Since 1998, two Vikings teams have won 12 or more games. Drew Brees beat the 12-win 2009 Vikings in the NFC Championship Game and will try to beat the 13-win 2017 Vikings on Sunday.
If Brees derails another Vikings team, you can blame a diverse set of characters, and none are named Naufahu Tahi or Gregg Williams.
Blame Alabama coach Nick Saban, who on Monday won another college football national title.
Blame former Vikings coach Brad Childress.
Blame Philip Rivers and A.J. Smith.
If you want to get creative, you can even implicate Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and former Vikings quarterbacks Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels.
If not for what now appears to be a bizarre set of circumstances and decisions made by a seemingly random group of current and former NFL figures, Brees never would have played in the NFC, never would have faced the Vikings in 2009 and wouldn’t be heading to U.S. Bank Stadium this Sunday with the dreaded New Orleans Saints.
And Saban may never have become one of the greatest college football coaches in history.
In March 2006, I was in Fort Myers, Fla., covering Twins spring training when news broke that Saban had found his quarterback.
Saban had left college football to coach the Miami Dolphins in 2005. He had finished 9-7 with Frerotte as his starting quarterback and Rosenfels as the backup.
Saban wasn’t satisfied. Brees was available as a free agent, because San Diego Chargers GM Smith had chosen Rivers to replace Brees as his franchise quarterback. Saban negotiated with Brees’ agent but found his asking price to be too high.
Childress became the Vikings coach in 2006. Daunte Culpepper, the incumbent quarterback, had played exceptionally well in 2004 but slumped and was injured in 2005.
Childress criticized Culpepper’s independent attempts to rehabilitate his knee, and Culpepper decided he would prefer to play in his native Florida.
On March 15, 2006, I drove across Alligator Alley to the Dolphins facility and listened to a terse Saban explain why he had traded a second-round draft pick to Childress, Spielman and the Vikings for Culpepper instead of acquiring Brees.
Monday night, Saban improved a résumé that could be viewed as the greatest in college football history. In March 2006, he was just another NFL coach whose quarterback choice would alter his career.
Culpepper would go 1-3 as a starter for the Dolphins in 2006. The team would finish 6-10. Saban would decide that coaching with a built-in recruiting advantage at Alabama was preferable to fighting fair in the NFL, and Culpepper would move to the Raiders and Lions before running out of options.
Here’s where Spielman, the current Vikings GM, comes in.
He was a Dolphins executive from 2000 to 2004. When Miami went 4-12 in 2004, Spielman, then the GM, took much of the public blame in South Florida before his departure. He would work for ESPN before the Vikings hired him as a personnel director in 2006.
Had Spielman found a franchise quarterback and succeeded in Miami, the Dolphins might not have hired Saban, and Saban may not have been in position to choose Culpepper over Brees. And Spielman may not have been hired by the Vikings, with whom he has built a championship-caliber roster.
If there is a lesson to be learned here, it would be that anyone is capable of erring when it comes to projecting quarterback greatness.
Smith was known as a genius judge of talent. He thought of Brees as expendable.
Saban is a coaching legend. He thought of Brees as unworthy of a large contract.
Brees signed with New Orleans instead of Miami and became one of the greatest passers in NFL history. Without Brees, the Saints would still be without a Super Bowl victory, the 2009 Vikings likely would have won their first and the 2017 Vikings might be facing an easier challenge Sunday.