Friday, Oct. 17, 2003 | 10:33 a.m.
All-time series -- Vikings lead, 6-4.
Last time -- Minnesota won, 23-20, in Denver in 1999.
Notable -- QB Daunte Culpepper returns this week to go up against the league's fifth-rated pass defense. What the Broncos will have to contend with, however, is daunting, as WR Randy Moss averages 103 reception yards a game ... Moss has 6 TDs, tying him with Marvin Harrison of Indianapolis ... all that attention should free Minnesota RB Moe Williams, who's averaging 5 yards per carry ... when Denver backup QB Steve Beuerlein was first told of the foot bone that Jake Plummer broke rising from his couch, Beuerlein laughed. Sunday, the Vikes laugh loudest.
Prediction (3-3) -- Minnesota 27, Denver 10.
-- Paul Krause, a Viking from 1968-79, the NFL career record-holder with 81 interceptions and one of six Minnesota players in the Hall, on the team retiring receiver Cris Carter's number last month.
After three consecutive five-victory seasons, Dallas is already poised to match that win total Sunday in what promises to be a waltz in Detroit.
The rejuvenated Cowboys have turned their fortunes around with an electric defense, a star receiver's return to prominence and a mediocre quarterback who now watches game film immediately after games.
Oh, last but not least, the new coach has also helped a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since the 1996 postseason.
"This is the best makeover since Cher," our mole in the heart of Texas said of Bill Parcells. "Around here, he's known as Trust In Big Bill."
Parcells' impact on a team is undeniable.
When he became the boss of the New York Giants, in his first run as an NFL head coach, in 1983, the Giants had had one winning season in their previous 10 years.
A year later, New York won a playoff game.
When he became the boss in New England in 1993, the Patriots were coming off a 2-14 season. Two years later, they were in the playoffs.
When he became the boss of the New York Jets in 1997, the Jets had won a total of four games their previous two years. Two years later, they won a playoff game.
The Cowboys have responded to the system and sense of urgency.
Eagerness, our mole called it.
"Maybe they're responding out of fear of screwing up, but only their therapists know that," said our mole. "From here, it looks like Big Bill is pushing all the right buttons, including Quincy Carter's.
"All Carter has done is gone from throwing wounded ducks to looking like the second coming of Joe Willie Namath."
Carter, a third-year quarterback from Georgia, is in the middle of the league in rating and accuracy. He's among the top, however, in efficiency, as his 7.8 yards per attempts ties him with Peyton Manning of Indianapolis for third.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, a holdover from Dave Campo's previous regime, has turned his unit into a confident bunch that presses the issue in the fourth quarter.
Safety Roy Williams, cornerback Mario Edwards and linebacker Dexter Coakley are some of those ringleaders.
Eighteenth in total defense a year ago, Dallas is now tied for second, with Denver, in the league with an average yield of 259 yards.
Keep a close eye on Dallas when it plays host to Carolina (Nov. 23) and Miami (on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27), then goes to Philadelphia (Dec. 7). That's arguably the toughest three-game stretch for any team in the last six weeks of the season.
Had Parcells, 62, been a fast and furious linebacker, his career path most likely would have taken many different twists and turns.
Out of Wichita State, in 1964, he was drafted by Detroit in the seventh round. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he was with the Lions long enough to know he wasn't good enough to cut it as a professional player.
"Hey, that is the way it is," Parcells said. "Life takes funny turns. I look at it as a fortunate turn for me. It headed me more quickly to what turned out to be my profession."
He shifted his sights to coaching, landing his first assistant's gig at Hastings (Neb.) College. Two years later, he hooked on at Army where another young buck, Bob Knight, was starting his career as a basketball coach.
That those two like minds became fast friends tells anyone who needs to know about the demands Parcells can occasionally make on his players.
That's what can still strike fear in the most veteran of footballers. Galloway, for instance, noted how Parcells scared him after a July practice in San Antonio, which was quickly confirmed by tight end Dan Campbell.
"If you're not scared of coach Parcells, you're not very smart," Campbell told the Star-Telegram. "I'm scared, too."
Parcells no doubt doesn't mind having cultivated the dictatorial image of a tyrant, but the Dallas-area media hasn't felt that fury.
Quite the contrary. They adore him, says our mole. As long as, in our view, they don't get too enamored with him, like Jim Nantz did in an embarrassing on-line piece last month.
Parcells' daily 30-minute press gatherings are not to be missed. Once, he imitated Sgt. Schultz, of"Hogan's Heroes" lore, with a "I know nuttthhh-eeeen" response to an inquiry. Another time, he talked about "toe dippers," running backs who are hesitant to run the ball up the middle.
"The media loves Big Bill," said our insider. "He's far more congenial, and far more entertaining, than anyone ever expected. So far, no explosions ... just a 4-1 record."
However, New York lost, 17-6, at New England, as Shockey watched his team extend its touchdown drought to 99 minutes, 15 seconds.
He got testy last week about the team's offensive funk, but a foot problem that made him miss a practice this week shouldn't sideline him from Sunday's home game against Philadelphia.
Any good foot massagers in town, in case The Kid pops in tonight?
NFC: West -- WR Anquan Boldin, with an NFL-best 592 reception yards, is Arizona's lone bright spot. South -- Tampa Bay DE Simeon Rice leads everyone with eight sacks, putting him on pace to smash the personal mark (16) he set a year ago. North -- Who tops the NFL in interceptions? None other than Vikings S Brian Russell, a second-year pro out of San Diego State who has five. East -- Washington CB Rashad Bauman will find out what he's learned from mentor Darrell Green in his first start Sunday, in place of the injured Fred Smoot, in Buffalo.
AFC: West -- Kansas City has the most points, with 191, in the NFL. It led the league last year, with 467, and has never led the NFL in scoring in back-to-back seasons. South -- After allowing QB David Carr to get dumped a league-record 76 times last season, Houston has given up only eight sacks this year. North -- Steelers QB Tommy Maddox has been sacked an NFL-high 20 times. East -- RB Willis McGahee practiced this week and might make his NFL debut Nov. 9, in Dallas. The Bills, ranked last with only 57.5 rushing yards a game, need him.