King for a Day
The most unlikely hero of the Vikings' 27-24 victory over the Packers on Sunday was a journeyman linebacker who was making his first career start after 4½ years in the league and stints with six teams. "I got chills just being introduced with the starters," said Jeff Brady. So, of course, did Viking fans, but for a different reason. With Brady at middle linebacker in place of the injured Jack Del Rio, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, who had riddled the Viking defense only two weeks earlier in a 38-21 Packer win, figured to move the ball at will.
But Brady did a terrific Del Rio impersonation as the Viking defense—shall we call it the Brady Bunch?—mauled the Pack in a crucial game that was decided by Fuad Reveiz's 39-yard field goal as time expired. That moved the Vikings to 4-5 and took their playoff hopes back off life support, at least for the time being. "Jeff Brady did a great job," said Minnesota coach Dennis Green. "And the defense did a great job getting that last turnover."
He was talking about Green Bay's sixth turnover in a game so bruising that even Reggie White, the Packers' All-Pro defensive end, was forced out. With less than a minute remaining, Green Bay was down to third-string quarterback T.J. Rubley; Favre and Ty Detmer had been sidelined with a sprained ankle and an injured thumb, respectively. The Packers were driving for a potential game-winning field goal at the Viking 38 when Rubley checked off a call from the bench for a quarterback sneak and rolled right. Under heavy pressure, Rubley floated an ill-advised pass back across the middle. The ball was tipped by safety Robert Griffith and caught by Brady. "It fell into my hands," said Brady. "I just wanted to get down before somebody knocked it back out of my hands."
Naturally it was the first interception of Brady's NFL career. In the first quarter he forced a Favre fumble that led to Reveiz's 36-yard field goal and a 10-7 Viking lead. While playing virtually every down on defense, Brady made four tackles and assisted on two others.
So who is Brady and where in the name of Forrest Gump did he come from? A walk-on at Kentucky, he was selected in the 12th round of the '91 draft by the Steelers. He played in every game as a rookie but was released after Chuck Noll stepped down. He spent the 1992 season with the Packers but was waived on the final cut of the '93 preseason. "I was angry at Green Bay," Brady says. "I liked it there, and I wanted to be a part of what they were building." After stopovers with the Rams and the Chargers in '93, he played last season with the Bucs. In the off-season he signed a one-year, $300,000 contract with the Vikings.
Until Sunday, Brady had primarily backed up Broderick Thomas at outside linebacker and played on special teams. He finally got his chance when Del Rio, who recently signed a two-year, $3.2 million contract extension, wrenched his knee in a loss to the Bears on Oct. 30. "I know I'll be back on the bench when Jack gets back," Brady says. "But at least I proved I can still play. It was special coming against Green Bay."
The good news for the banged-up Packers is that Sunday's game against the Bears will be played on the green grass of Lambeau Field. The loss to the Vikings, coming on the heels of a defeat to the Lions, ran the Pack's losing streak on artificial surfaces to 10. Under coach Mike Holmgren, Green Bay is 4-17 on the turf.
When that fact was mentioned to Holmgren after the loss to the Lions, the coach got a tad grumpy. "The turf did not have a thing to do with the outcome," he said.