MANKATO – You’ve never seen Teddy Bridgewater like this.
He is standing in a hallway near the Vikings’ locker room.
He is cracking jokes. He is dancing. He looks like someone just handed him an NFL franchise.
“I like to joke around,” he said. “Have some fun. I’m an old-school guy, so I like to do the two-step.”
Then he actually does it. The two-step.
“I like the Cha Cha Slide, too,” he said. “I like to have fun.”
Last year Bridgewater spoke as if reading from a script. Because he was. He was reciting the boilerplate copy from the rookie quarterback template.
Toward the end of the season teammates started hinting that there was much more to Bridgewater’s personality. That behind the scenes he could be fiery, and funny, and sometimes both at the same time. There was more than what met the camera lens.
So there he was last week at training camp, walking past fans screaming his name, smiling, showing the kind of charisma associated with franchise quarterbacks.
“What am I like away from the cameras?” he said. “That’s probably the best question I’ve ever been asked. I’m a cheerful guy. There’s something about being on a football field, where I try to remain even-keel.
“But I’m very happy all the time. Nothing ever bothers me. I’m easygoing. A homebody. That’s the kind of person I am.”
What bothers him? “Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all. When I was 14, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I told myself that nothing I ever go through in life will compare to what she went through. So nothing ever bothers me.”
What’s he like around his teammates? “Man, I wish I could invite you into the locker room right now so you could see,” he said. “I like to hang out with the guys. We have a great group of guys on this team, great personalities. I love every single one of them. And in there, I’m the antagonist.
“I think I’m kind of fun. For some reason when I step on the football field I’m totally different. Maybe I’ll start cracking a smile or joking every now and then out there.”
Bridgewater and Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes played high school football in Miami.
“Growing up in that area, you wouldn’t expect two players from there to end up on the same NFL team,” Rhodes said. “It really gave me chills when we picked him up. I wish I had a video to show you how excited I was when we drafted him. I almost cried. I knew he would come in and do good.”
Rhodes and Bridgewater worked out together in the old neighborhood this summer. Bridgewater would taunt Rhodes, saying he was going to “go deep” and “throw a touchdown” on every play. Rhodes would fire back, threatening to intercept every pass.
“Yeah, he dances,” Rhodes said. “He trash-talks. And he’s great at bowling. Don’t let him tell you he’s not.
“He is truly a real humble, cool guy. And he is going to be great. I saw it every day this summer. His passes were on point. I asked him, ‘What have you been doing?’ and he said, ‘I just want to do it this year. I want to be the best.’ ”
To that end, this summer Bridgewater sought advice from great players, including Marshall Faulk.
“I’m totally comfortable with leading,” Bridgewater said. “I just don’t want to force something. I lead within my personality. I lead with conviction. Guys know that I’m quiet but when I do talk it means something.
“Marshall just said that I’m in a position where it’s going to have to be me, when it comes to leadership. He told me it’s going to be the defining point in my career when it does happen.”
In his second season, Bridgewater is the key figure on a promising team. In his third season, he will be the man whose job it is to fill a new stadium.
He’s so overwhelmed by the pressure that he dances the two-step, again.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On