[size=13pt]Vikings Insider: Walls, literal and figurative, are up[/size]

The Vikings, mindful of lax security in the past, don't want leaks and have taken all measures to prevent them.

Kevin Seifert
Last update: September 24, 2006 – 12:02 AM


Two years ago, Vikings coaches developed an elaborate fake field goal play. You might remember it -- if for no other reason than its spectacular failure during a playoff game at Philadelphia. Sideline confusion prompted receiver Randy Moss to step off the field, leaving the Vikings without their planned target for the play.
What you probably don't know: By the time the Vikings got to Philadelphia, word had circulated around the NFL that Moss was the target on a fake field goal play. In fact, a player who visited Winter Park during the 2005 free agent period told coaches that his former team knew all the details.

The news stunned Vikings brass -- at least until they realized how relatively open and accessible (or susceptible) they were to espionage. Was it one of the neighboring office workers who could watch practice from a hill just outside their door? Was it one of the corporate sponsors invited to watch Thursday practices? Did someone simply wander into one of Winter Park's unlocked doors and stumble upon a chalkboard?

The exact chain of events never was determined. But suffice it to say, the Vikings never will face the same problem. One of the distinguishing features of the Triangle of Authority has been a fundamental buildup of walls -- literal and figurative -- to preserve secrets and protect the organization from scrutiny.

Some of the changes were necessary security measures, and overall none of them should be considered excessive. Sadly, the new approach is best viewed as an effort to elevate the team's public insulation to NFL norms. For as recently as two years ago, the Vikings were a mom-and-pop franchise in a league of corporate giants.

The examples are neverending. A chain-link fence, lined with an opaque wind protector, now surrounds the practice field. Corporate sponsors rarely are seen at practice, and reporters are dismissed after 15 minutes on most days.

As recently as last year, the door to the locker room was unlocked during business hours -- allowing players, reporters and pizza delivery men to enter at will. Now, players must enter a keypad code to enter under the watchful eye of a security camera.

Players also need security access to open the new gate surrounding their parking lot, an area once populated by car salesmen, jewelry hawkers, reporters and a shady character from Daunte Culpepper's hometown who at one point was accused of stalking the quarterback.

The Vikings have elevated the same levels of security to their X's and O's. Three years ago, a copy of their playbook -- guarded like gold by most teams -- appeared on E-Bay. Such carelessness appears highly unlikely under coach Brad Childress.

It began in training camp, when a staffer noticed practice video on the website YouTube.com. The video was shot during a practice open to the public, but the Vikings tracked down the person responsible and demanded the video be taken off the Internet.

Otherwise, opposing teams -- at least those with magnifying glasses and video enhancers, considering the grainy nature of the film -- would have seen formations and personnel groupings that tip off certain plays. As camp continued, fans sitting in the stands were consistently asked not to videotape practice.

And, like most NFL coaches, Childress has been extraordinarily reluctant to disclose injuries or discuss player moves, sometimes playing games of semantics to tap dance around questions.

On Sept. 15, reporters noticed that practice squad receiver Jason Carter was missing. Because Carter had a strong preseason, it made sense that Carter might have been signed to another team's active roster.

Afterward, Childress was asked if the Vikings had lost Carter to another team. Childress said he didn't know and implied that he was unaware that Carter had not practiced. "I was looking at some different spots," Childress said.

In truth, Carter had not been signed by another team. Childress had given him permission to leave the team 24 hours earlier to be with his fiancé, who was due to give birth.

The cloak and dagger routine extends to the front office, which has held at least three staff meetings since January in which employees were threatened with immediate firing if they disseminated unauthorized information. Some staffers believe active efforts are underway to enforce the policy, from monitoring e-mails to scrutinizing cell phone records.

Similar tales of espionage emanate from most NFL teams, and it was hard not to notice the symbolism of the Vikings' flawless fake field goal last Sunday against Carolina. After drawing up the play, special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro initially told only five people -- Childress, assistant special teams coach Brian Murphy, kicker Ryan Longwell, holder Chris Kluwe and tight end Richard Owens.

Some players, especially those who do not take part in field goal practice drills, did not find out about it until they watched Longwell and Owens connect for a 16-yard touchdown pass in the game.

"Loose lips sink ships," Childress said on his KFAN radio show.

At 2-0, the Vikings ship is floating well. Just don't tell anyone.


Kevin Seifert • [email protected]