ST. PAUL, Minn. – After nearly two weeks of turmoil, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said that today cannot come soon enough.

With the team under fire amid allegations of players allegedly involved in sex acts on two chartered boats on Oct. 6, Winfield and his teammates want to refocus.

“For me, when I’m on the field, all I think about is what happening on the field. That’s my outlet, to get away from everything. Don’t think about what’s going on at home or anything else,” Winfield said. “Just go out there and play ball.”

The game will be played in Chicago, at Soldier Field, where the Vikings have had little success. With a 1-3 record and facing an NFC North foe, they are pressed for a win.

“We’ve got to come out here and study hard, and go out and get a win,” Winfield said. “If we get out here and start losing, the media is going to kill us. If we win a few games, it’ll help.”

Winfield said he realizes a victory over the rival Bears will not make anyone forgive the team for the alleged transgressions on the boat, but he added a positive result certainly would not hurt the club and the players.

Despite all the scrutiny, Winfield, coach Mike Tice and other veterans said the Vikings had a productive week of practices.

But Winfield stressed that players must translate that onto the field Sunday.

“Once you get on the field, if you’re not concentrating on football, it’s going to show,” Winfield said. “You can tell pretty much who is out there thinking about something else.”

A few comments about the boat incident have come up among the players, Winfield acknowledged. But he added, “We know our jobs.”

Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson said the team tried to keep conversations centered on the Bears.

“You’ve just got to go out there and do your job,” tight end Jermaine Wiggins said. “You can’t let other things get into your mind. We’ve all got jobs, and we’ve got to focus on our jobs.”

After addressing the boat allegations Wednesday, Tice has diverted all questions toward Sunday’s game.

Tice is not required by the NFL to conduct a news conference on Friday. But he always has obliged. There was a larger than normal media contingent Friday, however. Tice became testy when repeatedly asked boat-related questions, even threatening to end the interview.

“Let’s talk about Chicago,” Tice said, raising his voice. “It’s Friday. It’s been a long week, very emotionally drained. I hope you can appreciate that.”

When asked if he felt abandoned by upper management to address this issue, Tice said, “I am upper management.

“I am the voice, and the face of this football team, good, bad or indifferent. . . I’m paid to get this team to get ready to win football games. We’ve only won one football game to this point. That means I need to do a better job of getting this team ready to win football games.”

Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper said his team is focused and ready for Sunday’s game.

“We had a great week of practice,” he said Friday afternoon.

Tice said the Vikings were able to complete practices early the past three days, an indication of their preparedness. That means the coaches were not forced to repeat plays because of mental errors.

“Football-wise, we were able to accomplish that this week, for the first time in a while,” Tice said. “Fortunately, the focus on the field has been solid this week, and it should be.”

Veteran safety Darren Sharper acknowledged he has never experienced an incident of this magnitude.

But he said, “You’re always going to have distractions each week, whether it’s injuries, or you’re coming off a loss, or you didn’t play well.”



(c) 2005, St. Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.).

Visit the World Wide Web site of the Pioneer Press at http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-14-05 2252EDT


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