MINNEAPOLIS -- There were strange expressions on display inside the Minnesota Vikings' locker room Sunday afternoon. The civilian term for them is "smiles," although in the Vikings organization anyone wishing to flash a molar in public must get p...
MINNEAPOLIS -- There were strange expressions on display inside the Minnesota Vikings' locker room Sunday afternoon.
The civilian term for them is "smiles," although in the Vikings organization anyone wishing to flash a molar in public must get prior approval in triplicate from the Trapezoid of Authority, which usually recommends growing a push-broom mustache to disguise displays of emotion.
And yet here was tackle Mike Rosenthal, a former starter previously relegated to oblivion by new coach Brad Childress, grinning over playing in the first technicolor shootout of Chili's monochromatic tenure. Sensing an opportunity to get him into trouble with Big Brother, I asked him this: "They finally put you in the lineup, they score 31. You were the key, right?"
Rosenthal, looking around nervously: "No comment."
Rosey, frisking me for wires: "I don't know what you're talking about."
Me: "I'll give you a softball -- was it fun to play in a shootout?"
Rosey: "Oh, man, it was. Let's be honest, our glory, up front, is scoring points.
"When you can run the ball and score points, well, let's put it this way -- our joy is when Jeff Dugan, our guy, catches a touchdown. That was the greatest thing ever."
Yes, the Vikings beat the Cardinals 31-26, and while the quality of play wasn't the "greatest thing ever," this was more entertainment than you had any right to expect from two stumbling teams.
Standing to Rosenthal's right was center Matt Birk, who looked over and accused Rosenthal of needing to change game pants over his excitement at playing again. "Yeah," Rosenthal said. "This was my first rodeo."
Actually, it was his 56th NFL start, but until Sunday there was more photographic evidence this fall that Bigfoot exists than that Rosenthal still plays football.
Sunday, Rosenthal and Jason Whittle replaced injured Artis Hicks and Marcus Johnson. Some combination of the Vikings' improved line play, the Cardinals' historic ineptitude and Denny Green's innate ability to make the Metrodome scoreboard spin like a slot machine made Chili look like Don Coryell, with Brad Johnson playing the role of Dan Fouts.
At one point in the third quarter, the Vikings called 13 consecutive passing plays. Those fans who imitate Childress by covering their fake mustaches with play charts that read "Chester Taylor left" will have to create new charts that read "Travis Taylor left."
Was throwing every down the game plan? Receiver Marcus Robinson heard the question, his eyes bugged out and he yelped, "No! The game plan was a balanced offense, but what they gave us was one-on-one on the outside, and that's what we took advantage of."
Thus we saw signs of flexibility and adaptation from the Chiller, although any excitement over the Vikings' explosiveness should be tempered by knowledge of the Cardinals' implosiveness.
Amazing, isn't it? Green comes back to the Metrodome, and football suddenly looks more like PlayStation 3 than Pong. This is the power of Denny's "system" -- he can make any team exciting, especially his opponent.
Childress has been looking to lubricate his offense's grinding gears, and Green brought with him the NFL's WD-40 - a team that fares about as well on the road as your average headlight-blinded possum.
Denny arrives, and Johnson turns into John Elway, throwing three touchdown passes and running for as many yards as Edgerrin James.
Denny must have thought this was flag football - three completions gets you a first down, you can run the ball once every half-hour, and tackling is forbidden.
Green infused the Metrodome with his usual potpourri of arcade-quality offense, Canadian Border Patrol defense and Chaos Theory game management, and even the Chiller got caught up in the excitement.
Jim Souhan is a syndicated columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.