Some people -- the Minnesota Vikings for instance - cannot seem to take a hint. Like aging and threadbare relatives who always embarrass themselves and the family at the worst possible times, they had to be invited to the NFC championship game here Sunday, although the journey figured to be too long and taxing this year. At least that's what everyone hoped.
Well, someone looked out the window the other day and screamed: "Hey, Harley, they actually showed up." Indeed, there was the old flivver out front - again - with Bud Grant still at the wheel, cranky as ever, although some of the family realizes a merry fellow hides behind that stone face.
Don't know why we had to come so soon, Grant grumped.
Why didn't you come next Tuesday? somebody thought.
The NFL is not quite in mourning - yet. But when Grant volunteered that the world beyond the frigid zone was not especially happy with his Vikings playing for the NFC title Sunday, he was right.
Ordinarly, this would be a delightful prospect, the aging Vikings vs. the frisky Cowboys, character vs. the characters, a 34-year-old offensive tackle, Ralph Neely, who just announced his retirement, vs. a 40-year-old defensive end, Jim Marshall, who just announced his unretirement, a count-the-frowns pool with the coaches.
The problem is that this game is not for all the marbles. There is a tomorrow. Super Hype 12, and every time the Vikings get there they can't beat the Ways and Means Committee, let alone the AFC champs. So who wants the Vikes to win Sunday? Only blood kin and the two networks not telecasting the Super Bowl.
The worrisome thing is that they're here, and thus have a chance to win. A slim one, thankfully, but more surprising things than a tired team with a backup quarterback and over-the-hill placekicker beating the Cowboys have happened in this century.
What the Cowboys ought to do is what everyone else has done against the Vikings in the Super Bowl - smother the defensive line and allow the runners. Tony Dorsett and Robert Newhouse, to set up the fine Viking linebackers and secondary for Roger Staubach passes.
They ought to do that with vigor, because the Vikings hardly have had a day of rest, let alone practice this week. Because they have had to travel from Los Angeles back to Minnesota early Tuesday and then here three days later, what should have been a light tuneup yesterday was almost a full-scale workout.
"It's been a struggle," Grant admitted. "We've always been a plus turnover team (that's a team that gets more fumbles and interceptions than it gives). Except this year. We started the year down (that six-point loss to Dallas in overtime) and ended up minus-18.
"And we've had four different practice sites in four days. Dallas, I believe, has been home nearly a month straight. That's absurd."
Except that the wily Grant knows that almost everything is conspiring to make the Vikings wonderfully motivated. The theme is so familiar, and so true in this situation. Few people give the team any chance - and even fewer want it to win. The palyers are old and tried. Fran Tarkenton is still limping in Georgia and Fred Cox actually missed four extra points this season.
"And they're always up for the right games," said Dallas offensive tackle Pat Donovan. Well, the right NFC games, anyway.
"But you know they won't be like the Bears last week," Donovan added. "They didn't play as well as they had in 80 per cent of their regular-season games, because this was their first time in the playoffs - and they're a young team."
And older players are hungrier for victory, as even casual Redskin watchers will testify.
"We were watching films this week," Donovan continued, "and there's this double-team block on Marshall where he simply lifts one guy up and flips him on his back. Ol'Neely says: 'Hey, he don't look so old to me.'"
Ol'Neely don't look so old himself, except his knees ache ever so much. And he was walking among his teammates getting autographs on one last football, just in case yesterday's practice would be his last.
"Fourteen years ago, just before my senior year at Oklahoma," he said, "a magazine wrote that if I'd just be a little mean there's no telling how far I might go in football. And all the superstars that year are selling insurance."
The Cowboys have their own proud corps of elder statesmen - Neely, Staubach, Jethro Pugh and a few others - to inspire the pups and enough pure skill and youth to blow by the purple menace from the north and give the Super Bowl some pregame tingle.
Put them down gently, Harvey, but do put them down.