In the fall of 1990, I stood near the loading dock at the Vikings’ Winter Park facility in Eden Prairie, watching a few players pack Donald Igwebuike into the trunk of a car so they could smuggle him past the television cameras gathered on the front driveway.
Igwebuike, formerly an accomplished kicker for the Tampa Bay Bucs, was spending his first and only season with the Vikings. He had been indicted on drug-smuggling charges. He was acquitted the following spring.
Igwebuike’s worries didn’t harm his kicking. He converted 14 of his 16 field-goal attempts and all 19 of his extra points that season, proving that even effective Vikings kickers wind up hiding in trunks, or wanting to.
When it comes to Vikings and kickers, history doesn’t just haunt. It nags. Gary Anderson’s only miss in 1998 kept the Vikings from the Super Bowl. Blair Walsh’s miss from 27 yards against Seattle in 2015 cost Mike Zimmer what would have been his first postseason victory.
They have drafted two kickers in the past seven years and have cut both.
Daniel Carlson missed three field-goal attempts against Green Bay last year and was released, then went on to make 16 of his 17 tries for Oakland.
The way Zimmer and Rick Spielman handled their punters, kickers, holders and long-snappers this season feels like the football version of those old posters where the field mouse makes a defiant gesture toward the swooping eagle. Even if you admire the sentiment, you have little doubt about the outcome.
Their self-imposed kicker dramas are emblematic of the flaws of the current Vikings’ brain trust. In a few days they will open the season with a talented roster featuring a worrisome quarterback and their latest kicking and punting temps.
Brain trusts develop personalities as surely as do players. What we know about the Spielman-Zimmer partnership is that they have pronounced strengths and problematic blind spots.
They have built a roster good enough to inspire championship expectations but not good enough to fulfill them.
Their strength: Finding underappreciated or downgraded athletes.
Their weakness: Identifying or developing players at positions where savvy and composure are as important as physical prowess.
They landed Danielle Hunter in the third round, Everson Griffen in the fourth, Stefon Diggs in the fifth and Adam Thielen at a tryout camp.
They have won just one playoff game since 2009, in part, because they used the 12th pick in the 2011 draft on Christian Ponder and have squandered a handful of draft picks on kickers, punters and long-snappers, only to wind up with two veterans — Dan Bailey and Britton Colquitt — they signed off the street.
This decade, the Vikings used two first-round draft picks in a three-year span on quarterbacks since 2011, only to later make Kirk Cousins the highest-paid quarterback in the league.
Wednesday, the Vikings held their first regular-season media day of 2019. Zimmer spoke from a podium in the media center, and Cousins and Diggs did formal interviews in the locker room. There was coaching and athletic talent everywhere, and there was also a new punter and a kicker who would have been justified in feeling nervous.
This team is coming off a training camp in which Spielman and Zimmer traded a fifth-round draft pick for a kicker/punter, then cut him after a few weeks, along with incumbent punter Matt Wile.
This is the franchise that cut punter Chris Kluwe either for his activism or merely because they were annoyed at a punter seeking attention. (In the NFL, bet on the former.)
After all of the unnecessary drama, the Vikings were lucky to wind up with quality pros in Bailey and Colquitt. So when Zimmer cuts them in Week 2 or 10, the Vikings should act like Derek Jeter did with his dates in the 2000s, and send them home with nice gift baskets. If you order those in bulk, you can save some real money.