For Freeman, time with Vikings is a comeback

Josh Freeman tries to leave a messy situation behind and step in as Vikings quarterback.

The new guy sitting alone in the bookstore caused some double takes. A few people approached to say hello and welcome him to town.

It’s not often that a starting NFL quarterback takes his playbook to Barnes & Noble for a late-night cram session, but then Josh Freeman’s path to Minnesota has been anything but textbook.

“They realized I was working, so it was cool,” Freeman said. “Everybody was extremely friendly. They were like, ‘We’ll let you get back to studying.’ ”

Minnesota Nice understands the ramifications of the Vikings’ latest quarterback Hail Mary.

In search of a career rebirth at age 25, Freeman has spent nearly every waking hour consuming the Vikings offense since his arrival two weeks ago. At Winter Park; at home; even, in his words, “posted up at Barnes & Noble” until 10 p.m. on the day that he officially became starting quarterback of an organization starved for a long-term solution at that bedrock position.

Freeman begins the next chapter in his career Monday night in what amounts to an 11-game audition to determine whether he will remain in Minnesota beyond this season or continue his career elsewhere. His football résumé at all levels is chock-full of late-game comebacks, and he’s hoping to orchestrate his best comeback yet.

“When times are good,” Freeman said, “you’ve got to really embrace the moment and enjoy it.”

Parting ways

Freeman knows too well what it’s like on the other side. His public divorce from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played out like a soap opera fraught with contentious subplots and a conclusion that seemed inevitable.

He went from team captain and face of the franchise to an outsider the organization no longer wanted. Freeman described his messy exit as a “humbling” experience, but he purposely refrained from slinging mud on his way out of town.

“I try to live, feel, exist in the now,” he said. “All this stuff is going on, and I feel like I’ve got a great sense and perception of what reality is. My reality. Not everybody is going to have the same reality or how they perceive things. I know what the truth is.”

As with most fractured relationships, identifying the truth and assigning blame is complicated. Ultimately, Freeman’s relationship with taskmaster coach Greg Schiano and the Bucs organization disintegrated beyond repair.

Their collision course came into view as unflattering headlines emerged almost daily. Reports were that Freeman overslept and missed the team photo; that players privately believed Schiano rigged voting for team captains to ensure Freeman wasn’t chosen; that the organization fined Freeman more than $30,000 this season for various rules violations, including him agreeing to an unauthorized media interview; that a high degree of mistrust developed between the locker room and head coach.

The breaking point came when someone leaked to the media that Freeman is in the league’s substance-abuse program. Freeman responded forcefully by releasing a statement acknowledging that he became a stage one participant after he accidentally took Ritalin and not his NFL-approved prescription for Adderall to treat ADHD, which triggered a positive test. Freeman noted that he voluntarily agreed to drug testing and that he had passed 46 drug tests.

The NFL and players union plan to investigate the Bucs, hoping to determine who leaked the confidential information. Asked this week about that breach of confidentiality, Freeman’s father, Ron, said, “I don’t want to go there.”

Ron, a former USFL linebacker who also assists with his son’s representation, applauds the way Josh handled his benching and the nastiness of his final days in Tampa.

“Josh stays focused,” he said. “He didn’t become some irate, combative disruption. He simply did what he was told and when the opportunity presented itself to move on, he didn’t have any baggage to pick up and take with him.”

Freeman said he’s “at peace” with everything now and that he still maintains close ties with Bucs players and team employees — cooks, equipment managers, support staff included — whom he calls “my people. Those are my family.”

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