Dennis Green replaced the retiring Jerry Burns as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 1992, and during his decade-long tenure with the purple reached the playoffs eight times, including two trips to the NFC title game. In 2001, the Vikings finished with a losing record for the first time under Green. The Vikings bought out his contract on January 4, 2002.
After spending two seasons as an analyst for ESPN, Green was hired as head coach by the Arizona Cardinals in January 2004. The Cardinals improved dramatically under Green and, in his third season, the coach delivered the press conference that continues to be talked about. It came after a Monday Night Football game in which the Cardinals blew a 20-point lead to the Super Bowl-bound Chicago Bears. The generally soft-spoken Green blew a gasket, bellering the following:
“The Bears are what we thought they were. They're what we thought they were. We played them in preseason — who the (heck) takes a third game of the preseason like it's (BS)? (BS)! We played them in the third game — everybody played three quarters — the Bears are who we thought they were! That's why we took the (darn) field. Now if you want to crown them, then crown their (butt)! But they are who we thought they were! And we let 'em off the hook!”
Green later apologized for the tirade, which is still used heavily in NFL media coverage today, often comically, to describe the obvious flaws of an opponent and the failure to capitalize on that knowledge. It was mocked in a Coors TV advertisement, and during the Cardinals’ 2008 NFC championship game, a sign in the crowd proclaimed, “We are who we thought we were.”
So, what about Dennis Green? Is he who we thought he is? I can offer a little first-hand insight. I met him in 1992 at an Associated Press Sports Editors meeting in Alexandria.
For weeks, the Minnesota sports headlines talked about “the new sheriff in town,” and how he was cleaning house with the Vikings’ roster and setting the tone for how he wanted things ran. Green said the sheriff’s badge was not a true fit.
“My kids, they hear this stuff about new sheriff in town, and they laugh,” said Green, laughing himself. He was truly a nice guy.
It was clear Green knew what he was doing with the Vikings and, no matter how it ended, you have to consider his career in Minnesota a success. He may have been a teddy bear at home, but he ran a tight ship on the field (at least until the end).
So, was Denny Green who we thought he was? If you thought he was a good guy and good coach, then yes.
The Vikings’ most memorable season under Green was, of course, 1998, when they went 15-1 and blew it in the NFC championship game against Atlanta.
The 1998 team and the 2009 crew with Favre (and despite Childress) were the two of the best Viking squads in franchise history.
Nothing against current Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, but the Dennis Green era looks pretty good right now.