BACK IN STRIDE
The Vikings showed some of their old firepower in a win over the
The Vikings are Team NFL in this weirdest of seasons. After they
rolled to a 15-1 record last year, winning by 16.3 points per
game, they went into this week's bye fortunate to be 6-4, having
outscored the opposition by about a field goal a game.
Quarterback Randall Cunningham, an All-Pro in 1998, was
resplendent in a purple jacket at Soldier Field on Sunday,
relegated to the bench for the fourth straight game. His
off-the-street understudy, Jeff George, threw for 374 yards and
three touchdowns--all to wideout Cris Carter--against the Bears
as Minnesota won its fourth consecutive game, 27-24 in overtime.
Vikings kicker Gary Anderson made all 35 field goals he
attempted in the 1998 regular season; on Sunday he missed his
eighth of this year, a 20-yarder on the last play of regulation.
The Minnesota defense used to scare folks with a pass rush led
by tackle John Randle; Chicago had its best passing day in 37
years as Jim Miller, cut by four teams and making just his
second NFL start, threw for 422 yards and three touchdowns.
Randle could only shake his head after the game. "This is the
NFL," he said finally. "Nothing lasts for long."
"He's right," said Randle's defensive line mate, Jerry Ball,
from the next locker. "Look in our defensive team room, and
you'll see that 11 of the 25 guys are new this year. Chemistry
takes time to build, but unfortunately you don't have time to
Here's a classic 1999 Vikings sequence. With 42 seconds left in
a tie game against Chicago, Minnesota has the ball on its
nine-yard line. George to wideout Randy Moss for 44 yards.
George incomplete to Moss. George to Moss for 42 yards. Leroy
Hoard up the gut for 3. Anderson misses from 20 yards. "You've
got to make that blindfolded," Anderson said. On to overtime,
during which George is intercepted by Bears cornerback Walt
Harris. Chicago's Chris Boniol misses a 41-yard field goal
attempt, and Anderson finally ends the game with a line drive
from 38 yards.
No one in the Vikings' organization is blameless for the falloff
from 1998. Owner Red McCombs gave coach Dennis Green ultimate
personnel authority early this year, and then Green laid a huge
egg on draft day. With a defense crying out for front-seven
help, he went against his staff and passed over a rare pass-rush
talent in Florida's Jevon Kearse (who has 6 1/2 sacks in nine
games for the Titans) in favor of Central Florida quarterback
Daunte Culpepper, who's a long-term project. Later in the first
round Green authorized the selection of Michigan State defensive
end Dimitrius Underwood, who was released after going AWOL early
in training camp. A defense that wasn't asked to do much last
year because of Minnesota's prolific offense has struggled, and
now it ranks last in the league against the pass and 29th overall.
Imperfect as they are, however, the Vikings might be the best of
a bad NFC lot. Only the 6-3 Lions are ahead of them in the
Central Division. Behind them are the 5-4 Bucs, who have a
suspect offense, and the 4-5 Packers, who are sinking fast.
Outside the division only the West-leading Rams (7-2) might be
After four starts George is getting in sync with Carter and
Moss, who are second and third in the NFC with 858 and 848
receiving yards, respectively. In the last four games Carter has
caught 33 passes for 485 yards and seven touchdowns. On Sunday,
Moss had 12 receptions for 204 yards. Neither Carter nor Moss
will admit it, but the two had lost confidence in Cunningham's
ability to get them the ball in tight spots. They love the
lasers that George throws. Minnesota is getting the chip back on
its shoulder. As he tied his tie in front of the bathroom mirror
after Sunday's game, Moss exclaimed, "We tore Chicago's ass up!"
Hardly, but that kind of swagger has been sorely lacking.
"We've won four in a row, so we're back in it," Carter said.
"The key in the NFL is, who's going to build on what they've
got? Who can keep improving and play championship ball in
In a wacky season Minnesota is beginning to look like an outfit
you won't want to be playing in January.
A Giant Transformation
THE PRINCIPLED PETER
Last Friday in the Giants locker room, as defensive tackle
Christian Peter talked about his personal and professional
rebirth, strength coach John Dunn came up and gave him a hug.
"If my daughter were a little older," Dunn said, "I'd love it if
she wanted to date this guy." Peter gave Dunn an appreciative
nod and then said, "This guy, this team, have been so great to
The Giants gave Peter, who had a long rap sheet when they signed
him in January 1997, a chance to redeem himself. One strike and
you're out, they told him. He's still at bat. He hasn't been
fined a dime. He hasn't missed a team, psychiatrist's or
Alcoholics Anonymous meeting without being excused. "He hasn't
missed pregame mass in three seasons," says general manager
Ernie Accorsi, "and he's a regular reader there."
