SportsBytes #2.3

Rant off the bat...

The Minnesota Vikings have been star-crossed ever since the 2000 NFC Championship game and until two weeks ago, there were no signs of things getting better.

They lost that championship game to the Giants 41-0, and that was the first time Randy Moss's critics really noticed the whole "I play when I want to" attitidue. Then, in the training camp that followed, Korey Stringer died, setting the tone for a season that fell apart before it ever got started -- with a Week One loss to Carolina, the Panthers' only win of 2001.

After the season, Cris Carter retired and Moss said he didn't think he'd ever win a title. Oh, and Dennis Green got fired, and offensive line coach Mike Tice basically ended up with the job by default, because no one else wanted to deal with Moss.

It got worse when first-round pick Bryant McKinnie, Stringer's successor at left tackle, held out this season and then struggled when he did sign.

Then, with one play call in last week's game against the Saints, everything turned around. Tice's gutsy decision to go for two, and the win, was more based on his lack of faith in his defense in overtime, but it ended up motivating the Vikings to play harder.

This week they pulled off a huge upset of Dolphins, possibly knocking another team out of the playoffs. Moss had seven catches for 110 yards, numbers everyone expected him to put up all season, and even threw a touchdown pass.

If the Vikings can win next week and finish the season on a three-game win streak, they could end up laying the groundwork for a big run in 2003. They've always had the talent. Now it looks like they have the heart too.


• Having worked at a college newspaper, where the editors have to do everything from writing to editing to photography, I know how hard it is to write headlines. I also know the easiest way out is a stupid pun. That's why I cringed when I picked up the Hartford Courant today and saw this on top of a sidebar to the Jets-Pats game recap: "Chad leaves Patriots hanging." The presidential election was two years ago. Hanging Chad jokes were supposed to have been retired. Jeff Otterbein, you're better than that.

• How amazing is it that the two biggest stories in the NFL this weekend weren't about players on the field but instead about people in the studio? Both Bill Parcells and Deion Sanders made big news by discussing potential comebacks live on the air during their respective pregame shows. Parcells was evasive on ESPN's NFL Countdown, saying he'd come back "in the right situation." Deion, as is his style, was more direct, saying he'd actually been in discussions with the Raiders. Normally pre-game shows are quite boring, but these revelations made them great to watch. Thank God for picture-in-picture.

Tiger Tracks

• Towson suffered a setback this week, losing to Morgan State by three. It continues to amaze me that this team could stay within 10 points of an A-10 team like George Washington -- and be even with them in the second half -- but lose to Morgan State, a team they'd beaten earlier this season.

The simple fact is this: Michael Hunt's team turns the ball over too much. Starting guards Brian Allen and Jamaal Gilchrist are combining to average close to nine turnovers a game. This is sadly a huge improvement from early last season, when Allen had close to seven per game himself, but it's still unacceptable for two experienced guards.

Of course, nothing the men's team does could possibly match up with the women, who also lost to Morgan State last week, snapping MSU's 19-game loss streak. Towson is now working on quite a streak itself, having lost all six games this year, and 11 in a row overall.

One of these teams will have to turn it around soon, or it's going to be a long wait until lacrosse season.

eBay Item of the Week

• A Washington Redskins Christmas Ornament. Probably too late for this year, but it's never to early to prep for Christmas 2003. Ends Dec. 26, 2002 11:35 p.m. PST.

Random Prediction

• The AFC playoff picture is amazingly crowded, with the potential for eight teams to finish tied at 9-7, and only have two of them make the playoffs. If the Steelers win tonight against Tampa Bay, they clinch the AFC North at 9-5-1, with the possibility of finishing no worse than 9-6-1. Meanwhile, New England, Miami, New York, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Denver, San Diego and Kansas City can all still finish 9-7. I predict that will happen. New England will beat Miami. The Jets will upset Green Bay. Cleveland will upset Atlanta. The slumping Colts will fall to Jacksonville. Denver destroys Arizona. KC kills an unmotivated and banged-up Oakland. And finally, San Diego slams Seattle. If this happens, I have no clue who makes the playoffs. None at all.