Tuesday’s practice had just ended when Toby Gerhart was stopped coming off the field to discuss his role in perhaps the most bittersweet victory in the 53-season history of the Vikings. Suddenly, Joe Webb was moving swiftly toward the locker room when the reporter flagged him down with an assist from Gerhart.
“Come on over, Webber,” Gerhart said. “He’s asking about our glory days in Washington.”
Vikings fans would call it their franchise’s “gory” day in Washington, for it was that victory over the Redskins in 2011 that cost the Vikings the opportunity to select Heisman Trophy- winning Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III No. 2 overall in 2012.
Two years later, it’s still the pain that keeps on throbbing. The Vikings are 1-7 and very much unsettled at quarterback as Griffin and those Redskins (3-5) visit Mall of America Field for Thursday night’s game. Griffin revived the Redskins while winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors a year ago and is now starting to look like his old self as his surgically rebuilt knee gets closer to full strength.
“I remember right after we beat Washington [in 2011],” Gerhart said. “Everybody is like, ‘Why’d you beat Washington?’ We’re trying to play well and get a win for each other and the fans. Then we finally get a win and they say, ‘Ah, man, you should have lost because we’d get a better draft pick.’ But that’s RGIII. It’s a no-win situation.”
Christmas Eve 2011
The Vikings were 2-12 when they walked into FedEx Field to play the 5-9 Redskins on Christmas Eve 2011. The Colts were 1-13 and had the inside lane on selecting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. The Rams, meanwhile, were 2-12, but they didn’t have a need for Griffin, having taken Sam Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010.
The Vikings had selected Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011, but couldn’t be ruled out as a suitor for Griffin. Of course, we will never know what would have happened, but Griffin is pretty sure he knows where he would have ended up had the Vikings been on the clock at No. 2 instead of No. 3.
“I didn’t have any contact with the Vikings before the draft, although I was told not to rule anything out,” Griffin said Tuesday during a conference call with Twin Cities reporters. “Not by anybody in their front office or their head coach. But obviously I know Adrian [Peterson] and we have the same agent [Ben Dogra]. Specifically, I was told by a few people from the outside that if I had fallen to No. 3, [the Vikings] weren’t going to leave me on the board. But nothing as far as them wanting to move up or just dying to have me. Just kind of if I was there, they were going to take me.”
Griffin admitted he and Peterson talked about the possibilities of ending up in the same backfield.
“We did,” Griffin said. “But I wasn’t a basketball player and this wasn’t free agency. It’s not like I had a choice. We didn’t have any control over that. It would have been awesome but I feel blessed to be in the situation that I am in and to have the players around me that I have.”
Toby & Joe show
Gerhart is a former second-round draft pick whose opportunities have been minimal the past four seasons. Webb is a former quarterback who is now the Vikings’ No. 5 receiver. But for 25½ minutes on Christmas Eve 2011, they played like a couple of Hall of Famers when Peterson and Ponder went down because of injuries on back-to-back plays early in the third quarter.
With 14 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third quarter and the score tied 10-10, Peterson took a simple handoff up the middle. Safety DeJon Gomes flashed in from the left side with a direct shot that blew apart the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in Peterson’s left knee. His season ended and his unprecedented comeback was set to begin.
On the next play, Ponder was shaken up on a sack. He would stay in only one more snap, throwing an incompletion before leaving because of a concussion.
The Vikings punted the ball away and the Redskins responded with a field goal and a 13-10 lead that certainly wouldn’t be challenged with Ponder and Peterson both done for the day. Right? Well, not exactly.
On the next play from scrimmage, Gerhart broke loose for a 67-yard gain to the Washington 8.