Maybe We’re All a Little Too Invested

Teddy Bridgewater is not the Messiah. This statement is childlike in its obviousness, and indeed I feel a touch sheepish putting it in print, as if I’m standing on a hill and proclaiming, “the earth is not flat!”

But I lead with it for one reason: despite the overwhelming evidence that, to anyone’s best knowledge, Theodore Andrew Bridgewater is neither the redeemer nor the son of man, you wouldn’t always know it by listening to the Vikings faithful.

This is not a knock on Teddy; I quite like him, both for his personality and football acumen, and think asserting a person is probably not a Christ-like figure is a pretty rational criticism. My intent here is to say nothing about the man, or even, to a large extent, the quarterback, because I would be perfectly content to watch him lead our beloved Vikings to the playoffs—and potentially beyond—for years to come.

Rather, my issue is with the expectations and projections we as a fanbase have saddled Bridgewater with so early in his tumultuous career, to our own detriment.

I was at the San Francisco Airport on August 30, 2016, on a layover en route to Hawaii. My wife and I were on the very first leg of our honeymoon. I sat in a cushy chair in the United Club (we scored free passes) and drank a bourbon, watching planes take off and land when the news broke. The remaining hour in the airport was spent frantically refreshing Twitter and making internal justifications—there’s no official diagnosis yet, we don’t have all the information, it could just be a really bad sprain, and so on—until, as we were packing up to board, the word came in; it was bad, yeah. It was really bad. It was “players are vomiting on the field at the sight of it” bad. Teddy wouldn’t be the quarterback in 2016. We knew that right away.

My wife, knowing me, gave me the requisite time to process the news. But on the plane, flip-flops in hand and beach towels packed away, she caught me in a long, blank stare and nudged my arm.

“This isn’t going to ruin the honeymoon,” she asked, “is it?”

The Situation

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say I was heartbroken. We all were. Finally—finally—it looked like we had a quarterback that could be the face of the franchise. Finally, the charismatic, capable young signal-caller who made coaches gush was on the Vikings’ sideline, rather than the opponent’s.

Finally, we may be able to go a few years—heck, even a decade—without the plodding, biannual search for a retread to plug in under center. Bridgewater showed poise and promise in his first two years in the league and seemed destined to take the leap in the all-critical Year Three. We had our guy.

And then the knee. And the puking. And the whispers of nerve damage and recovery timelines that were all over the calendar, from a year to never. We didn’t know the full extent of it—we still don’t—we just knew it was about as bad a non-spinal injury a football player can sustain. It was all very unbelievable.

But then it wasn’t, was it? Even before the shock of Bridgewater’s injury wore off, we were collectively encroached upon by another emotion: self-pity. Of course the quarterback of the future would sustain a gruesome non-contact injury in training camp. Of course that would happen. This is the Vikings.

And so it was a shock, but it wasn’t really a surprise. In a long, comedically sad narrative that includes words like Sterger, Pearson, roof, boat, Anderson, Walsh, Underwood, and switch, it seemed we would have one more to add: Teddy. There would be a recovery of some sort and a realistic chance at a comeback, but it was hard not to see it as a devastating setback for a player who would have been entering his prime.

That was August 30, 2016. I don’t need to tell you what happened between then and now because you were there for it. You saw the team scramble for a replacement, eventually paying a premium to bring in a mercenary to salvage the 2016, and possibly 2017 seasons.

You saw that mercenary help the team to a blazing start, beating the rival at home after being in town for less than two weeks, going 5-0 and turning heads around the league. And then, you saw things unravel, the team fall apart down the stretch, and turn heads for a different reason.

You saw the new guy struggle to operate with a paper-thin offensive line. You saw him get out of sync with his receivers. You saw him check down too much. You saw him set the NFL record for completion percentage in a single season, and you saw that no one seemed to care.

You saw the cliched ups and downs of an NFL season, but on a magnified scale, and you saw the new guy perform—I think we can agree—reasonably well, all things considered. And still, you pined for the other guy. You craved Teddy.

