Vikings fire head coach Frazier
By Rick Lubbers
MINNEAPOLIS — A sign outside the Metrodome read, “Thanks for the Memories,” as jubilant Vikings fans filed out of the stadium for the final time Sunday afternoon.
The Vikings celebrated the Metrodome’s past every chance they could Sunday — including trotting out Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant to blow into a giant horn before the game and playing video vignettes from former players during stoppages in play. Minnesota then engineered a fourth-quarter comeback over the Detroit Lions to put a victorious punctuation on the Dome’s history dating back to 1982.
Those warm recollections probably didn’t erase the more recent memories of a sub-.500 record, soothe the pain of unfulfilled expectations or remove the cloud of doubt over coach Leslie Frazier’s head, but Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings’ electric rookie triple threat, gave his teammates, coaches and fans reason to look ahead and not dwell on a 5-10-1 campaign.
Patterson provided most of Sunday’s on-field memories by scoring two touchdowns and setting a team record seemingly every time he touched the ball. The NFL schedule-makers played a hand, too, by committing the lowly Lions — the Vikings’ yearly version of a homecoming opponent —to that date. Prior to Sunday, they were 7-23 at the Dome. And even though the Lions led 13-7 in the fourth quarter, the Football Fates declared the day be painted purple and not Honolulu blue.
Sure enough, Patterson’s 8-yard TD reception from quarterback Matt Cassel at 9:19 of the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winning score. Add to that a 50-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter (originally drawn up as a pass option play), and his coaches and teammates couldn’t find enough accolades following the game.
“I think he’s going to be pretty special,” Frazier said. “He stays healthy, the sky is the limit. He’s a very talented young man without question. That’s obvious. He can be one of the all-time greats before it’s over.”
Ditto, said Cassel.
“Cordarrelle Patterson has done a tremendous job throughout the year growing as a player,” he said. “Obviously, he has tremendous physical attributes. He’s big. He runs. There was never one time this year that I remember when the first player to come in contact with him made the tackle. He has all the physical attributes that you look for in outstanding players.
“It’s just him learning, playing a little football, and learning on the football field. He went to one year of junior college, one year at Tennessee and now he is in the NFL, so for him, I think that the sky is the limit as long as he continues to work and continues to grow.”
But even though Patterson’s TDs transfixed the crowd in the first and fourth quarters, spectators nearly fell asleep during the rest of it. Numerous miscues, missed opportunities, the injury-related absences of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Lions wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, and overall lackluster play from both teams gave the game the feel of a preseason tilt, not a season finale.
That odd atmosphere wasn’t lost on the players.
“It was kind of an eerie feeling in there today,” said Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. “It didn’t really feel like a normal Metrodome game, to tell you the truth. It wasn’t crazy loud as it has been in the past. I think fans were maybe just a little bit reflective as to what had been going on here for a long time.”
Or still frozen. While it was 67 degrees inside the Metrodome, it was 3 below zero outside with a minus-21 wind chill. So, they can be forgiven if their lips were still iced over for much of the game.
Patterson joked that he isn’t looking forward to playing the next two seasons outside at the Minnesota Gophers’ venue while waiting for the new Vikings stadium to be built.
“I really don’t want to play outside; it’s kind of cold up here in Minnesota,” he said with a grin. “My family came up this weekend; they said that they probably weren’t going to come back because it was too cold. So, playing outside, I wish it wasn’t true, but you have got to do what you have got to do, and this is my job, so I can’t say no.”
Not that cold weather will slow him down any.
He added several accomplishments to his growing NFL resume, including:
V Vikings team records for most kickoff return yards (1,393) and highest kickoff return average (32.4) in a season.
V Franchise and NFL marks for most rushing TDs by a wide receiver in a season (three).
V Minnesota record for longest scoring run by a wide receiver (50 yards).
The Vikings brought Patterson along slowly this season, but opposing defensive coordinators will have many sleepless nights ahead of them scheming ways to stop both Patterson and a healthy Peterson next season — and beyond.
“I enjoyed my first year,” Patterson said. “There are great memories here in the Dome. We couldn’t do it without the fans behind our back 100 percent. Each game I’m enjoying it — and always smiling — just trying to make plays and trying to help my team out.”
Patterson helped close the book on a multitude of pleasant Metrodome memories, but his potential for superstardom will likely yield many more at new venues in the future.
Lubbers is the sports editor of the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at ricklubbersdnt.