It'd be darn near impossible to sour the Vikings' spirits this week as they continue their captivating run with Saturday's playoff clash in Green Bay. But there are two words that add at least a dash of confusion to the excitement at Winter Park.
You remember him, right? The receiver who spent this season's first eight weeks alchemizing Christian Ponder screen passes and turning Paul Allen hoarse.
Now? Harvin has vanished, an out-of-sight, out-of-mind pawn whom Vikings coaches and players have stopped thinking about. Until, of course, they're asked about him. And then the awkwardness surfaces.
No one seems to know what to say. They're not exactly sure what Harvin's been up to since he bolted town almost immediately after being placed on injured reserve on Dec. 5. And they are not certain what Harvin's future holds. But wasting time trying to solve that puzzle now seems misguided.
Around the locker room, teammates notice reminders of Harvin's mysterious absence, such as the unopened packages stacking up inside his locker stall. But many players shrug it off. They have never felt Harvin was a significant distraction or divisive force to this team. Just a complex personality whose moodiness is part of the deal.
So even as those within the organization privately express confusion at the receiver's disappearance and unwillingness to return text messages and even as those higher up the power structure convey that they wish Harvin was around, no one is consumed by the subplot.
In a public setting Wednesday, Leslie Frazier was asked about Harvin's whereabouts and never wandered from his talking points. The Vikings coach confirmed Harvin is in Florida (at least at last check); that he is still continuing rehabilitation on his sprained left ankle; and that he is in constant communication with athletic trainer Eric Sugarman. Oh, and that he is still a big Vikings supporter.
"I know he wants our team to do well," Frazier insisted, "and that's important."
Safety Jamarca Sanford, one of Harvin's closest friends, offered a similar report. In frequent communication with Harvin, mostly by text, Sanford said Harvin has recently expressed enjoyment of this Vikings' run and disappointment for not being able to contribute.
"He tells me he's really proud of us," Sanford said. "I know it was hard for him [to go on IR]. He wants to be helping this team win. But unluckily he got hurt. That's part of the game. So all he can do is sit back and watch."
Still, even if Harvin truly is rooting from afar, that's just dressing on a saga containing so many more questions right now than answers. Like why has Harvin chosen to separate from the team during such a delightful run?
Sure, it might be torture for a guy that competitive to watch practices and games without being able to participate. But players on IR are allowed to attend meetings and observe practices. They are allowed to travel with the team and be on the sidelines during games. So wouldn't Harvin want to be a part of this magic? And wouldn't he be a valuable resource for the other receivers?
"If he wanted to be around, he can be around," Frazier said.
Before long, perhaps as early as Monday, the organization will find one of its biggest 2013 issues thrust into the spotlight: Will Harvin remain a Viking next season and beyond?
At present, it's a question no one seems to be able to answer.
Harvin is signed through 2013, and the front office has conveyed its willingness to negotiate a long-term extension soon -- if, of course, they can marry their vision with the receiver's.
Adding to the complexity, however, isn't just Harvin's current absence but the fact that the Vikings are 5-2 since he last played. And suddenly rookie Jarius Wright is showing flashes of promise in a similar role.
Plus there's this: The Vikings ushered Harvin to IR with four regular-season games left, explaining they were convinced his ankle wouldn't heal enough to have him at full strength again this season. Yet the injury hasn't required surgery. And now the Vikings will play a playoff game 62 days after Harvin sprained the ankle.
Had he avoided IR and remained on the active roster, isn't it fair to wonder whether he could have recovered in time to play Saturday?
It all leads to the growing outside belief that there are unspoken complications to the whole ordeal. But what exactly?
Dan Wiederer • firstname.lastname@example.org