Vikings enjoying buildup
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. For the Minnesota Vikings, a Monday night matchup against the Green Bay Packers is about as big as a regular-season game gets.
“All you’ve got to do around here is say Packer week, and everybody gets excited,” cornerback Antoine Winfield said.
When they’re playing for first place in the NFC North at the quarter mark on the schedule, well, the intensity will only increase.
When Brett Favre happens to be the Vikings’ new quarterback, the public interest in this rivalry is on the verge of explosion.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s just a regular game to me,” linebacker Ben Leber said.
He kept his straight face for, oh, a few seconds.
“This is probably the most anticipated game, I think, for a regular-season game, that I’ve ever been a part of,” Leber said.
Winfield claimed he heard ABC was considering postponing the popular “Dancing with the Stars” show this Monday to avoid losing too many viewers to partner network ESPN.
“Everyone will be watching the Monday night game,” Winfield said.
This is NFL-style hype at its highest form.
“It will be ridiculous. I love it,” guard Anthony Herrera said, adding: “It’s personal for Brett. It’s personal for us. They’re going to come after him.”
Coach Brad Childress often acknowledges his players aren’t living “in a vacuum” when he’s asked about the importance of maintaining focus in the face of adversity or distraction.
He’s right: They live—at least during the season—in Minnesota, where during a crowded weekend of notable sporting events, there’s no question what game is on every fan’s mind.
With Favre’s 16 prolific years throwing passes for the Packers and departure on bad terms last summer, the intrigue has ratcheted up. It stretches well beyond the Upper Midwest, too.
“It’s a Monday game, and obviously people are going to be excited for that,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “Obviously Brett playing Green Bay is going to be the biggest headline. We’re aware of all those things that go on. We hear about it every day. We’ve just got to maintain a level of consistency as far as the way we practice and prepare. We have a pretty veteran locker room here, and I think that’s going to help us out this week.”
Leber was asked if he expected a Childress pep talk about maintaining focus.
“I don’t really think he needs to,” Leber said. “I think everybody knows what’s at stake, and more importantly we’re on a roll right now. I know that we want to go out and fight for Brett and get a win for him, but at the same time we want to be 4-0. ... That’s our main concern.”
The low-key Childress did his usual downplay routine.
“I know it won’t be crazy in here,” the coach said. “The place won’t be vibrating or anything like that. We just kind of go about our business and see what they’re doing schematically and what we can play off of. I’m sure they’re going to do the very, very same thing.
“Playing somebody in your division, obviously you know those games count like two. And then we’re going to see them here in a short period of time in another month. So all the rivalry stuff, that will take care of itself.”
Favre won’t be available for comment until Thursday, but after Sunday’s victory over the 49ers he was already looking ahead to Green Bay’s arrival.
“It’ll be a big game for a lot of reasons,” he said. “They are a good football team. We’re going to have to play better than we did today to win it—to win any games.”
With an extra day between games this week, the Vikings rested three of their veterans during Tuesday’s light practice. Favre did not have his helmet, and neither did left guard Steve Hutchinson or tight end Jim Kleinsasser during the drills that were open to reporters. Also, punt returner Darius Reynaud was not present, having hurt his left hamstring in Sunday’s game.
Reynaud said the injury isn’t serious, but acknowledged the bad timing with such a big game on the schedule.
“After I got hurt I went, ’Damn, Monday night,”’ Reynaud said. “It’s nothing major, nothing too serious.”
The same can’t be said about the game.
“We’re ready for it,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “That doesn’t change the game. We still have to line up across from those guys and play football. That’s what we’re going to do.”