Opener As Big As Ever

The result of Sunday's season opener will have a major impact on the 2003 season -- as openers the past few years have.

When the NFL announced its 2003 schedule in April, many saw the Vikings-Packers game Sunday as a blessing. Instead of being forced to travel to Green Bay in November or December, the Vikings will get the Pack on a dry track in early September.

But, the Vikings' players and coaches aren't concerned about a date on the calendar. It's the season opener -- a game that historically sets the tempo for a season. Win and you've got momentum on your side. Lose, especially to the team you figure you have to chase down for a playoff spot, and it can be devastating.

The last two years the Vikings have gone into a season opener looking for a positive -- only to get slapped in the face. In 2001, it was a home game vs. the hapless Carolina Panthers. The Vikes lost and, before the season was done, Denny Green was run out of town. Last year, it was a game at the University of Illinois against the soon-to-be hapless Bears. The Vikes lost that and hit a tailspin for the franchise.

Two opening-day losses and two seasons with a collective 11-21 record. Does that mean the Vikings have to win Sunday at Green Bay? No. Oddsmakers have the Vikes as a six-point underdog to the Packers. Thrown in the re-opening of Lambeau Field, which will feature a plethera of former Packer greats -- which only adds to the curse of Curly Lambeau.

What makes this game huge is the flip-side of the coin. The Vikings are expected to lose. However, a win could well set the opposite momentum in motion that dashed both 2001 and 2002 for the team before it got more than a month into the schedule.

By laying out the Packers, the Vikings can send a clear message that Green Bay's reign in the NFC North if not over, will at least be contested. Last year, the Packers had the division wrapped up by Halloween. An opening-day loss could send the Packers scratching their heads and wondering "What if?"

If the Vikings lose Sunday, it will dig them into a hole they've been in the last two years. It won't be the end of the world as we know it. But, a win would suddenly shift the balance of power. That is what makes Sunday's season opener bigger than any in the last few years.

* RB Doug Chapman practiced Thursday and, while his injury report did not change from questionable, it now looks that, barring a setback, he may be activated Sunday.
* CB Ken Irvin practiced Thursday and has indicated he may be able to give it a full-time shot Sunday. However, VU has been told Brian Williams will start at CB and Irvin will likely be kept in the nickel-back role ... at least for now.
* The Packers are confident guard Marco Rivera, who suffered a MCL injury two weeks ago, will be able to play Sunday. That may be true, but VU has been told that he likely won't be used the entire game, which could be more detrimental than sitting him altogether.

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