It seems both fitting and ironic that the Vikings and Cardinals will meet tonight at the Metrodome. The last time Vikings fans saw the Cards, the Redbirds knocked them out of the playoffs. The last time Vikings fans saw Dennis Green was Dec. 23, 2001 – a day remembered more for Cris Carter, reading the handwriting on the wall, waving goodbye to the end zone fans who had caught him, Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper when they performed a “snap” version of the Lambeau Leap.
Green wouldn’t finish that season. After losing at Green Bay, it was clear Green was going to get fired. Instead of playing the season finale – a Monday night game pushed to the final week of the season because of 9/11 – Green brokered a deal to leave the Vikings on his terms -- and his alone.
After two years of being paid more by Red McCombs than current head coach Mike Tice to NOT coach, Green has vacated the realm of the TV talking heads to return to coaching. Just like every boxer that left the sport, Green saw how his legacy was being viewed and returned for one more shot of glory. Green has become the latest chapter of the “TV Land” retro coaching philosophy.
Instead of plucking the Flavor of the Month college coach, more teams are going “Old School” with their coaching decisions. Take a look around the league at the 32 head coaches in the NFL. Green joins Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, Tom Coughlin, Mike Holmgren, Dom Capers, Tony Dungy, Marty Shottenheimer, Dick Vermeil and even long-time coordinators and former head coaches like Norv Turner as part of a franchise looking to the future by looking to the past. For every John Fox, there’s a Green. For every Mike Mullarkey, there’s a Parcells. In his criticism and knowledge of the game as an analyst on TV, Green put himself on the block like so many of his predecessors -- "You’re doing this wrong, so I would do it this way." His legacy is at stake with his comeback and it starts tonight.
Unlike his bunker mentality in his final years with the Vikings – after taking over de facto general manager duties with the Ten Stooges ownership group – Green has been kissing babies, attending sad luncheons that include a “vegetable medley” and making numerous public appearances akin to selling a miracle tonic. He’s become a pitchman as much as he is a coach. He did the same early on with the Vikings. Only later did he become indignant and help draw a line in the sand.
Green’s legacy to date hasn’t been measured in Super Bowl rings. It has been measured in taking teams with less talent in an era where the Cowboys, 49ers and Packers bought and paid off Lombardi Trophies into the playoffs consistently … and taking an ill-advised knee one time. The fact that he and the media became opponents was as much his fault as columnists who saw Green in the same way late-night talk show hosts viewed Bill Clinton -- too easy a target to pass up.
If Green can make the Cardinals a .500 team in two years, he’s done his job. The Bidwells are to ownership what Paulie Shore is to the Academy Awards, so it won't be easy. It’s an uphill battle waged in a state where Green will likely run into similar animosity as he did in the unspoken of but prevelant nooks and crannies of Minnesota. At VU, we were one of the few media outlets that gave Green credit. He brought a once-proud franchise back from mediocrity. If he can do the same in Arizona, more power to him. But, if he repeats his media failings of the past, his detractors will have the last laugh.
* Tonight will be the first night that the Vikings will play on the new, slower Metrodome surface. While the new turf can be manipulated to be faster or slower, nobody will be happier to see the old Dome rug put out to pasture. In the last two preseason meetings, the Cards have lost three starters for the season – including then-All-Pro Rob Moore in 2000, who was never the same afterward. A shock wave went through the Metrodome press box last year when Cards coach Dave McGinnis asked that the game be cancelled because of exposed seams in the turf. The NFL shot down his protest and he had a handful of players injured in the game.
* While nobody should EVER gamble on preseason games, consider this: when Green took over the Vikings, he cut loose several veterans he viewed as driftwood, including Herschel Walker. How did his team respond? It went 4-0 in the preseason, outscoring its opponents 140-6. Denny takes his preseason seriously.
* There are going to be some traffic conundrums tonight around the Metrodome. For the tailgating crowd, their only safe haven – a huge parking lot along Washington Avenue, won’t be available. The City of Minneapolis is hoping to pimp their light rail system as an alternative. It will be interesting to see how the system handles fueled-up face painters if there are quick stops and starts. Thank you, Governor Ventura – who has taken to corn-rowing his beard. All things considered, we could be New Jersey voters.
* As of yesterday 400 pretty good seats were still available in a venue that seats 64,000. Run don’t walk to get those tickets.