. "I find myself constantly reminding them how hard they worked to get here. I remind them, 'This is what you always wanted. To lose it because you stopped working.' "
Then and now.
Grant's heard all the talk of how today's athletes are so much more difficult to coach. That their millions make them too selfish to care about the team.
He doesn't buy it. Pro athletes, like all professional entertainers, always have had big egos. The biggest difference between now and then, Grant said, is that because of the economics of the game, rosters turn over much more quickly now. That makes it harder for a coach to build a core of leaders that sets the tone for a team.
"Then" the same players were together, season after season. The young players would learn from the vets as much as from the coaches.
"It was important we had a Jim Marshall," Grant said. "You'd tell him, 'Run!' He'd say, 'Yes, sir!' And he'd run hard. A young guy like an Alan Page comes in, and he sees the great Jim Marshall working like that. He says, 'If Jim Marshall's working like that, I guess it's the way it's done.' "
"You know who's like Jim Marshall now?" Grant asked, rhetorically. "Daunte Culpepper."
But what of Moss? Does he present special problems?
"Page and Randy come from that same box," Grant said.
Which is not to say that Moss someday will be a Minnesota Supreme Court justice. But, in fact, the cerebral Page even walked off the field in the waning moments of a Super Bowl loss.
But then, Grant said, there weren't nearly so many media outlets. Behavioral blips weren't analyzed for days on end.
"We had as, ummm, many variances of protocol then as you have now," Grant said.
Changing times haven't changed one thing.
"One thing you need to know about any professional athlete," Grant said, "above all, they have great pride, and they're tremendously competitive."
Then and now.
Who will step up? Win or lose, that attitude will carry over to next season and define that season as well!
Damn good reading webby! I really admire the players of the past.
(nice signature too)
Good read Webby - and very true. We need someone to step it up in the lockerroom and get it to the team's head that no matter how much money they get, they will never be regarded as great until they win a championship. We need some heart.
Winfield and Russell must step up. With Chavous out, Offord will be the weak link.
I t hink Daunte needs to become the vocal leader of this entire team.
In other news WTF is up with Donovan getting the nod to start the Pro Bowl over Daunte? Wasn't he the leading vote-getter?
Daunte certainly had the better stats.
I think Daunte has become more of a leader, but maybe not enough. The thing is, Moss needs to lead as well..they need to be vocal sidekicks and learn to work and lead together. And yeah, I hope McNabb enjoys his probowl start and Chunky Soup commercials cause its going to be another long offseason.
Randy Moss - no probowl, Owens in probowl
Daunte Culpepper - second stringer to McNabb
I think its time Culpepper and Moss come out and show everyone they are the better combo...and wow how sweet it would be if we knocked them out of the playoffs.