Vikings' rookie QB Bridgewater is bridging the gap

  • Article by: MATT VENSEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 28, 2014 - 8:44 AM

The list is scribbled on a piece of paper and tucked away in one of his notebooks, so he can see it every day. It might as well be in a vault, though. It is for Teddy Bridgewater’s eyes only.

Bridgewater always has been a goal-oriented person, and he has a summer ritual of writing down his goals before reporting for training camp. He crossed many of them off his list during his college career at Louisville and his high school playing days in Miami before then.

But Bridgewater doesn’t feel the need to share them, certainly not to an inquisitive reporter.

“I can’t tell you what’s on the list,” the busy rookie quarterback said while walking and talking after a recent practice. “I can give you the biggest goal: to not make the same mistake twice.”

This has become his go-to talking point the first week of training camp in Mankato, and in his brief time with the Vikings, Bridgewater has displayed the poise of a veteran while throwing around coachspeak as much as he has when throwing around footballs — and he has looked sharp doing that.

But one can assume that Bridgewater’s goals are more ambitious than that, that the top-secret list also includes seizing the starting quarterback job and leading the Vikings back to the playoffs. And whether or not he says it publicly, Bridgewater expects both to happen in due time. Bridgewater started preparing to become an NFL starter and the face of a franchise long before the Vikings drafted him with the 32nd overall pick in May’s NFL draft.

Bridgewater must beat out veteran Matt Cassel to cross that one off his list. Even if he doesn’t by Week 1, the Vikings still believe they have hitched their future hopes to the right quarterback.

“Teddy has been a really good get for us,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I do not know when [he will start], but I am ecstatic to have him. I love his personality. I was teasing him this morning about some stuff. He has a good head on his shoulders and is a good kid. The Vikings fans will be proud to have Teddy Bridgewater with us for a long, long time.”

Never giving up

Bridgewater’s discipline was developed at a young age, in part, by his father, Teddy Sr., an Army veteran. Even after his parents divorced when he was 4, Bridgewater had to charge through a list of chores when he visited his father. Keeping his grades up were also a must.

“My father did teach me some things,” Bridgewater said. “The No. 1 thing is respect.”

His drive? That comes from his mother, Rose Murphy, who raised Bridgewater and his three older siblings in the working-class Brownsville neighborhood of Miami.

Back then, Bridgewater stood out among his peers on the ball fields and sandlots, not just because he was one of the best athletes, but also because he was one of the tallest. By the time he was 9, his mom had to bring his birth certificate to quiet any parents who questioned his age.

Rose knew her baby was a special athlete as he watched him smack baseballs around the park and effortlessly play a handful of positions in pee-wee football. To her, Bridgewater was destined to become a star, but he considered putting football on hold when she was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 14.

Rose, who is now cancer-free, wasn’t having it. She wasn’t quitting, and neither was he.

“His dream was always to be a professional football player and he wasn’t going to accept no as an option,” she said. “He got his strength and his stride just from watching me.”

Her battle with cancer taught Bridgewater “to live life with a purpose and live that purpose out loud,” and to never give up.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re going through, my mom always told me, ‘It gets greater later,’  Bridgewater said. “Even though she went through breast cancer, watching her continue to smile even when her hair was falling out and her fingernails were turning black and she was too weak to go to the bathroom. Watching her smile, that meant a lot to me, and I take those things from her and just apply them to my life.”

A soft landing

The family motto, the one about things getting greater later, was tested after a poor pro day. Bridgewater, once considered a squeaky-clean prospect, ended up being scrutinized as much as anyone in the draft.

Then, before landing in Minnesota, Bridgewater had to wait four hours on draft night for his name to be called, and not before he watched the Vikings pass on him once and heard the unconfirmed reports that they tried to trade up to select Texas A&M scrambler Johnny Manziel instead.

Privately, Bridgewater was telling friends and family that he hoped to land with the Vikings, who gave off a family vibe during his interactions with them. And while he admits that being the predraft punching bag for draft analysts ticked him off, he is happy with how everything turned out.

“Of course, it motivates you for one. But I tried to put all the predraft process, what happened, behind me,” he said. “Because hey, I’m here in Minnesota now. What was said back then doesn’t affect what I do tomorrow or what I do the next day. It happened and I’m glad it’s over with. And now I can just focus on being the best Minnesota Viking that I can be.”

The anti-Manziel

Before the draft, while national media buzzed about the star power Manziel could bring to a lifeless organization, at least one prominent analyst voiced concerns about Bridgewater’s ability to be the face of a franchise.

So far, though, Bridgewater has kept a smile on a face with people tugging him from every direction.

On reporting day here, the cheers for Bridgewater were as loud as for anyone, and he smiled as he signed autographs for many of the hopeful fans. The following day, he patiently flipped a football for several minutes until a photographer got the perfect shot. Hours later, he patiently answered questions — many of which he had already answered the day before — inside a sizable scrum of reporters.

While Manziel has provided countless clicks for websites such as TMZ and Deadspin — and reportedly has partied his way from a quarterback competition into the doghouse in Cleveland — the Vikings are not expecting to see Instagram photos of Bridgewater holding a bottle of champagne while floating on an inflatable swan or pretending a giant stack of dollar bills was a telephone.

Bridgewater’s kind of scene is a good dinner and a quiet night in with his playbook.

“He’s been extremely impressive in his approach, not only what he’s doing on the field, but what he does off the field,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said.

Bridgewater, who learned to be a self-starter while having to fend for himself when his mother was at work, believes he will succeed in the NFL if “he says within his character, stays true to himself.”

Opportunity knocks

In high school, Bridgewater snagged passes from future University of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris as a sophomore while he waited for his turn in the huddle. At Louisville, he again patiently prepared to play, but early in his freshman year when an injury sidelined starter Will Stein, Bridgewater pounced, never surrendering the job.

Now, he is learning on lessons learned in the past — in life and in football — while battling Cassel and Christian Ponder to start. Cassel had the leg up when the Vikings arrived in Mankato, but Zimmer said he would have no reservations about starting the 21-year-old Bridgewater, who had a strong spring and impressed the coaching staff with his study habits and his deep ball, if he is the best fit for this team.

“We’re really not afraid to do anything,” Zimmer said.

All business now, Bridgewater has said all the right things about the quarterback competition and how he just wants to get better every day — you know, not making the same mistake twice.

But last month, Bridgewater briefly allowed himself to think about what it will be like to step into the huddle for the first time as the Vikings starting quarterback, something he is likely to cross off his list at some point this fall.

“It will be a great feeling,” he said. “I know that I won’t get there unless I continue to just compete at a high level. It’s just going to be a great feeling. When the time comes, I’ll take advantage of it.”

 

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