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Vikes Look To Third String QB

For the last month, Dennis Green's Vikings has had two first-rate starting quarterbacks, Randall Cunningham and Brad Johnson.

Now Green has the same problem of many of his colleagues -- no legitimate starting QBs. At least none that is healthy.

Cunningham injured a knee Sunday, then Johnson broke the thumb on his throwing hand, although he played with it through the entire second half of Minnesota's 31-24 win over New Orleans.

Johnson had a purple cast put on his right hand Monday. It is his third major injury in the last four games he has played, and this one is expected to keep him out at least four weeks.

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  • And while Cunningham, who had chips removed from his right knee Monday, could play against Cincinnati at the Metrodome next Sunday, the starting quarterback is almost sure to be Jay Fiedler.

    Fiedler is smart. He went to Dartmouth.

    And he has good genes. His father has been a successful high school basketball coach in New York City. The quarterback is also a distant relative of the late Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler.

    But in the last four seasons -- he was unemployed last year -- he has thrown exactly four passes, all on Oct. 18, mopping up against Washington. He completed two for 29 yards.

    The Vikings' most likely scenario for Sunday's game has Fiedler starting with Todd Bouman as the backup and Cunningham available in case of emergency. Green said Cunningham's status would be determined later in the week.

    "I'm excited," said Fiedler, who spent 1994 and 1995 as Philadelphia's No. 3 quarterback. "It's been a long time, five years since I came out of colleg. Everyone dreams of getting his first start in the NFL, and this is it for me. I'm real excited for the chance."

    The injuries to Johnson and Cunningham were part of a bad day for quarterbacks. Steve Young and Erik Kramer sat out; John Elway threw three passes: Troy Aikman injured a finger, although he returned to complete 10 of 11 in the second half against the Giants; Jeff George reinjured his groin; and Mark Brunell sat out the second half of Jacksonville's win over the Bengals to rest his groin pull.

    In other words, the second half of the season started like the first half began.

    In the first two weeks of the season, 11 quarterbacks were knocked out of games with injuries. Then people stayed healthy -- until Sunday.

    Now Minnesota, which at 8-1 has the best record in the NFC, has problems again. But at least they have those two quarterbacks.

    "I'd like to come back and play next week if I could," said Johnson. "You deal with the cards you were dealt."

    Cincinnati might not be a problem, although the Bengals tend to win games in the second half of the year, when they no longer have much to play for. The Vikings, particularly at home, can beat them by handing off to Robert Smith and letting Fiedler throw jump balls to Cris Carter, Jake Reed and Randy Moss.

    Cunningham should be ready when Green Bay comes to Minnesota, although who knows how mobile he'll be against a rejuvenated pass rush featuring Reggie White, Santana Dotson, Vonnie Holliday and the blitzing LeRoy Butler. That game could decide home-field advantage for the playoffs.

    Then the Vikes get three days rest before going to Dallas for a Thanksgiving game.

    Pass rushes and tough road games haven't been much of a concern to Fiedler this season. Up to this point, his biggest problem has been getting people to spell his name correctly.

    "I don't think anyone's spelled my name right or pronounced it right for a long time," Fiedler said Monday. "It's F-I-E-D-L-E-R, and it's pronounced FEED-lur."

    Fiedler was 21-7-1 as a three-year starter at Dartmouth, earning All-Ivy League honors in 1992-93. He set school records for completions (456), attempts (813) and yards passing (6,684), then spent two years with the Eagles.

    They released him before the 1996 season. The Bengals gave him a shot in training camp but released him before the season began. That was his last NFL job before the Vikings brought him to camp this summer. They cut him, too, only to bring him back to serve as Cunningham's backup when Johnson went down Sept. 13.

    "If Jay's sole purpose this year is to win the Cincinnati game, and we can get Randall Cunningham and/or Brad Johnson back, then he's worth every dollar he's making," said offensive coordinator Brian Billick.

    Before this season, Fiedler's only work in football the last two years was with Amsterdam in the World League in 1997 -- he completed 42.2 percent of his passes with two TDs and eight intrceptions -- and as an assistant coach in '97 at Hofstra, not far from his hometown of Oceanside, N.Y.

    Now he's probably going to be in charge of an offense that is averaging 33 points a game and trails the Broncos by four points in the league scoring race.

    "Fairy tale, isn't it?" Fiedler said. ``It's been great. I've had a lot of ups and downs. Right now my roller coaster is riding up to the top."

    Better still, he will be surrounded by a star-studded offense that is the envy of everyone outside of Denver. The Vikings say they are confident in Fiedler and believe they can keep rolling, at least for one week, with him at the helm.

    "That's what separates great teams from average teams," running back Leroy Hoard said, "teams that just make it to the playoffs and teams that go all the way."

    © 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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