I haven’t written in some time, but I experienced something unlike anything before in my professional journalism career Sunday night.
Working for The Albert Lea Tribune, I got to experience the first regular season football game at the brand new U.S. Bank Stadium between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
It was an unreal experience. I had been to the stadium before to cover the Chelsea-AC Milan soccer game. But the feeling in the stadium Sunday night could give a dead person goosebumps.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his security people walked right by me. I snapped a couple of pictures with my camera and phone before one of his people came up to me and asked for my credentials. Once I showed him, he apologized and said I was “OK” but to not get too close. It’s nice to get a little respect out here!
Once the players came on the field, the adrenaline started to flow through my veins. I remember coming out before a game to the roar of the crowd, albeit much smaller than the 66,800 in attendance.
The coolest moment was when quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford flashed on the big screen. As they came walking out to the field, the crowd started to get into it. Bradford is considered the team’s savior since he was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles when Teddy Bridgewater ripped up his knee in practice just a few weeks ago. As the two players approached the field, the crowd came alive. Hill and Bradford stopped before the turf and put their forearms together. No one but them knows what they said to each other, but I could tell Hill was excited for Bradford when he threw that first touchdown to Kyle Rudolph in the second quarter.
Stefon Diggs had an awesome game. His ability to run precise routes and his sure-hands led him to a career night. He hauled in an amazing touchdown catch, of which I got a picture in my newspaper. But what struck me most about him was his pregame warmup. I have never seen someone so excited to play a game. He was having so much fun in warm ups that I was worried he was going to tire himself out before the game. Little did I know, he had a lot more left in the tank that night. It was joy to watch him entertain the fans and inspire his teammates. He was a fifth-round pick just a year ago, and now he is turning into a great player.
The Vikings defense is so much fun to watch. Despite his old football age (32), Brian Robison is a joy to watch. He is playing on borrowed time, but moving like he is 25. He got really pumped up after his defense helped force a Green Bay turnover. They flashed him on the big board, and he dropped everything and started to get pumped up. The crowd got into it, too. Danielle Hunter is going to be good. He is so big, strong and fast. He is a nightmare. I got a great shot of him sacking Aaron Rodgers and stripping him of the football early in the game. Everyone Griffin and Linval Joseph are entertaining to watch on the sidelines. They have so much intensity and passion flowing through them.
Of course, it all starts with the head coach — Mike Zimmer. In person, I have never seen someone more connected to his team. From pregame handshakes to yelling at players for mistakes to congratulating those same players when they do something correct or make a big play, these players respond to his message. A perfect example of this is Trae Waynes
Waynes got beat up in the game. Rodgers was attacking him all night long and completing passes or getting Waynes called for penalties. Until one of the last plays of the game. Wayne stepped in front of a Rodgers’ pass and picked it up. There was no one in that stadium happier for Waynes, except for maybe himself, than Zimmer.
The night was filled with memories of beating Green Bay. Cris Carter was in attendance and was interviewed by Greg Coleman. When Carter flashed on the big screen, the crowd came alive again. I’m not sure what game Carter referred to when Coleman asked for his fondest memory of beating the Packers, but Carter said “We whopped their butt back to Green Bay so bad,” and the crowd just erupted. Later, the greatest quarterback in Minnesota history, Fran Tarkenton, was interviewed and, again, the crowd exploded.
A tribute to the late Prince at halftime was a great spectacle. Minnesota never forgets one of its own.
The new Vikings chant “SKOL” with the claps, is pretty awesome, too. It’s something to get the crowd involved.
To top it off, Minnesota beat Green Bay. It was a fantastic game played by two very good NFL teams. The excitement was off the charts.
It will be a memory I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.
The Minnesota Vikings are headed back to the NFL playoffs after a two-year hiatus.
A convincing 49-17 victory over the New York Giants sealed a spot in the playoffs for the Vikings Sunday night.
However, a division title is still up for grabs, as the Vikings will travel to Green Bay to play the Packers in another prime-time football game.
The scenarios are many, but the Vikings will either play the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, or Packers the this coming weekend in the NFC Wild Card Game.
Fitzgerald back to old self; Floyd finishing strong
After a disappointing year in 2014, Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has emerged back into a big-time threat in the Cardinals’ passing game.
It also helps when one of the league’s best quarterbacks, Carson Palmer is back and healthy again after suffering a torn ACL last season.
