The 2002 Minnesota Vikings season finished 6-and-10 but provided many memorable Skol Stories. Couple of quick calls to longtime friends Mike Tice and Eden Prairie native Todd Downing confirmed what I already knew -- like most Tice-led Vikings teams the mood swings could be heaven-high and devilishly low.
Tice was a first-year head coach, Downing starting his NFL ascension as Football Systems Analyst. Todd now is TE coach for the Tennessee Titans after OC or QB-coaching stints in St. Louis, Detroit, Buffalo and Oakland. Love those guys, and it has been a pleasure staying in touch for almost 20 years.
Yeah, the old 2002. Here are some memorable, non-obvious snippets, then I'll go longer form one, two, three with some doozies:
Lost the season opener against Chicago and in Champagne, Ill. where the Fighting Illini play. Soldier Field was being renovated to amazingly look like a space ship, and the season commenced against a bad Bears team on a day the heat index on the field was around 120. Bears QB Jim Miller, the master at selling/executing the bubble screen, hit WR David Terrell with 28 seconds left to hang a dirty L on Tice's 2002 debut.
The next week K Doug Brien missed two extra points -- FROM THE 10 YARD LINE -- and the Vikings succumbed in OT. Tice's home opener ... nipped at the wire! Theme developing here, right? Tice teams, emotional games, heart-wrenching pendulum swinging.
September 29 at Seattle Shaun Alexander scored five touchdowns, including one with Vikings owner Red McCombs in the Vox Box during the carnage. So, I asked owner Red McCombs to call a play, he obliged, and Alexander proceeded to roll 80 on a screen from QB Trent Dilfer that was one of the longest-developing plays I ever have seen. Mid call Red blurted, "It's on the safety. Stop him, stop him, stop him!" They didn't "stop him" and got killed at The Cappuccino Capital.
Week 12 the Vikings lost at Foxboro and to QB Tom Brady, who was playing in just his 29th game. If we only had known then what we know now about the greatest quarterback ever to put on a helmet. Wow. Captain Cool, of course, threw three TD that day against zero interceptions, and the Pats won. Second season for Tom, and he already had a ring. Easy game, right? Ugh!
The final home game 2002 was a Vikings win against the Miami Dolphins. That day former Vikings and HOF WR Cris Carter caught just a single pass for 15 yards for those 'Fins but was cheered loudly all game, his fantastic career celebrated every time appreciative fans caught a glimpse of him. Next week at Foxboro would be the final game of Cris's career.
Lots of emotional, topsy-turvy memories in there, and sadly more memorable losses than wins. Still, here are the three things from the 2002 season -- my first on the mike doing Vikings play by play -- I never, ever, ever will forget:
(3) Former Vikings QB Brad Johnson throwing five touchdowns on the Purple as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Game was early November, and it was a spectacular weather day out that way. It was my first time to Raymond James, and when I left my ears were ringing. That freaking cannon on the in-stadium pirate ship blasted so many times after Bucs scores I thought I was on the set of "Cutthroat Island." Bucs would go on to beat Oakland in the Super Bowl, too.
Randy Moss melted my heart after the game, though. Pissed at the blowout loss or whatever moody Randy was terse and edgy postgame in the locker room, barked at a few people as he departed, and Vikings security stuck close to 8-4 as he exited Raymond James to our team busses. Some loud-mouth Pewter-Loving Punk yelled something at Randy, and he barked back, unleashing some well defined expletives, security attempting to whisk him to a bus.
As Moss approached bus four there was a group of kids -- all wearing Bucs garb -- yelling "Randy, Randy, Randy, Randy." Moss, undoubtedly still steaming from the encounter with Pewter Punk Guy, broke away and brought around 15 kids inside the rope and close to the bus. With a very loving and happy tone Randy lined them all up and asked every kid their name. He then proceeded to sign everything they had and take a few pictures. That gesture of kindness for those kids was something I never have forgotten.
(2) Falcons QB Mike Vick ran roughshod on the Vikings defense week 13. Vick, a gazelle in cleats, dazzled Metrodome with 173 rushing yards and a game-winning 46-yard beauty in overtime. Mike left everybody all wide-eyed that day, and the 173 rushing by a QB set a NFL record that stood until January 2013 when Colin Kaepernick slithered around the Packers for 181 in a playoff game at Lambeau. Along with Adrian Peterson's 296 versus San Diego and his 342 total with three TD at Chicago in 2007 it's absolutely one of the most dominating performances I ever have seen.
(1) Never forget the night. December 8 at Lambeau Field. This goes to the top for me because it was my third time at Football Americana but first as "Voice of the Vikings." And it was Brett Favre and this intense rivalry, which still gets juices going to this day.
Green Bay won, 26-22, in a game the Vikings, who were significant road underdogs, led for all but the final minute eight of the contest. As the Vikings were trying to win on the final drive of the game, which was played on a zero-degree night in Green Bay, WR Chris Walsh caught a 17-yard laser shot from Daunte, and as he attempted to "declare himself down" and stop the clock fourth-year CB Antuan Edwards flew at him and speared him right in the chest. I mean just blasted the bleep out of Walsh, a noted special-teams tough guy.
Benches emptied. Legit fight leaks onto the Vikings sideline. Analyst Greg Coleman was on KFAN during said fracas describing the melee WHILE pulling players off each other. Backup C Cory Withrow and Green Bay LB Na'il Diggs were embarking on an Ali-Frazier-type bout, and Coleman, while on the radio, jumped between them. Country-tough Jim Kleinsasser was attacking anything wearing green and gold.
Just bonkers, and I am not kidding. One of the most vivid memories I probably ever will have despite calling 283 regular- and post-season Vikes games. Coleman broadcasting from the belly of the beast was amazing and as described, like many Tice-led Vikings games the team didn't always win, but emotionally speaking, yeah, we frequently got paid.