Vikings owner Zygi Wilf moved quickly through the press box after the Vikings’ 27-24 overtime win against the Arizona Cardinals. His smile was wide and unmistakable.
He congratulated players and told them that win was about heart.
The win, which moved the Vikings to 3-5 on the season, may have saved the Vikings’ season and possibly even the job of embattled coach Brad Childress, but Vikings veterans seemed to make it clear they were playing for themselves, not to save their coach’s job.
“We won one for us,” Jared Allen said when asked if they won one for Childress. “We won one to get back in the NFC North.”
The Vikings entered the game with a 2-5 record and Childress taking heat for that and for releasing wide receiver Randy Moss less than a month after trading a third-round pick to acquire him. With reports of run-ins with Percy Harvin on Friday – a confrontation that Harvin and Childress said happened because Harvin didn’t want to get a magnetic resonance imaging test on his injured left ankle – and Randy Moss the week before, there was a growing public sentiment that an infectious strain was running through the locker room.
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe referenced the wording of an ESPN report from last year that claimed there was a “schism” in the Vikings locker room, a divide caused by the signing of Brett Favre. Applied to the current situation, Shiancoe claimed there is no schism.
“(The coaches) put together a great game plan today, and we executed it. Internally, we’re a steady, solid team right now. There’s no schism, anything like that,” he said. “You guys don’t have to worry about any headlines this week, OK?”
There may be no “Childress fired” headlines this week, but even Childress admitted he hasn’t received any assurances from Wilf, who met with several veteran players last week, with topics reportedly ranging from Childress to Moss.
Wilf issued only a short statement to reporters before the game and didn’t speak with the media after it.
“I think the big thing right now is to win this game and we’re two-time division champions and we’re going to fight our ass off,” Wilf said.
After the game, Wilf addressed the players briefly in the locker room. The topic?
“Great heart. I think he meant it to everybody. Heart of a champion,” Childress said of Wilf’s message.
Childress declined to comment on the potential for keeping his job, saying it wasn’t his place to comment on it.
Quarterback Brett Favre stuck with the theme that he and Chidlress don’t always see eye to eye, and their relationship has been strained at times, sometimes more publicly than others.
“Do I always get along with my head coach, quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator? No. Do I always agree with the plays that were called? No,” Favre said. “Why should that factor into me wanting to be the best player I can be? Whether Brad is the head coach or not, that should never change the way you approach it. Those younger guys in there, they want new contracts, they want to be in the Pro Bowl and the best player at their position. They can’t look at it from, ‘Who’s my coach?’ It’s still football. You have to run routes, you have to block, you have to tackle, you have to make the right reads, you have to overcome adversity.”
One of those young players is running back Adrian Peterson. Although he said he respects his head coach, he seemed to also follow Favre’s line of thinking.
“I can definitely disagree with some of his decisions, and I'm sure he disagrees with some of the things that I do,” Peterson said. “But you've got to be able to overlook that, know that it's a business. You've got to consider that and know that ultimately at the end you've got to still have the same goal in mind."
Childress told the players he was rewarding their effort with a “Victory Monday,” where players’ responsibilities at Winter Park following a win are lessened and rest before the weekly grind increases. After a long week of stress in the locker room, getting away for a couple of days may do the Vikings some good.
Players spent much of last week trying to answer for Childress’ decision to release Moss and talking as much about off-the-field distractions as their on-the-field performances.
“It is tough. It’s a sticky situation trying to answer those questions (about the coach and locker-room chemistry),” receiver Bernard Berrian said. “I know you guys want answers and the fans want answers, but it’s really kind of hard because you get backed into a corner and you don’t really know how to answer those questions.”
But the theme in the locker room after the game was that the players were playing for themselves and trying to save their season.
“We just started playing for each other, man. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about the team,” tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. “It’s all about executing. It’s all about us whipping ass. We just have to stay focused, not got derailed by nothing, period.
“It’s a circus around here all the damn time. We know that. Period, end of discussion, but that’s the type of outside crap that we deal with a lot. We’re used to it.”
Even Childress said it might be a little deep to say that the players overcame a 24-10 deficit to rally for their head coach.
“I think we play for each other more than anything,” Kevin Williams said. “With all the stuff going on, we could have easily quit and let that game go, but we kept fighting and got the win.”
If they hadn’t won, Wilf may have felt the need to make a change in coaching after hearing “Fire Childress” chants start up several times during the game.
Allen, who had 2½ sacks, knows how quickly negative momentum can escalate and he wanted to avoid that first and foremost. The Vikings may have saved Childress’ job for another week, but they also avoided letting the season slip completely away.
“Honestly, if you lose this game, things can come apart at the seams and I’ve been on a team where we lost nine straight and we were in first place going into our bye week and you can just watch it unravel,” Allen said.
In a tumultuous season, the Vikings aren’t out of the playoff race yet, and their coach isn’t out the door yet either, setting up for another week of daytime drama.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.