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Updated: December 6th, 2011 4:41pm
Zulgad: Sage Rosenfels' return comes with far different expectations

Zulgad: Sage Rosenfels' return comes with far different expectations

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by Judd Zulgad

Sage Rosenfels' arrival in Minnesota in February 2009 was a big enough deal that the Vikings stashed him in a Bloomington hotel under an assumed name and held a press conference the next day at Winter Park to introduce him.

Acquired from the Houston Texans for a fourth-round pick, Rosenfels was given a two-year contract extension and the expectation was that he would compete with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting quarterback job.

Rosenfels' return to the Vikings last week did not cause quite the same stir.

Claimed off waivers from the Miami Dolphins on Friday, he did not speak to the media until after the Vikings' lost to the Denver Broncos on Sunday at the Metrodome.

Rosenfels did so as a third-string quarterback who was just happy to be in uniform again after what has been a trying season.

"I was coaching some unbelievable 10-year-old basketball and it was different," Rosenfels said of what he had been doing most recently. "Showed me a little bit of what life is like after football during the season. I was watching football on Sundays and Monday nights and wasn't preparing during the week. But it's nice to be back. Believe me."

Rosenfels arrived to a far different situation than the one he left.

Those who follow the Vikings know that Rosenfels never got a chance to be the starter in 2009. Neither did Jackson. Instead, Brett Favre was lured out of "retirement" during training camp and led the Vikings to a 12-4 record and the NFC title game.

Meanwhile, it became clear that Rosenfels and Jackson clearly had their allies in the Vikings organization. Rick Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel, favored Rosenfels. Brad Childress, the former Vikings coach, liked Jackson.

For whatever the reason, Childress seemed to have a disdain for Rosenfels and since the coach had final say over the 53-man roster it came as little surprise in September 2010 when the quarterback was dispatched to the New York Giants just before the regular season began.

Rosenfels spent last year as the backup to Eli Manning - Childress had made him the No. 3 QB throughout the 2009 season - but he missed most of training camp this summer because of a blood infection that was the result of strep throat.

Rosenfels was placed on injured reserve in early September, ending his season with the Giants, and then was given his release in early October when it appeared he was healthy.

This opened the door for Rosenfels to have a second go-around with the Miami Dolphins. Rosenfels, who had first crossed paths with Spielman during his first stint with the Dolphins from 2002 to 2005, received a one-year, $970,000 deal.

He then began practicing in the Florida heat.

"I immediately started feeling not very well," Rosenfels said. "The next thing you know they test me and I have mono. I talked to some doctors. They said probably the worst thing to be doing is playing football in Miami."

Rosenfels, 33, was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list by the Dolphins in late October and left the team. "I really didn't want to leave but it was one of those things where I wasn't going to be helping the team out physically or whatever for a while," he said. "I took about four weeks off and started working out a little bit and I wanted to play football again."

Being on NFI meant Rosenfels found himself in an odd situation.

"The NFI rule is a really weird one," he said. "Once you're on NFI with an injury or with an illness, say you get mono or some sort of cancer where you can't play, a team can hold the rights to you and not pay you, even if you come back healthy.

"That's what was really weird. I went to Miami on Monday, went to the team doctors and passed the physical and everything was fine. If they wanted to they could have held me out the rest of the year without pay."

Rosenfels placed a call to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to talk about the situation.

What did Goodell say?

"He said I'll talk to my people and get back to you," Rosenfels said.

The Dolphins did Goodell one better and placed Rosenfels on waivers. One day after releasing Donovan McNabb, the Vikings quickly claimed Rosenfels.

"There was a situation here that I could try to help this team," Rosenfels said.

Rosenfels spent Sunday's game on the sideline offering encouragement to Christian Ponder while trying to absorb coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense.

Childress' West Coast system has been replaced by what Rosenfels describes as a mixture of offenses that includes a dash of the West Coast, a bit of what the New England Patriots like to do and also some of what Norv Turner runs with the San Diego Chargers.

"I went through the whole playbook and sort of highlighted the plays that made sense to me," Rosenfels said of his crash-course on the Vikings offense before Sunday's game. "They're not going to be able to coach me on all the reads and everything. I just have to sort of go off what I know and how I've been coached in the past. It's going to take time.

"There's so many details to football. There's a reason there's 14 OTAs and minicamps and weeks of training camp. ... I'm going to do my best to try to learn those as quickly as possible."

Ponder suffered a hip pointer against the Broncos and likely will be limited in practice this week. Coach Leslie Frazier expects Ponder to be fine for Sunday's game at Detroit, but Joe Webb would get the start for the 2-10 Vikings if Ponder can't go.

"I think by having me on the team it allows them to do a few things," said Rosenfels, who has not started a game since 2008 when he was with the Texans. "I think they obviously like the fact I can try to add something in that quarterback room with Christian. I, for one, was fully impressed with the way he played (against Denver). The way he handled himself. He has all those attributes that you're looking for in a quarterback.

"He's tough, he was injured most of the game, smart, throws it well. So I think he's got a bright future. I think also me being in that room allows Joe to get into action in some other spots. Receiver and the Wildcat type stuff. Where if he gets hurt at receiver, they've got no backup, so that's probably another reason I'm on the team."

Rosenfels, who has been with five organizations in 11 seasons, is only signed for the rest of this season. He and his family had a house in the Twin Cities during their first stay but have since sold that property and moved to Boulder, Colo.

However, he's hoping to stick around with the Vikings this time, although the starting job appears to be Ponder's for the long term.

"You just never know," Rosenfels said when asked if he might remain with the team. "The NFL you'd like to think that everything is long term, but it's week-to-week in this business. ...I do love it here, it's a great city.

"The team is struggling this year and the place was rocking (Sunday). You don't get that in other places. I've been other places and I've been to places where the team's over .500 and isn't nearly sold out. It's a special place to play football and it's a great place to live." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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