Or maybe you didn’t. I don’t know; I can’t actually speak for you, despite trying for the last two paragraphs. Maybe you’re not deeply attached to Teddy Bridgewater, the player, and the human being. You may be a rational, pragmatic sports fan, and if so, I salute you and feel I deserve some sort of prize for discovering you. But, I’m afraid, you are the exception among Vikings fans, not the rule.

The Reaction

For many of us purple faithful—dare I say the majority—there is a Teddy-sized hole that only the return of a healthy, smiling number five can fill. I can’t prove this, of course. I’ve done no studies or polls, and it’s based purely on a perception formed by spending too much time online and, less frequently, discussing the quarterback situation with real, actual people.

But what I’ve found is this: for a large swath of Vikings fans, Sam Bradford under center (or rather, in shotgun) is fine and acceptable. Reasonably pleasant, even, like an iced tea when what you really wanted was a soda; it’ll get you through the meal, and it beats water, but you can’t quite shake the thought of an ice cold Coca-Cola.

We accept Bradford, and we respect what he did on short notice last season. But we will not allow him—or any other quarterback, frankly—into our long-term Vikings fantasies. No, that spot is reserved for Teddy Two-Gloves, the charismatic, hand-selected signal-caller who always seemed destined to lead this team into the future.

Yes, there was the knee injury, but the reports on his recovery have been cryptic, which leaves ample room for speculation. If we try hard enough, we can talk ourselves into Teddy Bridgewater making a full recovery, maybe even some time in 2017.

We obsess over his positive traits; the intangibles, the clutch throws, the way he can make Mike Zimmer sound like a positive person. We ignore the paltry touchdown numbers, the lukewarm passings stats, and latch on to advanced metrics that prove what we desperately want to believe; that Teddy, and Teddy alone, is the key to getting this team over the hump.

We watch his highlights. We sing his praises. We “OMG!” over every short video of him standing on two legs. We remember the quarterback he was, the one he was becoming, and above all, yearn for the return of Teddy Bridgewater.

And in doing so, we’ve become a little pathetic.

The Problem

We love our guys, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s part of being fans. And we are of course rooting for a player afflicted with a freak, devastating injury to make a full and triumphant recovery. But as the dust settled on 2016 and the postmortems were completed, and we moved into the lethargic void of the NFL offseason, I saw something else emerge: blind devotion. A step or two beyond what can usually be expected from passionate football fans; namely, love and allegiance with an irrational slant toward optimism. But here, with the quarterback having only two seasons under his belt and still a strong uncertainty about his future, we’ve moved from allegiance to reverence. We now revere Teddy Bridgewater, in a fashion reserved only for people and things that aren’t directly in our line of sight; we lionize him like a historical dignitary, or a warm childhood memory.

To listen to many a Vikings fan talk about Bridgewater at present day, you would think he was a multi-year MVP candidate pre-injury—a Brady or Brees or Ryan type of figure—rather than a developing young quarterback who still needed to take a sizable step in order to leap into the upper echelon of the NFL.

But the truth is, we think of him as what we projected him to be, rather than what he actually was. Part of the reason Bridgewater injury was such a punch in the gut was the timing; he seemed on the precipice of stardom. That, though, was speculation. We’ll never know if he actually would have progressed in the way we hoped and expected, or if he will at all, until (and if) he comes back.

What we had was a good young quarterback with the potential to be great. That’s a bummer of an asset to lose, but we didn’t lose Aaron Rodgers (or Ben Roethlisberger, or Eli Manning, or others). And yet, there’s this yearning for Bridgewater that I have a hard time believing the Packers, Steelers, or Giants fanbase would wallow in even if their respective signal callers went down.

Teddy feels like the girlfriend we dated for six months; she was beautiful, yes, and she seemed to have wife potential, but then she went backpacking across Europe and has been increasingly ambiguous about if and when she’s returning.

