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Veteran Kleinsasser fires up the troops

MINNEAPOLIS - Jim Kleinsasser isn't normally one of the outspoken Minnesota Vikings.

But after their 34-3 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC divisional playoff game on Sunday, the former University of North Dakota standout delivered a message to several of his teammates in the locker room.

"He said that you don't get very many opportunities like this," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "He explained that they got their (butts) kicked in 2000 and he doesn't want it to happen again."

Kleinsasser is the only remaining member from Minnesota's last NFC Championship game appearance - a 41-0 loss to the New York Giants in January 2001. He remembers it like it was yesterday and hopes that next weekend's game at New Orleans will be far different.

"It was brutal, it was embarrassing," said Kleinsasser, who stood at his locker wearing a UND football shirt. "It was early in my career. I was a young man back then. You always think you're going to get back there. Now is the first time we've been back and it's 10 years later, so you have to take advantage of it.

"I already have been telling the guys, 'Don't squander this chance. It's been 10 years since I've been to one of these.' "

The 11-year NFL veteran played a key role in Minnesota's first playoff victory in five years and second since the NFC Championship loss to the Giants. Kleinsasser caught a 14-yard pass to begin a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that put the Vikings up 14-3.

More important, he was outstanding in pass protection, helping give quarterback Brett Favre enough time to pick apart the Cowboys' secondary.

"They are tough," Kleinsasser said of Dallas' defensive front. "They have speed, strength and everything you want in a guy rushing off the edge. So, it was a tough day. We tried to do what we could and it seemed to work pretty well.

"I thought we played well in all phases. It all kind of came together. It wasn't the prettiest game at times. It was a grind-it-out game. We put points up and the defense played great."

Left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who had the difficult assignment of blocking Dallas end DeMarcus Ware, praised Kleinsasser for his help in the blocking game.

"He's a great blocker," McKinnie said. "He'll catch the ball here and there, too. He's definitely good at his position. I feel like he's really underrated."

While it's doubtful that Kleinsasser will grab the headlines during next weekend's NFC Championship game against the Saints, his teammates say that Kleinsasser's role will be pivotal.

"He's a very hard worker and a great guy," center John Sullivan said. "He's got great character. He's one of the best blocking tight ends in the league and he had a big reception today. He's a great player. He's been around for a long time and he sums up everything that's great about the Minnesota Vikings."

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Schlossman is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.