Speaking to local reporters for the first time since his devastating knee injury, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said he’s not concerned about his football career nor has a doctor told him he might never play again.
The 24-year-old Bridgewater said he’s determined to resume his NFL career while in the middle of a trying rehabilitation of his left leg, which dislocated at the knee and suffered multiple torn ligaments during a routine practice drill 11 months ago.
“That’s the good thing about all of this,” Bridgewater said Thursday. “I get to continue to live out my dream. We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but for me, I know it’s going to happen.”
Bridgewater, placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list as training camp began this week, wore his red practice jersey Thursday, but he has not been medically cleared to practice and said he does not know of a target date to return. He didn’t elaborate on his current mobility or contract situation, but acknowledged he has a long road ahead.
Bridgewater is entering the final year of his contract. If he remains on the PUP list through the regular season, the Vikings would retain his rights for 2018.
Walking around without any support on his left knee, Bridgewater looked calm and content while fielding questions about that practice on Aug. 30, the possibility of losing his leg and “amazing DNA” driving his comeback.
“Man, it’s been one grind,” Bridgewater said. “But the best thing that I had going for me is that I’ve had an experience with having to fight. Watching my mom battle breast cancer, so I come from an amazing DNA where we’re fighters. So you have your days where you don’t see the progress, but it’s a long process. I’m in it for the long haul.”
Joe Berger snapped the ball to Bridgewater, who dropped back, planting his left leg over his right like he had done thousands of times before.
“I put a lot of force into the ground,” Bridgewater recalled. “And I’m pretty sure the knee just gave out.”
“It was just a play-action pass,” Bridgewater added. “I can’t even remember, it was so long ago, but I just remember being out there laying on the ground. The biggest thing I remember was the guys supporting me. As I was out there on the ground, different guys came up, holding my hand, praying for me.”
Then there was the aircast, applied by Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, who might have saved Bridgewater’s leg, the quarterback said, before the ambulance arrived to Winter Park on an otherwise sunny day.
“Probably, I don’t know,” Bridgewater said. “I just know that I was in the back of the truck and Sugarman was back there with me and we had a conversation and I’m pretty sure both of us were pretty nervous about that conversation. I’m glad everyone reacted in a timely manner and we were able to save my leg, if that’s what you want to call it.”
Bridgewater, lauded in communities for his outreach efforts, said the injury has made him a “better person” by appreciating the little things like learning how to walk again or successfully put on his pants. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has been effusive in his praise of Bridgewater’s demeanor since the injury.
“He’s really done a remarkable job,” Zimmer said. “I never said what the prognosis was when he got hurt, but it was not good. And for him to come as far as he’s come… and we kind of knew it was going to be a long process and for where he’s at right now is really remarkable. It’s a testament to not only him, but his mom and the way he was brought up.”
Bridgewater, who lives and trains in his hometown Miami during the offseason, said leaning on his family has been important while football has been “taken away from me.” He said he has sought counsel with other NFL players who have suffered knee injuries like Willis McGahee and Frank Gore.
The main lesson Bridgewater gained from other recoveries is “take your time. I’ve talked to some guys who came back too soon and I’ve talked to guys who took their time. The biggest thing is, I just have to know when my body is ready and I’ll be ready.”
Not even he knows when that is. But in the face of an uncertain playing future, the young quarterback has kept the signature smile.
“It’s a roller coaster that you go on,” Bridgewater said. “But for me, I’ve had so much support that I’ve had more great days than I’ve had bad days. I’m very appreciative of that.”