Welcome back, Teddy
I was wrong about Teddy Bridgewater. I said, he’d never play another down for the Minnesota Vikings, let alone another down of football. It’s not that I didn’t believe in Bridgewater’s purpose or his drive to return to the field; like many, I believed him to be the long-term answer at quarterback the moment he was drafted in 2014.
But that belief evaporated when his leg separated at the knee, when an ambulance rushed Bridgewater to the hospital to save the quarterback’s career. Surely, he’d suffer a fate like that of Marcus Lattimore, who attempted to come back from a similarly gruesome injury, only to succumb to the chronic pain and retire from the game completely.
I’d never seen an injury like Bridgewater’s–one that left grown men speechless, nauseous, and powerless–and I was ready to follow the team without No. 5 under center. So when Sam Bradford arrived a week later, I embraced him as the future, as the only realistic option for the Vikings in 2016 and beyond.
Today, one year and two months later, the Minnesota Vikings activated Teddy Bridgewater.
I was wrong.
For months, I argued in favor of Bradford and declared there wouldn’t be a quarterback competition. I couldn’t convince myself that Bridgewater, fresh off a year-long rehab, would have the conditioning or rhythm to usurp Bradford, who’d entrenched himself as the starter and played exquisitely in Week 1.
As we’ve learned, though, knees are delicate structures; a slight twist or torque in the wrong direction can violently disrupt the balance of health, and in turn, the balance of a season.
In that Week 1 showing, Bradford played what was arguably a career game, taking just one sack behind the Vikings’ rebuilt offensive line. But that hit, or another over the course of the game, inflamed something in Bradford’s knee, cascading his season into doubt. The veteran missed a handful of games, only to return against the Chicago Bears and look even worse than grainy practice videos could’ve predicted.
When head coach Mike Zimmer pulled Bradford from the game, it felt bigger than the moment on Monday Night Football — it felt as if Bradford’s season, and potentially career, was all but over.
Through all this — Bradford’s accelerated arrival and broken records, Minnesota’s 2016 collapse — Bridgewater quietly plotted a return, rehabbing and popping up inconspicuously in team photos and videos. Small glimpses via Instagram and Twitter offered fans the idea of hope, of the very thing he promised upon his initial arrival in Winter Park.
I’ve never been one to buy into “fate” or “destiny,” but it’s getting more and more difficult to deny the impossible and intangible. Just look at the storylines: Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis; a franchise that’s yet to win its first Lombardi trophy; a quarterback drafted to lead them to the proverbial mountain peak; his return.
Bridgewater’s activation doesn’t guarantee he’ll be the same player circa 2015, but the hope remains he can recreate some of those memories. Anything he’s lost in mobility or escapability is offset by the leadership and raw talent that’s always been there; at this point, we just don’t know what to expect, and that’s somewhat exciting.
I’m done doubting Bridgewater, though. The quarterback situation is playing out…like no one could’ve predicted. His health and the potential he adds to the offense are surprising developments in what’s been a surprise of a season. Rather than rationalize, as I did for months and months this summer, I’m going to enjoy this amazing moment for what it’s worth.
Without Dalvin Cook, with all-time backup Case Keenum under center, and a defense primed for contention, the Vikings are 6-2 and firmly in control of the NFC North. And with Bridgewater set to play in the coming weeks, there’s no saying where he’ll lead this franchise.
One hopes it’s U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4th. And I hope I’m not wrong about that one.