MINNEAPOLIS -- You're crawling through the desert on all fours. Your tongue is covered in sand and your skin is beet red. With glazed-over eyes, you take one last look ahead. Appearing from nowhere, just a few feet ahead of you, is an oasis.
Is it real? Do you believe what you see and use your remaining energy to reach it? Or do you take a moment to wonder if your heart is messing with your mind?
Metaphorically speaking, that's the decision resting on the shoulders of Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf after his team needed two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes, 34 seconds of regulation Sunday to force overtime and ultimately defeat the Arizona Cardinals, 27-24. What's more important? That the Vikings appeared disinterested and discombobulated for most of the afternoon? Or that they staged a stirring comeback that reminded everyone what this team is capable of?
Based on Wilf's post-game demeanor, I would suggest the latter is more likely. His face flush with glee, Wilf stood outside the locker room and congratulated most players as they entered. Wilf continually shouted, "Great heart! Great heart!" and seemed legitimately thrilled.
However, Wilf refused to speak with reporters before or after the game -- other than to promise the team would continue fighting. Coach Brad Childress said Wilf has given him no assurances that he will finish the season as Vikings coach. And Childress made clear he doesn't need a vote of confidence with a response that won't do anything to curb questions about his icy relationship his players.
"I'm not going to sit here like Brett Favre and tell you I need compassion, I need a hug," Childress said. "I'm all right."
Childress was referring to an answer Favre jokingly gave last week when asked if Childress is a "compassionate coach." But in all seriousness, there was no postgame evidence that Childress' frayed relationship with Vikings players was in any way repaired by this victory.
It was Favre, after all, who threw for a career-high 446 yards and appeared to be calling most of the plays during a frantic fourth quarter in which the offense produced 160 offensive yards. This week, at least, Favre might not have been the best target of a sarcastic line.
Favre, in fact, reiterated that he played Sunday's game for himself, and by extension the team. Asked Sunday if he thought the team was playing for Childress' job, Favre said: "I felt like I was playing for mine."
"I'm just being honest," Favre added. "I've played for 20 years and have always hoped to be the best. ... Why should [coaching speculation] factor into me wanting to be the best player I can possibly be? Whether Brad is the head coach or not, that should never change your approach."
"We won one for us," Allen said.
Kicker Ryan Longwell, whose 35-yard field goal won it in overtime, credited "the guys in this locker room" for persevering through a week of turmoil.
"There was every reason why we could have quit and justified it with the crazy week we've had," Longwell said. "We just don't have guys like that in this locker room. You're accountable to yourself and ultimately to your teammates. That's why guys play hard for each other and with each other."
Sunday had begun with new details of Childress' confrontation with receiver Percy Harvin on Friday. ESPN's Ed Werder reported the two had to be separated by players and coaches after Childress questioned Harvin's effort as he tried to practice with a sprained left ankle. Childress and Harvin spent 15 minutes discussing the situation in the locker room before the game, and afterward they emerged with near-identical explanations that, while well-choreographed, didn't make much sense.
"It was certainly not as reported," Childress said. "It had nothing to do with his hustle and effort. That was not a question and never was."
Instead, Childress said, the confrontation was about Harvin being unwilling to get an MRI on the ankle. Ultimately, Harvin submitted to one Saturday morning.
"We play an emotional game with emotional people," Childress said. "That's probably what makes him good. Tempers can raise a little bit every now and then."
Said Harvin, who had nine catches for 126 yards: "We're good. We had a little dispute. It wasn't what people thought it was about. It was about whether I was going to get an MRI or not. ... Coach was looking out for my best interest. He wanted to make sure there was nothing severely wrong with my ankle."
If that's the case, you wonder why Harvin didn't have an MRI earlier in the week, as is typical NFL protocol. But let's not sweat the details of what appears to be another massage of the truth from this organization. The more important question is whether Wilf views the episode as a normal ebb and flow of a football season or part of a pattern that suggests Childress will have trouble cultivating winning efforts from this group.
You could argue that Sunday's game proved that players who are feuding with their coach can still win. But even Favre said: "I would be shocked if we could win games like this week in and week out. It's too hard."
Wilf spent much of last week at the team's practice facility and spoke with a number of key players, including Allen. The discussions were more motivational than they were fact-finding, Allen said, but it's hard to imagine Childress' performance never came up.
Sunday didn't materialize into the kind of toxic atmosphere that some of us anticipated at the Metrodome. There were a few "Fire Childress" chants, but for the most part fans sat on their hands in apathy until the end of the fourth quarter. Said receiver Bernard Berrian: "I remember saying to someone, 'Does it even feel like a game out here?' "
The Vikings turned it into an exciting game, leaving Wilf thrilled. So is this the rare case when a pond of water actually appears in the middle of the desert? Or will Wilf be duped by a mirage? I wouldn't want to make that call.