The Vikings hope all their close calls -- they were 6-6 in close games this year -- will benefit them in the playoffs.
John Randle, a recent guest on ESPN's ''Up Close,'' said this year's 10-6 team would fare well against last year's 15-1 squad.
Actually, he said they'd fare better.
''I think this year's team would probably beat last year's team,'' Randle said. ''If you look at it, there is more talent. Defensively, we've got Chris Doleman. His presence out there really takes a lot of pressure off me. It allows me to get back to my natural position.''
Randle had six sacks in December after moving from defensive end back inside to tackle, where he's closer to the quarterback and can force opponents into third-and-long situations.
''You can't simply double team me because you have Doleman out there,'' Randle said. ''Then, you have Duane Clemons stepping up. Our defensive line is a big part of our team, applying pressure and stopping the run. For our defensive line to be bringing it this year, we're definitely better than we were last year.''
RED'S REACTION: Socrates Babacus, the self-described ''Greek tycoon'' who has tried to buy sports franchises and build stadiums across the county only to fail every time, said he's bought an option on 370 acres of farmland in Lino Lakes, where he plans to build a $350 million retractable roof stadium.
Babacus said he will own the Minnesota Twins within two months (the Twins have long dismissed Babacus's desires to buy the team). He also said the Vikings, his other planned tenant ''love me.''
Red McCombs, the San Antonio billionaire who bought the Vikings two summers ago and who has been pushing for a new stadium to replace the inefficient Metrodome, said he heard about Babacus' comments.
''Maybe he'll stir somebody up to do something,'' McCombs said Friday.
McCombs said he's still talking to city leaders about developing a plan for a new stadium in Minneapolis because ''the Vikings simply cannot survive in the Metrodome.''
As for Babacus, 70, he refused to disclose how he was financing his project, telling reporters this week: ''It's none of your business.''
VIKINGS ON A ROLL: The only blemishes in Jeff George's 10 starts were back-to-back, last-minute losses at Kansas City and Tampa Bay last month that threatened to derail Minnesota's rebound from a 2-4 start.
But the Vikings responded by beating Green Bay and the New York Giants, two teams that had their sights set on the playoffs, and playoff-bound Detroit, in the final three games to enter the postseason on what George calls ''a mini-roll.''
The Vikings won their first five starts under George and the quarterback's many critics wondered if George or the Vikings' season would sour with the first hint of adversity.
After all, George had been run out of three NFL cities and made the playoffs just once in his eventful decade in the league.
Instead, George kept his cool and the Vikings straightened out their season once again.
''Going into those games we had won five in a row,'' receiver Cris Carter said. ''And if you go to Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay has become a very tough place to play. And over the years, Kansas City has always been tough. Even if you split those games -- then you feel like you're ahead of a lot of teams.
''And we lost both games right at the end of the game, and we felt that we could have won both of them,'' Carter added. ''I don't think the team was on a downer coming out of those, and we were able to put together this last winning streak, winning the final three games.
''And I think all of those things, combined with how we played before we lost those two games, superseded any negative feelings we might have had after those losses.''
Some Vikings have said they feel they're better prepared for the playoffs having been through 12 close games -- going 6-6 -- this season rather than cruising through the regular season at 15-1 like they did last year before their colossal failure in the NFC championship.
But Carter said the team never saw itself as having little margin for error after going 2-4 under Randall Cunningham.
''We didn't think about it,'' he said. ''You know, what we really thought about was getting back to .500. And we wanted to get on a long winning streak and we were able to do that.
''And after 14 weeks, 13 weeks, we were right there with a chance to win our division, not only win a wild-card spot. So, we never looked at that, as far as the season, as far as if we lose a game it was going to be over with,'' Carter added. ''We knew we had to put together a long winning streak and we had to be able to play together in order to do that.''
The Vikings' six losses, all of them by a touchdown or less, prevented them from defending their NFC Central title and earning a first-round playoff bye. Instead, the Vikings lost out to Tampa Bay, which gets the weekend off.
Carter, in a national teleconference call Thursday, wasn't too happy when asked about the Vikings' upset in the NFC championship game to the Atlanta Falcons.
''Well, I think that's been well-documented,'' said Carter, who sobbed after the championship. ''I think we were very, very upset. But besides that, I'm not even going to elaborate on that too much.''
INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Ed McDaniel (knee) was upgraded Thursday from questionable to probable for Sunday's game, as expected. Backup offensive lineman Matt Birk and wideout Cris Carter, who both have sprained ankles, also are listed as probable.
For the Cowboys, cornerback Kevin Mathis (knee) was upgraded from doubtful to questionable, joining fellow cornerback Kevin Smith (hamstring), linebacker Quentin Coryatt (hamstring) and wideout Ernie Mills (quadriceps) in that category.
Guard Flozell Adams and linebacker Randall Godfrey are both probable with sore backs.
GEORGE COMEBACK: Jeff George's remarkable rise in Minnesota after a wasted season in Oakland drew some attention across the country, but not enough for him to get the AP's 1999 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award, which went to San Francisco's Bryant Young.
In balloting by a nationwide panel of media, former Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson was runner-up to Young by 13 votes. George and Dallas' Alonzo Spellman tied for fourth with four votes, two fewer than third-place Isaac Bruce of St. Louis.
LOW BLOW: Vikings defensive end Duane Clemons has refused all week to discuss his punch below the belt of Dallas guard Flozell Adams back on Nov. 8. Clemons was fined $7,500 by the NFL for the hit and said he was contrite.
''We talked with Clem about it after it happened,'' coach Dennis Green said Thursday. ''And we have not discussed it anymore. It's in the past and I think that's the way Clem sees it.''
EXTRA POINTS: John Randle was named the NFC's defensive player of the month after recording six sacks in December. Randle has won five monthly awards and three of them have been in December. ... Minnesota's 40 turnovers are the most of any playoff team, as is their minus-10 turnover ratio. ... The Vikings finally sold their final 14 Metrodome suites for Sunday's playoff game this week. They even had a memo put in every player's locker asking if they were interested in doling out $11,000 for a suite. The Vikings have 106 luxury suites at the dome and want 150 for a new stadium. ... The NFL set an all-time paid attendance record in 1999 and averaged more than 65,000 fans per game for the first time ever.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: ''Don't worry about it. I'm rich.'' -- Randy Moss, on how he made it back from the Sugar Bowl without missing any practice time. Moss flew a private jet to New Orleans and back to the Twin Cities in the wee hours Wednesday morning.
EXTRA POINTS: Vikings right offensive tackle Korey Stringer has lost 50 pounds since March and is down to 330, according to offensive line coach Mike Tice. ... Gary Anderson, who missed 11 field goals this season after becoming the first perfect kicker in league history a year ago, needs seven points during the playoffs to become the NFL's all-time leading scorer in the postseason -- that is unless current leader Thurman Thomas (126 points) scores again this weekend or Dallas' Emmitt Smith, who has 120 points, one more than Anderson. ... Aikman was battling a head cold all week.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: ''We feel good about where we're at because at the beginning of the season there were 31 teams standing. Now there are 12. After Sunday night there will be eight, and we intend to be one of the eight.'' -- Vikings owner Red McCombs.
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