Peter played in seven games his first season and every game last
year, making six starts. Now, with defensive tackle Robert Harris
out for the season after undergoing ankle surgery, the 6'3",
298-pound Peter lines up between tackle Keith Hamilton and end
Michael Strahan in a formidable defense. During his second start,
in Philadelphia on Oct. 31, Peter kept the Giants in the game in
the fourth quarter by blocking a 33-yard field goal attempt; in
overtime he deflected a Doug Pederson pass that ended up in the
hands of Strahan, who returned the interception 44 yards for the
winning touchdown. On Sunday, Peter had two tackles in a 27-19
loss to the Colts. "You can't tire this man out," says New York
defensive coordinator John Fox.
"I love this game so much," Peter says. "I'm so lucky to play it
for a living. Millions of kids would give their left arm to do
what I do. I don't forget that."
He did for a while. During his five years at Nebraska, Peter was
arrested eight times and convicted four times on charges ranging
from public urination to third-degree sexual assault. The
Patriots selected him in the fifth round of the 1996 draft, only
to release him three days later after owner Bob Kraft claimed
that the team didn't realize the extent of Peter's criminal
behavior before selecting him. Shortly after his release Peter
began undergoing alcohol counseling, and in November '96 the
Giants told Peter that they would sign him at the end of the
season if he continued with his program. Two months later he was
under contract, though club president Wellington Mara also
issued the one-strike edict. "The Giants stuck their necks out
for me," Peter says. "I'll always appreciate that. I'm sorry for
what I've done and the people I've hurt. I've worked hard to
become a better person."
Peter is polite to a fault, giving his mea culpa almost by rote.
The only thing that gets him riled is the suggestion that he
didn't deserve another opportunity because of the multitude--and
the magnitude--of his screwups. "I made mistakes, and I was
given one chance," he says. "I've tried to make something of it.
A lot of people in sports get more than one chance, make
mistakes, and nothing is said."
PENNINGTON, REDMAN TOP LIST
There was a palpable thud in scouting departments around the
league last week when Purdue quarterback Drew Brees announced he
would return for his senior season. "No question it affects the
quality at quarterback," 49ers general manager Bill Walsh says
of next April's draft.
Unlike last year, when five quarterbacks were among the first 12
picks, there appear to be only two first-round candidates this
time, Chris Redman of Louisville and Chad Pennington of
Marshall. This season the 6'3" Redman has thrown 27 touchdown
passes and 11 interceptions while completing 66% of his
attempts. The 6'4" Pennington, a 68% passer, has thrown 31
touchdowns and been intercepted nine times. Both are
football-savvy, but Redman has better pocket presence;
Pennington has a slightly better arm and good touch.
One team sure to be looking for its quarterback of the future
next spring is 3-6 Baltimore, which, in addition to its own
first-round pick, has 2-7 Atlanta's first selection. However,
there's good news for quarterback-needy teams such as the 49ers,
who, with Steve Young's future in limbo, desperately need a
passer. Most of the clubs that will probably be picking
high--the Browns, Bengals, Redskins (who also own the Panthers'
and Saints' first-round choices), Cardinals and Eagles--have
recently addressed their quarterback situations.
NASCAR's TV Contract
A GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS DEAL
In the wake of the $412 million-a-year deal, running from 2001
through '06, that Fox, NBC and Turner Sports signed with NASCAR
last week, the good news for the NFL is that the rival football
league that NBC and Turner had been considering is now dead. On
the drawing board since the two networks lost out in the bidding
for the NFL broadcast package in 1998, the prospective league
would've played its games in the spring and summer and finished
its season around Labor Day. But the idea lost much of its
momentum this year when it got a lukewarm response from
advertisers and prospective cities.
The bad news for the NFL is that the league might have lost a
bargaining chip in future TV negotiations. The current contracts
run through 2005, though the NFL has an option to reopen the
bidding in '03. NBC and Turner's agreement with NASCAR calls for
about five months of Sunday afternoon programming, ending around
Thanksgiving. (Fox will broadcast races only in the first half of
the NASCAR season, avoiding a conflict with its NFL package.) At
NBC last week, part of the rejoicing was over the possibility
that the NFL, whenever it reopens negotiations, won't have an
outside bidder that can drive up the price--as Fox and CBS have
done in recent rights auctions.
"They can say what they want," one NFL executive says of NBC's
decision, "but you watch: NBC will want to get back in, and it
will be feeling out NASCAR to switch racing to Saturdays near
the end of its contract."
