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Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Souhan: Looks like Frazier's right to keep faith

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • October 13, 2012 - 7:45 PM

The man kept smiling.

Why did the man keep smiling?

He had just lost his franchise running back, his prospective franchise quarterback and a chance at one of the first two picks in the draft. He had just engineered what felt like the most devastating victory in Vikings history.

"Now,'' coach Leslie Frazier said, "I can enjoy Christmas.''

On Dec. 24, 2011, Frazier beamed after the Vikings beat the Redskins at FedEx Field, beamed while Adrian Peterson limped, Christian Ponder wobbled and fans back home wondered if one victory could set a franchise back a decade.

During the time it took to play a seemingly meaningless game between nonplayoff teams, Ponder had renewed questions about his fragility while his backup, Joe Webb, played well enough to eliminate the team's chance of drafting Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III and create a brief quarterback competition.

If you had asked the Green Bay Packers to orchestrate the worst possible result for a Vikings game, they couldn't have set in motion a more devious sequence of events.

So why was Frazier smiling? "It was all about the victory on that day,'' Frazier said last week. "With all the things that happened on that day and all the things that had happened in that season. We had had a tough loss the week before, a hurtful loss to New Orleans. But the way our guys played in that game in Washington, you would have never known it. They played their tails off. I was so proud of them that day.''

Logic dictated losing that game. Frazier's ambitions, and his nature as a hypercompetitive athlete and coach, would not allow him to think of it.

The Vikings still had a chance to finish with the second-worst record in the NFL, which would have enabled them to draft Griffin, either to keep him as the second-most celebrated young quarterback in the league or to trade him to fill what seemed to be many holes on the team's roster. Instead, the Vikings celebrated even while Peterson and Ponder were being tended to.

"It's the nature of the league,'' said running back Toby Gerhart, who starred in Peterson's absence that day. "It's a brutal game we play. That's why careers are so short.

"Injuries are so common. If you're a backup -- heck, if you're a third- or fourth-stringer, you always have to be ready. You're one play away from being in the game, and you're one play away from being done with the game.''

Someday, the Vikings may regret missing a chance to draft Griffin, but not this week. They're 4-1. Griffin is recovering from a concussion. Ponder has improved dramatically since he was helped off the turf at FedEx Field.

With no reason to consider a quarterback with the fourth pick, the Vikings took USC left tackle Matt Kalil, who has dramatically helped to improve the offensive line. And while observers can question the wisdom of playing to win late in a lost season, Frazier and his players don't.

"There were a lot of mixed emotions,'' tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "It was a Saturday game, so it was one of those weird weeks. We played on Christmas Eve. We had two big injuries.

"But when it was all said and done, it was our third win of the season. We were really pushing toward the end of the year to get things right and gain momentum moving into this season.''

Frazier is a man of great faith, and his stewardship of the Vikings has sometimes seemed faith-based. He had faith that his style of play could win the NFL, even when passing teams were the rage. He had faith that he could create a culture of accountability within a franchise with a long history of off-the-field embarrassments.

On Dec. 24, 2011, Frazier had faith that winning a game nobody outside his locker room thought he should win would turn out to be the right approach for one Christmas, or more.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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