EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Mike Zimmer's hands went into the air the moment the ball hit the turf. He kept them there but an instant — a nanosecond in comparison to the hours of work it took to get to that moment.
The Vikings outlasted their arch rival, the Packers, for a 20-13 win to claim their first NFC North title since 2009. It took beyond every last second before Xavier Rhodes and Anthony Barr knocked down Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary attempt after the clock struck 0:00.
As Zimmer began walking across Lambeau Field, he was stopped and surprised from behind by Chad Greenway, Brandon Fusco and Jarius Wright with a 10-gallon outpouring of support.
It's not often Zimmer's been caught off guard, and definitely not his style to celebrate when he knows so much work and more goals remained, but even he cracked a smile after the Gatorade shower on a 24-degree night at Lambeau Field.
The Vikings (11-5) earned the No. 3 seed in the NFC Playoffs and the opportunity to host the two-time defending conference champ Seahawks (10-6) in a Wild Card game at noon (CT) Sunday.
The matchup will pit rarely demonstrative and often blunt Zimmer, in just his second season as an NFL head coach, against Pete Carroll, known for zipping his way up and down the sidelines, high-fiving players and waxing poetically on conference calls.
For recreation, Carroll is known to shoot hoops. Zimmer? Clay targets.
"I've never met [Carroll], but from the outside looking in, I'd imagine they're different human beings," Harrison Smith said. "As far as their teams are constructed, I can see some similarities there."
As different as their personalities appear from afar, Zimmer and Carroll share common football philosophies and competitor's mentalities.
Both rose through the NFL ranks as defensive backs coaches, then as coordinators. They have maintained the importance of defense, special teams' role in creating beneficial field position and believe in a strong running game to move the chains, control the clock, rest their defenses and take away scoring opportunities.
Smith said he views that as a "winning formula," adding, "They're obviously both very good coaches, and I think they probably both recognize that."
Defensive end Brian Robison said the similarities that do exist show up in how the teams play.
"They're both big field position guys. That's a big deal," Robison said. "They want to create turnovers and they want to be really good on third down. They want to have smart teams and try to eliminate the penalties. I think that's where you see the comparison.
"If you look at them from afar, they're totally different," Robison added. "Pete Carroll is always smiling and Zimmer is never smiling, so I think that's the biggest difference there, but I think they're both coaches you'd love to play for."
Zimmer did slightly smile and briefly laugh this week when asked about two coaches with similar philosophies having different personalities.
"Yeah, I'm sure he's not like me, Zimmer said, before adding, "He's a former defensive coach, a former defensive backs coach so I think similarities are kind of there. He worked for Coach [Bud] Grant, and I worked for some defensive coaches, so I think it's all kind of, and it's interchangeable a bit."
Thirty years ago, Carroll walked through the same halls of Winter Park that Zimmer, his staff, players and Grant strolled through this week. Carroll was hired in 1985 by Grant, the Hall of Famer who remains a consultant with the Vikings and will be the honorary captain Sunday. Legend Jerry Burns followed Grant in 1986 and retained Carroll on his staff. In 1990, Carroll became defensive coordinator for the New York Jets. He still remembers one streak of 17 straight days when the temperature in Minnesota stayed below 0.
Born in San Francisco, Carroll has been on the East Coast or West Coast for more than 25 years since: the Jets from 1990-93 as a defensive coordinator, followed by one season as head coach; defensive coordinator of the 49ers from 1995-96; head coach of the Patriots (1997-99); head coach at Southern Cal (2001-09) until becoming Seattle's head coach in 2010.
The Seahawks are in the postseason a fourth-straight time and aiming to make a run for their third consecutive appearance in the Super Bowl.
Zimmer, an Illinois native, spent his first 15 seasons coaching in college, before becoming defensive backs coach of the Cowboys (1994-99) and being promoted to defensive coordinator (2000-06) in Dallas. A year in the same role followed in Atlanta, before Zimmer helped transform Cincinnati's defense (2008-13).
In two seasons in Minnesota, Zimmer has led a Vikings team that ranked 32nd in points allowed per game before his arrival in 2013 to fifth in the NFL this season. The Vikings are chasing the Seahawks in that category. Seattle became the first team to lead the NFL in stinginess four seasons in a row since Cleveland did so from 1953-57.
Carroll said Zimmer's influence is still helping Cincinnati and has been significant in Minnesota making its first trip to the playoffs since 2012.
"There's such a similarity in the formula that we both represent as defensive guys and former coordinators," Carroll said during a conference call this week. "I really appreciate it because I see — because we've been successful at putting out this formula of playing defense and special teams and the running game, and they're doing the same thing.
"Not everybody realizes how valuable it is to have a formula that's steeped in the traditional way to play our game," Carroll continued. "Everybody is so enamored with the throwing game and the quarterbacks and all that kind of stuff. It doesn't mean you can't have great quarterback play, but there's a formula here that Mike really stands for that is very similar so you're going to see two teams that have a similar way of going about the game. We believe in base defense; they believe in base defense. We believe in the running game; they believe in the running game. We both believe in having a clean special teams style, so we've very similar. I like watching his teams and I do see similarities. I hope he'll have a great run, staying with it."
The other indisputable element of Zimmer's two-year tenure is how much he's respected by his players, from veterans to rookies and superstars to role players.
What does Robison appreciate the most about Zimmer?
He sighed and surveyed his mind, "Um, everything."
"The mental attitude that he tried to bring in here, sometimes when you bring that in to a new team, it takes a little while for guys to catch hold of that, but I think it's two-fold there," Robison said. "I think having such a young team when he came in and bringing in the guys he wanted to bring in has a lot to do with it, but I think having the older guys that we have, we bought into what he was selling. I think that's been a big key to his success, just his mental attitude and the way he approaches the game every single day.
"He has an attitude a lot like players do," Robison said. "They want to prove people wrong and be the best at what they do. Having a coach that preaches that every single day, not only what he wants from us, but what he wants for himself is a huge deal."
The grit and relentless nature of Zimmer helped the Vikings go 7-9 in his first season, without Adrian Peterson for 15 games and with a rookie quarterback starting 12 (Teddy Bridgewater went 6-6). This season, Peterson returned to action to claim his third NFL rushing title, joining Bridgewater and the offense in playing complementary football with Minnesota's defensive and special teams units.
The Vikings went 4-2 in games decided by seven points or less this season.
Peterson said players channeled Zimmer's fire, helping in hard-fought wins.
"I'll try to speak for the other guys in this locker room as well, when they look in coach's eyes, they know that he's a winner," Peterson said. "They know he wants the best out of each player from the way he talks to us and interacts with players out in practice and kind of reminds you of a high school coach. Guys feed off that and want to accomplish great things for a coach like that, that has that mindset and mentality."