Opener To Test Team's Emotions

While the players are jacked for Sunday's game against Green Bay, the high-energy atmosphere will be a test for Mike Tice to keep the game as the primary goal.

Vikings coach Mike Tice's leadership will be tested in Week 1 Sunday because his players are way too excited about gaining revenge against the Packers in the game that will serve as the rededication of Lambeau Field.

Did we say excited? We meant obsessed.

That would be a good thing if the Vikings were a veteran team that isn't prone making dumb mistakes and giving up big plays. But the Vikings have 22 first- or second-year players on the roster. And the team is coming off a season in which it committed an average of 8.6 penalties for 71.2 yards per game.

Secretly, the Vikings are worried Sunday's game will get out of hand, much like the end of their game at Lambeau did last season. The Vikings blew leads of 13-0 and 19-6 en route to a 26-22 loss in that game.

Vikings players believe several bad calls were made against them in the fourth quarter. They also were upset over what they thought were cheap shots on receiver Chris Walsh on a kneel-down play, and on Randy Moss and other players during a Packers' interception return that sealed the victory.

The game ended with players brawling. Benches emptied. Defensive tackle Chris Hovan erupted when he thought Packers quarterback Brett Favre flashed him an obscene gesture. Hovan then gestured to the fans as debris rained during his exit.

Hovan used the game and Favre as motivation during the offseason. He hung a Favre jersey in his locker. Third-string quarterback Shaun Hill wore it in practice this week.

Favre said at the start of training camp that Hovan needed to "get a life" and would one day look back on his antics and call himself "an idiot." Hovan agreed with Favre's assessment and then vowed to get revenge when the season opened.

Both sides have tempered the rhetoric this week. Hovan cut off all Favre questions beginning Monday.

The Packers, especially on offense, are much more capable of staying focused on winning the game. The Vikings, especially on defense, could blow the game with an ill-timed personal foul or other mistake.

Tice already has complained his team lacks "awareness on offense, defense and special teams." He said his players have to learn how to better manage themselves during a game, to know what's going on around them and not play, "dumb football."

It's up to Tice and his few grizzled veterans, such as middle linebacker Greg Biekert, to not let Hovan and the other younger players stray from the objective, which is winning at Lambeau for the first time since 1998.

Dumb football on Sunday would be the Vikings going to Lambeau and being out of control. Favre sure isn't going to lose control. And that could be the difference in the game.



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