Pause, for a moment, if you’re inclined to think Michael Floyd will fail with the Vikings in what might be his last shot to reboot his NFL career, and consider the people who seem determined not to let him.
His mother will be in the Soldier Field stands on Monday night with her brother and nieces, praying for Floyd and corresponding with the 10 or so women in St. Paul she has praying for him every day.
“I don’t think he realizes,” Theresa Romero said. “Nobody actually realizes how many people are actually praying for you. He won’t know that until down a long ways.”
His best friend, Shady Salamon, who got the text message after Floyd’s arrest last December that simply said, “Tell my mom I’m sorry,” will be there Monday. His high school quarterback, John Nance, is traveling from Minnesota with other members of a circle that’s remained close long after its last state title game and keeps a group text message humming every day.
Floyd lives with Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, his roommate at Notre Dame. Safety Harrison Smith played with Floyd at Notre Dame, too. And the people from Cretin-Derham Hall, who knew Floyd before the “TMZ” headlines, who remember the prodigious receiver who cleaned cafeteria floors to pay his way through Cretin-Derham Hall, will be watching from home, only a text away Monday night and a few miles away on Tuesday.
Floyd’s journey shares little with the customary hometown-kid-makes-good tale. The setting is a place it seemed he might never call home again, and there’s nothing to romanticize about the mechanisms that got him here: a drunken-driving arrest last December, a one-year deal with no guaranteed money from the Vikings, a four-game NFL suspension and a 96-day house arrest sentence that began in Arizona, was transferred to Minnesota and ended with a night in a Scottsdale jail after a failed alcohol test Floyd attributed to kombucha tea.
It will be up to Floyd how this story ends, but the Vikings are playing a hunch it will work out. The reasons for their confidence will be everywhere Floyd looks on Monday night.
“A lot of people feel they can rise above — and not that you can’t,” said former Cretin-Derham Hall coach Mike Scanlan. “It makes it a lot easier if the guys you’re running with are on the same page as you.”
Grit and grace
Cretin-Derham Hall’s Mount Rushmore, if you will, lies at Casper & Runyon’s Nook across the street from the school, where Floyd is one of four athletes with a burger named after him. But while Floyd might have the same honorific as Paul Molitor, Joe Mauer and Matt Birk, the way he got there was all his own.
He was imbued with a love of football at age 3, when Floyd ended each day by making Romero throw him a ball “a zillion times,” until he would finally drop one and she could enforce bedtime.
“I’d throw it the opposite way, he’d get it,” Romero said “[We’d go for] probably a good hour.”
It was clear early Floyd could star at Cretin-Derham Hall; the money would be the problem. Romero refused until one day, when she was praying while on her way home from a shift at Macy’s, she said she heard a voice ask, “Isn’t this a good thing your son wants?”
Romero scraped up enough money to get Floyd through the first year, and the receiver began a work study program as a sophomore, doing menial jobs to pay for tuition. Just once, he tried to quit; Romero promptly told former Cretin-Derham Hall offensive coordinator Andy Bischoff to put Floyd back on the schedule.
The talented receiver infused a level of grit through everything he touched at Cretin-Derham Hall. No one would lift more weight than him; no one would beat him one-on-one. He and Salamon would spend hours outside Floyd’s house, standing 10 yards apart throwing a football as hard as they could to each other until one of them dropped it.
One July, Floyd’s AAU basketball team arrived home from a tournament late the night before Cretin-Derham Hall’s final summer football workout. To Scanlan’s surprise, Floyd came “blaring in on a bike” at 7:30 a.m., just in time for practice.
He drew teammates to himself with a sense of mischief — “He’d fake an injury just to get a reaction,” said Jerry Macken, Floyd’s receivers coach — and he left for Notre Dame as a five-star recruit, with two trips to the Prep Bowl and the second-most points in Cretin-Derham Hall basketball history to his name.
Floyd’s group of friends — Salamon, Nance, Torres Tillman, Tommy Hannon and Andy Burns — was inseparable. Hannon’s father, Jim, called them the “Brain Trust,” and told them they were only welcome in his house if they kept up their grades; he made sure to attend every one of their high school and college graduations.
“We have a good core group of friends that, everybody wants to be successful,” Salamon said. “We’re all not playing in the NFL, but I’m trying to be the best medical device sales representative in the country. That competitive aspect is why we’re such good friends.”
It’s also what made Floyd’s arrest so jarring for the group.
‘I never wanted you to see me like this’
Salamon was in surgery in Chicago last December when a co-worker showed him a headline and said, “Isn’t this one of your best friends?” Nance woke up to the news thinking, “This must be a mistake.”
Scottsdale, Ariz., police found Floyd asleep behind the wheel at a stoplight on Dec. 12. He was charged with six misdemeanors after registering a blood alcohol content of .217; a video released by the Scottsdale Police Department of Floyd waking up in his car quickly went viral.
Romero thanked God her son’s foot had been on the brake when he passed out, that he hadn’t hurt anyone while driving. And then she dispensed some tough love.
“He said, ‘Mom, I never wanted you to see me like this,’ ” Romero said. “I said, ‘The whole world’s seen you like this now, Michael.’ ”
The Cardinals cut Floyd on Dec. 14. He had only a cameo during the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl run. He entered the offseason with no contract, a suspension looming and a career in limbo.
“I was crushed,” Macken said. “The biggest reason was because all along I’ve known the only person who can stop Michael Floyd is himself. … Within a couple days [of the arrest,] I said, ‘What’s going on? Is there anything we can do back here to help you?’ It wasn’t the first time alcohol had been involved in his life in a negative manner.”
In January 2010, Floyd and Salamon were cited for underage drinking near the U campus. Salamon apologized to his Gophers teammates, and while the running back stayed out of trouble after that, on his way to a degree from the Carlson School of Management, Floyd lost his senior captaincy after his third alcohol-related offense at Notre Dame.
Now, Salamon had reason to worry about his friend again.
“It was a mistake that he knew affected not only himself but everybody around him,” Salamon said. “I think it made him understand what was at stake. It kind of lit a fire under him again.”
Floyd moved in with Rudolph, renewing his friendship with the tight end’s wife, Jordan, and playing with the couple’s twin daughters. He played golf with Nance’s father almost every weekend. The former first-round pick shone in Vikings training camp, making contested catches in tight spaces.
He went through counseling with Vikings player development director Les Pico, and every day, Romero sent him a Bible verse to tell him, “This is what God sees in you — not anybody else.”
When he watched the Vikings’ first four games on TV at home, Floyd would call out the plays being run on the field. At last, his time as a bystander is over.
“I think I put myself in a great position, especially being with this organization,” Floyd said. “They showed a lot of support, through teammates and up to the head man [Mike Zimmer]. I think they believe in me — what I can do, my ability, but also just putting everything behind me. That was the past; there’s no looking back, and it’s all positive from here.”
There will, in all likelihood, be hard days, too. In just about every direction he turns, Floyd can find someone who’s willing to help him through them.
“He’s here where people care about him, whether it’s us, his high school friends, his family and now this organization,” Rudolph said. “He’s surrounding himself with people that will look out for him and people that will take care of him. I think that’s worked for the best.”