Belisle’s Burning Takes: Enough is Enough

A mother’s comforting words; a friend’s unexpected call; the reassurance that everything is going to be okay.

For Sam Bradford, such a moment came on the sidelines, captured quietly by ESPN’s Monday Night Football cameras. He sat exasperated on Minnesota’s bench, looking beaten down in the midst of his long-awaited return to the Vikings huddle.

With a pat on the leg, Shurmur signaled what could be the end of Bradford’s season (and career) in Minnesota.

Three weeks of rest weren’t enough to rejuvenate the quarterback’s chronic, bruised knee. From the moment he took the field, Bradford looked like a shell of himself; misfiring on normally automatic throws, grimacing in the huddle, and pulling himself off the turf more slowly with each subsequent sack.

By the midway point of the second quarter, Bradford could barely navigate the pocket, playing more like end-of-an-era Peyton Manning than the world-beater from Week 1. He limped to the bench after a third sack late in the first half, collapsing in defeat next to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.

Bradford appeared numb to the words coming from athletic trainer Eric Sugarman’s mouth, his eyes searching for elusive answers. Fans sat in silence at home, unsure what to make of Sugarman’s grave expression as he spoke to the oft-injured quarterback. Play-by-play announcer Jon Gruden, ever enthusiastic, assessed the situation with blunt clarity:

[quote_center]”I don’t think he’ll return to the game.”[/quote_center]

Words weren’t necessary to understand the situation, though. The message came through clearly when Shurmur patted Bradford on the thigh; a gesture anyone would recognize as solemn consolation. Sitting at home, it was difficult to watch Bradford fall apart on the field, his legs becoming stiffer and less mobile with every hit.

The coaches surely knew he wasn’t 100-percent ready; Sugarman may have cleared Bradford, but even he must have known, deep down, that sending the quarterback to Soldier Field on a fragile knee was a mistake. Zimmer, through the lens of his tough-as-nails mentality, needed to see if Bradford could fight through the pain of a simple three-step drop — he could not.

And Bradford, the man at the center of last night’s ordeal, probably pushed harder than anyone to start the game. With the return of Teddy Bridgewater and potential contract negotiations looming, Bradford had no other reasonable choice but to tough it out.

Like any football player with vested interest in short- and long-term success, he needed the opportunity to prove his immediate worth and future value to the team, both in respect to production and health.

[quote_center]On both counts, he failed.[/quote_center]

What I saw last night was a desperate man, one fighting (literally) on his last leg to remain relevant, today and in the years ahead. Sitting out would only fuel the franchise’s desire to turn back to a healthy Bridgewater this season; starting the game, albeit hurt, would at least give Bradford a shot at a prolonged audition for 2018 and beyond. But Bradford’s body, as it has in the past, failed him when it mattered most.

In front of millions in primetime, we watched a player’s body crumble under the pressure to rush back from chronic injury; we saw shoulders slump in pitiful acceptance of an injury that could, potentially, knock Bradford out of football for good; we saw him grapple, on live television, with his own fragility.

This doesn’t feel like an injury that’s going to heal before it gets any worse. After a week of practicing in limited fashion, Bradford still couldn’t make it through a quarter of football without aggravating the injury. He’s going to need time to recover and rediscover his comfort behind Minnesota’s offensive line, and the chances of that happening appear smaller by the day.

Like others, a part of me knew the clock was always ticking down to Bradford’s next injury. It’s not some mystical Vikings curse or Minnesotan bad luck; he’s a quarterback whose body isn’t fit for the rigors of the football field. Two ACL tears and the subsequent “wear and tear” on his left knee only confirm Bradford’s long-term outlook in Minnesota is shorter than anticipated.

Personally, I feel for Bradford. Sure, he’s made more than $1 million per game over the course of his career, but it’s a career rife with disappointment and pain. From seasons cut short to unceremonious splits with St. Louis and Philadelphia, he’s never lived up to the moniker of “first overall selection,” and I’m sure that stings. Some of that falls on Bradford, but he’s been the victim complicated circumstances and injury misfortune, no matter where he’s played.

