Teddy Bridgewater started his first NFL game last week. And it was almost perfect. Minnesota defeated a hot Atlanta Falcons team, scoring over forty points in a lopsided home win. Bridgewater danced like Fran Tarkenton, and brought a steadiness combined with no turnovers that has Vikings' fans doing cartwheels looking at the future.
And it was almost perfect.
Bridgewater suffered an ankle sprain late in the game that will have him sidelined for tonight's Thursday game versus hated Green Bay. Green Bay, fresh off a destruction of the Chicago Bears, is primed to "relax", as quarterback Aaron Rodgers put it, and play good football. A perfect storm in which a strong home team is facing a rival without their best running back (ever), key position players, and now their top two quarterbacks who received all the repetitions in summer camp and preseason with the first and second unit.
Enter Christian Ponder.
I have tried to impart on my fellow fans and the players I coach that football is a team game. Wins are made by a combined effort of most of the players on the squad. For example, last week was highlighting Teddy Bridgewater, and his ability to escape pressure and throw passes the opposition could not intercept. Never mind that offensive guard Brandon Fusco was out, and his replacement, Vladmir Ducasse, filled in admirably. That the line including Phil Loadholt created holes for the running game over and over again. Or that we finally saw the best of cornerback Josh Robinson. The running of Matt Asiata and Jerrick McKinnon. The linebacker play of rookie Anthony Barr or Gil Hodges. The stellar tenacity of Harrison Smith. Even kicker Blair Walsh impressed.
But we focused on Teddy.
And I do not blame we fans for that. Since Fran Tarkenton graced us with his rookie year in 1961, to Joe Kapp's entering the NFL in 1967, Tommy Kramer drafted in 1977 and promising start in 1979, and Daunte Culpepper's amazing season in 2000, Minnesotans have adopted exciting new quarterbacks. Even old Brett Favre, Warren Moon, and Randall Cunningham received the hearts of our fans. At least for a long while.
And then there is Christian Ponder.
Ponder was vilified after his occasional strong play at the end of the 2012 season was dismissed with the announcement he would be unable to play in the Vikings playoff game vs. these same Packers. It was hard to notice given Adrian Peterson was having maybe the second greatest season ever by a running back. And Ponder's biggest flaw might be Bridgewater's greatest strength: keeping possession of the football.
But fear not fans, some very good Vikings QBs have struggled with ball control. Kapp's first two years as starting quarterback resulted in passer rating lower than 60, 18 touchdowns to 34 interceptions in 25 games, and a completion percentage near 50. That's not good. Tarkenton's first three seasons saw 45 touchdown passes, but 57 interceptions. No wonder Bud Grant wanted to trade him. Kramer's first big season had 24 interceptions. In his first three years, Kramer threw 71 interceptions while going 22-23 as a starter. After Culpepper's amazing 2000 season, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in the next two seasons (34 to 36).
Which is why we like Teddy.
Ponder comes into a tough situation. Only a few days to prepare, a tough opponent, a team decimated by missing players. Aaron Rodgers coming off an excellent game. The Packers at home.
And without the support of the fans.
Which is why I am praying for a special moment. One in which Ponder plays well. One in which the team picks him up like they did Bridgewater. The defense creates turnovers. The offensive line creates holes. And everyone chips in. All Ponder has to do is play smart football.
And that is what has everyone worried.
But not me. I think teams win and lose football games, not single players. If Minnesota is to pull off an upset (now a large upset), everyone must contribute. Ponder will have to play better than he did prior to losing his job to Matt Cassel (now out for the season).
Or we may see Jabari Price or Jerrick McKinnon under center.
Given the turn of events involving Adrian Peterson and the Viking organization, it is easy to lose hope for today's game vs. the (0-2) New Orleans Saints. Last Sunday, Matt Cassel had a poor performance, and his four turnovers were impossible to overcome.,Matt Asiata was not AP-like. The defense took a step back from their opening solid performance against the Rams. Special teams folded.
Heading into today's noon start we feel like a death row inmate in "dead man walking" motif.
It is now we have to remind ourselves that teams win football games. Not players.
As hopeless as it feels minutes from kick-off, we are content that Minnesota finally got it right by sitting Adrian Peterson until legal matters are resolved. We wonder why the rest of society is not held to the same standard. Hollywood. Congress. But rather than defend AP, we should focus on moving forward. Will the community ostracize Peterson? Or will it employ restorative justice, and help him?
We know which one is more effective. Different from the model we adhere toward.
This week my 7th grade football team had minor misconduct issues.The team was punished. We wanted a message that we are all in this together. People make mistakes. There are consequences. But we do not kick kids out of our community. We embrace them. Work with them.
We demand better. And we teach better.
