Ice-cold in Tampa
They've tried just about everything. One year, the Minnesota Vikings held a players-only dinner in Tampa the night before a game against the Buccaneers, hoping to promote unity while protecting players from the usual large contingent of visitors at a game in Florida. Another time, they arrived a day earlier than normal to acclimate to warm weather and give players a chance to let loose on a Friday night before things got serious on Sunday.
None of it has worked. For reasons no one can really explain -- other than the Bucs' apparent superiority -- the Vikings have lost five consecutive games against their former division rivals. They last won at Tampa Bay in 1997 and overall have lost eight of their past 10 games there since the start of the 1993 season.
They'll get another chance Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, where they've gone winless since the structure opened in 1998. In preparation, coach Brad Childress has acknowledged one alteration to the weekly routine -- raising each player's hydration standards -- but otherwise said he didn't feel compelled to examine the series' history for common threads.
"Not unless there was an eclipse of the sun, an earthquake or a plane had to crash-land," Childress said. "I don't think there was anything of biblical proportions that happened there, aside from getting beat. I'm more worried about getting us ready for Tampa Bay, the 2008 team."
In the three most recent games, the Bucs' margin of victory has averaged 23 points. Vikings center Matt Birk, who has been with the team since 1998, noted the Vikings fell behind early in all three of those games but said he could think of no other common themes.
"I guess the sun there isn't good for white, pale-skinned people like me," Birk said, laughing. "But if we knew what the problem was back then, we would have fixed it. You also have to take into account that Tampa Bay has been a pretty good team for a long time. Give them some credit."
Game-time temperatures Sunday are expected to hover around 70 degrees, a relatively cool temperature in Tampa Bay. Nevertheless it's about 40 degrees warmer than the Twin Cities this week. To compensate, Childress said he has asked players to "take the part of keeping that battery full."
He added: "That's something that they can take on them with a little help from a friend, whether it's some Gatorade in their room or what have you. There's no sense in being low. I always say, 'Take care of things that take no talent.' I takes no talent to think and take a drink from a bottle of water."
Maybe that will help.