JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mike Zimmer tried to work despite a detached retina, which forced him to have surgery during the football season and miss coaching an important home game.
He underwent a procedure that would allow him to fly to the following game, the Vikings’ matchup against the Jaguars on Sunday, and worked the sideline while having to switch from prescription to reading glasses to see play charts. Without the help of Vikings security director Kim Klawiter, Zimmer said he may not have been able to find Jaguars coach Gus Bradley after the game for the traditional handshake.
What did Zimmer learn from tempting fate and health?
“I’m not missing any more games the rest of my life,” he said.
This was following the Vikings’ 25-16 victory at EverBank Field. Zimmer had removed the eye patch and glasses he wore during the game. He had worked under instructions to avoid looking up, or getting steamrolled by players. He was essentially told to coach a football game without acting like a football coach.
His players admired his gumption, and enjoyed teasing him. Some responded to his commands this week with “Aye, aye, Captain.”
“I don’t joke with him,” Sam Bradford said. “He looks kind of scary with that patch on his eye.”
“I told him a couple of times he looked like the Tampa Bay Bucs’ mascot,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “I told him I couldn’t tell whether he was winking or being serious.”
Hidden behind the jokes and the concern for a beloved coach is a harsh reality that may have contributed to Zimmer’s insistence on returning as quickly as his doctors would allow.
Zimmer didn’t do anything for his players that his players don’t regularly do for him.
Zimmer’s injury is serious. He could lose sight in his right eye if he isn’t careful.
And each of his players, every day in practice and even more so in every game, risks lobe and limb.
This season is a harsh reminder of that. Teddy Bridgewater destroyed his knee during a practice. Every game, it seems, one or more Vikings suffers a concussion.
Zimmer isn’t just being tough, and in the context of the NFL he isn’t being heroic. He’s upholding his end of his unwritten contract with the players.
“That’s what we expect out of him,” Robison said. “He puts his heart and soul into this team so we knew that we would do everything he could to be here. It shows that he’s all in on this team.”
I asked cornerback Xavier Rhodes whether he wanted Zimmer to be more cautious. Rhodes told me that was a “crazy question.”
In the NFL, it might be.
“My father-in-law lost his sight to that same thing, so in our family it’s definitely not a joking matter,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “It’s one of those situations where if you’re in an NFL locker room, you’re going to take some ribbing no matter what the situation is.”
Zimmer sometimes sleeps on his couch during the season and frequently pushes himself to the limits of his health.
NFL coaches don’t necessarily gain an advantage by doing so, but the coaches willing to do so possess the single-mindedness required to succeed in their profession.
“My job is to win football games,” Zimmer said. “I feel like I haven’t been doing a good enough job to get this team to win games. We’ve been close, but I don’t want them to be all excited that we lost 17-15 to Dallas, the best team in the league; there’s none of these participation trophies that we’re going to give.
“What we need to do is go win and do things the right way. I need to be tough on them. I need to make sure they’re doing things correctly all the time. If I see something I don’t like, I’m going to let them know. That’s just how it’s going to be.”
Zimmer is a tough, driven, coach. In the NFL, that’s more required than admired.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On