She’ll either come back, or she won’t, but there’s no use staying up every night and thinking about her. At some point, we have to think about what we’re going to do if she doesn’t. At some point, we need to realize she’s not the only girl in the world.

I’m a simple man, and in football, I tend to think of things in simple terms. So when attempting to build a franchise for sustained success, I try to look at organizations that have already done so, and seek to approach any situation they way they theoretically would. Another way to say this is, “what would the Patriots do?”

In this case, attempting to project the fortunes of a young, unproven quarterback on to Tom Brady, possibly the best to ever play the position (and a player closer to the end of his career than the beginning), is hardly fair. But for the sake of the experiment, what would the Patriots do if Brady went down with a knee injury similar to Bridgewater’s?

We know what the team would do: they would keep their options open, leaving the door cracked for an eventual return while aggressively pursuing both short- and long-term replacements. They would take a pragmatic, emotionless approach, and would not be swayed by names or charisma or Instagram posts.

And, to his credit, I believe this is mostly what Rick Spielman has done regarding Bridgewater, as is most evident with the team declining his fifth-year option. From a management standpoint, I think the Vikings have handled it well.

But let’s return to the fanbase; how would Patriots fans respond if their beloved Brady suddenly carried with him such a bleak, uncertain future? Would they wallow in self-pity, lamenting the loss and holding out ever-present hope for a recovery? Of course not. They would say thank you, Tom, for everything, and good luck with the recovery. They would shrug and say he’ll either be back or he won’t, but even if he isn’t, it won’t matter. We’ll win a championship with Jimmy Garappolo.

And they would be right, and that’s what makes Patriots fans so darn annoying, but I digress. The point is, the only way to win at this game in the long term is to be judicious, and player-agnostic, and ruthless (see: Lawyer Milloy released, 2003. See also: Super Bowl XXXVII Champions). When you make decisions with emotion, it often makes a nice story, but it rarely makes the product on the field better.

The Path Forward

Teddy Bridgwater is three main things to Vikings fans: a first-round draft pick, an extremely likable young man, and a player who showed the potential to develop into a high-caliber NFL quarterback. These are important traits, and everything seemed to be trending in the right direction before the injury.

But our attachment to him has exceeded the real, tangible factors in play, and we need to take a step back and ask ourselves why we remain so, so invested in the idea of him, and sometimes use that allegiance as a mechanism to casually deride the team’s current quarterback—the one who is actually playing, and producing.

The answer, to me, is simple: we like Teddy Bridgewater. We just really, really like him. And we should like him, as he’s given us every reason to. But the like in some parts of Vikings Land is bordering on obsession, an emotion that never seems to lead to good things, in relationships and in football.

I like Teddy Bridgewater. I would like him to return fully healthy, and lead this team for years. But what I would like more is for the Minnesota Vikings to become a perennial power, to knock the Packers off their smug throne atop the NFC North—and keep them there—and to be a team that’s in the Super Bowl conversation most every year, like those bland winners in New England.

And to do that, you need to be constantly be thinking about what’s next. Not what was, or what might be, or what could have been.

The Vikings can go to a Super Bowl in the next decade. They have the talent, and the coaching staff, and the management. Whether that is with or without Teddy Bridgewater, however, is a prospect to which I will remain agnostic.

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Sam Neumann

Sam Neumann is a freelance writer and lifelong Vikings apologist. He has seen his share of Vikings-related heartbreak, but believes we are united by the hope that one day that norse ship will come in. Sam is the author of three books, including the New York Times Bestseller Memoirs of a Gas Station. He lives in Denver, Colorado, and has had it with Broncos fans. You can follow him on twitter @NeumSamN.

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  1. to be honest I want bridgewater back.. Cause of all the things you said. But he is just such a nice person, a quaterback we could rally behind. I had so high hopes for him last year, and for what was about to come for him. I know now, that it might not be possible for him to ever come back, and I want the vikings to do as they do. Look for other options as well, but my dear sincere hope is that he comes back and play at a great level, and I will never not want that to happen.

