Turf Almost Cost Vikes Game

A drama unbeknownst to most Vikings fans entering the Metrodome Thursday night was unfolding behind the scenes, as the Cardinals pleaded with the NFL to cancel the game because of horrible turf conditions.

The NFL never likes to cancel or shorten preseason games. In the event of very bad weather (i.e. air to ground lightning strikes as seen in the Hall of Fame game) or unplayable field conditions (i.e. the Ravens and Eagles a year ago) exceptions are made.

As fans filed into their seats Thursday night, the Cardinals were asking the NFL to make that game another exception. Chunks of the Metrodome turf were coming up during pregame drills, prompting Cards coach Dave McGinnis to ask that the game be called.

McGinnis had reason for concern. In 2000 -- McGinnis moved from defensive coordinator to head coach at midseason -- three Cardinals players, including then-No. 1 receiver Rob Moore and current CB Jacoby Rhinehart, were lost for the season in a preseason game on the Metrodome turf.

The league denied their request to have the game wiped out, but the aftermath was obvious. When Jeff Blake was thrown to the turf on the first play of the game -- a sack by Chris Hovan negated by an unrelated penalty -- both Blake and RB Emmitt Smith were yanked from the game and didn't return.

While the Vikings have sustained few injuries directly blamed to the turf, unlike stadiums like the old Veteran's Stadium in Philly, it is cause for pause. You can bet if Daunte Culpepper or Randy Moss is injured in a turf-related injury, the timetable for putting in the field turf at the dome -- currently scheduled for after the 2004 season -- will be pushed forward.

* Hopefully one person who heard about the turf problems was Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Earlier in the day, Pawlenty had his first face to face meeting with Red McCombs, who pleaded his case for a new stadium. Those of us at VU hope the problems Thursday with the turf can be used to get the ball rolling on a new stadium, before it becomes an excuse for McCombs to be wooed to Los Angeles.
* As if the cornerback situation hasn't been bad enough with injuries to Ken Irvin and Denard Walker, No. 3 CB Brian Williams sustained a concussion on the opening kickoff and didn't play the rest of the game.
* The Cards finished 4-0 on the preseason. Many inside NFL observers, including those of us at VU, wouldn't take bets that the Cards will win more than four games during the entire regular season.
* The first-team Vikings defense allowed just one TD in four preseason games this month.
* Daunte Culpepper didn't have a single turnover during the preseason, but some naysayers are griping about high sideline throws. VU will take an incompletion to an interception any time.
* The game was stopped for several minutes in the second quarter when Cards DB Justin Lucas lay flat on his back on the Metrodome turf for several minutes after being hit by a teammate on a Vikings pass play. Although he was taken off the field on a cart, his injury was diagnosed as a concussion while still at the Metrodome and Lucas was never taken to Hennepin County Medical Center for more tests.
* Something that went unrecognized by almost all of the print, radio and television media late in the first half was that the Vikings were using LB Nick Rogers as a pass rushing DE in the Cards last drive of the first half. Don't be shocked to see Rogers in that role in given situations during the regular season -- which some are interpteting as a sign Lorenzo Bromell may be more on the bubble than team officials are indicating.
* Aaron Elling solidified his spot on the roster by nailing a 52-yard field goal in the first half Thursday. Although he missed a field goal later in the game and left many of his kickoffs at or near the 10-yard line, the Vikings may be much more reluctant to go after another kicker after his performance Thursday. Barring a shocking release of a solid veteran, it looks like Elling will be kicking on opening day vs. the Packers.
* Byron Chamberlain, who will begin serving his four-game suspension Monday for testing positive for ephedra, didn't work with the first-team offense and saw spotty duty in the second half. He didn't catch a pass Thursday.

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