MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Like voters flocking to the polls, Minnesota Vikings fans loudly called for a change in leadership to save a fast-sinking season that started with Super Bowl aspirations.
The signs said it all _ "Fire Chilly" _ and there were thousands of them being handed out on the streets by grinning entrepreneurs outside the stadium before Sunday's game against Arizona.
Boos came from the crowd as coach Brad Childress emerged from the tunnel leading to the field, and the "Fire Childress!" chants were audible several times throughout the afternoon. Finally, as the Vikings rallied from a two-touchdown deficit late in the fourth quarter and pulled out an overtime victory, the chants changed to "Let's go Vikings!"
"I think they came expecting to see an execution," Childress said. "And it ended up a pretty good football game at the end."
Mired in controversy over his handling of the hasty decision to dump dissatisfied wide receiver Randy Moss, Childress acknowledged this week his expectation of the catcalls from customers frustrated by the 2-5 record.
The majority of the fan base has never warmed up to Childress, and the angst hit an apex this week. Reports emerged about player-coach clashes and owner Zygi Wilf's anger over Childress's failure to tell him his plan to waive Moss after a pattern of disrespect shown by the notoriously moody star.
Childress chalked his heated argument with wide receiver Percy Harvin, who was close to Moss, up to emotional people playing an emotional game. Harvin shrugged it off, too.
"It was about whether I was going to get an MRI or not. It was a little dispute, but we settled it. Me and Coach are fine," Harvin said.
Wilf was at team headquarters this week, closely observing the team and talking to key players about the situation. Before the game, Wilf and Childress shook hands and had a brief conversation on the field during warmups. Wilf gave reporters a brief statement but declined to address the status of his head coach, to whom he gave one year ago a contract extension through the 2013 season.
"Nothing to say about that," Wilf said. "The big thing is getting a win right now. The big thing is to win this game and to be crowned division champions."
Wilf was downright giddy after the game, greeting everyone from Childress to the last guy on the roster as they entered the locker room by exclaiming, "Great heart, fellas! Great heart!"
Still, Childress is in front of the public firing squad, as football coaches often are.
"It's kind of a disaster right now. I think he should've been gone a couple years ago," said Bryan Bergeson, a lifelong Vikings fan from Rockford, Ill., who took part in the pre-game tailgating outside the dome on an unseasonably sunny and warm November day.
Bergeson spoke across the street from an office building where paper taped inside a fifth-floor window spelled out, of course, "Fire Chilly." Bergeson had his own sign in his hand. One woman, seeing a reporter scribbling in a notebook, yelled as she walked by, "Just write 'Fire Childress!'"
One girl wore a purple Moss jersey with red tape crossing out the No. 84, a sign that not all the anger is directed at Childress.
"It's really negative. I don't like the signs. To be honest, a couple weeks ago things were cool. Two losses in a row, and, wow," said Tom O'Neill, who makes regular trips to games with friends from Mason City, Iowa.
His group had a clear message: Cheer the uniforms and not the players or coaches who wear them.
"We love the Vikings," O'Neill said. "We invest a lot of time. Give up a Sunday. I could be home getting my lawn that needs raked right now."
But it was hard to find a lot of opinions that matched his. Most people were plain fed up with the guy in charge, Childress.
"He thinks he knows everything, and he doesn't seem to know that much," said Mike Garrison, from Peoria, Ill.
Twin Cities natives Darwin and Lisa McQuerter brought red handkerchiefs to signify their protest _ sort of a fan's challenge flag _ of Childress. They proudly said they joined in the "Fire Childress" chants two years ago during a particularly rough game by the offense and planned to do so again on Sunday.
"He's got to go," Darwin said.
Andy Nedoba and Jon Wright were in another contingent from Iowa, and their friend, an Atlanta Falcons fan, wore a "Fire Brad" T-shirt, just to pile on. Nedoba said he didn't think Childress should be fired, but neither he nor his buddies had a positive opinion.
Asked how the season has affected his view of the coach, Wright said, "It's made me not like him."
Fans were trying to stay patient and keep a level head.
"You've got to be realistic about it, too," O'Neill said. "Fire the coach? OK, that'll make Percy Harvin catch the ball. Yeah, fire the coach. That'll make Greg Camarillo add 8 yards to his punt-return average. We have a knee-jerk society. An instant society. We're 2-5: Fire Childress? Not me, man. Not me right now. In January when it's done, then we'll see."