<<The Metrodome's visitors' locker room was closed to the media beyond the NFL-mandated 10 minutes on Sunday afternoon. When the doors finally opened, it took Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci another five minutes to make it to an anteroom for his postgame interview.
There wasn't much grumbling among the waiting reporters. They were aware that Mariucci was trying to deal with a very embarrassing fact about himself.
Yes, somewhere back in the main locker room filled with the debris of sweat-soaked shoulder pads and used ankle tape, Mariucci was shaking his head and mumbling:
"I can't beat Mike Tice."
Talk about a burden to carry around. It's amazing Mariucci could fight off the debilitating effects of depression long enough to stagger to the platform, much less spend 10 minutes answering questions.
Sunday's final was 27-14 for the Vikings. Tice is now 5-0 against Mariucci's Lions, and he also was 2-0 against Detroit in 2002. That makes him 7-0 against the Lions and 19-31 against the rest of the world.
Our guy Mike will not stand alone among Vikings coaches with fond memories of facing the Lions.
Bud Grant wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame without his 26-8-1 record against the Lions. Jerry Burns might not have been inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor on Sunday without his 8-4 record against the Lions. Les Steckel would have two career victories, not three, without the Lions.
Fred Zamberletti, the Vikings trainer/consultant for life, was walking up the Metrodome corridor after Sunday's game. It was mentioned to Zamby that he has had the opportunity to see many bad Lions teams in his 45 years with the Purple.
"Yes, and I've seen some bad quarterbacks," he said.
This seemed to be a sideways commentary on the Lions' woeful Joey Harrington, although Zamby's only elaboration was a shake of the head.
Mariucci came in for the 2003 season, after being mysteriously fired in San Francisco. One obstacle was inheriting the Lions' tradition of losing that was beyond comprehension -- a franchise with one playoff victory since its 1957 NFL championship.
A larger obstacle was inheriting Harrington, a quarterback in whom the Lions had invested the third overall pick in the 2002 draft.
A few things were working against Harrington, such as: a weak arm, no ability to find a second or third receiver, and no ability to step around in the pocket and make time for himself.
Mariucci started Joey the Stiff every game for two seasons and went 11-21 (including 0-4 vs. Tice). He brought in veteran Jeff Garcia as an alternative for this season, but Garcia was hurt and the Lions were again stuck with Harrington for the first five games (2-3) of this season.
Mariucci went to Garcia three Sundays back, and got a victory over Cleveland. Then, Garcia made a horrifying throw that gave Chicago an overtime victory eight days ago, and he was hurt in the process.
That put Harrington back in the lineup for Sunday's game.
A 2-5 record. Sex cruise. Daunte Culpepper's destroyed right knee. Zero prospect of being rehired by Zygi Wilf.
None of this mattered to Tice. Knowing his team would be facing Harrington again, you couldn't wipe the smile off Tice's large mug last week at Winter Park.
Joey did not disappoint. His strategy of taking a quick look at his primary receiver and then looking for a soft place to land allowed the Vikings to have four sacks for minus-32 yards. He threw changeups high and wide and sinkers low and away -- a regular J.C. Romero in pads.
Worst of all, there was his fumble that officially turned the game into a cruise for the Vikings. It was 10-0, the Lions were on their 26 and cornerback Brian Williams came on a blitz.
Harrington ducked, and basically shoveled the ball on the turf to the large, late-arriving Kevin Williams. The Vikings scored quickly, and then an interception led to another sudden touchdown.
That made it 24-0 with four minutes remaining in the first half.
"We got into the same situation as we have the last three years," Harrington said. "We made mistakes and put ourselves in position where we had to fight out of a hole."
You don't suppose Joey thinks this is a coincidence -- that he's the quarterback and the Lions have spent three years fighting out of a hole -- do you?>>
Tice is 7-0 against the Lions?? I think somebody "not being able to beat Mike Tice" is just hilarious!!