When the Vikings imploded in 2001 following a loss to the Giants in the previous NFC title game, there were changes that were coming. The surprise retirement of Robert Smith and the death of Korey Stringer changed that edition of the Vikings forever.
By the time the year was out, several veteran players, including future Hall of Famer Cris Carter, were gone and so was head coach Dennis Green.
Instead of waiting a week to be fired, Green took what he called the "high road" -- which, simply stated, must mean to cut and run on your players. Enter Mike Tice, stage left.
A popular assistant coach, many in the national media figured Tice to be a one-game wonder as the Vikings' head coach -- a footnote with an asterisk in the history of the franchise.
Instead, McCombs named Tice the Vikings' head coach on a permanent basis and, along with it, committed to changing how the team went after free agents and college talent in the draft. This was Tice's chance to rise or fall on his own merit.
When the Vikings finished with three wins to end 2002 with a 6-10 record, the hope was that the Vikes could contend for a division title with the Packers this year. By about 7:30 p.m. EST tonight, we'll all know if that happened.
The plan was for the Vikings to be viewed as an elite team by next year -- which remains a distinct possibility. But, like a boxer who has been a champion, the Vikings are a contradiction. At times, teams have run on the Vikings like a high school Homecoming opponent. At other times, the Vikings have laid the offensive smack down on teams like the Packers, Seahawks and Chiefs -- two (hopefully not all three) of whom will be in the playoffs. Defensive coordinators fear the Vikings and want them out of the playoffs.
What's stopping them? 3-12 Arizona, which has one of the worst offenses and defenses in the league and, with a loss today, could well end up with the first pick in next year's rookie draft. However, history won't remember the Cardinals' record if the Vikes win and make the playoffs. No matter what happens after that, this team will be remembered as NFC North champions in 2003.
Today is the biggest day of Mike Tice's coaching career. A win legitimizes the decision McCombs made to hire him. A loss would leave a lot of disappointment for the last team in the NFC to lose a game. This will be the first of what may be many check marks -- good or bad -- that will define Tice's coaching career.
* With Seattle winning Saturday, neither the Vikings nor the Packers were able to clinch a playoff spot. If the Vikings win, they're in as division champions. If they lose and Green Bay loses at home to Denver, the Vikings will still win the division. However, in a strange turn of events, if the Vikings, Packers and Cowboys all win, the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks would all tie for a wild card spot, and, through the complicated tie-breaker system, the Pack wouldn't make the playoffs despite beating Seattle head to head.
* One playoff scenario taken off the board would have seen the Vikings play the Eagles -- either at Philly or the Metrodome -- next weekend. By winning Saturday, the Eagles clinched no worse than the No. 2 seed and a first-week bye.
* If all remains the same and the non-bye week playoff-bound teams -- Vikes, Packers, Cowboys and Panthers -- all win today, the Vikings would finish with the No. 4 seed. In that case, the Cowboys would come to the Metrodome.
* If Carolina loses and the Vikings win, the Vikes would move up to the No. 3 seed and play the lowest-seed wild card team, which if Green Bay and Dallas win, would be the Packers. The Vikings and Green Bay have never met in the postseason.
* Who was that pictured in this week's USA Today's Sports Weekly? None other than VU Poobah Bob Lurtsema, sharing a laugh with McCombs as Red wore a dreamcatcher.
Today Biggest Day of Tice's Career
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