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Win over Packers lifts cloud over Vikings... for now

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Bubba Franks of the Green Bay Packers makes a reception on a pass from teammate Tony Fisher against the Vikings. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Image)
Football is about throwing the old pigskin around, but sometimes it can also be about saving face. On Sunday the Minnesota Vikings beat their archrivals, the Green Bay Packers 23-20, and lifted the cloud caused by the team's last two dismal performances, and the allegations that some Vikings players engaged in lewd behavior aboard charter boats on Lake Minnetonka.

St. Paul, Minn. — Paul Edinger kicked a career-long 56-yard field goal as time ran out to lift the Minnesota Vikings to the win over the Packers. The Vikings came back from a 17-0 third-quarter deficit for the win, with Daunte Culpepper throwing two touchdown passes.

It's difficult to assess the extent to which support for the Vikings has dwindled since news broke about some some players' alleged engagement in sex parties. Tickets to the games are sold out for the rest of the season, so you won't see sales go down.

But scalpers outside the Metrodome provide some measure of whether fans are sticking with the team. Ernie Brown was selling tickets before Sunday's game, and he said sales were going great. But he said it wasn't Vikings' fans who were snatching up the tickets.

"There's quite a demand. A lot of Green Bay Packers fans today," he said.

Another scalper shook his head woefully when asked if his tickets were selling. "Trust me, it's bad," he said.

Against that backdrop, the announcement echoing outside the stadium, which is meant to amp up the fans, sounded oddly plaintive.

"Vikings fans, we need you!" it said. "It's up to you to continue to be the loudest fans in the NFL. Give us the homefield advantage we've grown accustomed to."

The fans packed the stadium at Sunday's game. Many were decked out in purple Vikings jerseys and some even sported Vikings helmets.

Winning is the great deodorant as it relates to sports.
- Sports consultant Mark Ganis

Vikings fan Doug Pirkil says the talk of the team's sex scandals would never prevent him from attending a game. But he says he's "disgusted" by the alleged behavior and says any guilty players should be punished.

"They have to be held accountable for what they do. Should they be fined maybe 30 grand? Yeah," he said.

Some people watching the Vikings game at O'Gara's bar in St. Paul took a harsher view of the team's recent public relations problems.

"I'm actually rooting against them," said Amy Huth, who added that reports of players' misconduct are snuffing out her loyalty to the team.

"I think it's ridiculous that they're representing the state of Minnesota and that kind of thing is carrying on off the field. It's ridiculous," she said.

"It's gotten to the point where the recurring nature of the problems and the escalating offensiveness of them, I think has reached a tipping point, that if not addressed aggressively and quickly, could cause serious problems for the Vikings fan base," said Mark Ganis, president of Sportscorp, a sports business consulting firm in Chicago.

Ganis says the Vikings' other problems over the years -- including allegations against some players of sexual assault committed at a charity event, running back Onterrio Smith's substance abuse problems, and defensive tackle Kevin Williams' alleged abuse of his wife -- have dug the Vikings a deep PR hole.

Ganis says the team could get swallowed by that hole. He says it happened to the Phoenix Suns in the late '80s. The team was getting a lot of bad publicity around drug use and bad behavior.

"The result was that fans stayed away from the team in droves. Ownership had to sell the team at about $44 million, not a high price. And it took tremendous community outreach by the new owners to bring the fans back and to get a new arena for them," he said.

Ganis says the Vikings could face a similar demise if owner Zygi Wilf doesn't rein the players in. It's unlikely now the governor will call a special session of the Legislature to act on legislation needed for a new Vikings stadium in Anoka County.

But he says another strategy could help, too. "Winning is the great deodorant as it relates to sports," he said. "If you win, there are many aspects of questionable behavior that are considered youthful indiscretions. But when you're losing and you're behaving badly, it's a terrible combination."

That's pretty much how Vikings fan Jill Berendt feels about the team's alleged bad behavior.

"It doesn't make a difference -- if they win the game. But I think they should grow up and start acting like adults instead of kids. They're not 17-year-old boys," she said.

And since the team did win, it might be able to count on the loyalty of more fans like Jill Berendt.