Last week, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins referenced the defensive line’s “Peanut Butter & Jelly” slogan. Saturday afternoon, the back of defensive end Everson Griffen’s sweatshirt read “Peanut Butter …”
Andre Patterson, the renowned Vikings defensive line coach, won’t reveal what that means, preferring to reference a label more steeped in history.
“The peanut butter and jelly thing, that’s what our guys wear,” Patterson said. “But what it means is between us. What we call ourselves is ‘The Rushmen.’ And that goes back in the history of the Vikings defensive line.”
The current linemen have learned to revere that history while attempting to rewrite it. Coming off two dominant performances, The Rushmen on Monday night will face a unique challenge: A quarterback requiring caution, in Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
“He’s a great quarterback,” Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph said. “ ‘I feel like, hey, we haven’t lost at home, and we’re trying to keep that streak alive.”
Thanks in part to the crowd noise at U.S. Bank Stadium, the line has been dominant at home. Last week, it turned a tight road game against the Chargers into a blowout, thanks to four recovered fumbles, including the one Ifeadi Odenigbo returned 56 yards for a touchdown.
A week earlier, defensive end Danielle Hunter had three of the Vikings’ five sacks in a victory over Detroit while becoming the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks.
After that game, Hunter said he wants to establish a legacy that is both unprecedented and … precedented. He spoke of the history of great Vikings defensive linemen, a history lesson Patterson teaches every day.
Patterson first joined the Vikings in 1998, staying for two years that ended in NFC championship games. He returned under Mike Zimmer in 2014.
“Rushmen was something that was said here in the late ’90s, when I was here the first time,” Patterson said. “We had John Randle, Chris Doleman, Jerry Ball. It was a point of pride and honor. And I think that all started before I even got here.
“When I came back, it wasn’t being used anymore. So the first year, I didn’t bring it up. We had to learn how to play our technique and style. Once I thought we deserved the term, I brought it up to them, and I explained what it meant to be called a Rushman. I pointed out all of the pictures of the great defensive linemen who have played here, and I told them, for you to be a part of this is a very special thing.
“From there, it went to T-shirts and hoodies with ‘Rushmen’ on them, and when we break every day we call ourselves ‘Rushmen.’ It’s a badge of honor for our group. And when the old guys come back and hear us using it, it’s a badge of honor for them to hear us using it, too.”
Patterson has helped developed the depth of the group.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we have eight guys I feel comfortable playing at any time,” he said.
This week, he’s emphasizing awareness. The Packers feature a strong offensive line and a mobile quarterback who likes to hold onto the ball. So the Vikings’ pass rushers will be asked to not only beat blockers, but to beat them in a way that doesn’t leave Rodgers room to freelance.
If the Rushmen don’t hassle Rodgers, he’ll have time to pick on the Vikings’ cornerbacks, who have become the team’s most worrisome weakness.
“If you don’t do a good job of rushing together and keeping the rush lanes tight, he’ll kill you,” Patterson said of Rodgers.
Patterson added to the “Rushmen” title in his second stint, calling his players “Rushmen 4 Life.”
“We’re just a bunch of guys rushing together, all with the same goal,” Joseph said. “I’ve been here six years now and it’s been a great journey. I have a lot of new brothers, and AP — he’s more than just a coach to me. I look at him as a father figure. He’s meant a lot to me, and, I think, all of the guys.”