Sunday's game marks the last time the Vikings and Buccaneers met as Central Division rivals. With the Houston Texans joining the league as the 32nd team next season, the NFL decided to go with eight divisions for next season.
The Vikings will be in the NFC North with traditional rivals Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay. The Bucs, meanwhile, will move to the NFC South, where they will be joined by Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans.
While this makes more sense from a geographic standpoint, it also will end a rivalry between the Bucs and Vikings that was often fueled by familiarity.
Bucs coach Tony Dungy is a former Vikings assistant and attended the University of Minnesota. Dungy's coaching staff includes former Vikings aides Monte Kiffin, Chris Foerster and Mark Asanovich. Tampa Bay's roster also has a familiar look with quarterback Brad Johnson and offensive linemen Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy.
"We're going to miss Tampa," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "I think, first off, Tony does a great job of coaching. He's got a lot of guys that we've all worked together for a long period of time. Every year we've split. We're going to miss them in the Central Division.
"I think a lot of fans will, too, because so much of the league has always been that — whether you are in Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit or Minneapolis — you have got that one trip down to Tampa and hopefully it was in November or December and it wasn't down there in September when it's very hot. It's been a great rivalry for us. We've developed a lot of rivalries, I think, in the Central, maybe because of the proximity, but I think as much as anywhere the old-time rivals mean a lot to us."
Receiver Cris Carter calls the rivalry against Tampa Bay a good one, but added: "It's not like the rivalry with Green Bay, or it's not like Chicago that's been going on for years and years and years. But they have a lot of people on their staff from Minnesota, a lot of players that we are familiar with. The caliber of teams that both of us have had the last five years has made us a rival."
Culpepper, however, was not giving much thought to the situation. "I'm not even worried about it," he said. "It hasn't crossed my mind about the future or how many times we play them next year. I'm just worried about this week."
More rest for Bennett?
Green was vague this week when asked if rookie running back Michael Bennett would test his injured ankle against the Bucs.
"We're not going to play players who are less than 100 percent anymore," Green said. "I think we've tried that in the past. ... I don't think we can afford to do that. We will work hard to get every guy that goes on the field as close as we can to 100 percent. We think we have good depth on our football team, so that's going to be our approach."
There is little doubt that Doug Chapman's 90-yard rushing performance in the Packers game gave Green confidence. The Vikings also have their bye next week, meaning Bennett could end up with three weeks of rest but miss only two games.
End Of A Rivalry
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