SKOL STORIES: WORDS-EYE VIEW OF VIKINGS 2003 SEASON with Paul Allen

Culpepper scrambles

Culpepper scrambles

2003 WAS SO WACKY IT MIGHT TAKE THREE SUBMISSIONS TO RECAPTURE THE SWINGS

I have known 2003 Vikings coach Mike Tice in a roundabout way since 1979 when I lived in the D.C. area and Mike was a quarterback for the Maryland Terrapins. And after three years of slinging the rock in the ACC Tice played 30 games with 11 TD and 14 INT. Off that and with his size and catching ability he, of course, became a tight end for several years in the NFL

Mom was divorced, we lived in a two-bedroom monkey cage at a place called Private Hill apartments, and she'd take me and some friends to watch Terps football because not many attended, and it was a cheaper ticket than the Redskins at R.F.K. I was 13 and loved Tice and emulated him when playing catch with Miles Spires in a field adjacent to Rosecroft Raceway.

Then as a racetrack announcer at Bay Meadows in NoCal in like 1994, I said "hi" to Mike, who always has loved horse racing, and we chatted for 30 minutes about racing, those college days and whatever.

Then I moved full time to Minnesota in 1998 to work for KFAN and Canterbury Park, rolled out to Winter Park and --BOOM-- there's Tice again as the squad's O-line coach. That reuniting took it from acquaintances to friends.

Then 2002 rolls along and he's coaching the games and I'm calling them on radio, both in our first years at the jobs. We became very close at that point, and I always have appreciated Mike's free-spirited nature and ability to motivate man and coach offense.

So, that gets to the unbelievable 2003 campaign, the 6-and-0 start, missing the playoffs at Sun Devils Stadium on the last play of the season, and along the way a game at Oakland that came with a guarantee.

The Vikings had lost three in a row after that lickety-split start and were allowing 33 PPG during the trifecta of Ls. The next Sunday they were at Oakland to play the ratty Raiders, who had lost five in a row and six of the last seven. So, longtime media-relations mogul Bob Hagan and I are in Tice's office at Winter Park the Tuesday before a back-to-back-trip to the west coast -- they lost at San Diego the week before -- and Tice was perplexed, downtrodden and mad.

His defense just got zapped by Doug Flutie, and his offense scored 55 the previous two games and lost them both. So, I say something to Tice along the lines of "maybe you guarantee a win against the Raiders when you talk to the media tomorrow? Gets the players attention, shows the utmost confidence in the team despite the losing streak, and Oakland is awful. AND RICK MIRER IS THEIR QUARTERBACK!." Leaving the room Hagan said something along the lines of "why did you do that? What if he actually does that?"

Well, he did. He publicly guaranteed victory into the Raiders game, and it all went down hill from there. Back then I did my pregame coach interview on the field by a goal post about 90 minutes before the game. Hagan delivers Tice, and even in the days sans Twitter and stuff, the "guarantee" made its way to Oakland Alameda Coliseum, and the already-boisterous fans let Mike have it. It became so loud and full of vitriol at one point I almost had to stop the interview.

Game starts and things worsened. Daunte's first pass went to his left for Kleinsasser, it was awful, and speedy corner Phillip Buchanon went 64 to the house. Then Zack Crockett scores and next Tyrone Wheatley gets in, and it's 21-3,Raiders.

My God. Mike's going to hate me because the guarantee bit was kind of my idea. FML!!!!!

The Vikes clawed back into this sucker and down 21-18 with two minutes and change left, Daunte gets picked by Rod Woodson, and "there is your dagger."

Damn it. One Vikings players told me a couple days after the game Woodson, a Hall of Fame player, was incensed Tice would guarantee a win against another NFL team, and his fire was burning to the disrespect. Fortunately, Tice didn't brow beat me over the idiotic ordeal and was far more concerned about the four-game losing streak.

I texted Mike a few days ago and wrote "remember the guarantee into the Raiders game?" He wrote back "LOL. Suckers. LOL."

I called him at his Quarantine Covenant in Washington Thursday night to see if there was anything I was missing with the "guarantee." He said, "No, it was a f*****g problem during a time of the season there were a lot of problems; don't remind me."

He'll be on #92Noon next week probably to tease me with the "guarantee" bit and verbally share some "Skol Stories" from days gone by. Nostalgia, not a bad thing on which to cling during this at-times trying period and surreal place in which we live.

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