Okay, fellows, said Coach Bud Grant to his Minnesota Vikings, our quarterback this week against Chicago will be Bob Lee. Bob Lee? The punter? No, that was last year. This year, after Joe Kapp went off to seek his fortune in Boston, Lee, a 17th-round draft choice from University of Pacific, became Gary Cuozzo's backup. Two weeks ago, when Cuozzo severely sprained an ankle against the Jets, Lee went in and threw four interceptions. The Vikings couldn't have cared less. With Kapp, Cuozzo, Lee or, if Grant so chose, with pudgy Fred Zamberletti, the trainer, at quarterback, they knew they could beat Chicago just as they had beaten almost everybody else—with their crushing defense. And, of course, last Saturday in Bloomington, Minn. they did, 16-13.
Frozen by Viking weather and savaged by the Vikings' superb front four, Chicago managed only two field goals against the best defense in football but made the game typically Viking close by scoring on an 88-yard kickoff return by Cecil Turner. The win was Minnesota's 10th in 12 games and enabled it to become the first NFL team to clinch a division title. Lee matched Turner's run with a 33-yard scoring pass to John Henderson, and Fred Cox more than matched Chicago's field goals with kicks of 21, 23 and 10 yards. But enough about points.
The day of the game broke clear and cruelly cold, with a wind gusting up to 40 mph turning 9° weather into a 33°-below chill factor and the lawn at Metropolitan Stadium into solid green concrete. The Bears came out gloved and with giant heaters set up behind their bench. The Vikings came out bare-handed and heaterless. "We're out there to play football, not to keep warm," said Grant. "We'll be cold, but we'll survive. I want our players' full attention on the game every minute, not on keeping their backsides warm."
It's all part of the Grant master plan that in four years has turned the Vikings from a gang of violent individuals into a tightly disciplined football team. "Take our game with Green Bay last year," Grant said. "It's in the fourth quarter and it can go either way. Then their Donny Anderson gets hurt. They send in a substitute. Now he's got to be the warmest man on the field. He should have been, he was standing next to the heater all day. He comes in and—pop!—he fumbles, we recover and that was the ball game. And we didn't fumble once the whole game. As long as we live in this country, we must have the discipline of learning to play in it."
"If Grant says we'll win by freezing, then, by God, we'll freeze and win," said one Viking. "But I sure wish he'd tell my toes they weren't so cold."
And so last Saturday the Vikings huddled on the sideline, huge men hunched over and stamping their feet for warmth, preparing to attack Chicago with their defense. Other coaches talk about getting good field position for their offense. Grant talks about good field position for his defense. "The defense wins, the offense sells tickets," he preaches. He took the role of quarterback and made it a bit part. "Kapp didn't win for us last year," he says. "He was just one-fortieth of the team. That's all Cuozzo is. That's all Lee is."
But then Grant has the front four, the Purple Gang or, as they sometimes call themselves, the Three Dots and a Dash, an allusion to the three blacks—Jim Marshall, Alan Page and Carl Eller—and the one white, Gary Larsen. Eller is the bachelor and free spirit; Larsen, the gentle family man; Marshall, the happy adventurer, making the most of every one of life's minutes; Page, at 25, the youngest, a little bit of each but in sum like none.
"Alan is still dealing in his potential self," says Eller, the 6'6" defensive end. "It would be hard right now to describe him, except to say he's truly a great person. Marshall is a guy who deals in the fantastic. Gary is a quiet person, a guy who enjoys being with his family, and he has a beautiful family. I think this makes him a beautiful person."
"Clothes are a passion with Carl," says Larsen. "Everybody kind of wonders what he's going to wear next. Last year he had a Cadillac limousine and he'd sit in the back and let a friend of his named Blue drive him around. Anybody else would have felt self-conscious, but not Carl. Then one day he just got tired of that and sold the car."
At a recent gathering, Eller appeared in a wolfskin coat, black leather bells and a cap of wolf heads. "That coat took a pack of wolves to make," says Page. "It decimated the wolf population of Canada. It's unbelievable—but then so is Carl." Another recent Eller acquisition is a Charles Addams-type house which he shares with his mother. "Because I live with my mother, you know why I bought a big house," Eller says with a grin. "She has her privacy and I have mine. That house is my proudest possession. It represents a cornerstone of me. I think it's the only thing about me that is really solid."