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3 MINNESTOA Vikings
Peter King
September 01, 1997
The trash talking from the secondary comes early in a game, and often. "Ain't happenin'! You're gettin' nothin' today!" is among the nicer things a receiver might hear from a Minnesota defensive back at the end of a play, according to Packers wideout Antonio Freeman. And it degenerates, with the defensive backs raising various issues related to their opponents' manhood.
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September 01, 1997

3 Minnestoa Vikings

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1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 9-7 (second in NFC Central)

Rushing

Passing

Total

OFFENSE

96.6(24)

228.6(8)

325.3(12)

DEFENSE

122.9(24)

195.1(9)

317.9(16)

The trash talking from the secondary comes early in a game, and often. "Ain't happenin'! You're gettin' nothin' today!" is among the nicer things a receiver might hear from a Minnesota defensive back at the end of a play, according to Packers wideout Antonio Freeman. And it degenerates, with the defensive backs raising various issues related to their opponents' manhood.

"That secondary," says Freeman, "is more concerned with talking than being good football players. They're a young group, and they're pretty good, but their ability is hidden by the fact that they're such showboats and talkers."

To be fair, left cornerback Corey Fuller and free safety Orlando Thomas do most of the talking. Right corner Dewayne Washington can woof a bit, but compared with their teammates, he and strong safety Robert Griffith are novices in the trash-talking league.

The Vikings' secondary will need every weapon it can find this season when it faces, once each, the aerial attacks of the Patriots' Drew Bledsoe and the 49ers' Steve Young and, twice each, those of the Packers' Brett Favre and the Lions' Scott Mitchell. Further, because the Vikings lack depth in the secondary (Thomas is rebounding from January knee surgery, and there are no experienced backups), there will be added pressure on this group to perform.

That's a tough assignment for a quartet of players who are all 26 or younger. "The secondary is really the big key for us," says defensive coordinator Foge Fazio, who doesn't mind the macho talk the players engage in. "Especially Orlando, because he's become such a leader and a ball hawk." Thomas, a second-round draft pick out of Southwestern Louisiana in 1995, had more interceptions (14) over the past two seasons than any other player in the NFL, including a league-high nine as a rookie. He says he's back to 100% and is faster than he was when he entered the Nil because of the intensity of his rehabilitation and off-season conditioning. "Don't worry about me," Thomas says, as if anybody would. "I'm going to be a better player than ever."

Thomas and Fuller, a second-round draft choice out of Florida State in '95, formed a tight bond quickly. Both started early in their rookie year, and in their fourth NFL game Thomas retaliated after he saw a Steelers lineman punch Fuller away from the play. Instinctively, Thomas ran over and slugged the opponent in the groin. "Boom!" Fuller says, in recalling the incident. "With one punch the guy went down, and I looked around and saw Orlando standing there. You get the vibe, don't you? From that day on Orlando was going to cover my back, and I was going to cover his."

Fuller, however, has been known to cross the line. Last season he was fined $30,000 for poking Green Bay center Frank Winters in the eye. Clearly he believes part of his game is intimidation. And talking, he says, is just part of Minnesota's style of play. "It makes the game fun," he says. "Like against the Packers, where the fans are so into it, that's like Florida-Florida State every time we play. It's like Super Sunday, and you just get so excited out there."

He's not proud of all the lip, though. "When I go home at night," Fuller says, "I pray to God to forgive me for some of the things I said that day."

The Vikings can live with the lip if the secondary performs as it did last year. It was ninth in the league in pass defense, tied for fourth in interceptions (22) and maybe last in respect. Not even Thomas got a sniff in Pro Bowl voting, and the quartet says the slight is what drives them entering the '97 season. "Just watch us this year. Watch us in the big games," Fuller says. "We'll be there."

In five seasons under coach Dennis Green, the Vikings have won the NFC Central title twice and have been to the playoffs two other times. But if Minnesota expects to get back to the postseason this year—and win its first playoff game under Green—Fuller & Co. will have to play as good a game as they talk.

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