Vikings, Cowboys Both Learn That Desperation Breeds Failure
Ten weeks in ...
Both the Vikings and Cowboys are 3-7 and out of it, Brad Childress and Wade Phillips have been replaced by coordinators (defensive and offensive, respectively), and their seasons are gone, barring some sort of avalanche of wins combined with an avalanches of losses by others.
And the losing and the firing happened because desperation never works?
For the Cowboys and Jerry Jones, this had to be the year to get to the Super Bowl because it was being played in Jones' new palace in Arlington. Jerry, an Arkansas native transplanted to Texas, has all the qualities we attribute to Texans -- most notably the desire not only to be the biggest and the best, but to show the rest of the world that he is.
For the Vikings and Zygi Wilf, this had to be the year because they had come so close last season -- never mind that his coach and his quarterback were ultimately responsible for the penalty and the interception in that championship game in New Orleans that may have cost the team a trip to the Super Bowl. So Wilf and Childress entered the season with Favre in tow for what had to be the last time and with Brett Favre they would live or die.
Minnesota's desperation has a long history, going back almost 40 years to the Bud Grant teams that made it to the Super Bowl three times but never won there.
The Vikings have rarely been a losing franchise, but they've never won the big title, and that rankles everyone involved. They made the playoffs in seven of the first eight years during Dennis Green's tenure, which began in 1992, including trips to the NFC championship games after the 1998 and 2000 seasons.
In 1998, they were the best in the NFC by a lot, and led Atlanta 27-20 at home with 2:07 left in the NFC title game, needing only a 38-yard field goal by Gary Anderson, who hadn't missed a kick all year, to clinch it. He missed, the Falcons tied it and went on to win in overtime and advance to the Super Bowl.
Two years later, Minnesota started 11-2 and was one win away from clinching home-field in the conference until it lost its final three regular-season games. So it ended up playing the Giants in the Meadowlands and lost 41-0, one of the most dismal championship games ever, especially by a team that had spent most of that season dominating its conference. And it wasn't the weather -- rare for the Meadowlands (cross your fingers for the 2014 Super Bowl), the temperature was in the high 40s and there was little wind)
The memories of those two teams have hung over Eden Prairie, Minn. the last two seasons, one reason the Vikings went out and got Favre a year ago -- they were, they reasoned, one player away from a title, and that player was a Hall of Fame quarterback, albeit one who was 40 years old. It worked last season but not so well this year, in large part because of that "4'' at the front of Favre's age. But because of Favre's aching ankle, it took the persuasive powers of teammates Jared Allen, Steve Hutchinson and Ryan Longwell, who traveled to Mississippi to pick up Favre and drag him back to Minnesota with them.
But in the modern NFL, things rarely go as well the second time around.
The Vikings lost Sidney Rice, the receiver with whom Favre had the most rapport in training camp, so the start was slow.
Enter desperation again: At 2-3, Childress traded for Randy Moss, convincing Wilf that now he had the piece that would put his team over the top. When he released Moss three games later without consulting Wilf, Childress' fate was more or less sealed, and his cause wasn't helped by the not-very-public complaints (anonymous, of course) by players to reporters about their coach.
It stems, in part, from the Vikings' need for a new stadium to replace the antiquated Metrodome. Although win or lose, it's doubtful that in this economic climate the taxpayers would spring for anything resembling a modern edifice.
That's not Jones' problem, of course. He already has his building. And plenty of debt to go with it, one reason why every event Jerry can round up plays his glitterdome -- the Super Bowl being the ultimate one.
The confluence of the Cowboys' "talent'' and Jones' Super Bowl seemed perfect -- Dallas headed into the season a complete or almost-complete team, augmented, it turns out, by Dez Bryant, the super-talented receiver who fell in the draft because of off-field peccadilloes. Those haven't shown up and Bryant has been a revelation on the field, a potential offensive rookie of the year.
The problem? No one else played up to Bryant. The offensive line and defensive secondary especially fell off markedly. Quarterback Tony Romo broke his collarbone in an embarrassing prime-time loss to the Giants, and at 1-7, Jones reluctantly fired the laid-back Phillips, the first time he's ever let a coach go during a season. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, named interim coach, has led the Cowboys to two straight wins, but even if Dallas wins out, 9-7 probably won't make the playoffs in the NFC this season.
The common thread is that desperation. And in Jones' case, it's his continued tenure as general manager and what seems to be his desire to coach the team himself -- the two strong coaches (and proven winners) he's had in Dallas, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells, both left, in part, because they tired of the owner's meddling.
To win a Super Bowl, you have to have talent.
But you also have to avoid key injuries and get breaks. Sometimes in seasons like this one, without a clear standout team, good things seem to converge -- as they have, for example, in Philadelphia with the surprise maturation of Michael Vick at age 30. Sunday night's win by the Eagles over the Giants turned on two fourth-down plays that went right: a juggled snap by Vick that turned into a touchdown; and a run by New York's Eli Manning for a first down on which he fumbled at the end.
Neither the Vikings nor the Cowboys got enough of those breaks this season. That's why their coaches are unemployed.
Well, that plus the fact that they already were desperate when the season began.
That rarely works.