The Vikings didn’t need to show any sepia-toned highlights to pay homage to their Metrodome heritage. All they had to do on Sunday, in the last game ever played beneath the Teflon sky, was give the ball to a guy with Randy Moss’ number and Percy Harvin’s moves, then watch one of the most talented athletes in franchise history blow the roof off the joint.
By scoring both of the Vikings’ touchdowns in their 14-13 victory over Detroit, Cordarrelle Patterson took the slashes from his returner/receiver/runner résumé and applied them to his Sunday role, prompting nostalgia/regrets/optimism.
Nostalgia? In the Dome, the Vikings have shown off a collection of athletes that would shame many Olympic teams. Like Moss and Harvin, Patterson used his rookie season to display unteachable skills and amass startling numbers.
Regrets? Patterson made big plays as a kick returner, runner and receiver, destroying the theory that he was too raw to play regularly as a rookie. Even limited to handoffs, toss-sweeps, reverses and simple pass routes, he led the Vikings with 13.2 yards per carry and produced nine touchdowns.
Optimism? While Harvin managed one catch while rehabilitating a hip injury with Seattle, Patterson, his replacement, set team records for kickoff return yards in a season (1,393), highest return average (32.4) and most rushing touchdowns by receiver since the NFL-AFL merger (three). He also became the first player in NFL history to amass four receiving touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns and two kickoff-return touchdowns in one season.
Whatever becomes of their coaching and quarterbacking positions, the Vikings should enter their transient years in TCF Bank Stadium, and eventually the ZygiDome, with two of the least explicable athletes in the NFL, in Adrian Peterson and Patterson.
“He’s an incredible athlete,” said Peterson, who used to promote Harvin as an athletic equal and MVP candidate. “He’s right there on Percy Harvin’s heels. He’s the real deal.”
The Dome’s turf provided the fast track for sprinters like Moss and Robert Smith, and irrepressible competitors like Peterson and Harvin. In one season, Patterson prompted comparisons to all of them, not in numerical production but in the revealing category of gasps-per-touch.
His 32.4 yards per kickoff return ranked fourth in NFL history and was the highest since 1976. He became the third Vikings rookie, along with Peterson and Harvin, to amass 2,000 combined net yards in a season, and his total of 2,020 ranked fifth in team history.
After faking a pass and running 50 yards for the Vikings’ first touchdown Sunday, Patterson finished the season with three of the six longest scoring runs in team history.
Despite a limited role for most of the season and just one season of major college football experience, Patterson finished with 12 carries for 158 yards and three touchdowns, and 45 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns.
Few have done so much with such a limited role since Brett Favre. Not when he was a Viking — when he appeared in “There’s Something About Mary.”
“I think he’s going to be pretty special,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “He stays healthy, the sky is the limit.”
About the sky … Patterson isn’t looking forward to seeing it, not during home games.
“I really don’t want to play outside,” he said. “It’s kind of cold up here in Minnesota. My family came up this weekend, they said they probably weren’t going to come back because it was too cold.”
Bill Musgrave might not see Patterson play at TCF Bank Stadium, either. The Vikings offensive coordinator can’t be blamed for the team’s lack of talent at quarterback. He can and will be blamed for not having more than three touches in a game from scrimmage until the Vikings’ 11th game.
Before that game, the Vikings went 2-8. With Patterson averaging 5.7 touches from that game forward, the Vikings went 3-2-1.
Patterson did make a mistake Sunday. He was talking to fans when the opening kickoff was in the air, leaving him out of position and embarrassed, but not for long.