- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 2004

Mike Tice played just one season for Joe Gibbs, but it took only that one season to leave an impression.

In 1989, the Washington Redskins were hit with crises on myriad fronts, yet managed to turn a 5-6 start into a 10-6 finish. And Tice never has forgotten Gibbs’ poise in the midst of the storm, “how calm he was.”

While Tice said he has tried to emulate Gibbs, calm is an adjective rarely used to describe Minnesota’s coach.

“I’m a Type A guy, an emotional guy,” said Tice, who suggested he will have to be checked into a mental hospital if Minnesota barely misses the playoffs for a second straight year. “When you lose those [close] games, it tears at you. There are some parts of your insides that don’t grow back. I give myself 24 hours, and then I’ve got to get over it no matter how bad I feel. If I’ve got to walk around with a phony smile, that’s what you have to do as a leader. You can’t walk around here like ‘Woe is me. Why us?’ You’ve just got to move on.”

Win or lose tomorrow against the 5-10 Redskins, Tice isn’t moving. In hopes of eliminating a distraction for the plummeting Vikings, who went 3-6 after a 5-1 start, owner Red McCombs ended a year of speculation with Monday’s announcement that he had picked up the option on Tice’s expiring contract.

Cornerback Corey Chavous said there’s genuine excitement among the Vikings that the player-friendly Tice will return. But asked whether he had lost the advantage of having the players trying to win tomorrow’s game to save his job, Tice said as a joke, “They probably used that the last couple of weeks, and it hasn’t worked.”

Indeed, after following a 6-0 start last year with a 3-7 finish — capped by losing to lowly Arizona on a fourth-and-25 touchdown pass on the season’s final play — the Vikings had huge home games against Seattle and Green Bay in their grasp the past three weeks and lost. Minnesota’s only December victory came when an errant snap on an extra point prevented mediocre Detroit from forcing overtime.

The Vikings fell to the Seahawks 27-23 when star receiver Randy Moss’ option pass on first down at the Seattle 20 with 2:16 left was picked off in the end zone. And they lost to the Packers 34-31 when they surrendered 10 points in the last four minutes.

“We’ve hit bumps in the road for different reasons each year,” Tice said. “Last year, our lack of speed on defense caught up with us. This year, we’ve had some significant injuries [Moss was a nonfactor for five weeks]. Everyone wants to call me ‘Coach Collapse.’ I don’t know how you can collapse if you get in the playoffs.”

It would be a shame if Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper doesn’t appear in the playoff spotlight. If not for Peyton Manning’s record-breaking year in Indianapolis, Culpepper would be being hailed for his 37 touchdowns and 4,418 yards. If Culpepper has an average day tomorrow, he will wind up with the best season any quarterback has had other than Manning and Dan Marino in 1984.

“Daunte has made a lot of plays, a lot of plays when we were trying to battle our way through the Moss injury,” Tice said. “He has been a great leader. At times, he has almost willed us to victory.”

Culpepper has done so despite the lack of a true No. 1 running back, with Moss hamstrung for weeks and while offsetting the NFC’s second-worst defense.

But even if they’re upset by the Redskins, the Vikings still can reach their first postseason since they lost the 2000 NFC Championship game if St. Louis (7-8) loses to the New York Jets (10-5).

Just getting in is all Chavous craves.

“At the beginning of the year, our goal was to win the NFC North,” Chavous said. “We didn’t accomplish that. Our next goal is to win the Super Bowl. If we get a five-game winning streak going, we’re Super Bowl champions. We’ve won four games in a row this year and nine games in a row [the last three of 2002 and the first six in 2003] under Coach Tice. We’ve lost some close games, but we’ve done a good job of bouncing back. We’ll have to do the same thing this weekend if we want to get to the playoffs. It’s down to a one-game season. For us, the playoffs start this weekend.”

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