  2. also another small notice, there are two parts that you mistakenly double:
    this paragraph “The remaining hour in the airport was spent frantically refreshing Twitter and making internal justification”
    and this one: But as the dust settled on 2016 and the postmortems were completed, and we moved into the lethargic void of the NFL “

  3. this was a great read and i completely understand your point here. but, he’s not the girlfriend that disappeared and is ambiguous about returning or not. he’s still here, he’s still around. he’s not BACK back, but he’s trying to be. whether or not he performs given the chance to (or has the health/ability to do so) remains the question, not whether or not he will get a chance. now, as the peterson situation once taught me, it’s a bad idea to idolize people and i won’t make that mistake again. but a fanbase that was filled with hope over one thing has an understandable right to still be hopeful as long as that thing is still around. it’s perfectly acceptable to remain in blissful ignorance (if that’s what some detractors would call it) as long as there’s still a chance

    1. Certainly, it’s an imperfect analogy. Bridgewater himself would be elated to return, and is working toward it every day…I suppose it’s his body in this circumstance that’s providing the ambiguity.

  4. Patriots fans would sulk and sulk forever about Tom Brady and bemoan all the other Superbowls they could have won if he hadn’t been hurt. Compared to Sam, Teddy is clearly the better story. He played well and played better than his stats suggested. Having a 24 year old QB who was reaching the level of “good but not great” after years of Ponder and a broken Culpepper is exciting. He is a sweet kid, a likable guy, and he throws the ball kind of funny. Plus in the modern era he could be in purple for 16 more years. That is exciting as well. In a story, if he comes back from this, it is a classic movie plot. If the Vikings sign a guy who plays a little bit better than him and win the Superbowl that is a much worse movie. It’s funny you use a girlfriend analogy, because it seems like a month after the girl going to Europe you would settle for the next equivalent person who made eye contact with you and marry her before the first girl ever got back. A pragmatic thing to do maybe, but certainly not romantic. And lastly why are you worried that we are all “Too invested” in Teddy? Because it might break our hearts? What football team do you think you are a fan of? Everything that happens to us is heartbreaking. Learn to lean into it. Get your backpack and go find that girl, skinny knees and all.

    1. Bravo, sir, well and humorously said. Would I look elsewhere a month after the girl went to Europe? No. But after six months, the wheels would be turning; I’ve seen too many good men waste the best years of their lives on women who never came home. And, if I may, I don’t believe I would settle for just ANY girl, but one who broke the single-season NFL completion percentage record would at least be in the conversation.

      And yes, I am absolutely advocating pragmatism over romanticism, because while it may not make a great movie, it will win football games.

      Finally, my wife (in real life) is from Connecticut, and her entire family is made up of Patriots fans. Just one man’s perception, but I have never heard them talk about Brady in the glowing, giddy ways we talk about Bridgewater. When he was suspended last year, they never said, “OMG, if we only had Tom these first four games.” They said, “watch, we’ll beat you with the backups anyway, and then we’ll win the Super Bowl.”

      1. Ha, yeah that last part is definitely true. Wasn’t implying things about your actual life FYI. Really just a statement on why people root for Teddy, it is more fun. Love Bradford, he makes impressive throws and smart decisions. Watching him hit the turf so many times was nail biting but he just kept popping back up. I am more than happy having him lead the team for years if he keeps playing even close to a 2016 level. In regards to the analogy, it is like meeting some unbelievably ideal person like the next day. Meanwhile I would be in Slovenia asking people if they had seen Joe Webb.

  5. Great article for a rational person, but I know what I believe. I think a lot of us feel something that’s bigger than stats or anything. I feel like the coaches even feel it. It’s a weird thing with Teddy. You can’t deny he’s different. The first time when (if) he steps on that field, the crowd is going to go nuts. Everyone is going to feel it. Players, coaches, fans, of all teams. It’s just different. I am 100% in the irrational camp and that’s exactly where I want to be.

