Bud Grant, the Viking coach, is fussing and fretting. His team, he says, is weary from four games on the road in last five weeks. His pregame preparations, he grumbles, have been sabotaged by an NFL rule that says his team had to be in Dallas 48 hours before the kick-off of Sunday's NFC title game.
He is even at odds with the fellows who say the Dallas Cowboys are whopping 11-point favorites to advance to the Super Bowl. The kickoff is set at 5:30 p.m. EST and the game will be televised by WTOP-TV-9.
"In a one-game series, I wouldn't give you one point on anybody," Grant said. "If you're talking about Dallas and Minnesota in a four-of-seven series, then I think Dallas would win. But somewhere in there, we might win a game. It just might be on Sunday."
The Vikings have always done quite nicely in these NFL championship affairs, winning four of four, only to lay a colossal egg two weeks later in the Big One.
The Cowboys have won three of their last four conference little games, and seem primed to send the Vikings back north for the long, cold winter. Each man on both teams earns $9,000 for today's affair, with an added incentive of knowing the Super Bowl winner earns $18,000 more.
Even Grant admits his team is an underdog against a Cowboy club that won the season opener between the clubs, 16-10, in overtime, with Tony Dorsett watching most of that contest from the sidelines.
But Dorsett is now The Main Man in the Cowboys multi-talented attack and, as Grant admitted, "we played Walter Payton on a bad field and he gained 275 yards. What's Tony Dorsett going to do on a good field?"
Plenty. "He gives us a dimension we didn't have in that first game," and Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach, the No. 1 thrower in the NFC and the man mainly responsible for the Cowboys leading the conference in total offense. "Tony's a threat to score every time he touches the football."
The Vikings have been vulnerable to the rush all season, and there is little reason to believe the Cowboys will not be able to control the ball on the ground against a Minnesota team that allowed opponents four yards per carry.
Still, the Vikings gave up only 15 more points than Dallas. And the day Payton got his 275 yards, the Chicago Beats managed only 10 points.
Dallas coach Tom Landry believes Sunday's game will be low-scoring, "just like most of the games when our teams play. They bend a lot, yes, but when you look up at that scoreboard they never give you very many points."
The Vikings also believe they can move the football against a Dallas defense that allowed opponents only 229 yards total offense a game, the lowest figure in the conference.
"I think we have a good chance," said quarterback Bob Lee, who has taken over for injured Francis Tarkenton. "How else should you feel going into a championship game. If we're not a representative team, wouldn't be coming to Dallas, would we?"
A dropback passer, Lee rarely leaves the pocket, unlike Tarkenton. He will be working against a Cowboy defensive line that led the NFL with 53 sacks. Harvey Martin, the big defensive end, had 23 of those direct hits and says, "I plan on meeting Mr. Lee whenever I can."
If Lee has the time, he will be throwing mainly at wide receivers Ahmad Rashad and Sammy White, who combined for 92 catches in 1977. And on key third down situations, he often aims for tight end Stu Voight.
In the teams last meeting, running back Chuck Foreman also had a busy day, gaining 66 yards in 22 carries and catching five passes for 56 more. "I'm sure they'll try and shut me off," he said. "If they do, we've got a lot of other guys who will beat them."
Both teams seem relatively healthy, though the Vikings will be handicapped without running back Brent McClanahan, who underwent knee surgery two weeks ago. He will be replaced by Robert Miller, who gained only 146 yards all season.
Cowboy running back Preston Pearson was able to practice late in the week, despite a charleyhorse. He should also be available, mostly on third-down, for obvious passing situations in place of Dorsett.
The Vikings will get no help from the elements this time. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-40s, and no chance of precipitation.
Grant was asked the other day what sort of weather he would prefer. "We'd like to have a great crosswind and footing on the field that was not constant," he said. "We have five tons of snow coming by truck from Minnesota, but I see where the Cowboys won't let us bring it into the stadium.
"We'll each take in a five-gallon pail. We'd like to feel at home."
The snow was unloaded today in front of the hotel where the Vikes are staying. Foreman packed a snowball and threw it at a photographer.