When a reporter asked Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer what hospital Teddy Bridgewater was taken to, the coach pleaded with the press to slow down, "Let’s let him get healthy." Literally pleading, "Please, I’m just asking you because I love this kid, and our fans love this kid."
Bridgewater suffered a completely torn ACL and other structural damage to his knee on a non-contact play in practice Tuesday. The injury was so bad that coaches called off practice after just 25 minutes. Bridgewater was taken in an ambulance to a local hospital and had to be sedated.
Compounding the shock of the injury is that it happened to an NFL starting quarterback, the premiere position in American sports. Compounding it further is that Bridgewater is, by many accounts, a great human being. Zimmer wanted to emphasize that, first of all. Bridgewater, in Year 3, had become one of the most beloved people in the Vikings locker room. In July, Adrian Peterson called Bridgewater a good soul while predicting greatness for him.
Bridgewater’s football career was on a perfect trajectory to stardom until Tuesday. He was a four-star prospect out of a high school football powerhouse in Miami. He earned a starting role during his freshman season at Louisville, was named Big East Offensive Players of the Year as a sophomore, and closed his career by throwing for 3,970 yards, 31 touchdowns and four interceptions as a junior. In the pros, he has improved steadily, playing well enough that the Vikings should have contended for a deep playoff run with him behind center.
This has a crushing impact on the team. The Vikings quarterbacks are now old-ass Shaun Hill and undrafted rookie Joel Stave, neither of whom can conceivably replicate Bridgewater on the field. Bridgewater’s injury will have a ripple effect. It will Change The Offensive Approach, Shake Up The NFC Playoff Picture and have lasting Fantasy Implications on all of the Vikings skill players and probably thousands of fantasy football teams — but wait, let’s pause before we extrapolate.
Bridgewater’s injury had a personal effect on a lot of people, too. Immediately after it occurred, Vikings players reportedly went silent unless they were dropping obscenities or praying. Players around the league, his rivals, all sent their support, players like Derek Carr, Geno Smith and Lions cornerback Darius Slay, who would have faced Bridgewater directly twice this season.
Zimmer deviated from standard operating procedure when he gave his press conference. If he wanted to wring an advantage out of the situation, he could have played coy about Bridgewater’s status, marked him day-to-day and mumbled something about the "next man up." The Serious Book of NFL Coaching that surely exists states that revealing any vulnerability, concerning your personnel or yourself, is deeply frowned upon. Zimmer didn’t give a damn about SOP.
Think of all the hyper-paranoid coaches who would not have revealed the severity of Bridgewater's injury at press conference. And for what?— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 30, 2016
Per Jason Garrett, Bridgewater is day to day. No need to put time frame on this https://t.co/LWdfZiZXxt— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) August 30, 2016
Zimmer’s press conference stood out among decades of coaches uncomfortably talking about bad news. He wasn’t making a conscious statement, however. Zimmer has a long history of stating things exactly how he sees them, from calling Bobby Petrino a "gutless bastard" and a coward, to daring the best running back of a generation to quit.
Zimmer and Bridgewater have been together for the entirety of their professional head coaching and quarterbacking careers, respectively. It’s silly to think their relationship is purely business, especially when they arrived at their positions facing the same criticisms.
Zimmer was snubbed for countless NFL head coaching jobs even though his resume as a defensive coordinator was as good as any. The consensus was that his blunt personality didn’t fit the role. Bridgewater was considered perhaps the top quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft until late in the process, when his stock fell for reasons no one could quite understand. The problem seemed to be that he was too "quiet," unlike Blake Bortles or, uh, Johnny Manziel.
More than two years later, Zimmer and Bridgewater are two of the most endearing figures in the NFL, all without changing a damn thing. These are the headlines:
Teddy Bridgewater has ups and downs, but his demeanor doesn’t (Pioneer Press)
Zimmer is winning us over because he's not trying to (Star Tribune)
Teddy Bridgewater's toughness, poise impress teammates, opponents alike (Yahoo Sports)
Mike Zimmer's authenticity won over Vikings' locker room (NFL.com)
Neither Zimmer nor Bridgewater fit their archetypes, nor could they without compromising themselves. And it’s for that reason that Bridgewater’s injury stings beyond its impact on the field, even for players and fans who aren’t associated with the Vikings. It’s hard not to care for genuine people.
On Tuesday, Zimmer was, as he always will be, blunt.
"My wife passed away seven years ago," he said. "It was a bad day and the sun came up the next day."
The message couldn’t be more clear: That no matter how bad something is, it could be worse — it could be one of the worst things imaginable, and still tomorrow will come. The Vikings are moving on, but not without pausing everything, briefly but negligibly, for Teddy Bridgewater and everything he meant to the team. That shouldn’t be so rare.
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