Neither cold nor QB hot seat ruffle Ponder

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2011 - 8:40 AM

The rookie is taking on the NFL's best team on its biggest stage, but he is approaching it with a confident grin.

It was 38 degrees when the Vikings finished Thursday's outdoor practice and began making a series of hunch-shouldered beelines for the locker room.

"Man, it's cold," said cornerback Antoine Winfield, a guy who's spent the past 21 seasons toiling in snow globes from Akron to Columbus, Ohio, Buffalo and on to Minnesota.

Winfield was bundled up in long sleeves and sweat pants. Tape covered the ear holes of his helmet. His hands were tucked inside his jersey while his shoulders squished against the wind whipping through Winter Park.

Then along came Christian Ponder, the kid whose NFL draft fate brought him here seven months ago after a lifetime of 23 years spent in Texas and Florida.

Smiling, laughing and spinning a football in his hands, the new bearded face of the franchise was showing more skin than a Bud Grant highlight film. Shorts, no sleeves, no turtleneck. And, by the looks of things, no worries just four days before making his "Monday Night Football" and Lambeau Field debuts against the undefeated reigning Super Bowl champion Packers.

"There's not a whole lot that intimidates him or frightens him," coach Leslie Frazier said before practice. "He's built to have success on Monday night, and we fully expect him to have success. I think he's looking forward to this opportunity."

Ponder's natural poise, the team's 15-day break following a win at Carolina and possibly the devil-may-care attitude that comes with a 2-6 record appears to have relaxed the Vikings. Whether it affects Monday's game is another matter.

The Packers are 8-0 with an explosive offense that's generating discussion about the possibility of an undefeated season. Meanwhile, the Vikings have been laying some prime-time stinkers of late. Since Brett Favre led the Vikings to a 30-23 victory over his former team on "Monday Night Football" in Week 4 of the 2009 season, the Vikings have gone 1-8 and have been outscored 254-156 in nationally televised prime-time regular-season games.

Of course, the only part Ponder played in that 1-8 mess was fourth-quarter mop-up duty in his NFL debut at Chicago on Oct. 16. So let's just say when it comes to Purple Pain, Ponder had little to no scar tissue when he strolled into his Thursday press conference and gave this opening statement:

"I'm looking forward to my first experience at Lambeau Field. My first Monday night game, second go-around with these Packers, these Cheeseheads. It's going to be fun."

Ponder's confidence comes in part from how he opened and closed that 33-27 loss to the Packers on Oct. 23. He opened with a 72-yard completion to Michael Jenkins and closed by converting five out of seven third downs during a 10-point fourth-quarter rally. In between, though, was a third quarter in which he went 0-for-5 with two interceptions.

"There's a lot to learn," Ponder said. "Going back and watching that film, I could have done a lot of things better. I realize I'm a rookie and there are going to be growing pains and a lot to learn from. But it's good to learn from those situations. There's a lot of room for improvement for me."

Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews said the Packers have to go in figuring Ponder won't be overwhelmed by Lambeau's mystique and prime-time energy level.

"He did a good job with his first game [against us], coming out against an undefeated team and was able to hold his own until the very end," Matthews said. "So we look for the same exact thing. He was poised, made his plays when he needed to and was able to keep them in the game. We don't expect anything different."

Like most little boys, Ponder grew up dreaming of playing on Monday Night Football. He said he remembers how his father, David, a former NFL defensive lineman, used to look forward to getting together with friends to watch football on Monday night.

"There's a lot of things to get excited about," Ponder said. "It'll be an electric atmosphere. But the crowd is not playing. They're not playing on the field. Once the game gets underway, you kind of zone that stuff out."

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