Childress, Wilf show their lighter side

The "State of the Vikings" address on Wednesday night gave fans a little insight into the dry and sometimes witty humor that flies around head coach Brad Childress and owner Zygi Wilf. No Viking was safe from the barbs, even those sitting on the State Theatre stage.

For Vikings season-ticket holders, Wednesday night's inaugural "State of the Vikings" address was a chance to see owner Zygi Wilf, vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and linebacker Chad Greenway fairly up-close and relatively personal. But the biggest surprise of the night – to fans, anyway – might have been Brad Childress and Wilf showing how personable they can be.

All four men were interviewed by Vikings play-by-play announcer Paul Allen on stage at the State Theatre in front of an expected crowd of nearly 1,200 season-ticket owners in the first-of-its-kind event for the team. At times, the crowd got wound up at the mention of a certain player, but it might have been the first time some fans had a chance to witness Childress' dry humor first hand.

There was no emotional outburst by the head coach, but there were some entertaining exchanges during the conversation that lasted about 80 minutes. Childress will have those humorous moments from time to time with reporters, but there was no editing the live event for those in attendance and watching online. Childress and Wilf, both viewed as "flat-line guys," to borrow a Childress term, were able to show some personality on several occasions.

Allen called the Brett Favre topic the "obvious elephant in the room in Mississippi" and got those questions out of the way shortly after introducing the coach, executives and Greenway. He said Childress spent so much time dealing with the Favre situation lately that he forgot his razor. With the coach sporting a beard, Allen said he looked like Abraham Lincoln.

"You've got that beard and we're in a theater," he said, starting a night of occasional needling.

Childress explained that his summer beard was in preparation for a trip to Alaska with Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid. But he also admitted that "it is great to see the look on people's faces when they have no idea who they are looking at." Childress' incognito act with a visor and fake hair from the January Senior Bowl and June minicamp were also a topic of conversation.

While none of the Vikings on stage avoided questions about Brett Favre, there were several instances where the lighter side of Wilf and Childress were on display.

When Allen talked about the return of middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, he mentioned a hit the linebacker put on Bears fullback Jason McKie in 2007.

"That's what we call a slobber knocker, like it's a lab," Childress said, mimicking a dog shaking his face from the drool.

Allen was in full hyperbole form when running down the roster of Vikings stars and, like many, gushed about his first impressions of first-round draft pick Percy Harvin. He asked Childress for his initial assessment of Harvin, but before the coach could answer, a fan from the crowd yelled out, "Kick Ass Offense," a reference to a statement Childress made at the end of a previous season, defending the scheme and saying he knew it could be a "kick ass offense."

Childress responded to the fan with a confident: "Wait and see."

He then went on to compare Harvin to Adrian Peterson, before getting in a wry dig at Allen's enthusiastic lead-up.

"I think my feelings on it were really like the first time you handed Adrian Peterson the ball," Childress said. "It was with 50 rookies that we bring in right after the draft and when you see it with your own eyes – you get to watch all the Oklahoma film, all the Florida film – (but) I don't get a chance to see them live (in college) because our season is going on. The thing that came to mind right away was, ‘Wow.' You say, ‘Well, was he as advertised? … I know from looking, not too bad. That's a little understated for you (Paul Allen)."

Allen responded by saying he gave Harvin rookie of the year two weeks ago.

Greenway, who received grief from Childress for growing up playing nine-man football in South Dakota, was also asked about Harvin.

"He can catch the ball and put his foot in the ground and get vertical in a hurry. He can return kicks, punts. He can line up in the backfield. He can do so many things well," the linebacker said. "He gives you options all over the field. I'm not an offensive guy and I'm certainly not going to call any plays this year, but if I was an offensive coach I'd love to have him."

"So you're saying he'd make your starting nine?" Childress quipped.

"I don't know. We had a pretty good squad," Greenway quickly responded.

Wilf asked Allen for a play-by-play of a Harvin touchdown. "Brett Fav ... oh, wait. The quarterback takes the snap," Allen said to start the call.

Earlier, Allen joked about Wilf recently being in Favre's hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss., and playing catch with the quarterback.

But the playful barbs extended beyond those in attendance. When asked about Steve Hutchinson, Childress talked about the Pro Bowl guard's personality.

"It's interesting to coach Steve Hutchinson. I enjoy it. He's a smart guy, but he is ornery as hell. Like I've told his wife before, ‘I don't know how you put up with it.' But he's a hell of a football player," Childress said. "Chad goes against him every day in practice and Pat Williams, another ornery guy on this football team. It's a pleasure; it's a treat.

"You have to be on your toes that you don't want to give anything up. You don't want to show any signs of weakness because he just pounces. If he shows any kind of weakness, you pounce back. Ornery as hell, in real life. Gets out on the wrong side of the bed every morning. He's a sport bitcher. He's a sport bitcher and he's damn good at it. But that's OK. He loves the game and he loves what he's doing. He's tough as nails."

Another tough and often overlooked player is tight end Jim Kleinsasser. Childress went above his normal flat line when talking about the player that Spielman called the best blocking tight end in the league.

"He's able to change the line of scrimmage at the end of the line of scrimmage," Childress said. "I think 14 percent body fat – 279 pounds of twisted steel and romp 'em, stomp 'em dynamite."

When the Vikings' pass-catching tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe, became the topic of conversation, Spielman was quick to give credit to Wilf. Shiancoe struggled in his first year with the Vikings, but he had a breakout season in 2008, catching 42 passes for 596 yards and a position-leading seven touchdowns in the NFC.

"I have to probably give the most credit to Zygi Wilf over there," Spielman said. "He was out watching practice one day and he told (Shiancoe) to take the arm bands off his elbows, and after he took the arm bands off his elbows he hasn't dropped a pass since."

Childress back Spielman, confirming that account.

Wilf, however, wasn't afraid to send a needle in Childress' general direction when Allen asked the Vikings owner, a former hard-core Giants fan, about how the fans in Minnesota compare to the "rowdy, disoriented, rambunctious, mean-spirited, over-zealous Giants fans."

"You must be talking about Philadelphia Eagles fans," Wilf said.

And so it was a night where no Viking was safe from the heckling by one of their own, but it may have been the first opportunity for more than 1,000 fans in attendance and likely thousands more watching online to get a flavor for the personalities involved in the organization. After four years of Wilf ownership and three years of Childress coaching and two years of Spielman running the personnel department, the fans now know a little more about the men in charge.


Viking Update Top Stories