Good Bye

The bye week may have come at the perfect time for Daunte Culpepper and the Vikings. While many players were trying to heal for a three-game home stand, the Minnesota sports scene needs some healing too.

Most of the rest of the NFL will play a game tomorrow. The Vikings will not — and maybe that's good news considering how Minnesota's sports love fest has collapsed this week.

Less than two weeks ago, just about everything was going right for the Minnesota sports teams. The Twins were playing well entering the playoffs. The Minnesota Gophers football team was undefeated. The two-time defending national champion Minnesota Gophers hockey team was preparing to start practice. The Timberwolves were entering training camp with their highest expectations yet after a strong offseason of free-agent acquisitions and the extension of Kevin Garnett's contract. The Minnesota Wild was hoping to go farther in the playoffs after making them for the first time in their young life last season. And, foremost, the Vikings were undefeated.

After a disappointing week, here is the Saturday morning update: The Twins took a lesson in hitting from the richy-rich Yankees and exited the playoffs in the first round. The Gophers football team built a 14-point fourth-quarter lead last night, only to give up 31 points in the final quarter and lose perhaps their biggest game in 40 years and their best opportunity to contend for the Big Ten title and, dare we say, a Rose Bowl berth. The Gophers hockey team was shut out 4-0 in their opener against Maine last night. The Timberwolves opened the preseason with several key players nursing sore body parts. The Wild also were shut out Thursday in their opener with two key starters holding out for a better contract.

The Vikings? Well, maybe it's a good thing they don't play this weekend. They could lose or gain a half game on their two-game lead in the NFC North, but that's it — and considering the last week of Minnesota sports, that's not so bad.

It will also give them an opportunity to rest some of their hurting stars. Daunte Culpepper will return next weekend for the start of an exciting three-game home stand as the Vikings' starting QB again. Randy Moss had a full week to rest his back spasms. Greg Biekert can have the week to rest his sore ribs. Michael Bennett will continue his extended bye on the physically unable to perform list, but he continues to target the Packers game — the final of the three straight home games — as his return game. And many other players can get their battered bodies one notch closer to 100 percent as they prepare for the final 11 games of the season.

The bye probably did come at a great time for the Purple. They can only hope that when they return, their bodies and the Minnesota sports karma will be healed.

SATURDAY NOTES
* Perhaps the Vikings should send a thank you to the NFL schedule makers. After getting a month without having to board a plane, the Vikings also get to avoid playing their most difficult competition on the road. For home fans, it will be a chance to give the Vikes dome-field advantage over teams like the Packers, Broncos, Giants, Seahawks and Chiefs. Of the five remaining road games, heading into Sunday, only St. Louis was at .500 or above.

* Denny Green's influence on the NFL reared its ugly head this week. When Green was the coach of the Vikings, he had a phrase he liked to say — "chopping wood." In Greenspeak, chopping wood meant working hard, doing the little things, committing oneself to a job. Jags coach Jack Del Rio took that to heart — in a big way. He brought in a mammoth tree stump complete with an axe in the Jags training facility. It allowed players to take the mantra to heart and even take a few whacks with the axe. Several players have, including punter Chris Hanson. Unfortunately, Hanson is no Paul Bunyan. Taking a swing earlier this week, he deflected his axe blow and nearly cut off his left foot. Hanson was placed on I.R. Friday and Del Rio has removed the axe and stump. Thanks, Denny, for another happy memory.

* Three QBs come into this weekend with a quarterback rating of more than 100 — Gus Frerotte (119.9), Daunte Culpepper (108.0) and Peyton Manning (103.2).

* Moe Williams went into the bye ranked ninth in the league in rushing. For you fantasy football nuts, his 397 yards is more than Ricky Williams, Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James, Eddie George, Tiki Barber, Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk.




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