YOUNG TO 49ERS: I'LL PLAY IN 2000
Steve Young, still not cleared to play because of the cumulative
effect of concussions, will not be deterred by suggestions that
he should retire. Last week he told 49ers coach Steve Mariucci
that he intends to suit up in 2000....
Yes, Ravens coach Brian Billick admitted, he made a mistake in
the week leading up to his team's Nov. 7 game against the
Browns, when he said his players shouldn't expect any close
calls to go their way because the league wanted Cleveland to
win. Yes, Billick called Jerry Seeman, the NFL's senior director
of officiating, and apologized. But that doesn't excuse the
league's handling of the Billick episode: First the NFL office
waited 10 days to take action, and then it fined Billick only
$10,000. How does impugning the integrity of the game merit the
same fine as Bucs coach Tony Dungy received for saying that the
instant-replay review system stinks?...
Browns president and 49ers expatriate Carmen Policy on being 1-8
before Sunday's upset of the Steelers: "I've been able to
appreciate how valuable a win is and not take it for granted.
I'm not saying stop and smell the roses, but admire them as you
The Chargers have no quarterback. Offensive and defensive
players are bickering during games. The Ryan Leaf headache hangs
over the organization. "I don't know if we could beat a high
school team right now," defensive tackle Norman Hand said after
San Diego's 28-9 loss to the Raiders....
The most baffling quote of the week came from Steelers tackle
Wayne Gandy, who, after Pittsburgh's loss to the Browns, said,
"We thought we were going to win the game and fell short.
Sometimes, that's a positive."
The End Zone
Chargers wideout Chris Penn missed practice on Nov. 10 because,
he said, he scratched his eye with a pillow case.
Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.
1. Brain Lock of the Week With 5:26 left the Lions scored a
touchdown to pull within 23-19 of the Cardinals, and Detroit
coach Bobby Ross inexplicably went for two. The conversion
attempt failed. So when the Lions faced fourth-and-two at the
Arizona 10 with less than two minutes left, they had to go for
the touchdown. Gus Frerotte's pass fell incomplete. "Why the
hell did they go for two?" Arizona linebacker Zach Walz wondered
along with everyone else. After the game Ross said he felt that
he needed to win in regulation, because his players were too
banged up to go into overtime.
2. Winning Ugly "I'm frustrated. I'm disappointed. I'm
embarrassed," said Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin. And his
Jaguars had just won! But beating the Ravens 6-3 wasn't very
exciting for Jacksonville fans, who watched the Jaguars pile up
a whopping 132 yards of offense. Cheer up, gang. At 8-1, you've
got the best record in the league.
3. He Just Doesn't Get It Last Friday, as the 49ers went
through their final practice of the week, running backs coach
Tom Rathman told Lawrence Phillips to sub for Charlie Garner.
Phillips declined. "Why should I?" he said. "You never play me."
Rathman went ballistic. San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci
suspended Phillips for Sunday's game against the Saints. Smart
move by Phillips, who has blown another chance in the NFL.
A Crop with Cream
The free-agent class of 2000 should be rich in talent. Though
teams retain exclusive negotiating rights on their own free
agents until Feb. 10, some clubs will have trouble squeezing
that last star under the salary cap. Take the Cardinals, who
already have three high-priced defenders under contract for next
season: defensive tackle Eric Swann, defensive end Andre
Wadsworth and cornerback Aeneas Williams. That means Arizona
will be hard-pressed to pay another defensive stalwart, end
Simeon Rice (above), the $6 million a year he's expected to
command. Here are the top 10 players who are eligible to become
unrestricted free agents after this year, with their ages at the
start of the 2000 season.
1. Simeon Rice, DE, Cardinals, 26--Leads league with 10
sacks, including five in last three games
2. Jon Runyan, T, Titans, 26--Tennessee will make re-signing
this ornery drive-blocker with All-Pro potential a priority
3. Chuck Smith, DE, Falcons, 30--Though getting up in
years, he's solid against run and pass
4. Norman Hand, DT, Chargers, 28--Best unheralded player
in the league is key to San Diego's superb run defense
5. Tony Brackens, DE, Jaguars, 25--Benefiting from new
scheme, he already has a career-high eight sacks
6. Robert Porcher, DE, Lions, 31--Three straight seasons
with double-digit sacks; on pace for another with 7 1/2
7. James Stewart, RB, Jaguars, 28--Browns covet Fred
Taylor understudy who has run for 532 yards this year
8. Ruben Brown, G, Bills, 28--Some scouts love him; others
think he's lazy. Easily the best guard available
9. Stephen Davis, RB, Redskins, 26--A 234-pounder who's
ideal for a ball-control offense; leads league with 14 TDs
10. Sam Adams, DT, Seahawks, 27--Value would soar if his
play was to become more consistent