To canvas the Vikings locker room after they beat the Packers on Sunday night was to hear the same answer, as if the players had quickly held a meeting after the game and handed out a script.
Were they surprised by Sam Bradford’s play?
“No,’’ cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He was the first pick in the draft for a reason.’’
At first glance that sounds like the kind of answer athletes produce to get through an interview quickly. It’s a self-defense mechanism that has worked well for thousands of athletes, including Derek Jeter and Kirby Puckett.
But as Munnerlyn’s teammates repeated the line it stopped sounding like a cliché and started sounding like a Vikings fan fever dream.
Vikings players were talking about their quarterback, who was the first pick in the draft. That has happened only once before in franchise history.
In 1999, former No. 1 pick Jeff George took over for a slumping Randall Cunningham and displayed the arm talent of someone of his pedigree, winning eight of his 10 regular-season starts and winning a playoff game. Exposure to George during the season led the Vikings to looking elsewhere for quarterback help the next year, but there was no denying George’s talent.
Twice, the Vikings have had the first pick in the NFL draft. In 1961, they selected running back Tommy Mason. In 1968, they took Hall of Fame tackle Ron Yary.
In recent decades, the Vikings rarely have been bad enough to position themselves to take a top-of-the-draft quarterback. They chose Daunte Culpepper as a project with the 11th pick in the 1999 draft and Christian Ponder as a reach with the 12th pick in 2011.
They never have been able to land someone like Cam Newton, whom they will face on Sunday, or Peyton Manning, who was the most recent Super Bowl-winning quarterback — someone who is, rightly or wrongly, considered a sure thing.
The Vikings instead have exhausted other methods of filling the quarterback position — from shoplifting Brett Favre to exhuming Shaun Hill.
Bradford’s arrival blends the Vikings’ old approach (scrambling for veteran help) with a new twist (landing a former No. 1 pick) at an age when he can still be a franchise quarterback (28).
The St. Louis Rams chose Bradford with the first pick in 2010. The next year, the Panthers chose Newton.
Bradford doesn’t possess Newton’s versatility or pedigree, but if Sunday night was an indication of his ability, he has a chance to justify his draft position while wearing purple.
He threw with accuracy. He threw deep with velocity. He threw with touch. He survived a poor performance by his offensive line. He succeeded without help from the running game. He thrived despite having only one receiver make big plays.
He ran a still-unfamiliar offense while dealing with bothersome crowd noise while the home team was on offense. And he played hurt, after badly bruising his left hand.
It was the kind of performance the Rams envisioned when they chose him, and in the often-strange world of sports, the Rams might have accidentally done the Vikings a great favor.
The Rams made Bradford look bad. They depressed his value, while giving him valuable if unpleasant experience.
The Vikings paid a high price for Bradford, but not as high a price as it would have taken to get him in the 2010 draft, and perhaps not as high a price as they paid for Ponder in the 2011 draft.
The future is unknowable. Bradford could fail or fall to injury. Teddy Bridgewater could return as the Vikings’ franchise quarterback. Sunday night could remain a one-off.
But Bradford displayed on Sunday the kind of talent and composure that you would expect from the first pick in an NFL draft. Given that the Vikings didn’t plan to select Bridgewater, and maneuvered to take him only after he fell further than expected, the team in constant search of a trustworthy, in-his-prime starting quarterback may have day-traded its way to one. Or two.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On