The Return
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

August 30, 2016. As a Minnesota Vikings fan, it is a date that I will never forget. Not only was it a tough day for the entire fanbase, but it was the day that will forever be remembered as a day that one of their most charismatic players in recent memory suffered one of the worst injuries an athlete has ever suffered.

Lets rewind time before that date though. During the first night of the 2014 NFL Draft, the team selected UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr No. 8 overall. The Christian Ponder experience was on its last leg and the franchise once again seemed to have a huge void at quarterback. Many fans repeatedly admitted that they went to sleep or cut off that draft in frustration as they passed on the likes of many other signal-callers who were potential fits as the next hopeful savior of the organization.

Out of nowhere though, it just so happened that on the very last pick of the night that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell excitingly uttered a phrase that many thought would never possibly come to fruition that night.

“With the 32nd pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select, Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback, Louisville.”

For months leading up to the draft, he was thought to be the consensus number one overall pick, but on draft night that nod went to defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans). One simple day, where his competitiveness of not putting his prize possession of gloves on his hands ultimately put his dreams on a much longer hold in the green room.

From being born and raised in the poverty stricken areas of Miami, Florida, to his mother fighting and successfully defeating breast cancer and being drafted 31 spots lower than expected, adversity and battling back from unforeseen circumstances is something that Teddy Bridgewater is accustomed to doing.

Possessing such a loving personality, always seeming to be joyful and always leaving whoever he encounters with an indescribable feeling of hope, Bridgewater is an exact replica of the state of the team that took a chance on him. Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, a state that is known for their extremely cool weather, thousands of lakes, and is sometimes forgotten about despite being impactful on many occasions — it was a perfect match.

Containing “water” within his last name, a quarterback that perfectly symbolizes the land of 10,000 lakes and possessing a severely laid back personality, the former Louisville Cardinal being drafted by the Vikings seemed to be the perfect marriage.

From his first start against the Atlanta Falcons as rookie, where he threw for the most yards (317) by a Vikings quarterback in their first start in team history, to the heartbreaking 2016 divisional playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the team seemed to be on the right track and finally looked to have some stability at the most important and notable position in all of sports.

Coming off an 11-5 record during the 2015 season, the future looked extremely bright for the entire organization. Many were hoping that Bridgewater would show the development needed to propel the team to that consistent Super Bowl contender that some believed the team could be entering 2017.

Now that we’re officially back to that date, you all know the exact date that I’m talking about. As mentioned as the start of the article, it was a dark and gloomy day. We all know what happened. It doesn’t need to be repeated. Joe Theismann, Shaun Livingston and various other athletes that suffered gruesome knee injuries were repeatedly compared to what Bridgewater suffered because it was so traumatic. Many big media experts gave him no chance of ever playing the game he loved ever again.

How could someone with a personality and background like Bridgewater suffered such a huge and sudden setback to their career? For months, Bridgewater went quiet. Rarely speaking to anyone or being in the spotlight, but let’s dive deeper into the situation.

Bridgewater could’ve went on multiple sports talk shows or released various quotes talking about how sorry he felt for himself and what he suffered, but he didn’t do that. Whenever he wasn’t rehabbing, all he did was support his teammates by being on the sideline during games or practices.

That’s just the type of person Teddy Bridgewater is. He’s not going to hog or chase the spotlight and headlines. Some may say he was doing that by releasing videos of his progress on social media, but maybe he just wanted to have recollections of his journey and give fans insight into the rapid progress that he was making all along.

This is my first time opening up and saying this to the public, but during his injury journey, I’ve had the opportunity of developing a personal relationship with Teddy Bridgewater.

From a surprising follow back on Twitter, to actually reaching out to him about his progress just to see how he was doing. I can firmly tell you that Bridgewater is exactly the same type of person behind-the-scenes as he is in the public eye-view. He’s not only the quarterback of my favorite NFL team, but he’s now a personal friend and an athlete that means a lot to me outside of just football.

Many say I’m obsessed with Bridgewater, but that’s definitely not the case. Seeing his hard work, monthly progress and sending various encouraging messages during his injury journey helped me realize and have hope for an athlete that experiences trials and tribulations similar to me and you.

Many times, fans forget that athletes are people just like ourselves and get so trapped into just thinking about the football side of things. Seeing the type of individual he is outside of the public eye-view and experiencing first-hand what he went through the past 14 months has once again given me hope of an eventual return.

One of the many quotes he told me is one of my favorites because it perfectly sums up his journey and outlook upon the unpredictable circumstances of his present and future career.

“My thoughts are random and I’m not meant to be understood. I’m a different breed.”

According to multiple reports, Bridgewater is expected to be activated off of the Physically Unable to Perform List at some point this week. All signs point to him potentially stepping back on an NFL field again. Now knowing the type of person he is, the fourth-year quarterback is obviously not for everyone. He will never be the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL. That’s not Teddy Bridgewater, but what he gives you is hope.

Hope meaning a lot things. No. 5 gives hope to a fanbase that’s never won a Superbowl, but suffered through crushing playoff losses and constant instability at quarterback. Yes, I know he’s only thrown 28 touchdown passes in 30 games, but no matter what it takes or what outsiders think of his traits, he just wants to win.

“We’ve been in games where I throw it 35 times and in games where I throw it 15, but at the end of the day, I just want to win games.”

The one underlying quality that Bridgewater has had since his collegiate days at Lousiville and now as an NFL quarterback is leadership. It’s a trait that can not be taught or developed. As I occasionally say on Twitter, it is a trait that an athlete either possesses or they don’t. It can not be developed over time, but is rather something that they are born with.

From beating Florida in the 2014 Sugar Bowl to sideline jokes with his teammates, and even organizing summer workouts in the off-season with other players around the league, leadership is a quality that Bridgewater undoubtedly has. It is a trait that most successful signal-callers must have in order to instill belief in not only his teammates, but the organization and its fanbase as well.

Regardless of how you feel about Teddy Bridgewater, when he was under-center, the last glimpse we saw of him against the then San Diego Chargers was the most hopeful we all have been of a Vikings team in quite some time. Will he ever return to that status? We won’t know, but what we do know is that he is an exuberant individual that we all will be happy for if he ever gets to play the game that he loves once again.

Fighting back from one of the worst injuries an athlete has ever suffered in sports history, what a story it would be if such an incredible and selfless individual was able to overcome monstrous odds to once again lead the organization and the state of Minnesota to heights that they thought they were headed to before his injury.

From a near leg amputation to possibly stepping back onto the practice field where his unpredictable nightmare began, this comeback story would be one unlike we have ever witnessed before. If he does not take another snap in Minnesota or the NFL, he is a person that I will always cheer for. There will always be that thought of what could have been or maybe we’ll experience that joy of the person we saw pre-injury.

Whatever the outcome may be of all of this, I have developed a new friend and it was a joy to tell the injury journey and give a behind-the-scenes look into an athlete who is one step closer to climbing to the top and conquering a mountain that many never thought he would have the legs to even climb. The rest of Teddy Bridgwater’s career will be one that is not hard to overly cheer for and once he is activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list, we should all cheer for his tremendous accomplishment of being closer to fulfilling his ultimate dream.

 

For NFL news and analysis, follow J.R. on Twitter @JReidDraftScout.