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WHEN THE DUST CLEARED, IT WAS MINNESOTA
Paul Zimmerman
December 22, 1980
No other team wanted it, so the Vikings won the poverty-pocket NFC Central title on a last-play Hail Mary touchdown pass of 46 yards
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December 22, 1980

When The Dust Cleared, It Was Minnesota

No other team wanted it, so the Vikings won the poverty-pocket NFC Central title on a last-play Hail Mary touchdown pass of 46 yards

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Asked which was worse, a 23-0 loss to Chicago or a 14-14 tie with Green Bay: "You can't pick the better of two worsts."

GREEN BAY (5-9-1)—For the first time in NFL history a pair of Bays, Green and Tampa, are tied for last in their division. No one really expected much else from the Packers. The question is: what took them so long? Remember the preseason? First we were wondering whether Starr would be fired right then and there. No sooner had that cloud blown away when another one appeared—in the shape of a hot dog. Defensive End Ezra Johnson was seen eating a frank on the bench during a 38-0 preseason blowout by the Broncos, and the cavalier manner in which Starr handled this—he gave Johnson a slap on the wrist—so annoyed Assistant Coach Fred von Appen that he quit.

Then the players started grumbling about Starr. They called him J.R., in honor of J.R. Ewing who got his in Dallas. So after Green Bay's first regular-season game, in which the Packers beat the Bears in overtime when Chester Marcol scooped up his blocked field goal and toddled into the end zone—"He looked like the man in the New York Life commercial," said Bear Kicker Bob Thomas—Starr showed up with a cigar, a cowboy hat and a Western shirt with a J.R. monogram on the pocket. Ah, peace for a week, but as the days grew shorter and mediocrity took its iron hold, the grumblings started again.

"This is Starr's sixth year," one Packer said after the 61-7 loss to the Bears. "Six long years of excuses, close losses, flat teams and mental mistakes. Good grief, enough is enough."

CHICAGO (6-9)—Call this the apology season. A 28-17 loss to Atlanta turned on a Walter Payton fumble that really wasn't a fumble. The league office apologized, and incidentally, Walter, you don't have to pay that $200 fine for grabbing Head Linesman Ed Marion. Just don't do it again, O.K.? And, yes, the league apologized to the Bears for the interference penalty that set up the field goal that gave Philadelphia a 17-14 win. Seems it wasn't really interference after all. And, oh yes, the shovel pass off the fake field goal that gave the Oilers a 10-6 victory...well, the films showed an ineligible Oiler downfield. Sorry about that.

"Right now there's no question we're the best team in the division," Finks said after the 61-7 victory over Green Bay, pointing out that the offense had opened up considerably since Evans took over at quarterback. Coach Neill Armstrong had been getting heat for his no-pass, let-Walter-do-it attack, so when it came down to the last 20 seconds against Cincinnati last week, with the ball on the Bengals' 18 and the score tied, it was time to show 'em, dammit! Two end-zone passes, the second one intercepted, pushed the game into overtime, and Cincinnati won.

DETROIT (8-7)—Another One Bites the Dust came back to haunt the Lions. After the Colts beat Detroit 10-9 on Nov. 16, the Lions' fifth loss in seven games, a local disc jockey named Dick Purtan introduced a parody: Another One Beats Our Butts. Coach Monte Clark showed up at his weekly press conference in fake glasses, rubber nose and false mustache. "Hello, I'm Dick Purtan and I'm here to introduce my new song," Clark said. "I must say that I like it better than the first version." Wait, it gets better. When the Cards ran a punt back all the way to beat the Lions in St. Louis two weeks ago—it was the second game in a row that Detroit lost on a runback—the band struck up Another One Bites the Dust and the Cardinals mocked and taunted the Lions, just as the Detroit players had done when they beat St. Louis in September. When Minnesota beat Detroit 34-0, the Vikings sang that song, too, and one of them threw dust at the crowd in Bloomington.

The Lions might still be singing if, one by one, their offensive line hadn't bit the dust with injuries and their quarterback, Gary Danielson, hadn't been bothered by rib, shoulder and ankle miseries. "Everybody's making such a big deal about that song," Danielson says. "Last year we were 2-14 without a song."

MINNESOTA (9-6)—When you figure the Vikings out, let us know. They went into the Cleveland game with the NFL's 17th-ranked offense and 25th-best defense. And yet there are some things they do exceedingly well. They have blocked 45 kicks in the last five years, and they beat New Orleans on Nov. 30 by blocking a 25-yard field goal at the end. They have lost only three fumbles this season. That's right, three. And finally this one—for 14 straight years they have lost their final game of the season. But at least they'll be playing in January.

Let's face it. Even in the NFC Central, someone's got to be No. 1.

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