Vikings face another problem, this one off-field

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Mike Tice leaned for a moment against a soggy blocking sled on a gray afternoon after practice, the trademark pencil behind his ear and a long, pensive look on his face.

The weary coach had plenty to ponder. Fixing Minnesota's problems on the field seemed to take second place, as an inquiry continued into an allegedly out-of-control party involving several Vikings players, drunkenness, nudity and visible sexual activity on a pair of charter cruises last week.

No criminal charges had been filed Wednesday. Sgt. Haans Vitek of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office said it could take a couple of weeks before investigators finish interviewing people on the boats.

"It doesn't make things any simpler," Tice said, "and quite
frankly I'm not happy about it."

Stephen Doyle, an attorney representing the boats' owners, has said cornerback Fred Smoot paid for one of the cruises on Lake Minnetonka last Thursday. A total of about 90 people were present, Doyle said, on both of the boats -- which returned to shore more than two hours earlier than scheduled when crew members complained about wild, lewd behavior. A police report was filed Sunday.

Smoot's agent, Bus Cook, refuted Doyle's claims Wednesday night, telling ESPN.com's John Clayton that the cornerback didn't pay for one of the cruises.

"Fred Smoot did not pay for this boat trip in any way," Cook said. "He didn't write a check for it. He didn't put it on his credit card. He did not pay money in any regard for this trip."

Cook, however, didn't deny that Smoot was one of the players in attendance.

Smoot, usually one of the team's most talkative and energetic
players, said he was planning to take legal action against
"whoever put my name in there." He glumly declined to comment
further as he walked to his car in the parking lot.

"They're killing my name," Smoot said. "Point blank.
Somebody's going to have to pay for it."

The locker room was mostly empty during the time it was open to the media, and all the players who spoke refused to comment on the outing or any of the implications. Running back Mewelde Moore acknowledged he was present on one of the boats, but he said he saw none of the alleged behavior.

"That's crazy. Sex? Come on," said Moore, the team's leading rusher with 187 yards.

A television reporter claimed to have obtained a list of attendees that included free safety Darren Sharper's name on it.

"Somebody must have lied," Sharper said, shaking his head.

The timing of this -- the latest in a long line of extracurricular trouble this team has found itself in over the years -- was terrible.

Expected by many observers to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the Vikings (1-3) were awful through the first quarter of their season. Their losses came by a combined score of 91-31, and their lone victory was against the homeless, struggling New Orleans Saints.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf just finished conducting a two-day organizational planning retreat in which an off-the-field code of
conduct, among many other topics, was discussed.

Then there's the stadium Wilf wants built, a $675 million structure in suburban Minneapolis that would require a public contribution of nearly $400 million -- plus a special legislative session called by Gov. Tim Pawlenty if a deal is to be consummated this year.

Wilf didn't return a phone call or an e-mail requesting comment. Pawlenty, asked if the allegations would hurt the team at the
Capitol, sidestepped the question.

"Setting aside the stadium issues, if these allegations are true, they're awful," Pawlenty said. "To have football players or
anyone else act in that manner is awful."

Even the die-hard fans were disgusted. One local radio station
repeatedly spun the theme song to "Love Boat" in between angry
calls denouncing the alleged conduct.

"You don't know what a guy does when you go home or what he does at night," said linebacker Keith Newman. "As long as a guy is coming focused and ready to play football this week, that's all I'm concerned about. ... You're going to have some adversity, but I'm focused right now on the Chicago Bears, and how to get this football team turned around."

That's what Tice was trying to worry about.

"It can tear a team apart or bring us together," he said,
"and it's my job to bring the team together."