When asked on a conference call this week how the organization has balanced striving for competitiveness in the present while still building a future contender, Fisher recited a startling statistic that 24 players on the roster for the 2011 season opener are out of the NFL now.
"We're not there yet. We have a lot of work to do. But we're very fond of this team right now, just because of the way it's responded," Fisher said. "And it understands that it's OK to come to work and have fun. And when it's time to put the fun aside and get to work, we do that."
The Vikings (7-6) have parlayed Adrian Peterson's remarkable post-surgical performance and six wins in seven games inside their noisy dome into a push for the playoffs themselves. They beat San Francisco decisively on Sept. 23 to get the league's attention and, despite some bad games by quarterback Christian Ponder, have managed to avoid losing any more than two in a row. Chicago and Seattle, both 8-5, and Washington and Dallas, both 7-6, are the teams ahead of Minnesota and St. Louis in the chase for two NFC wild-card spots. The Vikings lost to Seattle and Washington, putting them in a tough spot for tiebreakers.
"I'm trying to express to these young guys that you don't get the chance to go to the playoffs very often. At least I haven't. I've only been there three times in nine years," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "If you don't know what playoff football is all about, it's the only thing we play for."
While the Vikings, like the Rams, have a lot left to do on their rebuilding project, they've similarly been able to enjoy some ahead-of-schedule success. Really, when young players are holding down so many positions on the field, what's the harm in winning? Coach Leslie Frazier has continually pointed to April 23, the date when nearly the entire roster showed up to begin the spring strength and conditioning program.