Mike Zimmer and Bud Grant talk from time to time. Old-school coach to older-school coach.
Actually, it’s more like old-school outdoorsman to Hall of Fame outdoorsman.
“I went duck hunting with him a year ago,” Zimmer said before the Colts game a week ago. “Sometimes, I’ll just walk down to his office [at Winter Park] and talk about fishing or hunting. We don’t talk much about football. Sometimes, it’s football. He tells me stories about players.”
Grant won 168 games, 11 division titles, the last NFL championship before the merger and three NFC crowns. But he’s not one to make comparisons. Lob him a hittable question about how great things were in the ’70s and he’s likely to spike it off your forehead with why the game is better today.
“Don’t compare eras,” he has corrected more than once.
Grant keeps his nose down the barrel of a gun. But he doesn’t point it at his successors.
“He’ll come in and give me some of his lines,” Zimmer said. “You know ’em. ‘It’s a tough business’ or something like that. Or ‘Don’t win too many too soon.’ ”
The latter is a Bud staple. It’s a funny one-liner wrapped around a Yogi Berra-style witticism.
No, Bud isn’t advocating early losses. He’s just pointing out how perceptions change. How the team that starts better than it really is tends to wind up being called worse than it really was.
“When we were 5-0, everyone was saying we’re the best team in the league,” Zimmer said before the Colts game. “I don’t think the team bought into the hype. People were saying we’re the ’85 Bears on defense and all that stuff. We didn’t buy into the hype, but I think people’s expectations were bigger than what it was.”
The Vikings are an offensively challenged team that lost its starting quarterback 12 days before the season opener. That’s the case at 7-7 heading to Green Bay, just as it was at 5-0 and heading to Philadelphia.
However, when the Vikings were 5-0, 29 of their 112 points had been scored by their defense and special teams. That’s a whopping 25.9 percent.
That’s unsustainable for even the ’85 Bears. So in the ensuing nine games, the Vikings’ defense and special teams contributed only 14 of 145 points for a more realistic 9.7 percent of the scoring.
“The first five games, if I went back and looked at it, we scored points on defense, we scored points on special teams,” Zimmer said. “As I started looking back, I don’t know that we were playing good enough as a team. We weren’t getting the scoring out of the offense.
“Then we were starting to shoot ourselves in the foot more and it was starting to show up on the scoreboard. And we weren’t getting the [touchdown] returns. That’s why [against Jacksonville] I thought it was good that we scored 25 points with the offense against a good defensive team.”
Those 25 points were a season high for the offense. In the other 13 games, the offense has averaged 15.1 points per game.
Everyone now is grouchy. It’s been an ugly 2-7 slide, but let’s tap the brakes on whether Zimmer and/or General Manager Rick Spielman are or should be on the hot seat or the ejection seat.
About 11 months ago, the Vikings went to Green Bay with a team closer to what Zimmer and Spielman envisioned. The quarterback didn’t arrive eight days before the opener. The running back was a future Hall of Famer on his way to a third rushing title. And the offensive line, while far from ideal, had the same starters each and every week.
The Vikings won that division-clinching game 20-13. And how rare a feat was that?
Well, at the time Mike McCarthy had won five NFC North titles in nine seasons, including four straight. Since 2006, McCarthy trails only Bill Belichick in home winning percentage (.741), division winning percentage (.727) and division point differential (plus-448).
Go ahead and weigh this season against Zimmer and Spielman. There’s been sloppiness and ill-timed lethargy by the players. However, just make sure to leave a little room on the scale for the full body of work and what happened not long ago when this regime went into Lambeau Field, held Aaron Rodgers to 13 points and broke McCarthy’s stranglehold on the division.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @MarkCraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org