EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - In the hours after his most important victory as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Brad Childress, the former Eagles offensive coordinator, celebrated at home Sunday in a low-key way.
He watched some of the Eagles' 44-6 rout of Dallas. He spoke by phone with his old friend, Eagles coach Andy Reid. And along with his wife Dru-Ann and some friends, Childress raised a toast in appreciation of Minnesota's last-second, 20-19 victory over the Giants that clinched the NFC North title.
"I did have a little of the grape last night," he said with a smile.
By 6 a.m. yesterday, Childress was back at the Vikings' Winter Park complex, grading film and dashing in and out of meetings preparing for Sunday's playoff game against the Eagles at the Metrodome. He said he had not contemplated what the Vikings accomplished, finishing 10-6 after an 0-2 start. It marked Childress' first winning record in three seasons since leaving Philadelphia for his first head coaching job.
"My wife just called a minute ago and said, 'What are you doing?' " Childress said. "She probably just thought I was down at the club, getting a steam."
Not likely. Safety Darren Sharper said Childress is a man of many sayings, and one of the coach's oft-repeated ones is "Stay in the now," a call to ignore the past, the future and outside influences while concentrating on the task at hand. That's what Childress did yesterday.
But when Childress does look back, he has plenty to consider.
The first head coach hired by Zygi Wilf, the New Jersey developer who bought the Vikings in 2005, Childress has endured a rocky relationship with Vikings fans.
They started calling for Childress' job in his first season of 2006, when the Vikings finished 6-10 and ranked 25th in the NFL in offense. That December, Childress defended his West Coast offensive scheme by saying, "I know it's a kick-[butt] offense when it's executed properly" - a phrase that Vikings fans often throw back in his face.
The grumbling continued last year when the Vikings, sparked by electrifying rookie running back Adrian Peterson, entered Week 16 needing a victory to clinch a playoff berth. Instead, Minnesota lost its last two and ended up 8-8.
Expectations rose in the off-season when the Vikings traded for pass rusher Jared Allen and signed wideout Bernard Berrian. So, Childress came under fire again when the team opened the season 0-2 and 1-3. A "Fire Childress" chant went up at the Metrodome on Oct. 12, when the Vikings trailed winless Detroit in the fourth quarter and needed a 26-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell with nine seconds to go to win, 12-10.
Wilf said yesterday he never considered firing Childress. The owner stressed the importance of continuity and patience in building an organization.
And Childress and the Vikings persevered. Childress benched Tarvaris Jackson, the young quarterback he drafted and nurtured, in favor of veteran Gus Frerotte after the first two losses.
Though Frerotte had an up-and-down season, the Vikings won eight of his 11 starts, thanks largely to Peterson's running (he led the NFL with 1,760 yards) and a stout run defense that topped the league for the third consecutive year. When Frerotte suffered a back injury Dec. 7 at Detroit, Jackson came in and threw a fourth quarter touchdown pass to Visanthe Shiancoe in a 20-16 comeback victory. Jackson retained the job and will start Sunday.
"At 1-3, it looked a little bleak," Sharper said. "But we knew we could get on a winning streak like we've had in the second half the last couple of years."
After Longwell's field goal as time expired beat the Giants on Sunday, Wilf ran onto the field and eventually found Childress for a long embrace. But curiously, when asked about Childress' performance, Wilf instead spoke in generalities about the organization. And he declined to say whether he might extend Childress' contract, which has two years to run.
Even in victory, Minnesota fans' message boards crackled with criticism about Childress' clock management.
With about 29 seconds to play, the Giants stopped Peterson for a 2-yard loss at the New York 32. That left Longwell with a 50-yard kick. While the Metrodome crowd of 63,761 audibly fussed, Childress let about 20 seconds run off before Jackson called Minnesota's final time-out with nine seconds left. (Childress later said he should have given Jackson a play to run.)
With Longwell on the field, Giants coach Tom Coughlin called a time-out to ice him. Longwell began his routine again, but Childress suddenly changed his mind and sent Jackson and the offense back out to run another play. Longwell later joked that it was the first time his own coach tried to ice him.
Jackson overthrew Bobby Wade on the right sideline, leaving five seconds to play. Coughlin then burned his third time-out before Longwell drilled his third game-winning kick of the season.
Childress finds much of the criticism amusing. He spent part of his news conference lobbying fans to show up Sunday and be loud. About 20,000 tickets remained for the game at midday yesterday, according to Vikings vice president Steve LaCroix.
"Well, if they're pessimistic, then they'll be right in there with the Philadelphia fans," Childress said. "I think they ought to be excited to be hosting a playoff game."