A videographer was setting up two cameras in a meeting room at Winter Park. One would capture a video about to be shown on the big screen on the back wall. The other would record conversations between a reporter, three kick return blockers and a supercharged rookie who needed all of 13 seconds to make his eternal mark on a Vikings-Packers rivalry that goes back 53 seasons and 105 games.
“So,” blocker Joe Webb said as he surveyed the situation, “one of you is going to film the other one talking to us about the play, while you film the play? That’s a first. Never had this before.”
Just then, the rookie, Cordarrelle Patterson, sitting to Webb’s immediate right, spoke up and reached out to the veteran.
“Dawg,” he said with a laugh, “We’re in history, man.”
Yes, they are. The 109-yard kickoff return to open the nationally televised Sunday night game on Oct. 27 at Mall of America Field is one of the few NFL records that can never be broken. The shoes and jersey Patterson wore that night already sit in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“I got the game ball,” Patterson said. “But as far as [being a part of history], it’s probably more just more motivation to get more. That happened a couple weeks ago. We’re trying get more [touchdowns].”
Patterson already has two kick returns for touchdowns. The first one came in Week 2 at Chicago, when he tied Percy Harvin’s team record with a 105-yard return. Six weeks later, at 22 and in just his seventh NFL game, Patterson tied the league record for most touchdowns of 105 or more yards in a career.
His next opportunity will come Sunday against the Packers in his Lambeau Field debut. With the Vikings mired in a 2-8 season and quarterback Christian Ponder trying to redeem himself yet again following a fourth-quarter benching a week ago, any help from the 6-2, 220-pound electric returner/receiver is much appreciated.
But first, let’s take a look back at those 13 seconds of NFL history as we sit down to watch the return with Patterson, Webb, Larry Dean and Robert Blanton.
“Take it to the crib!”
Patterson said he is superstitious, but wouldn’t elaborate other than to say he doesn’t stray far from his usual pre-kick routine.
“I say a little prayer before I go out there,” he said. “That’s about it.”
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer huddles the kick return unit together to let it know whether the return is left, right or middle. After that, well, things can get intense.
“Special teams are fun, man,” said Webb, the former quarterback who is now a receiver. “I’ll be out there with a lot of guys that I normally wouldn’t be out on the field with. It’s crazy what’s said in the huddle and what goes on in the huddle. These defensive boys are crazy.”
The leader in that huddle is Larry Dean, a little linebacker who delivers a big wallop. To hear Patterson call the third-year player the leader is funny for an outsider to hear because, well, we haven’t heard Dean say much of anything since he made the team as an undrafted rookie out of Division II Valdosta State.
At some point in the huddle, Webb will tell Patterson, “Meet you in the end zone.” Then, Dean brings the huddle to a close.
“We always break it by saying, ‘To the crib!’ ” Dean said. “And in layman’s terms, that means take it to the end zone.”
And with that, the Vikings lined up. The front six included Webb at left tackle, rookie Gerald Hodges at left guard, Blanton at left center, Dean at right center, rookie Michael Mauti at right guard and Mistral Raymond at right tackle.
The second line included two ends: John Carlson on the left and Joe Berger on the right. The third line included two halfbacks: Toby Gerhart on the left and Jerome Felton on the right.
Green light, no matter what
The Packers had hoped to get kicker Mason Crosby some rest in the Vikings game. So punter Tim Masthay handled the opening kickoff. He did his job, or so everyone on Green Bay’s sideline thought.
“I was shocked when [Patterson] brought it out,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. “I was kind of hoping that he had stepped on the back line.”
Close, but not going to happen, said Patterson, a savvy back-line tiptoe artist.
“If I’m that close, I try to turn my feet sideways to make sure I’m in and balanced,” Patterson said. “I really thought I was out. But I caught the ball and started running and didn’t hear the whistle blown.”
Priefer was asked when he decided to give Patterson the green light to return the ball under any circumstances. His answer: “The first time I saw him on tape at Tennessee.”
