Chaotic Vikings take their turmoil to 5-0 and counting

On The NFL

October 11, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Pro football tends to be an organization game.

The stable, well-run organizations with a plan and a philosophy tend to be winners -- such as Green Bay, San Francisco, Denver and Pittsburgh.

Then there are the Minnesota Vikings. They seem intent on proving a little turmoil -- or maybe even a lot of it -- isn't a bad thing. In their case, it might have been a plus.

The Vikings were in chaos much of the off-season. Nobody even knew who was going to own the team. When Tom Clancy's bid was accepted in February, president Roger Headrick tried to get the right to match it.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue spent weeks before rejecting Headrick's bid, but then Clancy withdrew because of financing problems.

It wasn't until July that Red McCombs bought the team, and his arrival wasn't exactly embraced in the Twin Cities because he's from San Antonio, which doesn't have a team and does have a domed stadium, the Alamodome. There were immediate worries he was going to move the team.

Before McCombs took over, Headrick had gone on a spending spree. Since he didn't have to worry about paying the bills, Headrick spent $32.5 million on defensive tackle John Randle, $25 million on running back Robert Smith, $23.5 million on wide receiver Cris Carter (although that deal wasn't finalized until after McCombs took over), $22 million on offensive tackle Todd Steussie and $13.6 million on wide receiver Jake Reed.

And Dennis Green, a lame-duck coach in the final year of his contract who didn't figure to be back next year, gambled on wide receiver Randy Moss in the draft despite his off-the-field problems. If Moss became another Lawrence Phillips, Green figured he wouldn't be his problem next year.

But McCombs then made a surprising move and gave Green a three-year contract extension. Moss became a productive player. The five veterans Headrick kept at high prices kept the core of the team together. And Randall Cunningham, the former Philadelphia scrambler, became a born-again pocket passer in place of ailing Brad Johnson.

Suddenly, the Vikings are going into their bye week with a 5-0 record after thrashing Green Bay on Monday night, and they are host to hapless Washington next Sunday.

Now, the Vikings' biggest problem is what to do with Cunningham when Johnson becomes healthy.

Johnson, who broke his right fibula on Sept. 13, is aiming to return in two weeks against Detroit.

Green says he'll sit Cunningham down even if the Vikings are unbeaten because Johnson's the starter.

How will Cunningham handle that?

"Randall Cunningham has already been to the top of the mountain," Green said. "He has been one of the greatest athletes to ever play his position."

Green says Cunningham will have no problems being the backup when Johnson returns.

It might not be a problem even if Cunningham is unhappy. After all, the Vikings have shown they can thrive amid turmoil.

Back to the future

When 0-5 Philadelphia meets 0-5 Washington today, it'll be nothing new to the Eagles.

In 1968, the 0-6 Eagles met the 0-6 Pittsburgh Steelers. The game was dubbed the O.J. Simpson Bowl because he was destined to be the top pick in 1969.

The game lived down to its expectations. It was tied 3-3 in the fourth period when the Eagles went for it on fourth down deep in their territory. They didn't make it and the Steelers kicked a field goal to win, 6-3.

The Eagles went to 0-11 and seemed to have Simpson locked up. But the Eagles, being the Eagles, then won a pair of games and lost Simpson to the Buffalo Bills. The Eagles wound up with Leroy Keyes, who never lived up to his college reputation.

The Steelers fell to fourth in the draft and "settled" on an obscure defensive lineman named Joe Greene.

This time, the Eagles and Redskins aren't in contention for the first pick because the expansion Cleveland team has it. The loser, though, could try harder to be No. 2.

On the cold seat

Coach Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Orphans -- er, Oilers -- has tended to get a lot of credit for handling the distractions that have come with playing in three homes -- Houston, Memphis and Nashville -- in the past three years.

That may be to Fisher's advantage, though. If he'd stayed in the same city, the fans might have noticed that he's in his fifth year (he only coached six games in his first season) and has yet to make the playoffs.

In Nashville, judging from the crowds (the Oilers drew 34,656 for their last game against Jacksonville), the fans don't seem to care much whether the team is even in town, much less who the coach is.

With the Oilers 1-3 coming into Baltimore today, they've got one foot on a banana peel. Of the last 213 teams to start off 1-3, only 11 made the playoffs, although the Giants did it last year.

But Fisher gets little flak and isn't usually included on the list of coaches (Ray Rhodes, Norv Turner and Kevin Gilbride are prime examples) on the hot seat.

Quick facts

For the first time in his career, Miami's Dan Marino has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in four straight games.

Bengals quarterback Neil O'Donnell will face his old team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, today for the first time since he quarterbacked the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX, when he gift-wrapped a pair of interceptions to Larry Brown to give Dallas the victory.

Names in the news

Denver's Terrell Davis, who has rushed for 657 yards, is on a pace to join Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson as the only backs to gain 2,000 yards in a season.

When Denver plays Seattle today, Warren Moon, who's 41 years and 328 days old, will face John Elway, who's 38 years and 106 days old.

Quotable

"Yeah, I'd have to call Robert Shapiro, though. Or I'll call Johnnie Cochran to see if he'll take the case. That was a $20,000 blitz, and I didn't even get a sack."

-- Minnesota's Corey Fuller on whether he'd appeal his $20,000 fine for breaking the jaw of Green Bay backup quarterback Doug Pederson.

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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