Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: Vikings' Winfield hasn't lost it: Game, smile both endure

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 8, 2012 - 9:45 PM

Antoine Winfield gets it. He's old. By NFL standards, downright ancient. The reminders are everywhere.

It's not just that Winfield turned 35 in June and is in his 14th pro season. It's that fellow Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson was 8 years old and finishing second grade when Winfield was drafted in 1999.

It's that when you ask Winfield about the leaders he has most enjoyed playing with during his career, he rewinds to his Buffalo days and checks off Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Doug Flutie.

"Yeah, I hear what I'm saying," Winfield said with a smile. "Guys look at me funny. Like, 'Really. You played with them? Way back when?'"

Way back when. Before every game lingered like it does now where the extreme soreness and sluggishness surface every Monday through Tuesday and deep into Wednesday evening.

No wonder Winfield's wife, Erniece, has gotten used to finding him cemented to their adjustable Tempur-Pedic bed during his down time.

Recovery ain't easy.

"Honestly," Erniece said, "Antoine could live in a one-bedroom apartment. He plays 'Call of Duty' up there all day long. It sounds like a battlefield in my house."

And the obvious physical signs that the Winfield who played with Smith, Reed and Flutie isn't the same one now chilling with Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford?

"He's getting that Brett Favre walk," Erniece said. "You know how Brett walked around like Frankenstein? Antoine's getting his Favre on."

So here's the crazy thing. Even with all the obvious aging -- the senior citizen jokes from teammates, the noticeable gray whiskers in his beard -- Winfield keeps finding ways for three hours each Sunday to tap into his aggressive, youthful self.

He's in the middle of a rejuvenated season, the linchpin of the defense with a team-best three interceptions and 10 tackles for loss.

It's been a unique dynamic, really. Winfield isn't just the oldest Viking. He's become the oracle for a secondary that, including the practice squad, has 10 players under the age of 26.

Consider Winfield a big brother. Wait, check that ...

"We call him 'Grandpa' sometimes," cornerback Chris Cook said. "We have to remind him. But the knowledge Antoine brings to our group is amazing. The things he sees, no one else sees. He finds the littlest details to key in on."

The cubs of the Vikings secondary have needed a protector this season. Yet Winfield might need the youngsters just as much -- just to feel spry and energetic and loose again. Which brings us to Monday nights.

Monday nights at the Winfields

For years now, Winfield has hosted weekly in-season team gatherings at his Eden Prairie home.

On goes "Monday Night Football." The Bourré card table grows lively. And Antoine Winfield Jr., now a 14-year-old freshman at Eden Prairie High School, fires up the Madden.

Best of all, Erniece, once a student at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, provides the feast, continuing to lure Adrian Peterson back with her mac and cheese.

Everyone loves the lasagna. And the spicy enchiladas steal the show on Mexican night.

Maybe there's a reality show in here -- "Monday nights at 'Tweezy's" -- a lesson in clowning and team bonding.

By this point, Erniece is no longer surprised to wake up on Tuesdays with cars still in the driveway and so many Vikings still spread around her basement.

(This is your call-out, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Jasper Brinkley and Bobby Felder.)

"We've got these boys so spoiled," Erniece said. "They can eat. They can bond. They can chill. It's good for everyone ... I know it's big for Antoine. If he was around all 35-year-olds, his career would be over.

"These guys keep him young. And that's why we keep inviting them over every Monday."

'The way he plays is all heart'

Winfield's pull remains extensive. Just the mention of his name so often opens a faucet of praise.

Take Lovie Smith, the Chicago head coach who had his hands on Winfield in 1995 as the defensive backs coach at Ohio State. He's still struck by Winfield's ever-present smile and savvy, plus his ability to process the game like Will Hunting doing middle-school math.

"Every coach that's ever had a chance to work with Antoine will say the same thing," Smith said. "You learn things as a coach just from seeing how he plays."

Then there's Harrison Smith, the rookie who values playing alongside Winfield but enjoys watching him on film nearly as much.

