The Vikings will open a brand new stadium with their same old uncertainty at quarterback.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way when the Packers arrived for Sunday night’s prime-time showcase of U.S. Bank Stadium and the Super Bowl contender that calls it home. But things change. And boy did they change 19 days ago when Teddy Bridgewater, the promising 23-year-old franchise quarterback, collapsed with a season-ending knee injury in a noncontract drill during what should have been a routine light practice two days after he dazzled the home crowd in the third preseason game.
“It’s crazy,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “I mean it really is nuts when you think about it. Just watching the games, you see guys get hit or taken down, and they don’t get hurt. Those are way worse than what Teddy was doing in practice. He wasn’t doing anything.”
And yet the left knee dislocation was so serious that an ambulance was called to Winter Park out of fear that any delay could result in losing the leg. Bridgewater, who suffered extensive damage to multiple ligaments, including the anterior cruciate, is expected to make a full recovery but might not make it back before the start of next season.
“It is what it is,” said Adrian Peterson, uttering the popular sports cliché, which sounded especially apropos for a franchise that simply can’t catch a break when it comes to longevity at the quarterback position.
Last week, Peterson played with his 12th starting quarterback — Shaun Hill — in 10 seasons with the Vikings. He’s expected to make it a baker’s dozen Sunday night when likely starter Sam Bradford lines up 15 days after his trade from Philadelphia.
Indeed, it is what it is. When it comes to longevity at the quarterback position, the Vikings are the guy coming up empty at one slot machine while the fella to his right keeps hitting jackpot.
In this case, that guy to the right represents the NFL team 250 miles to the east.
“Obviously, we’re blessed with the careers of Brett Favre and Aaron [Rodgers],” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “And I’d like to think Aaron has just hit the halfway point of his career. But only the Good Lord knows that.”
One thing is certain. The Good Lord has been kind to the Packers since Favre’s starting debut on Sept. 27, 1992.
The Packers have played 382 regular-season games since Favre walked onto the field that day. All but nine have been started by either the Hall of Famer Favre or the future Hall of Famer Rodgers.
“Wow,” said Vikings defensive end Justin Trattou. “That’s huge.”
In a quarter of a century of regular-season games in the world’s most violent team sport, only three men other than Favre and Rodgers have started at quarterback for the Packers. Favre started 253 consecutively, Rodgers 120, including the past 34 in a row, Matt Flynn six, Scott Tolzien two and Seneca Wallace one.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Bradford said. “For any organization, that’s the stability you’re looking for at that position. I think they’re the model every organization is trying to achieve.”
In their past 382 regular-season games, the Vikings have had 22 starting quarterbacks. Daunte Culpepper leads the way with 80. Brad Johnson is next with 46. Favre ranks fifth with 29, consecutively, of course, while Bridgewater had already climbed to sixth at 28 before the injury that surprised the league and caused Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman to send a first-round draft pick and a conditional fourth-rounder to Philadelphia for Bradford four days later.
“I felt real bad for [Bridgewater],” Rodgers said. “I’ve gotten to know Teddy a little bit over the last couple of years. He’s a great kid, a great competitor, a really ascending player. I felt terrible for him. … I got a lot of respect for Teddy and the way he conducts himself. I wish him a speedy recovery.”
On Sept. 27, 1992, the Packers sat Don Majkowski because of an ankle injury. Favre, 22 at the time, started at home against the Steelers and completed 14 of 19 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 144.6 passer rating in a 17-3 win.
Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, Rich Gannon, 26 at the time, started for the Vikings. He completed 25 of 32 passes for 318 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 147.7 passer rating in a 42-7 win over the Bengals.
While Favre started the next 252 regular-season games and 22 playoff games, Gannon would make only eight more starts for the Vikings. Coach Dennis Green benched him in favor of Sean Salisbury and traded him to Washington the next summer.
Gannon, of course, would win NFL MVP honors while leading the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002. Of course he would.
Over the past 382 games, the Packers have more wins (244-206), divisional titles (11-7), playoff wins (19-6), Super Bowl appearances (3-0) and Super Bowl wins (two) than the Vikings.
Favre went 12-10 in the playoffs for the Packers and 1-1 with the Vikings. Only three other Vikings quarterbacks have won a playoff game since 1992: Culpepper (2-2), Randall Cunningham (2-2) and Jeff George (1-1).
Meanwhile, Rodgers has seven playoff wins (7-6), all of them since 2009.
“It’s talent mixed with hard work,” said Rodgers, explaining the level that he and Favre have played at since 1992. “Experience helps. … You have to have a good memory and be able to recall things quickly. And obviously you need to be in a good situation.”
Yeah, but what about the uncanny durability?
The Vikings thought they finally had some of that after the 2004 season when Culpepper challenged Peyton Manning for league MVP while setting franchise records for completions (379), completion percentage (69.2), passing yards (4,717), combined passing and rushing yards (5,123), passing touchdowns (39) and passer rating (110.2).
Culpepper was 28 and had played 73 of a possible 80 games after sitting as a backup in 1999. His selection in the first round had put an end to the trend of bringing in stopgap veterans such as Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Cunningham and George.
So the Vikings had zero interest in a quarterback during the 2005 NFL draft. They took receiver Troy Williamson seventh overall and defensive end Erasmus James 18th.
The Packers took Rodgers six picks later. Of course they did.
And seven games into the 2005 season, Culpepper suffered a horrific knee injury. He never played another down with the Vikings. Of course he didn’t.
“All of us know things happen, like what happened with Teddy,” said Rodgers, referring to the unpredictability of injuries. “Kind of fluke plays. Or the number of injuries you see over the course of the preseason and regular season to various players. … You have to have some good fortune. You also have to play with pain and play through some stuff. But having good fortune is a big part of it.”
Spielman has said on several occasions that a team that doesn’t have a quarterback must “keep swinging” until it finds the right one. After whiffing on Christian Ponder in the first round in 2011, the widespread belief is Spielman made contact when he traded up for Bridgewater in the first round three years later. That’s not expected to change, but how long it’s on hold is uncertain.
Meanwhile, in Green Bay, the Packers are 2-for-2 with two titanic grand slam swings since 1992. Ron Wolf traded for Brett Favre in 1992 and Ted Thompson drafted Rodgers 13 years later. Of course they did.
“The quarterback position is the most important decision in football,” McCarthy said.
As for what happens to bones and ligaments after those decisions are made is anyone’s guess.
“I think [Favre and Rodgers] are both blessed genetically, and really should kiss their mothers every chance they get,” McCarthy said. “And definitely a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt also.”
Ditto for McCarthy. He was with the 49ers as offensive coordinator when they had the choice of taking Alex Smith or Rodgers No. 1 overall. They took Smith. A year later, McCarthy was in Green Bay grooming Rodgers to replace Favre.
Against the Vikings, Favre lost his first four and seven of his first nine games before finishing 17-16, including 0-1 in the playoffs. Rodgers is 12-5 against the Vikings, including 1-0 in the playoffs.
But he’s 32 and in his 12th season. How much longer can this go on, you ask?
“The franchise has been in good hands for a while now,” Rodgers said. “Hopefully I can ride this out a little longer and then pass it along to the next guy, who is going to go on a run like Brett and I have.”
The next guy?
OK, Vikings fans, all together now.