Vikings' offensive line faces Giant challenge

Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2001

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Even when they were better known for what they were missing, the Minnesota Vikings' offensive linemen knew what they had.

They had size. They could run. They were missing the facts to back them up even more than Pro Bowl linemen Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel, who left them for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason.

By now, all doubts should be gone. They never let the New Orleans Saints, the league-leaders in sacks, get their hands on Daunte Culpepper in a 34-16 playoff victory Saturday. They helped the Vikings lead the NFC in rushing.

They are a major reason why the Vikings are playing Sunday in the NFC championship game against the New York Giants, whose talented front line will present another huge challenge.

Here is another chance to get noticed.

''What we're doing isn't ego-driven,'' right tackle Korey Stringer said. ''We're doing it for each other. That doesn't have anything to do with getting your name in the paper. I really could care less if everyone says we're the best or the worst. What people do have to respect is the wins.''

The Vikings replaced one Pro Bowl center for another with the promotion of two-year reserve Matt Birk, who will be backing up Christy in Hawaii next February. Corbin Lacina also did a more than adequate job stepping in at left guard for McDaniel, an 11-time Pro Bowl player.

''I think we've erased all doubts,'' Lacina said. ''I've never had any doubts about myself, but I was replacing a guy who's going to be in the Hall of Fame.''

Birk and Lacina could not avoid the pessimism. Both are from St. Paul, Minn., and spend the offseason there. When it got too much for Birk, he retreated to his spartan home, a basement apartment with a cement floor and no refrigerator.

''You hear everything,'' Birk said. ''It got to the point, I didn't really care what people think. I didn't have any expectations. I tried to block out all the things people were saying. I'm a big effort guy, and I said I'd give it my all.

''I didn't worry about being the next Jeff Christy.''

Yet, Birk became that. Stringe also was named to the Pro Bowl team. Left tackle Todd Steussie was selected to the Pro Bowl in last season. Dave Dixon, a 358-pound guard from New Zealand, completes the unit.

They form the largest offensive line remaining in the playoffs, at an average weight of 328.2 pounds.

They also left themselves room for improvement. The Vikings averaged 5.0 yards per carry and 133.1 yards rushing per game behind them for the season, but those averages have fallen to 4.1 and 91.5 over their last four games.

''The good thing is we can get better at whatever we can do,'' Lacina said. ''We'll take care of our running game if there is a problem, but there isn't.''

Though they gained only 127 yards rushing against the Saints, they still tied up the clock for most of the fourth quarter.

''I think sometimes you get so caught up in numbers, you lose sight of the ultimate thing,'' Stringer said. ''You don't set out for this, that or the other. The main thing is that you win the game.''

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