- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Aw, come on," he said, "you don't really know Fran Tarkenton." He wouldn't believe it—and at that point I'd played on the same team with Fran for two or three seasons.
Anyway, besides my picture, they also have a list posted in the Hall of Fame naming the top alltime receivers in pro football. I'm No. 17, exactly 177 catches behind Taylor. I was looking at this, and all of a sudden, from out of nowhere, Bud Grant came over and stood next to me. For a while he didn't say anything. He just stood there. Then he pointed his finger at Taylor's name. "See that No. 1?" he asked. I nodded. "You can do it," he said, and then, just like that, he turned and walked away. Just like that. Just like him. I was very touched.
This afternoon we had our annual National Anthem practice. Bud has this before the first game every season. If you've ever watched the Vikings when The Star-Spangled Banner was played, you've noticed, I'm sure, that we looked sharper than any other team you'd seen. Well, this is the reason: We practice. There are two reasons for this. First, Bud believes that the more things you do together as a unit, the better you'll perform together when playing football. And second: It is simply important to him that we look good when the anthem is played. I've never seen any player mock him for it, either. Bud doesn't have a lot of petty rules, and this is one of only three or four things he really cares about. And he doesn't mess around either. The rookies are required to learn the lyrics and sing along, and any spectators in the stands during the anthem practice must rise to attention, just as they would if it were a real performance.
Bud put [Linebacker] Matt Blair and myself in charge of getting everybody squared away for the anthem. What's interesting about that—and you bet it went straight to my mind—is that Matt's the defensive captain and, therefore, if Bud selected me to work with Matt, then I must be.... But, no, not a word.
Thought for today: I saw a program with the Colts' roster. This is a first for me in all the time I've been in the league: I didn't know a single player on the Baltimore team. Maybe it really is time for me to get out of here.
SATURDAY, AUG. 7: A gesture of confidence
In the last couple days there has been a lot of talk about a plan whereby the players would meet in the center of the field just before the kickoff and shake hands with the opposing team. It would be a dramatic gesture of unity. The idea took on added importance here because our game with the Colts is the traditional preseason opener, on national TV, but we decided finally to reject the proposal because we'd never informed Bud and the other coaches about what we were considering. I think a lot of us felt that no matter how closely we identified with the players association, it had been a mistake not to keep the coaches abreast of our plans. And so, at least for this game, we tabled the idea. I don't think I would have participated anyway.
Merlin Olsen is here to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and a lot of the younger players have seen me chatting with him. Shortly before we went out to play, one of them wanted to know where I knew Merlin from. "Well, you know," I said, "I played against him a lot." The kid wouldn't believe me. Neither would some of the others. They looked at me like I was ancient. If I'd told them I'd played against Red Grange or Whizzer White, they wouldn't have been more incredulous. Another zinger for me—right?
And then, as we were sitting there, getting ready to go out on the field and warm up, Bud came into the locker room. He spotted me, walked over, tapped me on the shoulder and said simply, "You're the capitan." That's all. Just like that. Just like him.
Despite all that was churning inside me, all the excitement and pride, I just raised my head and said, "O.K." Just like him.