There was no skepticism from here over the Vikings’ hire of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to run the football operation, not until he said that his goal was to lead the team in a “joyful pursuit of excellence.”
That was in a media session in late March, in advance of the NFL’s annual start of free agency.
This is football. It is the least joyful activity in mainstream team sports. It is legalized brutality, the level of which increases as these incredibly gutsy athletes progress, until the best of them are pounding one another in the NFL.
The one thing the NFL union, the worst in major professional sports, has accomplished in recent negotiations is to reduce the amount of time that coaches can have for hitting in practice.
Forty years ago, I recall being at training camp in Mankato, and Charlie Johnson — a veteran, much-honored defensive tackle — had gone through his first few practices with the Vikings and coach Bud Grant.
Johnson had starred for Philadelphia, a team that went to the Super Bowl after the 1980 season, and got there with Eagles coach Dick Vermeil as a believer in very physical practices — sometimes twice a day in training camp.
Charlie said being in Vikings camp was heaven for a veteran player, because of Grant’s belief in limiting contact and trying to avoid getting his players beat up in practice.
Bud’s theory on that gained popularity with coaches through the decades, although it was up to the union finally to negotiate strict limits on the number of practices and when contact can take place.
I mean, if there was any chance for playing football to be a “joyful” experience, other than in the hours after victory, why would the freedom to stay away and/or not hit each other turn out to be the one thing on which the union didn’t roll over?
Dear Kwesi: There’s no joy in football. You don’t need expertise to realize that, just a big-screen television set and the compassion to grimace.
The notion of this “joyful pursuit” could be tied into the Vikings’ smear campaign aimed at Mike Zimmer. He had the third-longest run as a Vikings coach, eight seasons, going 72-56-1 in the regular season and 2-3 in the playoffs.
It was time for the change, but in the quest to sell this as a wondrous reset, the Vikings have endorsed the “Evil Zimmer” angle that surfaced after his firing.
Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks marked the firing by using the phrase “fear-based” to describe Zimmer’s coaching style. And then it was a free-for-all, with such desperate criticism as right tackle Brian O’Neill suggesting that Zimmer wouldn’t bother to say howdy when passing in the hall.
As training camp was starting, there was a need to revisit Zimmer going with a running game late in the 31-17 victory over the Bears in the 2021 season finale.
Justin Jefferson was 16 yards short of Randy Moss’ record for receiving yards in a season at the time. Moss set the record in a 16-game season, and this was the NFL’s first 17-game season.
“Yes, but Jefferson missed a game,” came the outcry.
That was his problem, not Randy’s.
From here, this was a veteran coach not depriving a player of a record but sticking to a tradition:
You don’t rub it in the facemask of an opponent unless that team has given you reason to do so.
These were the Bears, and Zimmer didn’t want to go out being classless against a rival by throwing passes for a record on the final possession of a game that was decided.
I ran across a commentary on this that stated that, in the same situation, new coach Kevin O’Connell definitely would have tried to get the record for Jefferson — the implication being, we already know the new, young coach truly cares for his players.
More of the “Evil Zim” angle, and we’re just one big happy family out here at whatever we’re calling the new Winter Park …
Except, perhaps, for Adofo-Mensah’s recent interview with USA Today that showed off the naivete of a never-played, Princeton/Stanford-educated 41-year-old suddenly charged with running an NFL team.
In that interview, the football boss said, “… you never want to go full Rams,” meaning all-in to win a Super Bowl title, with the suggestion the odds are against a team unless it has a Tom Brady or a Patrick Mahomes at quarterback.
If Evil Zim had said that, we’d be going nuts that he was saying the Vikings could not win a Super Bowl with Kirk Cousins as a quarterback (which they can’t, but that’s another matter).
Apparently, with Adofo-Mensah being so new on the job, we’re going to let him get away with saying that his comments in the interview were misconstrued.
Either way, I can’t take anyone seriously that uses “joyful” and football in the same context.