Today marks the two-year anniversary of perhaps the strangest and worst football game I’ve ever seen: The 23-7 Vikings loss to the Giants in which Josh Freeman, signed off the street, made his one and only career start for Minnesota in what could very well prove to be his last start ever in the NFL.
I have an unhealthy fascination, two years later, with this game and the whole situation surrounding Freeman (including his strange, whisper-filled introductory conference call). I admit this. Two years ago, a group of friends gathered at Legends to watch the game, excited about the prospects of what Freeman could bring to the Vikings. A debacle ensued. A year ago, I gathered as many of the key participants as possible at Legends again to do a one-year oral history of watching that game. It remains one of my favorite things on this blog ever, and one of the commenters calling us all “milquetoast nobodies” remains one of the best comments ever.
To this day, I remain confounded by the facts that 1) The Vikings signed Freeman in the middle of the season and tossed him into the starting role. 2) Many of us thought this was a great idea. Why not!? 3) Freeman, who had one very nice season with Tampa and another pretty decent season with Tampa, imploded to the point that his performance in that game (20 of 53! So many overthrows!) was possible.
Alas, I’m not here to do another oral history of watching that game. But I am going to try to talk through those three points, in order, in hopes of convincing myself of some understanding.
1) What were the Vikings thinking when they grabbed Freeman off the discard pile and threw him into the lineup? My best guess is they were thinking like fans: why not? They were already 1-4 and had already tried Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel as starters in the first five games. It was a classic “maybe a change of scenery will help” kind of move. But it was also extremely wishful thinking. In his final six games with Tampa Bay (three in 2012, three in 2013), Freeman completed 51.3 percent of his passes with 4 TDs and 12 INTs. Clearly something had happened to a once-promising young QB. But the Vikings were desperate. He was still just 25 years old at the time of the MNF game. If it worked, it would be brilliant. But it did not work. It did not work at all.
2) What were fans thinking in getting excited about this game? As chronicled in the oral history, basically we bought into the hope the Vikings were selling and we were trusting that if they were putting him out there there must be a good reason. We also loved the absurdity of it all because it’s just not something you ever see unless no other healthy options are available, which was not the case with the Vikings’ QB situation.
3) How did Freeman fall this far? This is the question for which we will never have the full answer. Even after the Vikings debacle, other teams took a look at him and still saw potential. The Giants signed and released him in 2014; the Dolphins brought him in this year and he struggled mightily in preseason action before being released two months ago.
From there, he latched on with a team called the Brooklyn Bolts in a league called the Fall Experimental Football League, two entities I frankly had never heard of before putting Freeman’s name in Google. The 27-year-old Freeman has played two games for the Bolts, completing 22 of 37 passes with 3 TDs and 2 INTs.
Keep in mind, this is a quarterback who has several positive franchise records with Tampa Bay, all compiled in the fairly recent past. A regime/scheme change from Raheem Morris to Greg Schiano after the 2011 season could explain some of the fall. Some QBs thrive under certain situations and tank in others (think Daunte Culpepper in 2005, minus offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, in the brutal games before his knee injury). But we’ll never really know.
I can’t promise I’ll never write about Freeman again, though I imagine this is probably it. The further we get from two years ago, the more it becomes a sad, strange footnote — but one, nonetheless, that I will never forget.