The Vikings may not have enough 'team;' to pull out a win today. The odds are against them. But it is time for fans to rally around the Purple. We watch football to escape our lives for a moment. To let go the things that stress us, and work ourselves up to a fever with loyalty. We have been maybe the most snake-bit franchise in the entire NFL. We are not as weak as the Browns or Lions since the merger. We are more consistent than the Bills. We win often.
Just never the big one.
Or the behaviors of a few impact the team to the point it is handicapped. Like today.Disappointment is often our closest friend. That is the 'cross' that we Purple fans wear.
But we wear it together. And we should wear it proudly.
This game is much bigger than any one player.
It is all of us.
Heroes. Who needs them.
I have had many in my lifetime. My first that I remember was a sports figure. Bert Blyleven. From the time that I could throw a ball I wanted to have a curve ball that broke as dramatically as Bert's. Striking a batter out was a feeling that one needs to repeat should one pitch.
My first football hero was Chuck Foreman. After watching a steady batch of Bill Brown and Dave Osborne for a few years carrying the ball for the Vikings, the addition of Foreman was like an 'aurora borealis' to the home team's offense. I spent years emulating Foreman in my yard with neighborhood friends, or with my brother diving over the top of stacked pillows (defenses) on the bed to try and score from the one yard line.
I will never forget Chuck.
Today heroes took a hit in Minnesota. Adrian Peterson was de-activated from Sunday's game due to charges he incurred while attempting to discipline his 4-year-old child by a woman not his wife. The absence of Peterson was too much to overcome and Minnesota was thrashed by the Patriots 30-7. I was hopeful the team could rally around each other and overcome the cancer of losing a player just before a game.
I was wrong.
The beating was a steady downpour of passes from Tom Brady, who seemed to have all day. There were four interceptions of Matt Cassel, as he looked ever the part of Christian Ponder in 2013. After a beautiful drive led by Cassel that resulted in a Matt Asiata touchdown catch and a 7-0 Minnesota lead, the remainder of the game was more one-sided than last week's 34-6 romp FOR our Vikings.When New England returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown (and a 24-7 lead) just before halftime, the sound of mowers everywhere in the Twin Cities began.
But that is not even the painful part.
The pain comes from knowing exactly what Adrian Peterson did to his child. Pictures were produced through the media and the internet that pointed to a severe beating of his child with a switch. The inner-feeling I have hoping and praying he can still play for Minnesota trying to overcome my nausea for the available images of his child's backside. As my wife stated during an argument, "I don't know you." Me, a guy who works in public schools and has seen/reported far too many abuse cases in his career, wants compassion for number 28.
I want(ed) AP to play.
Not today. I am proud that my Minnesota Vikings de-activated AP. But I want him to return. I want him to be a better parent. I want to believe that I just do not understand a 'culture' that uses this method to keep children from doing the wrong things. I want to find excuses. to allow our local football hero a chance to help us be a better football team. Win,
And that is where my pain comes from.
How many kids in Minnesota and across the world are wearing number 28 jerseys? How many have pretended they were AP as they ran over their friends? How many adults watched him come within a few yards of the all-time season rushing record, wishing he could get it? We marveled at Adrian Peterson. We said things like he was better than Chuck Foreman. Maybe one of the best of all-time.
We purple are in pain today.
There are some who have already sworn off AP. Cris Carter gave a wonderful and impassioned speech that states he wants there to be no more child abuse. He said the Vikings did the right thing, and the only way guys like our own AP and Ray Rice are going to wake up and act different is to take away their right to be a hero.
Others want him back. Serve his penalty, but then play football for us.
But we know that feeling inside. The one that tells us we are wrong. The one that would put the welfare of a child behind our desire to watch winning football. Or the welfare of a young woman. We come to the realization that people are more important. Corporal punishment will have its' obligatory societal examination, a la gun rights whenever there is a school or public shooting. We will examine the effectiveness of hitting or spanking a child to get them to obey.We will talk.
In the meantime we realize there is a painful purple rain falling.
And as Bob Marley sings.. "When the rain falls, it don't fall on one man's house."
The 0-1 New England Patriots come to town to face our 1-0 Minnesota Vikings. The excitement of the season opening 34-6 win over the St. Louis Rams has finally died down enough that hotel and flight reservations to Glendale, Arizona (site of this year's Super Bowl) have finally slowed from the Twin Cities.
The Vikings enter the game without their star player, running back Adrian Peterson, who was deactivated earlier in the week. Normally this would be enough to have optimistic fans cashing in their hopes for a win. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Shane Vereen lead a Patriots team that is one of the better offensive units in the NFL. Definitely better than a Rams' offense without Sam Bradford. After losing their opener, the Patriots come to town eager to even their record at 1-1.
