Tom Dahlin/Viking Update

Mike Zimmer has a tall order to become the second-most successful Minnesota Vikings coach

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is the toast of the town as he enters his third year as head coach. While there is no chance that he will eclipse the myth level of Bud Grant, he may have to accomplish a lot to surpass Dennis Green as the No. 2 head coach in franchise history.

With all the excitement surrounding the third year of the Mike Zimmer era being in place with the Minnesota Vikings, the fan base can’t wait to get rid of the distractions that interrupt their path between seasons.

Hockey is done. The NBA likely will find a way to extend its season to Sunday. In Minnesota, the Twins season is effectively over with 99 games still to play.

The Vikings are the hottest ticket in town for reasons more than just the current mediocrity of the other professional teams in Minnesota.

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They are the defending division champions.They are moving into a new stadium that, if Minnesota history means anything, would out sell for four years if the Vikings went 0-32 in front of the home fans in that span. It’s what Minnesota does.

It doesn’t hurt that the Vikings are on an uptick as the vast wasteland of summer sports chatter begins once Cleveland loses a big chance to end its championship drought yet again.

During the next six weeks, the lionizing of Zimmer will reach annoying proportions, as expectations start to runneth over.

Zimmer has big shoes to fill in the history of Vikings coaches, although he is off to a very good start. Bud Grant is on the Mount Rushmore of the Vikings franchise (which includes player). Brad Childress showed incremental improvement from his hiring until the Vikings peaked in 2009 on his watch.

But, when you look realistically at the head coaches the Vikings have had, Dennis Green has to get his fair due on what he was able to accomplish in the burgeoning era of free agency.

Under the microscope of hindsight, what Green accomplished as the head coach of the Vikings is relatively unprecedented and worthy of noting.

It took Zimmer two years to take the team from 6-10 to 11-5 and the NFC North champions. Green accomplished that in his first year – taking an 8-8 team to 11-5 and a division title. Considering he conducted a cleaning out of veterans from the Jerry Burns regime, the 11-5 rookie season as a head coach was truly impressive.

It wasn’t Green’s first trip to the playoffs. Not by a long shot.

In his first three seasons, the Vikings under Green made the playoffs all three years. All three years, they lost in the first round – two of the three coming at home. He got to the dance, but quickly got tapped on the shoulder and a better looking man kept dancing with his date.

Yet, when the Vikings didn’t make the playoffs in 1995 – with Warren Moon rewriting the passing records formerly held by Fran Tarkenton – the pervasive feeling was that Green had better get back to the playoffs or get fired – three-for-three is better than three-for-four.

In 1996, the Vikings made it back to the playoffs, only to get steam-roasted by the Cowboys 40-15 – a game that wasn’t as close as that lopsided score would indicate.

Despite making the playoffs four of five years with four different QBs starting the playoff losses, Green was on notice. Win in the playoffs or pack your bags.

They won the next year, albeit improbable and not-so-pretty. The Vikings won at the Meadowlands and moved on to the next round. Green kept his job.

In 1998, Randy Moss showed up. Even fans who weren’t alive at the time, have heard the stories of what happened between 1998 and 2000.

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In 2001, the season got shut down a week in after the 9/11 attacks. The Vikings Week 2 loss at Chicago was more focused on the sideline screaming matches as it was the play on the field. When the Vikings sucked out and finished 5-11, by the time the Vikings made up the game that was postponed following Sept. 11 (against the Ravens), Green had stepped away before the option was no longer his.

If history is to repeat itself, Zimmer has built up a fan following in Minnesota. He is well on his way to making his stamp on the history of the franchise. He’s ahead of the game by most coaching standards. In the minds and hearts of Vikings fans, he will have to be the coach of the Vikings until about 2028 to start drawing Grant comparisons.

But, in the era before free agency, if you were good, you were good for a long time. If you were bad, you were bad for a generation. In Grant’s era, eight teams made the playoffs. You could bet that six of those spots for most of that era were going to be committed like super-delegates to the Cowboys, Vikings, Rams, Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders. Everybody else was fighting for two spots, and, more times than not, those were the lone sacrificial wild-card spots.

Zimmer doesn’t have to compete with Grant. When it comes to fan love and admiration, this Bud’s for you. But keeping up with Green will be Zimmer’s primary challenge. Once the Vikings are in the playoffs, the dream of a Super Bowl is in sight.

If Zimmer gets the Vikings over the hump for the first time in 40 years and at least into the Super Bowl, Vikings fans will start chiseling his bust in his honor. But he doesn’t have to surpass Grant to earn his place in the pantheon of Vikings history. He has to pass Green … and that won’t be easy.

TUESDAY NOTES

  • The pedestrian bridge that will connect light rail to U.S. Bank Stadium is being put in place this week. The construction, which was conducted at night, was scheduled to close down the Blue Line and Green Line trains from 9 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. starting Monday night and continuing Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
  • The Detroit Lions announced Monday that they will be adding cheerleaders to the 2016 fans experience at Ford Field. There are now only six teams that don’t have cheerleaders – Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Green Bay, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh.
  • The Buffalo Bills announced the signing of former Vikings defensive lineman Leger Douzable. Douzable never made it with the Vikings after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, but he spent two years with the Giants, one with the Rams, two with Jacksonville and three with the Jets.
  • The Vikings start their three-day minicamp Tuesday before their break prior to reporting to training camp on July 28.


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