Video Game Vikings

September 26 - Want a unique perspective on the struggling Minnesota Vikings? Sanny Penner offers one in his column this week.

When I seek some sanity from the insane world of pro football, I often turn to Sony Playstation and of course Madden Football. Now, I really don't play all that much and I can't stand John Madden or Pat Summerall, but leave it to me to find the synchronicity between the two. They say life imitates art. Well, in this case life imitates a video game, because the Minnesota Vikings have unraveled faster than Emeril Lageses acting career. That's what makes Sunday's game so scary for the Bucs. You have a dangerous, wounded animal who will do anything to survive against a formidable opponent who's never been quite able to push the beast out of it's cave. Actually, now that I think about it, I like the video game analogy better.

I see a number of problems with the Vikings, some I knew before the season, some I didn't. Minnesota has lost so many good players without adequately replacing them that it's hard to believe they can even be thought about as a playoff team. Back in the mid to late 90's when the Pittsburgh Steelers became a pro bowl pipeline for the rest of the league, we wondered how Bill Cowher kept the team competitive. Now, it's finally caught up with the Steelers and they are firmly entrenched in mediocrity. The Vikings regression is moving at a much more rapid pace as Dennis Green tries to hold it together. Since the end of the 1999 season, the Vikes have lost four pro bowl offensive lineman in Korey Stringer, Randall Mcdaniel, Jeff Christy and Todd Steussie. This past offseason their defense was ravaged when John Randle, Dwayne Rudd and Tony Williams departed. Of course, don't forget RB Robert Smith retired and solid third receiver Matthew Hatchette waived buh bye to the Twin Cities. The Vikings biggest free agent move in the last couple of years has been signing TE Byron Chamberlain and bringing back pouty WR Jake Reed. The human element has to come into play also as the death of Stringer has sapped the energy from this team. Put it all together and you have a team who is a shell of it's former self. Not only that, but superskilled players like Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss and Michael Bennett are either too immature, too young or both.

Now that I've come full circle, I can get back to the video game gibberish. When you play Madden football, you always go for the big play. It's the only fun way to play and any guy worth his salt craves the long touchdown. In essence, the Vikings have become a video game caricature of themselves. Moss always wants to go deep while Culpepper is also enamored of the home run ball. Teams have started to let Moss catch stuff underneath until eventually he get frustrated. At the same time, no running game and a bunch of short routes have taken away Cris Carters effectiveness in the middle of the field. Nobody likes to throw 8 yard slants in Madden football, and Minnesota doesn't like doing it either. In their loss to Chicago last week, Bears LB Brian Urlacher spied on Culpepper forcing him into some poor throws. That's the formula for beating the Vikings offense and that's what the Bucs will try and do.

Despite my diatribe, the Vikings are still tough to beat on the carpet when they absolutely need the game. The Bucs have always done just enough to lose in the Metrodome, and it's always been Moss and Carter who've made the plays. There's no reason the Bucs can't move the ball on Minnesota's young d-line and small secondary. Getting ahead will put pressure on the Vikings to attempt the aforementioned big plays. The important thing is Tampa can't get sloppy if the Vikes don't hit a couple early because they'll keep going for them. Sounds simple, but unlike Playstation, in the NFL you can't reset the game.

By the way, for those of you keeping score, I was the Bucs playing the computer Vikings earlier this week in Madden. Final score you ask. You'll find out on Sunday.

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