[size=18px]Vikings' win could redefine team[/size]

Minnesota's special teams provide spark

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 11/14/05
BY STEPHEN EDELSON
STAFF WRITER


EAST RUTHERFORD — Just walking into Giants Stadium with the Minnesota Vikings made it a special day for owner Zygi Wilf and head coach Mike Tice, a pair of local guys who grew up rooting for the Giants.

But by the time they left the field after Paul Edinger's 48-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining lifted the Vikings to a 24-21 victory, it marked a dramatic end to an afternoon they hope will go a long way toward redefining this team.

Not only has the entire organization showed incredible resiliency in the wake of several well-publicized off-field incidents and a string of key injuries, they've been able to hang within striking distance of the first-place Chicago Bears in the NFC North with seven games still to play.

"I was very nervous coming in here, having been a lifelong Giants' fan," said Wilf, a New Jersey real estate developer who was first introduced to the sport sitting in the bleachers at Giants games at Yankee Stadium in the 1960s.

"They hung in there beating this team. This will go a long way toward building our character. And it was nice to win at Giants Stadium, where I've been going for 30 years."

The Vikings have now won three of their last four games and sit two games behind the Bears with a 4-5 record.

Tice, who attended Central Islip High School on Long Island, has managed to keep the team from falling apart as he tries to save his own job, with Wilf, who purchased the team earlier this year, having committed to Tice for the rest of the season, but not beyond.

"I didn't lose to Texas teams for (former owner) Red (McCombs), and won't lose to New Jersey teams for Zygi," said Tice, whose family had Giants season tickets for more than 30 years, going back to their days at the Polo Grounds.

While their offense was horrible on Sunday, generating just 137 yards and failing to find the end zone, their special teams were brilliant, returning two kicks for scores. They added a defensive TD as well, as they continue their quest to put a disastrous opening six weeks of the season behind them.

The national spotlight fell squarely on the Vikings' organization in the wake of allegations surrounding a bye-week cruise on Lake Minetonka in which some players were involved in lewd behavior. More recently, a season-ending injury to quarterback Daunte Culpepper and the loss of cornerback Fred Smoot for what could be the rest of the season have tested the team's resolve.

"We hung together," Tice said. "We have had a lot of crap going on and a lot of people bailing out on us, but the guys have hung together. They believe in each other, they are a close group. Some new leaders have stepped up . . . we're getting better and growing up as a football team."

Even though the Giants gained nearly three times the yardage Minnesota produced offensively, the Vikings put together an eight-play, 42-yard drive when they had to in the final minute to set up the game-winning field goal. They also forced five turnovers, with safety Darren Sharper returning an interception 92 yards for a score, in addition to their special-teams heroics, returning both a punt and kickoff for touchdowns.

"To win on the road, you have to play really good on defense and really good on special teams," Tice said.