The Minnesota Vikings, a team which could not quite believe its own prowess until a couple of weeks ago, took a giant step toward establishing itself as a champion in the Green Bay mold by handily defeating the Detroit Lions 24-10 in Bloomington, Minn. last Sunday. The Vikings won on the cool, intelligent passing of Joe Kapp, who spent eight years throwing footballs in the Canadian League and is now in his third year chucking for Minnesota, Playing with his broken left wrist in. a light cast, Kapp completed 11 of 19 passes in the face of a Lion rush that dropped him for a loss four times.
The Vikings won, too, oh a fierce effort by one of the best defensive units in pro ball (see cover). It swarmed all over young Greg Landry, Detroit's second-year quarterback, dropping him for losses six times and limiting him to a measly net of 60 yards passing. Landry also threw four interceptions, due in part to the big purple rush.
It was an impressive performance by a mature and competent team, and it may well mark the start of the kind of dynasty that Vince Lombardi founded at Green Bay in 1960. There are, certainly, defects in this Viking team, as there were in the old Packers. The offensive line leaks on occasion, but Bud Grant, the quiet Minnesota coach, has help on hand in Ron Yary, a massive tackle from USC, and Ed White, a big rookie guard from California. Yary, a No. 1 draft choice in 1968, was in the service the first few weeks of this season, but he will probably start soon. White may still be a year away. If these two live up to their potential, Kapp may find more time to throw, and, given time, he can perform wonders, as he did against Baltimore earlier in the season when he threw seven touchdown passes in a 52-14 rout.
Minnesota's redoubtable ground attack was ineffective against the Lions, but that may be because Grant, who felt his club did not move the ball well enough in the air in 1968, has devoted much of his practice time to improving that aspect of the game.
Gene Washington, who caught four passes for 68 yards against Detroit, feels the passing is now well established. "This is my third year and Joe's," he says. "We work together real well now. I have options on my patterns depending upon whether the coverage is zone or man-to-man, and that means Joe only has a second or two to read me. Now that we've worked together for a while, that's all the time he needs."
Jim Marshall, the 10-year veteran at end who captains the Viking defense, is of much the same opinion about his play with his violent colleagues on the Viking line. Against the Lions, Marshall, Carl Eller, Alan Page and Gary Larsen varied their attack on nearly every play, often twisting—or stunting, as it used to be called—with the tackle circling to the outside and the end looping to the middle, confusing Lion blockers and putting heat on Landry, who was replacing the injured Bill Munson.
"In time, you get confidence in the people you play with," says Marshall. "I know what Page [the right tackle] is going to do and what Lonnie Warwick [the middle linebacker] will do, and I can react instinctively. Some of the stunts are planned. Maybe Page and I will decide on the stunt and tell the linebackers what we're going to do. But sometimes we'll stunt because the blocking opens up, and when we do that, we have to depend on our instinctive reactions. You don't always beat the other guy, you know. He's getting paid a good salary to beat you. You know when you go in that you're only going to win so many of the individual battles. You just have to win more than you lose."
Marshall and Co. won more individual battles than they lost against Detroit. Landry completed 14 of 28, but when you subtract from his gross the yards he lost attempting to pass, he wound up with a net of 1.8 yards per attempt. The Lions were only a trifle more effective on the ground, gaining 107 yards in 33 runs. They crossed the 50-yard line but once in the first half and scored their lone touchdown late in the game, after the cause was well lost, with the aid of an interference penalty.
A little over a year ago, when Minnesota was preparing to play Chicago in Bloomington after impressive wins over Atlanta and Green Bay, the team was taut and unsure of itself. Its Saturday practice was quiet, tense; it was a team that had finished last in the Central Division the year before, and you felt, watching the players, that they weren't convinced they were good enough to be leading the division.
"Clubs like the Bears and the Rams used to intimidate us," says General Manager Jim Finks. "Not physically. Psychologically. They seemed to be mentally tougher than we were. But we got over that hump when we beat the Bears 31-0 in Chicago on Oct. 12. We took it to them and they folded, not us."
Last week the Vikings were relaxed, casual and assured. On Saturday the players bought a birthday cake for Equipment Manager Stubby Eason, which featured a lumpy chocolate football planted in the middle of a bilious green football field, and sang a Rabelaisian version of Happy Birthday before eating most of the cake themselves. Gary Cuozzo, the No. 2 quarterback, brought his 2-year-old son Chip to the workout, then had to call his wife to come get him when, despite the blandishments of half the team, he howled steadily for 30 minutes.
When the Vikes came out on the field, Kapp took charge, and the players responded, running plays all the way to the goal line. They worked out an hour and a half earlier than most clubs do on Saturday, finishing at about 10 a.m. "Coach wants to go partridge hunting," one veteran explained.
In his three-year tenure as head coach, Grant has established a remarkable rapport with his players. He's a tall, handsome man with bright blue eyes and a soft tone that commands attention because you can hardly hear it.
"He never raises his voice," says Center Mick Tingelhoff. "He's as complete a change as you can get from Van Brocklin [his predecessor at Minnesota]. All he has to do is look at you when you make a mistake and it cuts deeper than a 10-minute lecture from Van Brocklin."
"When Van Brocklin left, there was no doubt in my mind who I wanted," Finks says. "Grant has always been a winner. He used to coach in Canada, and he learned a very valuable lesson there. You get kids right out of Canadian high schools, graduates from American colleges and old pros from the NFL who have gone over the hill or left the NFL for some other reason. Grant handled all of them, and well."
Grant, who played both offensive and defensive end for the Eagles, was a forward with the Minneapolis Lakers and won four Grey Cups in 10 years at Winnipeg, brought Kapp down from Canada. Kapp had difficulty adjusting to NFL defenses, but he has always had an overriding belief in his ability to win, and he imparts it to the team. "Joe makes you know it will work," says Running Back Clinton Jones. "You feel it in the huddle. He's a mover."
The Joe Kapp of the defense is Marshall, who once ran the wrong way for a safety for the other team and now heads up the rush. The Minnesota front four may not be as famous as that of Los Angeles or Dallas, but they could be better. They are called the Four Norsemen, although three—Carl Eller, Alan Page and Marshall—are black.
Marshall is 6'4" 260, wears flaring sideburns and a modest mustache, and has an unbridled desire to win at almost any cost. He is also an introspective, articulate man. "We have been progressing in our mental attitude," he said the night before the Lions game. "We didn't know how to accept victory before. Each victory is a step on the stairway to success, but we worried about little mistakes instead of forgetting them. Now we're confident enough to forget the mistakes. Bud Grant pushes you toward goals which make you realize your full potential as an individual.
"Don't be fooled by our flamboyant attitude at practice today," he went on. "We're still nervous about this game. It's a big one. The flamboyance is the product of apprehension. But beneath the apprehension is a confidence that we can do what we have to do. It's the feeling Green Bay used to have, a feeling that we're developing."
With that feeling, Minnesota's regal purple could be, appropriately, the color of a new dynasty.
Greg Landry releases just in time to accept belated greetings from Viking End Carl Eller.
The Vikings' defensive line, plus two, prior to a Lion hunt at Bloomington: Jim Marshall, Linebacker Lonnie Warwick, Alan Page, Gary Larsen, Linebacker Roy Winston, Carl Eller.
Minnesota's Kapp uncorks one of his 19 passes, 11 of which were complete for 149 yards.