Smith is continually struck by the manner in which Winfield finds ninja-like ways to knife around and make tackles in the backfield.

"He'll be on his hands and knees, somehow cut under an offensive lineman, get up and make a tackle," Smith said. "It's stuff I've never seen. The first time I saw it, I just laughed."

Sanford offers a name as a parallel: Ray Lewis. And, no, he doesn't mean Winfield gyrates after big plays or delivers frequent impassioned sermons. He's not saying that. But ...

"Everything he does comes from the heart," Sanford said. "And the way he plays is all heart. He's the smallest guy on this team. But pound-for-pound, he's by far the toughest."

When he talks, players listen

Leadership is a big deal to Winfield. Mostly because he's been around so many poor leaders during his career.

He won't name names. But he can give you common characteristics.

"Too many guys play selfish," Winfield said. "They don't play within the scheme. They're just out trying to get a new contract. They're just trying to make big plays. And instead they're giving up big plays. You can't win like that."

Winfield's most publicized leadership contributions this season came after the Vikings bungled through a 23-20 loss in Indianapolis in Week 2.

A few days later, Winfield spoke out and spoke loud in a team meeting. He didn't single anyone out.

"I called everybody out," he said.

But Winfield did it in a manner so rousing that an entire room snapped to attention.

"There wasn't a single guy looking down," Cook said. "Nobody was looking left or right. The respect we all have for Antoine is for real. You listen to what he says and you take it in."

Winfield called for greater toughness, greater physicality, greater investment.

And then he and the Vikings dialed in that week and delivered what may still be the most surprising result of this NFL season, a 24-13 mauling of San Francisco. The Vikings won three of four after that, too.

"So many new faces here," Winfield said. "So many young players. They needed to hear it. You have to take each season as its own and invest in it. You never know how many opportunities you'll have to be on a good team, to have a chance to go to the playoffs. And when you're in a game that's winnable, you have to win it."

He paused.

"Otherwise, you let too many little opportunities pass and you're suddenly playing meaningless games in December."

Winfield understands what he is saying. Just last Sunday, the Vikings tripped all over themselves in Green Bay, falling 23-14 and sliding back to 6-6.

"Took a winnable game and somehow found a way to lose," Winfield said. "It's frustrating. That eats at you."

Especially when the time left is so precious.

The retirement question

So now comes the finishing stretch. Four games and probably only two "Monday Night Football" gatherings left.

Maybe it's encouraging that last week's loss stung the way it did, further evidence Winfield still has plenty of passion in the tank.

Ideally, he'd love to finish this year out, then charge into the final season of his contract. But there will be physical and business variables to the equation.

So Winfield tries to stay in the now, a veteran who can't see the finish line to his career but knows it's not far off.

Just how far though?

"Great question" Winfield said. "And I have no answer. I know the end is near. But I'm going to play as long as I still feel good, as long as I'm still productive, as long as I still feel like I can still run and cover people and tackle people the way I do."

Right now, that's check, check and check. And thus come the pleas.

"Us young guys aren't letting him walk away," Sanford said. "We need him."

The feeling may be mutual.

  • related content

  • Video: Vikings minus Harvin take on Bears

    Friday December 21, 2012

    Vikings WR Percy Harvin has been placed on the IR with an ankle injury. How will this complicate contract...

  • The Call: Vikings vs. Chicago

    Saturday December 8, 2012

  • Hartman: Gannon likes Ponder's future

    Saturday December 8, 2012

    Rich Gannon, who started his career with the Vikings and wound up quarterbacking the Raiders to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season, makes his home in...

  • Souhan: Another fine mess for Vikings

    Saturday December 8, 2012

    Like Randy Moss before him, supremely gifted Percy Harvin presents team with a difficult call. Or is it?

  • The Minnesota Vikings' Antoine Winfield celebrates a 26-23 overtime vi...

