D-Day Today For Tice

Today is a seminal day in the coaching career of Mike Tice. A former player and beloved position coach, Tice is treading new ground in his coaching career. Today he makes the decision whether to play Daunte Culpepper Sunday. It will be a critical coaching decision.

As a player with more than a decade of NFL playing experience, Mike Tice is a rarity in the coaching ranks. Most head coaches saw their NFL aspirations die in college -- some even in high school. Tice is respected by his players because he has been through the same wars 90-plus percent of NFL writers have no clue about. That is what will make today's decision on quarterback for Sunday's game with the 49ers so critical.

VU has been told that, when the Vikings submit their injury report to the NFL today, Daunte Culpepper will be upgraded from doubtful to questionable. In NFL-ese, that means he has a 50-50 chance to play. The bigger question facing Tice, which may be lost on the majority of the self-proclaimed "experts," is whether playing Culpepper Sunday is a choice being made by a head coach or a decision being made by a former player.

Tice acknowledged earlier this week that Culpepper could play with three fractured transverse process bones in his lower back if "he can take the pain." As a former player, he knows that players do take the field in pain. As a former player, he knows the distinction between "injured" and "hurt." If you're injured, you don't play. If you're hurt, you do.

VU has been told that Tice will decide today who the starting QB will be Sunday. Whether he opts to tell VU or any other local media is yet to be determined, but both Culpepper and Gus Frerotte will know by mid-afternoon today. The issue facing Tice is whether he wants to go with his player's mentality or his instincts as a head coach.

At this point, if the Vikings go into their bye week with a 4-1 record, they will be very hard to beat as NFC North champion. If Tice sits Culpepper Sunday and Frerotte can engineer a win, there is little reason to play him at Atlanta. As a head coach, giving your starting QB three weeks to heal is critical in a 16-game season. As a former player, however, his decision is complicated.

VU knows Culpepper. If Tice simply asks him "Can you play?" Daunte will say "yes." He's a warrior. He wants to play. He thinks he can. It is Tice's call -- if not overruled by the medical staff -- to make the final decision. If he plays Culpepper Sunday, he knows that his strength as a QB -- the fear of defensive coordinators that he can take off for long gains -- is likely negated. With that knowledge, what is the difference between having a pocket passer like Culpepper and a pocket passer like Frerotte? Less than meets the mind's eye.

If Culpepper plays, it will be because Tice is convinced that he can take his franchise QB at his word that he is fit to play. But, before he makes that call, Tice should ask himself how many times he lied to coaches about his health for the good of the team? That's the difference between being a former player and being a current head coach. Like the rest of you, we await Tice's decision.

* Wali Rainer, the Lions linebacker who hit Culpepper 5 yards deep in the end zone, was not fined by the NFL for his hit -- much to the dismay of several at Winter Park.
* Speaking of fines, Vikings WR Kelly Campbell was fined $5,000 by the league for taunting on his touchdown reception last Sunday. After completing about 70 of his 72 yards on his TD catch, Campbell extended the ball back at a Lions defender. VU has been told Campbell will likely appeal the fine -- although he has little to no chance of winning.
* WR D'Wayne Bates and DL Billy Lyon have all but been ruled out for Sunday's game, according to a VU medical source.
* The Vikings signed DT Colin Cole to the practice squad Thursday. Cole was brought in to add depth to the defensive front. To make room for him, CB Jermaine Mays was released.

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