The NFL meetings were taking place at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix during the last week of March. Mark Wilf was in attendance as a Vikings owner and the team president, and Mark Craig was covering for the Star Tribune.
The next Super Bowl would occur in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018, and Wilf said the goal for the 2017 Vikings was to play in that game.
“That’s what drives us,’’ Wilf told Craig. “We know the history. We’d like to be the first.’’
The Super Bowl history is that in 51 games, no team has played in its home stadium. And reading that quote from Wilf the Younger seven months ago was worth a smile, in the wake of the Vikings’ 3-8 collapse to end the 2016 season and the feeble offense that had been featured in Mike Zimmer’s first three years as the head coach.
Looking back at this piece on startribune.com, there was another article that accompanied it, carrying the headline, “Source: Vikings signing QB Case Keenum as Sam Bradford’s backup.’’
There were 128 readers’ comments attached to the Keenum news, and the first read:
“About what you would expect for a low dollar, number 2, QB option. Like most teams, the Vikes will keep their fingers crossed that Bradford stays healthy. If he doesn't, what shapes up to be a mediocre season could go south in a hurry.’’
Another comment read: “Really good signing. Speilman in line for GM of the year.’’
I’m not one to wallow in sarcasm, but I have a hunch that was the vein in which this was offered. And if I were to someday take a shot at the Vikings’ boss of football, I also would try to get the i before the e in Spielman.
As I recall, smiling at the Wilfs’ fantasy of playing a Super Bowl in their stadium was matched by my yawn at the Keenum signing. With T.E. Bridgewater’s status unknown, and Taylor Heinecke’s ability unknown, Speilman had to get somebody, so why not Keenum?
He had started 10 games in 2016, 24 in his career and was 29 years old. And without studying tape, there was a very good chance Keenum would be able to outrun Shaun Hill, the 2016 veteran backup and headed into retirement.
Yet, who but a Wilf and a few blind optimists who make a living kissing up to the billionaires from New Jersey would have guessed that, come late October, there would be momentum on both fronts:
One, the Wilfs being joined in their Super Bowl thoughts by increasing numbers of optimists with eyes wide open, and two, Keenum as an adequate starting quarterback on a contending team.
The Wilfs, the reborn optimists and Keenum are all being carried along by the same element: a swift, mauling, mean-spirited defense.
The Vikings defense is The Trumpeter on Twitter: no prisoners.
Linval Joseph is monstrous in the middle. Everson Griffen is among the best veteran pass rushers on the planet, and Danielle Hunter is among the best less experienced pass rushers.
Xavier Rhodes is among the best few in the league at cornerback, and Harrison Smith is the best safety in the league.
We had an idea that all those things could be true in 2017, if these ornery gents were healthy.
Another outstanding defender from last season was linebacker Eric Kendricks. The unknown was Anthony Barr, the other linebacker. How could he show so such hints of greatness early, and then be so-so in 2016 to the point that he took a couple of public shots from Zimmer?
The Vikings want us to believe it was an injury problem. Whatever the excuse now offered, Barr is back, and then some.
He knocked Aaron Rodgers from the Packers lineup a week ago. He took criticism for an excessive hit on Rodgers, and clearly took that personally against Baltimore on Sunday.
This Anthony Barr gives the Vikings six stars on defense, the others being Joseph, Griffen, Hunter, Rhodes and Smith. Kendricks is close enough to make it seven, and there are another half-dozen defenders who are “bona fide,’’ to quote the Coen Brothers from a great movie script.
Yeah, but the Vikings need Bradford or Bridgewater back to make it through the NFC and play on the home field in this winter’s Super Bowl?
Barring injury, and with Barr now fully involved, this defense is as good as was Denver’s when it throttled Carolina 24-10 two years ago. And with that version of an immobile, weak-armed Peyton Manning, the Broncos got there with quarterback play no better than what the Vikings are getting from Keenum.
Change that. Considering Brock Osweiler played half the season, carrying Keenum as the quarterback might not require as much heavy lifting for this Vikings defense as was done by the Broncos star defenders in 2015.
Hey, Von Miller is one of a kind, but the Vikings have six or seven of the great kind on this defense. In a mediocre NFC, that makes anything possible, even as Case Keenum continues at quarterback.
He’s not bad, and that’s good enough.