The Minnesota Vikings are 2-0 and have all of the traits of a typical Bud Grant team.
They beat the 49ers, 28-21, in the season opener by scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes. They beat Tampa Bay, 31-16, in large part because of a blocked punt recovered on the Buccaneers' five that was turned into a touchdown.
The Vikings have forced 12 turnovers in two games, including seven by the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers, and have committed just three, for a league-best plus-nine turnover rating.
Perhaps the biggest turnover came when Coach Les Steckel was fired after a 3-13 finish in 1984 and Grant was paged to return from his one-year retirement. For the Vikings, this turnover was a plus-one.
The Vikings will play the Chicago Bears (also 2-0) Thursday night in the Metrodome, and does anybody remember the last time the Vikings and Bears played a game of glamor? It might have been in November 1977 when, even though Walter Payton ran for a league-record 275 yards, the Vikings won, 10-7, and edged the Bears for the NFC Central title.
"Bud's kept his wits about him. I think he's having more fun now than in the past," ninth-year linebacker Scott Studwell said yesterday. "I think his attitude is rejuvenated, too. I think he's closer to his players now and his attitude is lighter. I think he's come to the realization that this life won't last forever, so let's enjoy it now."
One third of the Vikings' 45-man roster is new and several of these players have been, or should become, men of impact. Defensive end Keith Millard and wide receiver Anthony Carter have come from the U.S. Football League. And draft picks such as linebacker Chris Doleman and George (Buster) Rhymes have produced.
The return to health of veteran defensive linemen such as Mark Mullaney (one interception) and Doug Martin (two sacks) has brought a production that was lacking in 1984. Quarterback Tommy Kramer, who missed seven games last season, hasn't been spectacular by any means (two interceptions, two touchdown passes), but his quick release and nimble feet have kept his sack total to just one.
"I think we've won these first two games on defense," Studwell said. "We haven't played well statistically. We haven't blown anybody out. But we're capitalizing on other teams' mistakes and that's a Bud Grant trait, too.
"Bud can recognize when you're up and when you're down. Against the 49ers, he felt like if we could stay close, we'd have a chance. As it turned out, that's exactly what happened."
Since the league moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978, the greatest one-year improvement by a team was a seven-game swing. The 49ers improved from 6-10 in 1980 to 13-3 the next season and Detroit advanced from 2-14 to 9-7 from 1979 to 1980.
The Vikings, by all accounts, have one of the easiest schedules in the league and could conceivably match that. Their final five games are against Philadelphia (twice), Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans, a combined 0-8.
"People around here are shocked, surprised and ecstatic," Studwell said. "At the start of the year, realistically, a .500 season would have been considered a successful season. That is amended every week, though."
Kansas City kicker Nick Lowery, who grew up in McLean, Va., has been virtually unstoppable so far.
Lowery has made all nine of his field goal attempts so far, including two from 52 yards and another from 58, and he's scored 35 points in two games. That computes to 280 points for a full season, which would shatter the single-season record of 161 points set by the Redskins' Mark Moseley in 1983.
Lowery is the standard of success by which former Maryland kicker Jess Atkinson measures himself. Yesterday, the Giants signed Atkinson, cut by New England this summer, to fill in for ailing Ali Haji-Sheikh.
"If there is ever a person deserving of an opportunity," Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said yesterday, "it's Jess Atkinson. He's got that cool, poised confidence. He never gets rattled by a game situation."