MANKATO – You want high expectations for the 2015 Vikings? Well, here you go …
“If we don’t get at least 10 wins,” left guard Brandon Fusco said, “I’d be really disappointed.”
“Playoffs,” Fusco added. “Playoffs are definitely a must.”
The Vikings reported to Minnesota State Mankato on Saturday. Wheeled into Sears Hall along with their clothes and televisions and whatnot were unusually high outside expectations. Especially for a team that, A.), went 7-9 last season and, B.), was the only team in the league without a victory against an opponent with a winning record.
Faith in coach Mike Zimmer’s defensive mastermind and young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s potential have contributed to the Vikings being a trendy playoff pick and a sixth-place resident in the power rankings put together by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. But, let’s face it, the mood is what it is mainly because running back Adrian Peterson is back with the team and happy with a restructured deal that includes more guaranteed money.
“That’s big,” Fusco said. “We’ve had a great offseason. It’s probably the best I’ve seen the team in the five years I’ve been here.”
Patience isn’t easily practiced in or around the modern NFL. For example, the Bills and Browns have had seven head coaches since 2003, yet they trail the Raiders, who have had eight.
Imagine how Chuck Noll’s first three seasons (12-30) would play out in today’s 24-hour news cycle. Imagine what the outside pressure would have been like in 1983 when the Giants went 3-12-1 and were tempted to fire rookie coach Bill Parcells in favor of Howard Schnellenberger, the red-hot college coach at the time.
The pressure probably would have been similar to the full-court onslaught the Vikings’ organization faced from that day last September when Peterson was ushered into his lengthy exile following charges of child abuse. Corporate sponsors jumped ship. Public relations soured. Even a governor took time to throw a verbal dagger or two.
Remember when there was no way the two sides could ever possibly patch things up? Remember when Peterson expressed a desire for a fresh start and his agent, Ben Dogra, upped the irritation tactics exponentially before the draft? Remember when Peterson was going to the Cowboys because they cleared just enough salary cap space to fit him onto their roster?
Those days were only two or three months ago. Yet, in NFL time, they’re ancient history because of the simple art of patience and understanding that time often turns today’s impossible-to-overcome headline into tomorrow’s back-page footnote. General Manager Rick Spielman maintained the steady hand with support and extra cash from ownership.
“The best way I would describe it is you become callous to a lot of things and you just go through it,” Spielman said. “You just continue to work through the things. I think resiliency would be a good way to describe getting through everything. But knowing in the end what is right for Adrian and what is right for the organization. I think everybody is happy and looking forward to moving on.”
Peterson was asked if the team’s patience — as in unwillingness to let him go even when there was a time when he wanted to be let go — surprised him.
“Am I surprised? No, not at all,” he said. “In-house, there was a lot of support. They’ve been around me for eight years, so they know what type of person I am. Of course, it was a tough situation and different for everyone involved. But at the end of the day, here I am. And I’m happy.”
And, not coincidently, the Vikings are basking in high and possibly premature expectations.
“You can’t predict the future, but we do have high expectations around here that we’re not afraid of,” Bridgewater said. “We know we have a long way to go. You’re talking about a team that finished 7-9 last year.”
Of course, Peterson did miss 15 of those games.