Patterson leads the league with a 34.4-yard average. In 28 returns, he has been caught behind the 20-yard line only seven times. The Packers did it twice after his record return when Crosby took over as kicker. But even with Crosby’s directional savvy, the Packers eventually gave up and pooched the ball after Patterson returned yet another one from 9 yards deep and took it 51 yards.
“If we started getting tackled a bunch inside the 20, we’d have to change things,” Priefer said. “We’d have to limit him to 3 to 5 yards deep, like a lot of teams. If you look around the league, everyone and their mother is now taking a knee at 7, 8, 9 yards deep.”
But not the Vikings.
“We have the best return team in the league,” Patterson said. “I have great blockers out there. Why should I waste a knee if they’re blocking things up like that?”
Hitting an NFL hole
The Vikings had a left return called. The NFL no longer allows wedges of three or more players because of safety concerns, so the Vikings use two double-teams to create what they hope will be a seam at about the 15-yard line. The new rules stipulate double-teams have to be at least 2 yards apart. Priefer teaches a 3-yard separation.
In this case, Berger and Carlson sealed the left side of the hole, while Dean had a key block to shield early penetration on the right side.
“This particular technique is called a trap block,” Dean said. “We have a ‘capture, not kill’ [blocking] attitude. So, basically, I just want to get in my guy’s way. I know I can’t let this man beat me across by face to the left.”
As soon as Patterson sees the small seam, he knows exactly how little time he has to burst through it.
“In college, that hole would be there a long time,” said Patterson, nodding to the screen. “It’s a small, little hole, but that’s an NFL hole. I just have to make sure I get past Larry and get up to Toby [who was leading the way up through the hole]. Then it’s, ‘Gone.’ ”
It’s something Vikings fans saw a lot of with Harvin.
“I won’t say they’re completely different guys,” Priefer said. “Percy obviously is smaller, but he’s so strong and ran so hard. I don’t know what their ultimate long-range speed is, but they’re probably close. But I think Cordarrelle has such great vision. It’s really hard to find a guy who has his vision.”
Breaking the tackle
Ideally, the only unblocked Packer would have been the kicker. But when the double-team on the right got caught up in traffic on its first blocking assignment, it allowed Micah Hyde, one of Green Bay’s best special teams players, to slice in unblocked from the right. But the 6-foot, 197-pounder bounced off Patterson at the Vikings 23-yard line. Patterson never even flinched.
“I’m a big guy,” Patterson said with a laugh. “I like that contact, bro.”
Priefer can vouch for that.
“To be a great returner, you have to have courage, you have to have vision, strength and speed,” Priefer said. “And courage might be No. 1.”
After Hyde bounced off Patterson, two more Packers were still in position at the 27-yard line. But Patterson started to pull away, first going to his right. Gerhart got in front of the kicker as Patterson broke back to his left.
“Then just don’t get tackled by the kicker,” Patterson said. “That’s embarrassing.”
As the return unfolds, all 10 blockers are doing something well. But Webb can’t be seen anywhere. Where are you, Joe?
“I took my man [Jarrett Bush] clear off the screen over there,” said Webb, pointing to the left. “Ran him past the play.”
Webb does, however, show up on the film as Patterson reaches the Packers 25-yard line. He is trailing the play when he turns and waves at Bush.
“He’s one of their better special teams players,” Webb said. “Coach Priefer told me to get No. 24 blocked up. So I did.”
For 13 exhilarating seconds, 10 guys executed their blocking assignments and one returner was big enough to run through a tackle and fast enough to outrun the rest of them.
“You don’t have to be crazy to play special teams,” Blanton said. “You just have to be a high-motor guy because for one play, you have to give it everything you got. Special-teams plays are some of the toughest plays in football. Even though it’s only one snap, it takes a lot of energy out of you.”
Especially when it covers 109 yards of NFL history.