In 15 games, Fitzgerald has caught 103 passes for 1,160 yards and eight touchdowns.
In 14 games in 2014, Fitzgerald had 63 catches for 784 yards and two touchdowns.
Fitzgerald attended high school at the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield.
Arizona’s other dynamic receiver, Michael Floyd, is enjoying a late-season burst.
After missing the first game of the season and missing snaps due to recovering from dislocated fingers, Floyd’s production has picked up.
Over the last four games, Floyd has 23 receptions for 387 yards and one touchdown.
For the season, Floyd has 51 catches for 833 yards and six touchdowns.
He graduated from Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul.
It seems that the Minnesota Wild have avoided their usual winter meltdown this year.
If you remember back to last season, the Wild started to slide down the Western Conference standings Dec. 16, and it lasted through Jan. 13.
So far, the Wild is 19-10-6 with 44 points, and sitting in third place in the Central Division.
The opening kickoff of the 2015-2016 NFL is just a few weeks away and my two favorite teams, the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings, have some very exciting pieces.
The Jets are looking to rebound from a four-win season in 2014-2015. I would say that they are off to a good start, but Geno Smith got his jaw smashed in by a former teammate over $600. Some players say he deserved it, but I say that the act of a third-string linebacker breaking the jaw of the team’s starting quarterback is repulsive.
Despite that, the Jets added and brought back a lot of new faces — Brandon Marshall (trade), Darrelle Revis (free agency), Antonio Cromartie (free agency), Leonard Williams (draft), Buster Skrine (free agency), and Devin Smith (draft).
Rex Ryan is gone, and I have to say I am happy about that. I was getting tired of his act. His replacement is Todd Bowles, a level-headed, nose-to-the-grindstone type of coach who prides himself on getting things accomplished and improving every single day.
I’m disappointed with Sheldon Richardson. Not only will he miss the first four games of the season, but he might also be suspended for the entire season for his most recent run-in with the law after he was caught going 143 miles per hour with a 12-year old in the car, a loaded gun, and marijuana. Come on, man. Are you that dumb? It’s a good thing the Jets drafted Williams because he figures to see a lot more playing time now.
I’m very excited to see that defensive line go to work. Between Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, and Williams along with the versatility that Quinton Coples brings, the defense should be one of the best in the NFL behind Bowles, the former Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator.
I still have my concerns about the offense. Even though Smith isn’t the best quarterback, I was excited to see how he would fair with Marshall, Eric Decker and tight end Jason Amaro, who I think, is going to have a big season.
The Jets’ schedule isn’t too tough, in my opinion. I could see the Jets winning 8-9 games this season, which is clearly a significant improvement from last season.
Now, to the hometown 11. There is a lot of excitement around the Vikings this season. The growth of Teddy Bridgewater last year was a lot of fun to watch. With Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph back, and the prized addition of Mike Wallace, Bridgewater should be even more effective this year.
Mike Zimmer did wonders with the defense in his first year. Anthony Barr was fabulous in his rookie season, but an injury kept him out of the last few games of the season.
Cornerback Trae Waynes was the Vikings’ top draft pick in the 2015 draft. However, it might be difficult for him to get consistent playing time with Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman, Captain Munnerlyn, and Marcus Sherels. However, Waynes’ aggressiveness is something that Zimmer loves so he might crack the rotation sooner than people think.
The defensive line should be solid with Everson Griffin, Sharrif Floyd, and Linval Joseph patrolling the trenches. The linebacker position has a lot of depth besides Barr. Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges, and rookie Eric Kendricks can all be moved around and all will see playing time as Zimmer plans on shuffling through a lot of players. I want to see this defense force more turnovers this season.
The offense should be more explosive with the return of Peterson and Rudolph. The deep-threat of Wallace should help Bridgewater stretch the field. There has been a lot of hype around Charles Johnson this offseason. He played in 12 games last season and caught 31 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns. He could emerge as a solid No. 2 receiver. Lost in all of this is Cordarrelle Patterson. I expect him to have a rebound season, due in part to the return of the other offensive weapons. He was extremely disappointing last season. Jarious Wright and Stefon Diggs will also be in the mix at receiver.
Looking at the Vikings’ schedule, I think the Vikings are good for nine victories. Achieving 10 victories, or even 11, isn’t out of the question. However, the offense will have to be explosive and the defense will have to hold up, which I think it will (the defense, I mean).
It will be an interesting football season and I can’t wait for it to get started.