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John Gilbert: Time to apologize to Culpepper and Green, as Vikings stumble

First off, I'd like to think that I'm one of those guys who have sports in their proper perspective. I can spend all sorts of energy getting caught up in the emotion of the moment, in the celebration or despair of a spectacular play or a complete...

First off, I'd like to think that I'm one of those guys who have sports in their proper perspective. I can spend all sorts of energy getting caught up in the emotion of the moment, in the celebration or despair of a spectacular play or a completely botched one. I might bet somebody a lunch at Sammy's or a milkshake at Ray's over some game, but I'd rather not get hung up over this pool or those odds. And to those who get all caught up in things like fantasy football, I say -- get a life.
So when the Minnesota Vikings start off 0-2, I can shrug it off and enjoy Brett Favre's monstrous Monday, when he sliced, diced and filleted the Washington Redskins defense for a 37-0 Green Bay Packer victory. Besides, the UMD football team suffered a stinging loss in the rain and mud at Crookston, and meanwhile the UMD women's hockey team was opening practice, and there were a couple good high school soccer games being played out there.
However, while the NFL remains an interesting diversion to our daily lives, I must take a moment to apologize to Daunte Culpepper and to Dennis Green. For different reasons.
When the Vikings sailed through the exhibition season as the NFL's only undefeated team, then lost to Carolina in the opening game of the regular season, it appeared to me that Culpepper was flat, uninspired, devoid of focus and, generally, awful. It didn't bother me, it was just a surprise. You can figure that Culpepper might have a couple of bad games over the course of a season, but in the opener?
Sometimes teams get beat, period. But there is no excuse for not being fired-up to play -- especially the season opener. When a team is flat, a quarterback can lift it up, but when a quarterback is flat, it doesn't matter if the rest of the team is fired-up, it can bring down a team with a thud. That was my take on the Carolina game.
Then I listened to the game at Chicago, where the Bears hung in there against a Vikings team that seemed to have the ball the whole game, but couldn't score. It sounded on the radio as though Culpepper was having another off-game. He was forcing the ball on his passes, trying to get it to superstar receivers Randy Moss or Cris Carter, who both happened to be covered defensively. Then I heard the commentators mention that it appeared Randy Moss was loafing on a few plays, and that Cris Carter was exhibiting some childish rage at assorted teammates on the sideline.
Hmmm. Here we have Randy Moss, who is getting paid a couple of wheelbarrows full of money each game as the highest paid player on the globe, despite the fact that he is barely starting his career, which has earned justifiable raves for his spectacular catches and big-playability, and only a few whispers about the fact that he seems to sulk and take plays off -- by his own admission.
Over there we have Cris Carter, the old veteran big-play guy, who retired, then unretired, and apparently has been named player-coach of the Vikings in order to come back and play one more year. Carter, whose emotional outbursts are praised because they show how much he wants to win, are outrageous and destructive when the team doesn't win.
Now, let's look back a year. The big question going into the season was whether this untried, untested novice quarterback named Daunte Culpepper could possibly give the Vikings any kind of leadership at quarterback. He stepped in, he focused, he desperately tried to prove himself every game if not every play, and he had a fantastic season. Oh sure, there were moments when Moss and Carter pouted and sulked and looked little-boyish, but mainly they supported and praised Culpepper, because they knew their livelihood depended on the young quarterback getting the ball to them.
This year, there was no question whether Culpepper could do the job. He already had scaled the heights to star status. So maybe he came in a little full of himself, ripe for a downfall. But two of them in a row?
Then I saw highlights of Moss on the sideline, reaching in front of coaches to poke his finger threateningly into Culpepper's chest, and then I saw Carter grabbing a teammate by the jersey and wrenching him around for some mistake he'd made -- I particularly liked the way Carter let go as he glanced around and finally caught sight of the camera, which was catching full view of him -- and I realized what was going on.
The inmates, two of them, have taken over the asylum. Denny Green, for whom I have maximum respect because he is a "player's coach," stood there on the sideline watching all this. But you have to love the byplay. Both ESPN and Fox sports networks observed Carter telling teammates not to speak to the media. A couple of print journalists didn't observe that, and when they got the silent treatment, they quite understandably assumed Green had advised the players not to speak. I particularly enjoyed the quote from an unnamed player: "Got to do what the boss says." So the writer attributes this to mean Green ordered the mute treatment, when actually the player was taking a not-so-subtle shot at Carter.
As it was, the Vikings still could have beaten the offensively challenged Bears. Even after the Bears vaulted to the late 17-10 lead, Culpepper tried to take the Vikings down the field for a dramatic closing touchdown. His last play, you might remember, was a sideline slant pass to Moss, which would have gotten a first down and left Moss in position to step out of bounds and save the clock. It was a perfectly thrown ball, except Moss, still in full pout, had veered to the inside instead of to the outside. Is Moss capable of such a botched play under pressure, or is he capable of such a move intending to make Culpepper look bad? Whatever, it was a fitting ending to a horrible performance.
So anyway, I must apologize to Culpepper, who is still a young and developing quarterback, because he has to try to work with Moss and Carter, a pair of incredibly gifted receivers whose immense level of skill is only exceeded by their enormous egos. Sure, Culpepper still must exercise the game plan, but whenever the situation dictates, and he must call an audible, how can he function when he's trying to make the "boss" and the phenom both happy?
And, I also must apologize to Green for praising him so much for calling together this collection of skilled players and keeping them happy. If Green was as good as I've assumed, he would be grabbing Carter and Moss by the jersey the way Carter grabs teammates, and he'd give them a little shake and set their star-studded rear ends on the bench.
It's still early in the season, and the Vikings very well could right themselves against Tampa Bay this weekend and embark on a journey toward the division title. But not unless the sheriff steps up and proves that he, indeed, is a "player's coach" and not just "two players' coach."
John Gilbert is a sports writer for the Murphy McGinnis Newspapers. He can be reached by e-mail at john.gilbert@mx3.com .

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