As the whirlwind slowed for a moment and they held up their new purple Vikings jerseys for the first time, Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater were hiding very different emotions behind their smiles.
Barr was running on fumes after a long night of celebration in his hometown of Los Angeles and was still in disbelief that he was the ninth overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft.
“Honestly, it’s been crazy, nothing I could have ever imagined,” Barr said Friday. “Yesterday, I had my phone in my hand and I was just waiting for someone to call me. Luckily, I was able to get a phone call from the Minnesota Vikings and now I’m standing in front of you guys today.”
Bridgewater, meanwhile, simply was feeling relief after playing the role of predraft piñata for draft analysts and nearly dropping out of the first round before the Vikings used the 32nd pick to emancipate him from the green room at Radio City Music Hall.
But as the two stood side by side as flashbulbs blinded them for more than a minute, they shared both an excitement to get to work next week and the desire to prove themselves at the next level. Barr is eager to show he is a polished player, not a pass-rushing project. And Bridgewater is motivated by the critics who ripped him after an underwhelming pro day performance.
“I talked with Coach [Mike] Zimmer a while back when I came here and he told me he loves guys that play with a chip on their shoulder,” said Bridgewater, his right leg nervously twitching behind the podium. “So after having that conversation with him and just experiencing [Thursday] night, I’m glad to be a Viking, but you can best believe I’ll play with a chip on my shoulder.”
No prospect was scrutinized more than Bridgewater in the days leading up to the draft, not even celebrity signal-caller Johnny Manziel or Jadeveon Clowney, the prodigious pass rusher whose “motor” was doubted by armchair quarterbacks. Not only was Bridgewater’s arm strength questioned, but at least one analyst wondered whether he was fit to be the face of a franchise.
Of all the criticisms Bridgewater heard, none irritated him more than when one unnamed NFL coach compared him to Willie Beamen, the erratic scrambler played by Jamie Foxx in the movie “Any Given Sunday.”
But now that he is in Minnesota, Bridgewater, who was greeted by fans at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Friday afternoon, said he is happy to be in an organization with a family feel.
“My mind-set was worry about the things you can control,” Bridgewater said. “Throughout this entire process I’ve been able to meet great coaches, great owners, but none like the Minnesota Vikings. This entire process has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I really enjoyed it.”
Barr enjoyed the process, too, particularly spending the first night of the draft back home with his friends and family instead of attending the draft in New York. He arrived in the Twin Cities with his mother — and signed autographs at the airport, too — and was back on a flight to California after the news conference, unlike Bridgewater, who attended the Wild’s playoff game at Xcel Energy Center and is remaining in town to get settled into his new home.
“This is all still kind of surreal,” Barr said. “It’s pretty awesome at the same time so I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.”
Two years ago, Barr never imagined he would celebrate being a top-10 pick. He had just switched from fullback to outside linebacker and wasn’t sure where that would lead him. Yet 149 tackles, 23.5 sacks and 40.5 stops for a loss later, there he was on the stage with Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, General Manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer.
“Wow, these two guys are studs, aren’t they?” Zimmer said a few minutes later. “These are what NFL football players are supposed to look like. We really anticipate that not only these two guys but all the guys that we continue to bring in are model citizens, great competitors and great football players.”
Barr and Bridgewater will be joined by the rest of the Vikings draft class next week for the team’s rookie minicamp. Bridgewater is permitted to stay afterward to participate in the rest of the voluntary offseason program. But Barr can’t come back to Winter Park until next month’s mandatory minicamp because classes are still in session at UCLA.
Still, both first-rounders have officially arrived in Minnesota. Now comes the hard part.
“I’m ready to get to work,” Barr said.