MINNEAPOLIS — Two teams with illusory 3-4 records--one's hot, one's not--meet today in America's new sports capital, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, also known locally as the Humpdome until the Minnesota Twins turned it into the Homerdome.
Now it's the Minnesota Vikings' turn to see what kind of living hell they can create. For an idea of recent Raider responses to indoor life, check their annual visit to Seattle.
Where are the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions when the Raiders need them? Today's visit is a little inopportune for them, seeing as how their 3-4 includes four straight defeats. They haven't lost five in a row since 1964, Al Davis' second year as coach.
Today's opponent is also 3-4 but with a hefty asterisk. Their strike team was 0-3. The real Vikings are 3-1, with victories over the Rams in Anaheim, in the pre-strike, pre-trade days, and over the Denver Broncos. They suffered their lone loss to Seattle last week in a tough game in the Kingdome.
You think they remember their replacement team fondly around here? Coach Jerry Burns has referred to it as his "displacement team."
The Raiders still list the statistics of their strikeball performers, such as Jim Browne and Carl Aikens--Aikens still leads them in touchdown receptions. In the Viking stats, all strikeball performers are listed together under a category labeled "departed."
The departed were nonetheless memorable. The quarterback was Tony Adams, 37, who retired in Canada at 32. The starting left tackle was listed as Rudy Olson, 6-5 and 275, from Iowa. When Rudy arrived, they learned that he had misrepresented his height, weight, experience and about everything else on the questionnaire. Up close and personal, he was 6-0, 300, and had never been to Iowa. They promptly cut him.
Not that anyone was fielding a classic lineup, but how did they get stuck with these guys?
Viking General Manager Mike Lynn, who was sitting on a pension committee with Gene Upshaw and Jack Donlan, made the mistake that everyone else made, if less definitively. Since both sides were saying privately, as well as publicly, that they didn't want a strike, Lynn assumed there wouldn't be one. The joke was on him, among others.
"The Vikings were one of the last teams to assemble a strike team," halfback Darrin Nelson said. "Our general manager thought he had some kind of inside information. . . . And as a result, that kind of hurt us. Well, not kind of hurt us. It did hurt us."
Said Burns: "We wanted our club to know that they were our players, that we didn't want to bring in replacement players, to show 'em there was a definite unity that existed, from the front office to the coaching staff to the players on the field.
"As things developed and the strike went on, we were, in effect, the last guys into the marketplace and by the time we got there, it was pretty well picked over."
Win some, lose some.
Now the real Vikings are fighting for their lives, and reputation. This can't be good news for the Raiders.
Only one Viking, an injured reservist, crossed the picket line. So, not only are the Vikings young and talented, they're united, if at great cost.
The offense is wide open and powerful. Tommy Kramer, coming off detox and a pinched nerve in the exhibition season, will make his first start today, another piece of bad news for you know whom.
When his life is together, Kramer ranks with the game's best. A year ago, he was the NFC's top-rated quarterback with 3,000 yards in 13 games, along with 24 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and a Pro Bowl start.
The wide receivers are quick and deadly. Anthony Carter, at 175 pounds, actually gets to be the boss Smurf here. He's five pounds heavier than Leo Lewis. Carter and Lewis have per-catch averages of 26.9 yards and 18.0, respectively.
Tight end Steve Jordan from Brown had a 14.8 average last season and made the Pro Bowl. Tackle Gary Zimmerman, a 280-pounder from the United States Football League who was coveted by the Raiders, wound up in the upper Midwest, instead, and in his first season was named to Sports Illustrated's All-Pro team.
Also coveted by the Raiders, and landed by the Viking, was halfback D. J. Dozier. The Raiders were set to draft him but the Vikings traded up for the pick before the Raiders and got him. The Raiders wound up having to make do with Bo Jackson.
Did someone ask, "What's Rusty Hilger's task this week?"
The Vikings play a four-man line and like to chase quarterbacks, especially young, tender ones. Viking assistant Floyd Peters put together the Silver Rush in Detroit, and several other quarterback bangers. His lines are known for their stunting, looping and otherwise all-out tries to get there. Today we'll get to see if Hilger really made any substantive progress in that fourth quarter at New England.