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Indeed, Lynn seems to have turned over a new leaf. Now when he negotiates a contract, he will make sure the player and the player's agent are both in the room when the first offer is made, so that Lynn can explain the reasoning behind the offer. Also, Lynn, who previously had not visited training camp in Mankato, Minn., will try to make the 70-mile trip and sleep in the club dormitory at least once a week. The players have convinced Lynn that on-field performance can be affected by an off-field gripe with management.
"There's a false belief in football that players will play the same no matter what the circumstances are," cornerback Carl Lee says. "Players will go out and play, but if their finances aren't straightened out, or if they've got some other big problem, it'll affect the way they play. I think that's happened to us at times."
Now, as the Vikings point for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1977, they must face up to a few on-field adjustments. New ultraconservative offensive coordinator Tom Moore must develop an effective role for running back Herschel Walker, who in 11 games with the Vikings last season gained only 831 rushing and receiving yards combined. Also, there no longer are five or six automatic victories for the Vikings in the NFC Central; Green Bay, Detroit and Tampa Bay have improved.
"We've made all the right moves, it seems," tight end Steve Jordan says. "But it doesn't mean we'll play better."
What is Eric Dickerson's next move?
The voice at the other end of the phone on July 31 stunned Leigh Steinberg, agent to the football stars. When Steinberg realized who was calling him, he thought, This is not exactly the model client we like to have. "The only thing that can help me now is a Henry Kissinger-type guy," Eric Dickerson, the Indianapolis Colts' AWOL running back, told Steinberg. "Can you be that guy?"
Life has become difficult for Dickerson, who all too often in his tremendous career has started a fire when he should have been prancing into an end zone. With the Rams in '87, Dickerson called vice-president John Shaw and coach John Robinson every name in the book and said he wouldn't necessarily be trying when he played. Dickerson wanted to force a trade because the Rams wouldn't meet his contract demands. It worked. The Rams dealt him to Indianapolis, where owner Bob Irsay gave Dickerson the contract he wanted.
Two years into the five-year, $7.5 million deal, Colt general manager Jim Irsay, the owner's son, approached Dickerson about possibly signing an extension that would allow Dickerson to finish his football career in Indianapolis. But midway through last season, when it appeared that an agreement was about to be reached, Bob Irsay pulled the plug on negotiations, saying he didn't want any contract extensions signed until the NFL's new TV contract was concluded. Dickerson has been trying to talk himself out of town ever since. He said that Jim Irsay "deserves to be a general manager as much as Daffy Duck does" and that the team "couldn't beat some of the worst Canadian league teams."
"I said a lot of things out of frustration," Dickerson told SI last week. "It's just that I hate losing. I despise losing. I despise anyone who accepts losing. That's what happened last year. And twice they said they were going to redo my contract and didn't. I don't think anybody likes to be toyed with."
Then Dickerson's voice became emotional. "People make me out to be a bad, bad guy," he said. "God, I should be carrying a gun, the way people talk about me. I should be wearing a mask."