Luckily, many have already donned their 'purple shaded homer glasses'. As a proud wearer, I am convinced Minnesota can win without Peterson,. The fact that both Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd were injured late in the season opener, and have been limited in practice, escapes purple vision. My shades can only see the improving defense handling the pass-happy Pats. Everson Griffen opened the year with two sacks. Harrison Smith recorded his third interception-return for a touchdown. The front seven limited St. Louis to 72 yards on the ground. Minnesota's new aggressive play forced 13 penalties for over 120 yards. The Vikings were a plus three in turnovers.
Purple Shades are in my brain.
Minnesota is tied for the NFC North division lead with the Detroit Lions. Their leading rusher is going to play a big part in game two. No, not AP, but Cordarrelle Patterson. Coming of his 100-yard plus opening performance, which included a dazzling touchdown run in which he broke four tackles, Patterson is among the league leaders in rushing and overall yardage. And he only touched the ball six times on offense in week one.
Matt Cassel completed 68% of his passes, continuing his solid performance from the preseason. Greg Jennings caught six passes and scored a pretty touchdown in the back of the end zone last week. Meanwhile, Matt Asiata looks to duplicate his performances late in the 2013 season when he took over for an injured Peterson. Asiata averaged near four yards a carry in those two games, with three touchdowns. In addition, fans eagerly await the increased use of the uber-athletic Jerick McKinnon, drafted to replace Toby Gerhart at back-up running back.
The purple future is still bright.
Mike Zimmer and his staff have changed the culture on this team and their community in a short time. Zimmer is undefeated as a head coach, albeit only 1-0. Norv Turner has players excited to play offense. Tight end Kyle Rudolph could benefit the most from the new offense. Rudolph had only two catches for sixteen yards in week one, though one catch was a red-zone touchdown. The preseason appetizer of Turner's offense demonstrated an increased role for the Vikings' young tight end.
You should really try these glasses.
It seems illogical that a team can go from the abyss of the 2013 Vikings' defense to one that can stop Tom Brady and his 56 pass attempt attack. It seems doubtful to most that Minnesota can shrug off the loss of what many consider the best player in football. A 5-10-1 team which could stop no one, turned the ball over religiously, and survived offensively on the skills of a single running back for many years.
But not to we wearers of the purple shades. We see Minnesota moving to 2-0 on Sunday.
I remember the day football became more important than Christmas. I was at my grandmother's house for the holiday, and for the first time I was allowed in the basement to watch football with the adult men of the family. It was 1971, December 25th.
While the fine cooks of our family fretted, the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins battled to double overtime in the longest overtime in NFL history. Miami eventually won 27-24. There were missed field goals in the overtime that had half of the family praying for a miss (more football) and the other half cursing the same miss (the turkey was getting cold).
When it was finally over it ended up being the majority of discussion at the table. My mother, who sided with her mother, had more steam coming out of her ears than I saw from the green bean casserole. It was clear to a seven-year-old that a power play had occurred inside my family, and football had won.
More than four decades later, nothing has changed.
My passion for Vikings' football rose out of the basement of my grandparents' house. The 1970s were a very successful time for Minnesota in the NFL. I watched Super Bowls. I witnessed Super Bowls. 12-2 seasons were expected. The Purple People Eaters defense controlled games.
Life was good.
Each season that begins anew rekindles that love I had for football dating so long ago. It does not matter to me if Minnesota is picked to finish last, or not expected to contend for the playoffs. when the first Sunday rolls around in September and we take the field with a 0-0 record, I am filled with hope.
And so today, the Saturday before the first Sunday, we anticipate. I have already coached a middle school football scrimmage at nearby Watertown-Mayer. I have rode on a bus with tough hitting kids who want to sing "The Wheels on the Bus" in unison. I have mowed the lawn. Checked my fantasy baseball team. Pet the dog. Grilled steaks. Talked football on the phone...
This is a very long day.
I eagerly await tomorrow. The Vikings have a feel-good story about them. A new stadium was approved. New coach Mike Zimmer is a long-time assistant who finally gets his chance. Matt Cassel is finally given control of this team. Nearly every rookie made the team, and three 7th-rounders look to see meaningful action. Adam Thielen came from local Minnesota State via the practice squad in 2013, to find an opportunity to contribute in 2014. Teddy Bridgewater is an instant fan favorite (sorry Matt). Free agent additions look to shore a porous defense. Adrian Peterson is rested and ready.
Add to that the Green Bay Packers were already roughed up in front of a national television audience. The St. Louis Rams, our first opponent, lost their starting quarterback Sam Bradford to an injury..
Life is good.
And so we wait for tomorrow. Unless you read this on Sunday..
Which would mean you have survived the longest day.
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