It's Christmas Eve and Mike Tice's Minnesota Vikings have just lost another one of those football games that briefly sucks the will out.
It’s Christmas Eve and Mike Tice’s Minnesota Vikings have just lost another one of those football games that briefly sucks the will out. They blew a seven-point lead to the Green Bay Packers, the victims of another Brett Favre fourth-quarter surgical drive.
With a chance to clinch a playoff spot, the Vikings lost 34-31. Merry Dang Christmas.
“(Hall of Fame coach) Bud Grant has an office in our building,” Tice said by telephone earlier this week, “and one piece of advice he’s always given me is to never let myself go past Monday feeling bad about myself.”
Grant told Tice, “I gave myself Monday, the day after, and that was it. And Coacher, you have to do the same thing.”
But this game was played on Friday, not Sunday. The next day was Christmas, and Tice had a wife and two children who needed him to forget about football for a few hours and enjoy the holiday.
Tice had to heal quickly.
It has been that kind of season for the 8-7 Vikings. A season of hurting and healing. These past three weeks, for instance, have been cruelly whimsical for Minnesota.
Three games ago, the Vikings lost to the Seahawks, after Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss threw an interception into double coverage on what looked like Minnesota’s winning drive in the fourth quarter.
The next week, the Vikings won when Detroit’s long snapper muffed a snap on what would have been a tying extra point in the final seconds. Then came Christmas Eve and another Favre-forced march.
“It feels horrific really, going through all this,” said Tice, who came to the Vikings as tight-ends coach in 1996. “I’m a Type A personality, and it’s so hard not to let your emotions affect your team and affect your health, affect the little bit of time you have with your family during the week.”
In the ebb-and-flow NFC, Tice still can get his team into the playoffs with a win Sunday at Washington. That could set up a return match with the Seahawks in Seattle the next weekend in the first round of the playoffs.
And, further good news, owner Red McCombs picked up Tice’s million-dollar option. He will return to coach the Vikings next year.
Still, the losses linger in the subconscious, nagging reminders of mistakes that have been made. Unwanted mental mementos there to taunt you, tell you how much easier the season would have been — if only.
The three-point loss on Monday night to Indianapolis. The lackluster loss at Chicago. The blown double-digit lead to Seattle, and the late loss to Green Bay
“There have been four games this year when I felt absolutely drained, hurt, sick to my stomach and borderline ready for a mental hospital,” Tice said. “But you battle through it. … If you dwell on the losses, you’re in big trouble, buddy.”
Tice has always been one of my favorite people in sports, since he came to the Seahawks in 1981 as a quarterback-turned-tight end and, later, as a Redmond delicatessen owner.
He’s as honest as truth serum. He takes his game and his players — but not himself — seriously. He’s a guy who gets it, who understands working in sports is a very good gig. When asked before the game with Seattle if he would be interested in taking the then-vacant University of Washington job, Tice didn’t give some politically correct answer. Yeah, he said, he’d be interested.
“Did I want that job? No,” Tice said. “But it is an ambition to come back to Seattle and coach in Seattle. All of my good friends are in Seattle. I’ve considered it my home since 1981. I’d love to come back some day and coach in my home. Maybe as an assistant. Maybe as a high-school coach, or a college coach. People said I was lobbying for the Washington job. I wasn’t.”
In the meantime, Tice bounces back.
On Christmas Eve, hours after the loss to the Packers, his family drove to his brother John’s house. John coaches the Vikings’ tight ends and offensive line.
They ate dinner. They sang Christmas carols, using John’s karaoke machine. They went to church, opened gifts and eventually talked, as a family, about the difficult season.
“It helped me move on with the day,” Tice said.
You see Tice loves his work. Even when it intrudes on a family Christmas.
“The best part of the job is working with the young guys and seeing the improvement they make,” he said. “Being the teacher and seeing the pupils succeed.”
And the worst part?
“Talking to your owner on Monday after you lose,” he said. “Some of these Mondays have been very tough.”
Tice is tough enough to take it.