Reusse blog: Vikings cut a true warrior in Winfield

  • Blog Post by: Patrick Reusse
  • March 12, 2013 - 11:44 PM

The Vikings, with salary cap room galore, demanded a pay cut from one of the true warriors in franchise history: Antoine Winfield.

In 2007-08, I was the main reporter on a Vikings' history book. We did an unpdated version after the 2009 season, to mark the 50th anniversary season that was around the corner.

I chose an all-time Vikings team as part of the book. I made one change in the two years between editions: moving Winfield in at a corner position in place of Nate Wright.

Mike Tice's best move as a Vikings coach came in the offseason between 2003 and 2004, when he convinced free-agent Winfield to stay in Minnesota rather than go to New York to sign with the Jets. Simultaneously, he had to lobby with the frugal owner, Red McCombs, to come up with the dollars to satisfy Winfield.

I've been a huge admirer of Winfield dating to 1997, and I can prove that with this excerpt from a column written after Ohio State's victory over the Gophers in the Metrodome:

CAN MINNESOTA'S first-year coach, Glen Mason, get a victory over Indiana that will enable him to equal the 1-7 Big Ten records posted by his predecessor, Jim Wacker, in 1995 and 1996?

Saturday, Ohio State managed to squeeze out a 31-3 victory over the Gophers. The defeat continued a bit of a slump for the proud maroon-and-gold against the Buckeyes - 14 in a row dating to 1981.

To be completely candid here, it's not just those fellows with the nutty helmets who have been giving the Gophers trouble lately. Additionally, this loss was the 20th in the past 21 conference games, and gave the Gophers a 9-45 Big Ten record dating to the 1991 season.

That record includes 1-7 for John Gutekunst in '91, 0-6 for Mason in '97, with all the glory in between going to Coach Wacky. Over a five-year period, Wacker established himself as the most unsuccessful coach in the history of a Minnesota football program. He did this with an offense featuring numerous receivers, much finesse and little in the way of toughness.

Mason brought in the well-travelled Elliot Uzelac, the toughest offensive coordinator he could find. Uzelac junked the wide-open offense and put more emphasis on the run, including option plays for
Cory Sauter, a pocket-passing senior.

After months of hard work and refinements, coach Uzelac has found the balance that he sought. An offense that could only pass and not run is now an offense that can do neither ... 

Leading only 24-3 halftime, the Buckeyes ordered their marvelous junior cornerback, Antoine Winfield, to flip-flop sides of the field, depending on the whereabouts of Tutu Atwell, the Gophers' No. 1 offensive weapon - a backhanded compliment if there ever was one.

"The coaches told me to man up Atwell, so that's what I did," Winfield said.

Atwell had three catches for 51 yards in the first half, and one for 4 yards after Winfield started keeping him company. Tutu's only room came on kick returns, where he brought back eight kicks
for 182 yards.

Before becoming Atwell's shadow, the 5-9, 180-pound Winfield had been coming to the line and delivering hits that interrupted Uzelac's finely honed running attack.

"He's a great player," Ohio State coach John Cooper said. "He's a hitter and he can cover."

Winfield said a lack of size never made him flinch when it came to tackling people. "I've loved the hitting part of football since I was 4-3 and weighed 58 pounds in pee-wee ball," he said.

FOOTNOTE: Antoine was a magnificent, fearless, relentless Viking. His reward was being told it was a paycut or the highway.

Maybe the Vikings have something large in the offing. Right now, it looks like a low-class move by a team that didn't need the money for cap room.


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