  6. On August 30th I was married at 11 in the morning eastern time. A few hours later I was dismayed and deflated to find out about the injury. Proof positive of my over investment, I immediately took the news as a bad omen. FYI- I was able to rally and am still married today.
    Now I’ll be the first to tell you that Teddy looks like he just got called up from the JV squad and Bradford makes throws that Teddy never will, but Teddy is our Kid. The kind of kid you’d let your daughter date. Statistically unimpressive, he made up for it with his intangibles and knack for pulling out some games in the 4th quarter. The fanbase did really seem to want him to succeed.
    Now Teddy’s second contract is looming. The team may have make a financial decision and Teddy may have to pursue his career elsewhere. If that’s the case I venture Vikings nation will always have a soft spot for our Kid.

  7. I think one factor that you didn’t touch on is that for many fans, Teddy was viewed as a replacement for Adrian as the guy on the team you felt good to root for. I know for myself I just didn’t feel invested with Peterson after the child abuse charges and how he handled the situation. While Teddy certainly wasn’t at the star player status AD was in his prime, what he represented off the field was something you could really gravitate too after AD’s situation. There’s an added feel good factor for watching the team win behind a guy like Teddy. I think for a lot of us that was something that had disintegrated away with AD, and Teddy looked to be the guy to take that role.

  8. I don’t give a rat’s fanny if the QB that wins the Super Bowl for the Vikings finally is likeable or not. Bradford is respected, frankly easy to like and plays the position better than Bridgewater even when he was healthy. Scouts prior to Teddy’s draft often commented his lower body was too slender to avoid injury in the NFL. A non-contact injury is a pretty good indication they were right. I hope he comes back healthy but chances are not good given the severity of the injury. If he does come back having two good QBs is a helluva asset. Extend Bradford. Nurture Bridgewater. Draft Luke Falk next year. Not having a decent player under center has sunk the Vikings for years.

  9. I think Teddy will be back. He seems like hes planting well and everything. Do I think he will be back this year? Most likely not. I think he will be on the PUP to return list. And we wont see him until atleast hypothetically mid season and that’s if something happened to Bradford on some drastic scale. I think the biggest test for Teddy will be how he can take contact to that knee. I think he will be able to move around, I don’t think he will be running much if any, anymore. He was already a pocket passer to a point anyways but now I assume 98% pocket passer. I think the important thing is he still seems to throw decent with velocity during these OTA’s. On the overall article I think Teddy just has an infectious attitude everybody loves the kid hes a good kid. You want to see him succeed because he is one of the NFL’s good guys. Hes a guy you want your kids to look up to etc. I also think he has something Sam doesn’t have, and that’s a clutch gene. I think a healthy Teddy beats Det x2 and most likely the Wash/Dallas games. He always seems to play pretty solid when things are 100% on him. The final drive against Seattle comes to mind. He was flat most of the game it was cold. But on that last drive he completed clutch plays to Rudolph and milked the clock to get us to a gimme FG attempt. We all know how that went, but that was to me the moment when he truly arrived. With your back against the wall in the playoffs your first playoff game you find it in you to push your team forward. Its unfortunate Blair missed the kick. But I think if given a 2nd chance to start and if healthy I think Teddy will show us something special.

  10. Very well written article and very well thought out. You have nailed it for me. My Teddy-love remains a little blind and perhaps, even a bit irrational at times. Still anticipating a complete comeback and not yet emotionally prepared for anything else. I will ride it out with Sam and thank him for his service, but he remains an awkward Viking for me and one I just haven’t been able to get 100% behind yet. Come on, Teddy! Keep taking your vitamins!

  11. What would seal the deal for me is this: Bridgewater continues to get healthy through the off season yet the Vikings still decide to place him on the PUP list, if he makes no noise (even if the NFLPA tries) and is prepared to accept the fourth year of his contract to be tolled, then he is obviously a “team” player.

    I love the guy and want him to succeed, preferably with the Vikings.