Return for just a moment to Sept. 14. On that day the Philadelphia Eagles whipped the Minnesota Vikings 42-7, and Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil rode off the field in Bloomington, Minn. on the considerable shoulders of defensive linemen Charlie Johnson and Claude Humphrey. Viking Coach Bud Grant was overheard to mutter that the second game of the season was hardly the Super Bowl.
Well, last Saturday, Vermeil, who is often accused of getting carried away, got carried away again by Johnson and Humphrey, again after beating the Vikings, this time in Philadelphia. On this occasion they had a good reason for doing it. The Eagles had rallied from 14 points down to win 31-16.
"I plan to carry Coach off the field two more times," Johnson said.
"We're grown men and we can do whatever we like," said Humphrey, who is 6'5" and 258 pounds of grown man.
The game, however, didn't look as if it were played by grown men. There were 11 turnovers, and the Eagles won only because eight of them—all in the second half—were by the Vikings. Philadelphia shouldn't have needed such charity. The 12-4 Eagles were seven-point favorites over the NFC Central-champion Vikings, who at 9-7 virtually had to apologize for making the playoffs. When asked if he had anything in his bag of tricks for the Eagles, Grant said, "We emptied our bag just to get here."
So what was Minnesota doing with a 14-0 lead late in the second period? It was exactly as Philadelphia, which is somewhat desperate to be called the City of Champions, had feared. People were worried the "Iggles" would leave their game on the practice field in Tampa. Indeed, it was curious that Vermeil practiced in Tampa for a playoff game in Philadelphia when last year he practiced in Philadelphia for a playoff game in Tampa. In the meantime Grant, who has snow for hair and ice for eyes, kept his team in balmy Bloomington and a couple of days wouldn't even let them work out under their practice bubble.
The weather forecast called for a Froze Bowl, but at game time the temperature was 28°, warmer than the Vikings, who didn't even bother to plug in their "Hot Seats" on the sidelines, had hoped. Still, the Eagles were very cold at the start.
Not even cheating could help Philadelphia. In the second quarter, Punter Max Runager quick-passed to John Sciarra for an apparent first down at the Vikings' 44, with a face-mask penalty tacked on. But the officials ruled that Sciarra had not lined up at least five yards from the sideline, in violation of the "hideout" law (Rule 12, Section 2, Article 14, paragraph f). It comes under the heading of unsportsmanlike conduct.
At that point it looked as if the only Eagle who would be carried off the field this day would be Wide Receiver Scott Fitzkee, who had broken his left foot, reducing the number of Philadelphia wide outs to two. But one of those two was Harold Carmichael, who ought to count as 1½. Quarterback Ron Jaworski took the Eagles 85 yards in 13 plays, throwing a nine-yard TD pass to Carmichael with just 54 seconds left in the half to cut the Vikings' lead to 14-7.
And the Eagle defense turned around in the second half because of a talking-to by Defensive Coordinator Marion Campbell. "We have the greatest respect for Marion," said Linebacker John Bunting, "so he doesn't have to raise his voice for us to listen. He did bring it up a pitch, though. He told us we weren't playing alert, we weren't playing Eagle defense." Said Cornerback Herman Edwards, "We figured if we were going to lose, we were going to take somebody down with us." He had two of the five interceptions Tommy Kramer threw in the second half and held All-Pro Ahmad Rashad to just one catch.
Right away, the Eagle offense tied the score at 14-14 on a 66-yard drive, with Wilbert Montgomery plowing over from the eight. The Vikings put on their last drive of the game in the third quarter, but Kramer was intercepted by Roynell Young on the Eagle seven. Still, the drive indirectly resulted in two points for Minnesota—and a 16-14 lead—when Jaworski was sacked by Matt Blair and Doug Martin in the end zone.
The game turned firmly to Philly when Minnesota's Eddie Payton fumbled a punt and Reggie Wilkes recovered on the Viking 18. "First, I would like to apologize to the people of Minnesota," said Payton. "But I didn't go out there to fumble. The ball got caught up in the wind and instead of turning over, it turned back." But the swirling winds of fate may have had more to do with it—Minnesota has now lost the last game of the season 15 years in a row.
Montgomery took the ball in after the fumble for a 21-16 lead. From that point on, the game got totally zany. In the course of 19 plays, there were seven turnovers, some right after each other. Kramer fumbled, Montgomery fumbled, Doug Paschal of the Vikings fumbled, Jaworski was intercepted, Kramer was intercepted, Jaworski was intercepted and Kramer was intercepted. Finally, Tony Franklin unwrapped his bare right foot and kicked a 33-yard field goal. Then Kramer was intercepted again on the Minnesota 45, and Edwards returned it to the 31. Eight plays later, Perry Harrington went over from the two. The last play of the game was, appropriately enough, a pass by Kramer again intercepted by Young.
Said Humphrey, who had one sack and kept up a constant conversation with Kramer during the game, "Hey, it's a funny-shaped ball. My God, that's a clichè, isn't it?"
The Eagles should be very grateful. Currently permeating the Philadelphia airwaves is a song called The Eagles' 12 Days of Christmas. Really bad. It goes something like, "On the 10th day of Christmas, [owner] Leonard Tose gave to me, Jerry Sisemore blocking, Guy Morriss hiking, Bill Bergey crushing, [Brenard] Wilson intercepting, Carmichael catching, Wil-bert Mont-go-mer-y's moooves, Humphrey attacking, Ron Jaworski passing, Tony Franklin kicking and a Dick Vermeil Super Bowl team."
On the ninth day of Christmas, the Vikings gave the Eagles a playoff game.
For Dick Vermeil, taking a victory ride on the shoulders of Charlie Johnson (left) and Claude Humphrey is now old hat, as all the Vikings well know.