  • WEEK 14 NOON TODAY VS. CHICAGO MALL OF AMERICA FIELD • LINE: BEARS BY 3 TV: CH. 9 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Atlanta 127 FINAL
Cleveland 98
Phoenix 111 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Dallas 117 FINAL
Detroit 106
Utah 105 FINAL
Miami 87
Orlando 92 FINAL
Boston 109
Brooklyn 89 FINAL
Toronto 105
Memphis 117 FINAL
San Antonio 116
Milwaukee 97 FINAL
Portland 104
Houston 115 FINAL
Denver 111
Indiana 100 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Ottawa 2 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Vancouver 0
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 72 FINAL
Ball State 52
SIU Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Campbell 70
St Francis-PA 67 FINAL
Duquesne 52
North Florida 77 FINAL
Florida State 93
Catawba 69 FINAL
George Mason 99
Ferrum 48 FINAL
High Point 106
Hampton 55 FINAL
Illinois 73
Gardner-Webb 65 FINAL
Jacksonville 68
Longwood 60 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 71
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Miss State 55
Tennessee 72 FINAL
NC State 83
NC A&T 55 FINAL
Ohio State 97
Manhattan 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 65
Robert Morris 57 FINAL
Toledo 83
Char Southern 58 FINAL
Wofford 64
Kennesaw St 90 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
Barber-Scotia 52 FINAL
NC Central 108
Detroit 70 FINAL
UCF 75
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 73
TX A&M-CC 73 FINAL
Denver 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 61 FINAL
Houston 56
UT Martin 54 FINAL
Illinois State 64
Milligan 76 FINAL
Louisiana 115
Abilene Christian 44 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 83
USC Upstate 73 FINAL
Memphis 83
Alcorn State 56 FINAL
Murray State 94
Central Mich 80 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Georgia State 54 FINAL
Old Dominion 58
TX-Pan American 69 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
SMU 67
Texas State 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 66
SC State 39 FINAL
Texas Tech 101
Missouri State 70 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Chicago State 60 FINAL
Western Ky 75
Morehead State 50 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Northern Colorado 82 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 92
Winthrop 62 FINAL
Auburn 80
New Mexico St 55 FINAL
Baylor 66
San Diego St 62 FINAL
Cincinnati 71
Eastern Mich 46 FINAL
Michigan State 66
Loyola Marymount 58 FINAL
Stanford 67
Incarnate Word 82 FINAL
Grand Canyon 80
Northeastern 58 FINAL
Cal Poly 60
Central Arkansas 55 FINAL
New Mexico 76
Howard 45 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Portland 73 FINAL
UNLV 75
CS-Northridge 56 FINAL
Oregon 79
Grambling St 38 FINAL
Washington 86
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 70 FINAL
Seattle 64
(7) Stanford 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 54
Florida A&M 69 FINAL
Southern U 80
Oklahoma 72 FINAL
(13) Duke 92
Savannah State 56 FINAL
Auburn 62
Northern Colorado 43 FINAL
South Florida 84
Youngstown St 73 FINAL
Robert Morris 65
Siena 75 FINAL
Sacred Heart 65
Vermont 63 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
(1) South Carolina 69 FINAL
Hampton 49
Fla Gulf Coast 91 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 46
Texas Southern 92 FINAL
Houston Baptist 80
Northwestern 88 FINAL
UNLV 84
NC A&T 70 FINAL
Appalachian St 72
NC Central 52 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 67
Drexel 50 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Northern Ky 66
Alabama State 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 77
Morehead St 69 FINAL
USC Upstate 75
Arkansas State 59 FINAL
Kent State 44
American Univ 60 FINAL
Manhattan 52
UNC Greensboro 60 FINAL
St Bonaventure 78
Arkansas-Monticello 56 FINAL
Northwestern St 61
Prairie View 70 FINAL
Sam Houston St 51
McNeese State 59 FINAL
(3) Texas 76
Yale 90 FINAL
Wagner 65
Oakland 61 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 54
Eastern Kentucky 62 FINAL
Alabama A&M 56
SIU-Edwardsville 47 FINAL
Northern Ill 69
McMurry 25 FINAL
TX-Arlington 82
Portland 65 FINAL
Eastern Washington 72
North Texas 42 FINAL
San Francisco 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close