Mankato – Throughout his time in Minnesota, Teddy Bridgewater has repeatedly executed a trick play, proving more likable than accessible, eliciting affection without offering many glimpses of his soul.
You could see his personality billowing like laughing gas through the Vikings locker room on Friday afternoons, when players lounged and joked. Bridgewater would often be the one standing in the middle of what looked like a comedy club, more performer than patron.
He saved that side of himself for teammates, with the exception of one conversation we had during his second training camp. That day we walked from practice into the Vikings facility in Mankato and he talked of his love of his mother and music. He even danced a two-step, a rare moment of engaging silliness for an NFL franchise quarterback.
And that’s what he was, a franchise quarterback. Not a star, but not a finished sculpture, either. In his second year in the league, he helped the Vikings to an 11-5 record and completed 71 percent of his passes against a nasty Seattle defense in freezing temperatures in the playoffs, leading the Vikings on what should have been a game-winning drive until ... well, you know.
A few months later Bridgewater planted his left foot during practice and his knee exploded. Thursday, 11 months after that injury threatened first his leg and then his career, Bridgewater finally spoke publicly about that day.
There is some mystery as to why this took 11 months. Bridgewater is smooth. He can handle a news conference.
And he executed a verbal version of the two-step on Thursday. Without offering much in the way of detail, he sounded determined and philosophical. He looked bigger through the shoulders and chest and it was good to see him behind a podium, where he belongs once or twice a week every fall.
But we shouldn’t get used to this. He may never take another meaningful snap for the Vikings. He may not play again anywhere.
The team has placed Bridgewater on the physically unable to perform list. If he comes off that list this season, something will have gone wrong.
If the Vikings could script out the next two years, they’d have Sam Bradford perform like a star and reward him with a hefty long-term contract. They’d keep Bridgewater on the PUP list all season, which would allow them to extend his contract a year.
If that happened, the Vikings might be as strong at quarterback as they ever have been, with two franchise-caliber, young-or-young-enough players at the position — if Bridgewater can come all the way back.
What Bridgewater is too smooth to say now is that he wouldn’t like that much. His past behavior tells us he’ll never undermine Bradford or complain publicly, but his goal is to win a lot of NFL games, and he plays in a league where half the teams are looking for a new starter.
If you’re the sentimental type, you’d hope Bridgewater becomes the story of the year by returning to lead the Vikings to the playoffs, but to wish that is to wish Bradford misfortune.
If Bridgewater takes another snap in the NFL, he will have beaten long odds. If he reasserts himself as a franchise quarterback — anywhere, at any time — he will become an inspirational figure.
He could also do all of the work required of him and have his body fail. This is more about anatomy than will.
Asked if doctors have told him that he will fully recover, Bridgewater said, “That’s something I’d rather not talk about.”
As he spoke after all this time and heard fans chanting his first name again, Bridgewater reminded us of his poise and popularity, neither of which will help him as a quarterback unless his knee holds up under the assault and battery of an NFL game.
That’s a test he may not get to take for another 13 months, if ever.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib firstname.lastname@example.org