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Minnesota Scandal

One week after news surfaced that Minnesota Vikings players had behaved wantonly and recklessly cruising on Lake Minnetonka, team owner Zygmunt Wilf stepped aggressively into grassroots damage control mode.

On Tuesday morning, he addressed the Rochester, Minn., Chamber of Commerce at the Ramada Inn. Later, he met with the St. Cloud Rotary Club at the Radisson Hotel. Wilf made brief remarks at both stops and fielded some difficult questions from disappointed fans.

"You have to go through some tough love sometimes," he said in St. Cloud. "My goal is to win championships. But now, my goal is to make sure the organization does this with class."

After returning to his office in Eden Prairie, Lester Bagley, the Vikings' vice president of public affairs, offered this perspective:

"Our ownership was as shocked and appalled by the behavior that was reported as our fans were. The way Mr. Wilf is looking at it is it's a chance to set a new course, a new tone and build a strong foundation.

"That's really the only thing we can do, look at it as an opportunity to get it right."

One of Wilf's first acts as the new owner of the Vikings in June was to refurbish the decaying viking ship that marks the team's Winter Park training facility.

A few new planks and a fresh coat of paint restored the authentic replica from Norway to its former glory. In retrospect, it was a purely cosmetic exercise. For the Vikings' ship is listing badly -- considering all that has happened in the last six weeks, the franchise finds itself at arguably its lowest point in a rich 45-year history.

Just when folks thought it couldn't get any worse than head coach Mike Tice's Super Bowl ticket scalping scandal, wide receiver Randy Moss' mooning episode, the missteps of penny-pinching former owner Red McCombs and the laugh-out-loud attempts of running back Onterrio Smith to avoid drug detection with a contraption known as the Whizzinator … it, amazingly, got worse.

On Oct. 11, the very day Wilf was winding up a two-day Vikings management retreat (subject: How to build the Vikings into a first-class organization) in Chaska, Minn., the dark secret leaked into the public domain. The previous Thursday, when the players should have been soul-searching and focusing on turning around a 1-3 start, they were partying hard on Lake Minnetonka.

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office is investigating a complaint by Al & Alma's Supper Club and Charter Cruises in Mound, Minn., that alleges 17 Vikings players participated in a sex and alcohol party aboard two boats. The cruise company charged that some players brought strippers on board and participated in numerous lewd acts. Crew members, including an 18-year-old, were invited to participate with cash as an incentive, according to attorney Stephen Doyle. Fearing for its safety, Doyle said, the crew ended the cruise, scheduled for 3 hours, after 40 minutes.

There has been no formal action yet, but misdemeanor charges for lewd behavior could soon be filed against some players. If it is discovered that prostitutes were flown in from out of state, as some sources have suggested, the FBI would likely enter the case and felony charges could be part of the fallout.

Daunte Culpepper
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
It's been a rough year for Daunte Culpepper.

On Sunday, at Soldier Field, the scand

al seemed to affect the Vikings adversely. Despite having two weeks to prepare for a team with an anemic offense, they lost 28-3 to the Bears. In Minnesota's five games (four of them losses), the offense has scored exactly five touchdowns. In the past 25 offensive series, the Vikings have produced a single touchdown.

Quarterback Daunte Culpepper, a Pro Bowl player a year ago, has been awful. In 2004, Culpepper set an NFL record for combined total offense, passing for 4,717 yards and running for an additional 407. His passer rating was 110.0, one of the best single-season totals in history. This year's figure is 62.8, ranked 29th among the top 30 quarterbacks. Culpepper has already thrown 12 interceptions, one more than each of the last two seasons.

Though people at the team's Winter Park facility insist that the loss of Moss to the Oakland Raiders is not a major factor, it is clear Culpepper misses him. With Moss gone and no comparable threat on the roster, teams are throwing exotic defenses at Culpepper, who, in his seventh season, has looked like a rookie again. Gone, too, to Miami, is former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who successfully convinced Culpepper he didn't have to make a big play on every play.

Tice pulled Jerry Rhome out of retirement during the bye week and his first game with the title of Vikings offensive assistant/passing game resulted in a total of three points.

While much of the pressure has fallen on the broad shoulders of Tice, a 14-year tight end in the NFL, Wilf has maintained that he will not fire Tice this season.

"I'm behind the coach," Wilf said Tuesday in St. Cloud. "We're trying to be like a family, and when you're going through a difficult time, everyone needs each other's support."

On Monday, the coach himself said -- against his better judgment? -- he would not resign.

You can see the strain when Tice massages his temples on the sideline and discusses the state of his interminably queasy stomach.

"Stress does that to you," Tice said. "Sometimes you wake up and you say, 'Man, I didn't have anything to drink last night. I didn't have anything fattening. Why do I want to puke?'

"Then you realize, 'Oh, that's right."

As the investigation continues into an alleged sex party involving Minnesota Vikings players, the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune on Saturday named quarterback Daunte Culpepper as one of several team members on Lake Minnetonka charter boats where the incident is believed to have occurred.

In addition to Culpepper, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, cornerback Fred Smoot, running back Mewelde Moore, all-pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams, tight end Jermaine Wiggins, safety Darren Sharper, running back Moe Williams, cornerback Ralph Brown, wide receivers Nate Burleson, Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor and Koren Robinson were passengers, reported the newspaper, citing an unnamed source with direct knowledge of the case.

Culpepper declined comment, and McKinnie said, "I'm upset my name is on the list, but I'm going to let my lawyer handle that."

But Robinson said Saturday that he was not on either boat and was upset the Star Tribune associated him with this incident, given his effort to rebuild his life.

"I wasn't there," Robinson said. "As far as the whole situation, I just know I wasn't on the boat, and I don't want to get involved. I don't want my name brought up because of what I just went through and what I'm still going through.

"So for my name to be brought up like that is just crazy and upsetting, because I don't want anyone looking at me because I had nothing to do with it."

Robinson struggled with substance abuse for several years, and he checked out of a 12-step, 30-day program at the University of South Carolina on Aug. 28. He signed with the Vikings on Sept. 7. He is in the NFL's substance abuse program, and he gets randomly tested for alcohol and drugs multiple times a month.

After practice on Oct. 6, the day of the boat party, Robinson said he proceeded to the hotel he was temporarily living in, gathered his belongings and moved into a home he purchased in Eden Prairie. Because of the party, Robinson said he did not want to "bother anybody" and ask for help from teammates. Robinson said he finished up around 8:30 p.m. and called his son Marquise, who turned 4 that day.

"I'm going to see where this is going to go," Robinson said when asked about his name being mentioned by the Star Tribune. "But if it goes any further, I'm definitely going to protect my name."

Since Wednesday, Culpepper, Wiggins, Moe Williams, Brown and Taylor all declined comment when asked about the boat scandal. Smoot has denied arranging the boats, as attorney Stephen Doyle, who represents Al & Alma's Supper Club and Charter Cruises, has said.

Moore said earlier last week that he was on the boat but denied witnessing any sexual activity.

Doyle declined comment on the list of players Saturday. A Hennepin County sheriff's office sergeant said Saturday his office wouldn't comment on any part of the investigation until it is completed.

The incident occurred Oct. 6, when members of the 2005 Vikings rookie class rented the boats with about 90 guests. Some team members are accused of participating in activities that involved strippers, lap dances and sex acts.

On Friday, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said he would fine, suspend or take further action against any players found to be involved.

Reported by Joshua Manning

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