It’s a day like a lot of spring days. You don’t see any disaster documentaries called 4/26. It doesn’t have a tragedy associated with it like Sept. 11 has taken on.
But, in terms of Vikings history, 4/26 is a day that will live in infamy.
Twelve years ago today, a war room imploded. That war room was located in Eden Prairie, Minn., and the remnants of that debacle are both comic and tragic in hindsight. I, along with several of my media brethren, were at Ground Zero of this particular comic tragedy.
It all started with a great idea, which most epic failures tend to do. It ended with slack-jawed faces, international ridicule and one geriatric finger that said it all.
The Vikings brass thought they were the smartest guys in the room in the days leading up to the 2003 draft. They knew what nobody else did – that defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who was consistently ranked as a mid to late pick in the first round (the 15-25 range), was going to be a star.
The Vikings best and brightest knew they wanted Williams. Sitting with the seventh pick, nobody was envisioning Williams going in that slot. All the attention was going to defensive tackles Dwayne Robertson and Johnathan Sullivan as being potential targets for the Vikings.
They wanted Big Kev.
In the black ops of pre-draft shenanigans and dirty tricks, the Vikings were quietly shuttling prospects in and out of Winter Park under the cloak of secrecy. With one exception – Jimmy Kennedy.
Without warning, Mike Tice shows up to allow the media access to draft prospect Jimmy Kennedy. Full access. Ask away, boys.
That shocking transparency was deeply rooted in the subterfuge of pre-draft machinations. Don’t believe what you read and believe only half of what you see.
Years later, I got a chance to “dot the i’s” on that particular aspect of the 4/26 debacle.
Kennedy came to the Vikings five years later, in 2008, and the first chance I had to get him without snipers able to steal my claim, I cornered him and things got real for a conspiracy theorist.
Kennedy said he knew about 10 minutes after entering Winter Park that the Vikings had no intention of drafting him. He was so put off by the visit that he claimed anything he owned that was purple had to go. He hated the Vikings that much for making him the public pawn in their private chess game. When he was shuttled out to the media, he wasn’t Jimmy Kennedy. He was Red Herring.
No, the Vikings wanted Williams. But nobody could know.
Then they got cute. Too cool for school.
So confident they would get Williams at No. 7, the brain wizards starting wondering how far could they trade back and still get Big Ticket?
At No. 7, it was a foregone conclusion that Carson Palmer was going No. 1. Andre Johnson was in the mix and Matt Millen was making a pick (goodbye, trivia answer Charles Rogers). Current Viking Terence Newman was strongly linked to Dallas at No. 5.
Byron Leftwich – a.k.a. Fat Albert – was the player that was the big question mark heading into the draft. Where would he go and what would his value be in the NFL?
Two teams had designs on the pick – Jacksonville and Baltimore. The problem was that Jacksonville was at No. 8 and Baltimore was picking 10th.
The Vikings were at seventh and holding all the cards.
Unfortunately, even in the war room, they had to hear the buzz of several thousand fans in the Winter Park Fieldhouse being whipped into a frenzy by Paul Allen, the Vikings play-by-play man on their radio network.
Allen thought the Vikings were going to take Arizona State man-beast Terrell Suggs – an edge rusher before the term was coined. He made his high-decibel case to a willing congregation. The chant “Suggs! Suggs! Suggs!” reverberated through the facility.
Meanwhile, the Vikings were furiously attempting to complete a trade with the Ravens to move from No. 7 to No. 10, allow Baltimore to take Leftwich and let Jacksonville and Carolina fend for themselves. The Vikings called in the move to the league office. Baltimore didn’t get it in before the 15-minute clock struck midnight.
When Commissioner Paul Tagliabue hit the podium, the field-house crowd silenced the “Suggs!” chants to hear Tags call out his name.
“With the seventh pick of the 2003 draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Byron Leftwich, quarterback from Marshall.”
Time stopped for about three seconds.
Within seconds, Carolina jumped in and selected offensive tackle Jordan Gross.
The Vikings, convinced the trade had gone through, hurriedly snapped up Williams before Baltimore came to the party. To put the exclamation point on the moment, Baltimore selected Suggs minutes before Tice came out to address the crowd.
Hindsight being 20/20, the best thing that could have happened for the Vikings actually did. They got their man. Thanks to the salary structure of rookie contracts, they got the guy they wanted for less money. It can be argued whether Suggs had the better career, but the brain trust at the Vikings had it right.
But, in the immediacy of news, the egg on the face became an epic fail. Tice approached the surly crowd ready without enough security to stop them. The dust-up turned into a happening.
Tice was greeted with a chorus of boos. He asked the mob to settle down – his audio clip of “OK, calm down. Calm down!” is still played today – and take it easy. They were having none of it.
One person made her own Tiananmen Square moment. She was leathery. She was likely in her 70s. She weighed about 95 pounds soaking wet. By all appearances, she was no stranger to cigarettes and brown liquor. She was going to make her statement.
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