[quote_center]Minnesota is no different, and to me, represents the harshest of endings for Bradford. I say ‘ending’ because I believe — as unfortunate as it may be — that Bradford’s taken his last snap for the Vikings.[/quote_center]

This is probably emotion talking, but like others who may watch and probably played football, you’ve been in Bradford’s seat on the bench. You’ve had a coach grab you by the shoulder pads and tell you that things are going to work out, even when you know in your heart of hearts they won’t.

Shurmur’s been with Bradford a long time, and his moment of genuine consolation, caught so gracefully by ESPN, showed me everything I need to know about the quarterback’s future. It’s entirely plausible Bradford makes a full recovery — just look at Teddy — but we’re pining for the unrealistic at this point. I may be wrong, but I’ve been in Bradford’s shoes, and watching him come to the bitter realization last night was an absolute bummer.

I respect Bradford for trying to fight through the pain and I don’t blame Zimmer or Sugarman for allowing him to test the knee. I also understand the disappointment so many feel around Bradford’s short stint in Minnesota.

Today, though, I’m thinking less about No. 8 the football player and more about Sam Bradford the person. Get well soon, Sammy Sleeves.

Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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Robert Centofanti
3 years ago

Thank God we didn’t extend him. I have been pounding the table in every comment section since we signed Sammy B, and I have said over and over that Sam B was a rental, period. He was a bridge until we either get Teddy back, or draft/sign a new QB in 2018. He is injury plagued, and he is NEVER clutch, EVER. He was useful to get us through, but Keenum will do fine until Teddy/Sloter/’18 draft pick/Free agent takes over. I don’t feel the least bit sorry for him either. He plays the game I love, on the team I love, and he is richer than my wildest dreams. I think he’ll be fine. Plus he cost us a fortune. Can’t wait to see if Teddy B can take his job back! Its gonna be fun!!! SKOL

Purple Bizon Sports
Reply to  Robert Centofanti
3 years ago

This is starting to resemble the 2013 season, though I hope this year doesn’t include another Josh Freeman.


Reply to  Robert Centofanti
3 years ago

“I don’t feel the least bit sorry for him either.”

That’s a rotten thing to say about someone who’s been injured and had the career that he loves, playing a game that both you and he love, constantly derailed by pain and injury. You should be ashamed of yourself, your parents should be ashamed of you, and if you happen to be a father, you need to think long and hard about the kinds of lessons you are imparting to your children. I say that last bit from personal experience: When I was a teenager, my father chewed me out for laughing and cheering when both of Joe Namath’s knees gave out on him on the same play; the top two-thirds of his body fell over while his two legs, below the knees, remained planted in the turf.

You can be critical of Bradford as a player, you can be clear-eyed as to his position on the club, you can be disturbed by his wealth in an age of growing inequality and the price we paid for his services. Hell, you can be critical of him as a man, if you want. But he has done nothing that I have ever heard of to deserve your saying that you “don’t feel the least bit sorry for him.”

Reply to  cka2nd
3 years ago

Holy heck, son! That was an aggressive response! Your dad (rightfully, imo) gave you grief because you actively had glee in the misfortune of another. Good old Roberto above is doing no such thing, he is not ACTIVELY wishing or enjoying the misfortune of another, he is only stating that he is PASSIVE in the situation, feeling nothing one way or another. Personally, I feel for the guy, and I think most people should, but it seems a bit overzealous to state that a person (and his parents!) should be ashamed and his ability as a dang father should be maligned just because he doesn’t actively get sad about a person who “only” got to be paid millions of dollars to live out his boyhood fantasy. Yes, it sucks, but as someone who tore his ACL and had his first career flame out painfully before finding success in a second career, i think Sam is a good smart guy and will be fine, one way or another.

harry hands
harry hands
3 years ago

The Bradford experiment didn’t work out. It was a waste of a 1st rounder. But of course they didn’t know it wouldn’t… hindsight and all. I believe he is done playing as a Viking as well. But you never know.
The biggest difference between now and 2013 is we have a defense.

3 years ago

The fact is he wasn’t ready to go yet on Monday night I don’t get why everyone is jumping the gun and saying Bradford is done in mn he did great for us last year setting completion percentage record with very little help around him and no offensive line and week one he looked awesome and everyone was so thrilled about what he was gonna look like behind an improved o line and now he has one bad half because we rushed him back and were just all saying he’s done it was only one half of a game people he’s had 16 good games with us so far

3 years ago

well written, austin

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