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Cries for Gus just a matter of time

If you turn an ear to the southeast and tilt your head just so, you can hear it. The sound of extremely well-compensated Twin Cities sports anchors and radio personalities griping about how Mankato - all of an hour from the big city - is second o...

If you turn an ear to the southeast and tilt your head just so, you can hear it.

The sound of extremely well-compensated Twin Cities sports anchors and radio personalities griping about how Mankato - all of an hour from the big city - is second only to hell on the list of places they don't want to be because it is pretty much located at the end of the earth.

Of third-string linebackers blowing off the assembled media's requests for a five-minute interview with inaudible excuses.

Of 40-year-old men and women dressed in replica jerseys shoving aside kids to beg professional athletes for autographs.

Yes, it is nearly time for your favorite sports writer's most joyous time of the year: Minnesota Vikings' training camp. It begins Saturday on the campus of Minnesota State University Mankato.

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All indications are this edition of the Purple will be a good one. Defensive draft picks and free-agent signings should assure that. At the very least, this year's Vikings should be able to take the NFL's worst team into overtime before losing the final game of the regular-season and, with it, a playoff berth.

But being the detached observer he is, your correspondent does not care about victories and losses. No, he is after much more entertaining fodder than that.

So while he is in Mankato for a couple of days next weekend to file reports for the Purple faithful in Fargo-Moorhead, your columnist will block out all other distractions and keep his ears peeled for the first cries of last season's favorite fan mantra:

"We want Gus!"

That would be Gus Frerotte, the backup quarterback to Daunte Culpepper.

You remember Gus. He started two games last autumn for an injured Culpepper - and played well - as the Vikings started the season 6-0.

After Culpepper returned and the Vikings started skidding to a 3-7 finish - the cause-and-effect relationship between the two occurrences was virtually nil - the cries for all Gus, all the time became deafening.

The anonymous callers to radio talk shows were relentless and vitriolic in their criticism of Culpepper. The e-mails to your columnist - again, mostly anonymous - were hateful. Many comments were tinged with racist code words.

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It was, in three decades of paying attention to the Vikings, the most irrational - and undeserving - reaction to one player's performance ever recorded.

Time out for a refresher: Culpepper was a Pro Bowl selection who completed 65 percent of his passes (career high) with 25 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions (career low). His quarterback rating was well above his career average.

Yet in the eyes of the zealots, the Vikings' failures could all be placed on Culpepper's shoulders.

It was an amazing and frightening thing to watch unfold.

And it will happen again this season. Bet on it. The only question is when.

This is where your columnist will get his jollies this season.

Will the first calls for Culpepper's head come during training camp, perhaps even the first couple of days, when the quarterback throws behind Randy Moss for the first time?

Or will the Frerotte chants first be heard during the intra-squad scrimmage Aug. 10?

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Or, bucking all odds, can the dopes hold off spewing their venom until at least the first preseason game Aug. 17 against Arizona at the Metrodome?

After much analysis (defined as three or four minutes of thought while munching a Subway over lunch), we are ready to make a prediction.

Monday, Sept. 20, at about 10 p.m. Central. That is when the Vikings, after a season-opening victory over Dallas at home, will be trailing the Philadelphia Eagles at halftime of a nationally televised game. That is when the whine-line callers will begin heaping abuse on Culpepper and calling for their hero Gus.

And the abuse will come regardless of the real reason the Vikings are losing - whether it's defense, coaching, a superior opponent or just plain dumb luck.

That is when your able columnist can kick back in his La-Z-Boy with a satisfied smile. He knew the outcry against the ultra-talented, clear-cut

No. 1 quarterback was coming, just like he knows he'll see adults battling 8-year-olds for the attention of Vikings players later this week when training camp opens in Mankato. Some things are just that easy to predict.

Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard Saturdays at 8 a.m. on the WDAY Golf Show (970 AM). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com

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