Pssst. The Minnesota Vikings have an offense. Pass it on. It is, for identification purposes, one of those quietly efficient, low-mileage models with the slightly square silhouette. It arrives by traveling carefully in the right-hand lane. You can barely hear it because there are no holes in the muffler. It does not fumble, it does not bust plays, it does not travel imprecise pass routes. Because it is inconspicuous it has been more or less lost on the public, like Betty Grable's arms. Nobody calls the Minnesota offense the Purple People Eaters. Nicknames are for the Minnesota defense, which has flashy guys like Jim Marshall who, when he is not eating people, is diving out of airplanes.
The offense, on the other hand, is a collection of cerebral gentlemen like Grady Alderman, the certified public accountant-tackle, and Gary Cuozzo, the licensed dentist-quarterback. "They are disciplined, businesslike people," says Coach Bud Grant. "You almost expect them to show up carrying briefcases."
What they do show up carrying is footballs, often into somebody's end zone. They did it a week ago Monday when they beat what was then presumed to be—and probably still is—their principal rival in the NFL Central, the Detroit Lions. And they did it against a lesser opponent, the Chicago Bears, on a gloomy, unreal afternoon in Minnesota last weekend but, as it turned out, not often enough.
Ah, the Bears! The butt of a thousand one-liners, they are suddenly 2 and 0 and people (purple or otherwise) have to wonder where they came from and where they could possibly think they are going.
For the record, the Bears' coach is named Jim Dooley. He is from Miami, where the sun shines. Now in his fourth year as head coach of the Bears, for whom he once played, Dooley has rarely seen the sun, living as he does in the shadow of George Halas. Nobody knows the trouble Dooley has seen. "I'm 41 years old," he says. "I only look 80." In truth, Dooley is tall, handsome and curly-haired and he does not look his age at all, but he is presently working on the tail end of his contract and. when you examine too closely what he has to work with, you tend to shudder on his behalf.
One preseason assessment of the Bears began something like this: "The worst rushing offense in the NFC last year produced three (count 'em, three) touchdowns and is weaker this year with Gale Sayers still limping. As for the passing, it's as bad as ever. And the secondary is worse...." It got negative after that.
The night before these same Bears arrived at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Dooley sat in front of a prime rib, brandishing a steak knife in the general direction of his dinner partner and telling exactly how his club was going to upset the Vikings. Dooley invariably exudes more enthusiasm than his team does talent, but he was especially excited this time because he had a plan.
First there was that Viking offense. Forget it, he said. It was too sound to worry about. He characterized it as a "17-point offense." He was willing to concede the 17 points. He said he had been telling the Bears all week, "Hold Minnesota to 17 and you can win."
But how was he to, uh, well, you know, get 18 points?
"Field position," he said. "In effect, beat the Vikings at their own game. Run kickoffs and punts back to our 35 at least. Force the Vikings to move from deep in their own territory. Consider a drive to midfield a moral victory. And this is where we tell our guys, if you have to give up the ball there, punt. You're winning, winning! Don't get discouraged and eventually we'll have room to throw. And I know exactly where we can throw and how the Vikings will defend us—when they will revolve, where the seams will be in the zone and where we can beat them. Then it will be just a matter of the quarterback getting the ball to the receiver. He won't even have to think about it. He won't even have to look for anybody else but the primary receiver. Just get the ball there."