The NFL is laced with 300-pound beasts the occasional billion-dollar TV contract, but it's amazing how small of a world it really is.
Sure, former Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy is returning to Minneapolis Sunday as his Indianapolis Colts play the Minnesota Vikings. But the connections between the two teams run far deeper – and older – than that.
Dungy's offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, was an assistant with the Vikings and actually recruited Dungy to play quarterback at the University of Minnesota.
"It has been different for me coming full cycle from him being the guy that recruited me and coached me," Dungy said. "We worked together for a couple of years together with the Vikings, but basically he had been my coach and my instructor for so many years and then me being the head coach it is a little strange. But Tom has done a great job here and we are really, really happy to have him."
The connection goes the other way as well. Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was an assistant coach with the Colts for two seasons, helping out with their defensive backfield, before Brad Childress and the Minnesota Vikings hired him. In fact, Frazier and Dungy remain close friends and have many of the same personality traits – respectful, even-keel coaches and human beings.
"They are the same type of guys, talking about demeanor," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "Frazier is one of us. He was here when we won the championship and he really learned from Tony a lot. They are the same type of guy. They are not going to yell. They're not going to scream at you. They are going to ask you to do what you're supposed to do as men and be accountable and go out there and play ball and do what you got to do."
But one of the most winding tales of familiarity revolves around Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who spent a short time in his youth watching his father Archie play quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings in 1983 and '84.
"I do have good memories there. I was 8 years old and my dad always included us during his football days with New Orleans, but that was the oldest I was before my dad retired, so I probably remember a little bit more being there in Minnesota," Peyton told reporters in Indianapolis. "I used to go to practice a lot on Saturdays, the same place the Vikings practice (Winter Park). I remember a lot of the players that were good to us. Joe Senser, I think, is still involved up there, who was a tight end. All of the players – Teddy Brown, Sammy White, Leo Lewis – good Viking players. I was 8 years old. We had our favorite players. (Head coach) Bud Grant, (offensive coordinator) Jerry Burns, they were all real nice to a little 8-year-old kid hanging around the locker room.
"It was a neat experience. We moved there in the fall of 1984. I went to school there and I remember I was real jealous. I went to a school called Tanglen Elementary, which fed into Hopkins High. They had fifth-grade football, so (brother) Cooper got to play fifth-grade football.
I was the ball boy, the manager, in third grade. But, when we came back to New Orleans the following year they didn't have fifth-grade football back in our school, so Cooper got a big jump on playing football.
"Scott Studwell, he's still there with the Vikings – he was a player. Greg Coleman was the punter. I do have a good memory of a lot of those players, Joey Browner, Darrin Nelson, Steve Jordan the tight end – those were some of our favorite players. I had a girlfriend there in the third grade named Holly Anderson. I haven't been back there in 25 years almost."
Manning's connection goes even deeper than a love lost back in third grade (if anyone knows a Holly Anderson who was in third grade near Eden Prairie back in 1984, let us know).
It was actually quarterback Kelly Holcomb, who retired this offseason after a one-year stint in Minnesota, who helped make Manning the No. 1 draft choice for the Colts. How is that, you ask?
Back in 1997, the Colts finished their season with a 39-28 loss to the Vikings, who ended up finishing the season with a 9-7 record and making the playoffs. Holcomb's performance was partly responsible for the Colts losing that game, finishing the season with a 3-13 record and giving them the No. 1 choice in the draft.
"The worst experience I had – nobody remembers this, I'm glad, I'm glad – in (1997) I was with the Indianapolis Colts and we came up here to play the Minnesota Vikings and I was behind Jim Harbaugh at the time," Holcomb said last year, recalling in all his honesty the horror of that game. "Jim had a knack for being able to scramble and making plays out of nothing. Unfortunately, he got hurt. We were 3-12 at that time and it taught me a valuable lesson as a rookie because my mind was already in Tennessee – I wanted to go home. Harbaugh got hurt and it just so happened I had to go into the game and that was against your boy John Randle and Robert Griffith. I played with Griff (in Cleveland) and Ed McDaniel. I think I had 15, 16, 17 snaps. I turned it over five times.
"I had never been into a situation where there was a louder place than in the Metrodome up here. I can remember my offensive linemen were all huddled around me and they couldn't hear me call the play. I'm just coming out of college now – I played some games and I started some games that year – I played some good games, didn't play that great. But that taught me a valuable lesson: It doesn't matter what your record is, you'd better be ready to play. That was the roughest game I've ever been involved in because your boy John Randle was hollering at me and he was making me madder by the minute. I think I had two or three fumbled snaps and I had a couple of interceptions. That was not good day. I remember him to this day running off the field and saying, ‘Hey, Holcomb, if you want to give it to us, we'll take it.' He was making me madder by the minute. And then at the end of the game, if could have been an ostrich and stuck my head in the ground, I would have. It wasn't that I wasn't prepared, but I was a rookie, 16 games is long and we were bad and I was already gone. But it teaches you a valuable lesson. That's what this game does, it teaches you valuable lessons."
That turned out to Lindy Infante's last year as head coach of the Colts, which ushered in the Jim Mora era after that. With the No. 1 pick in the draft, the Colts decided on Manning instead of Ryan Leaf.
"I guess that had some bearing (on the draft position)," Manning said Wednesday of that game in 1997. "Holcomb made sure they didn't win the game, he and John Randle combined. It's funny how those things work out. Jim Mora broadcasted the game, I remember him telling me that. That would've been in late December so that was before we (the University of Tennessee) were playing a bowl game so I wouldn't have been looking to see who was going to have the No. 1 pick. At the time, you are focused on finishing your bowl game, and a lot goes on between January and the draft. I guess things worked out OK."
Things usually do seem to work out fine for the superstars of the small NFL world.
NFL a large sport, small world
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