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Why everyone believes in Teddy Bridgewater

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer hugs quarterback Teddy Bridgewater after an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Teddy Bridgewater has a way of making people believe in him, even if that means having faith he’ll return from a knee injury so catastrophic that trainer Eric Sugarman is credited with saving his leg.

Bridgewater’s situation pushes us to think about what it means to believe in someone. Does it require faith in that person beyond all reason? If so, then Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s feelings about Teddy Bridgewater  could be compared to asking a Christian if there is a God and them replying, “Yes, absolutely. I hope.”

When Zimmer was questioned by reporters about Bridgewater’s progress last week, he paused, then said, “I love Teddy Bridgewater,” before giving his answer. Ask the philosopher Voltaire and he will say (or would say if he were alive) that if you love someone, you believe in them. But no matter the number of inquiries, the Vikings’ head coach has declined to say he’s sure Bridgewater will step back on the field someday. It’s clear Zimmer understands the severity of Bridgewater’s knee injury. He also knows Bridgewater’s story. And we believe in the things we know.

The 60-year-old head coach has gone out of his way to let the world see that he believes, and he’s done it in a way that bucks NFL culture. It’s rare to hear a head football coach express genuine emotion for another person. Football generally refers to players as weapons, road graders, gunslingers, blitzers, freaks, grinders and warriors, not complex human souls.

And make no mistake, Zimmer is a football guy. He played quarterback in high school under his dad, a legendary coach in Lockport, Illinois, then moved to linebacker in college. He became a college assistant coach in 1979 and hasn’t received a paycheck from a non-football entity since.

Never did a head coach represent football harder than last year when Zimmer stood along the sidelines with an eye patch after undergoing emergency surgery for a detached retina. Another coach had to stand near him to ensure that Zim wouldn’t be trucked by a wayward play and lose his eyesight. Zimmer also made sure to note that he could break down film with one eye.

Football guys don’t cut open their veins and bleed feelings. They don’t show belief and faith. They preach Next Man Up. But Zimmer is different when it comes to Teddy. On the sweltering day that Bridgewater went down on the practice field, Zimmer was so devastated he invoked the passing of his wife.  

“My wife passed away seven years ago,” he said. “It was a bad day and the sun came up the next day.”

And keep in mind, Zimmer is usually brutally honest about players who are unavailable, saying, “I’m used to it,” when asked how he would adapt to missing Sharrif Floyd, who has been plagued by knee injuries. In 2014, Zimmer famously quipped, “You can’t make the club from the tub,” after growing frustrated with the recovery of cornerback Josh Robinson.

Remember, Zimmer is a disciple of legendary head coach Bill Parcells, who wouldn’t even give Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks special treatment. In 1999, the L.A. Times wrote this about Parcells’ approach to handling QBs:

“He rides quarterbacks the way a jockey coming down the homestretch at the Belmont might treat his racehorse. As long as there’s even a slim chance of victory, Bill Parcells is going to his whip hand.”

That’s not the way Zimmer approaches Bridgewater. Instead he’s protective. 

In early November 2015, he launched into a tirade when he believed the Rams took a cheap shot at his quarterback.

“If we were on the street, we probably would have had a fight,” Zimmer said after the game.

Zimmer was infuriated when the media questioned him hiding the reason for sitting Bridgewater in a 2016 preseason game. Turns out he was worried that opponents would attack his sore shoulder if it were made public.

For any football coach, acting this way toward a player is unusual in a touching way. And it leaves you wondering why this coach-quarterback relationship is so different. Coaches spend their entire lives – 99 hours per week watching film, if you ask them – preparing for best case, worst case, punt fumble safety touchbacks on every down. They don’t believe in players, they control them, then cast them aside when they are no longer useful. 

But Bridgewater has a way of humanizing people that makes them believe. Zimmer is arms-length enough to avoid ever completely revealing why, but people from Bridgewater’s past, understand how the Vikings’ head coach feels. And their stories are enough to make you believe too.

Eli Rogers and Teddy Bridgewater became close at Northwestern High School in Miami, a hotbed for star football talent. 

Bridgewater was one of the nation’s most highly regarded quarterback recruits and Rogers was a three-star receiver.

Rogers grew up in a neighborhood called Brownsville, where most people with star football talent never get the chance to use it. The crime rate is 61% above the national average. One of every 22 people is somehow affected by a violent crime. If privileged people start life at third base, Rogers started in the parking lot with no bat.

When Rogers was eight years old, his mother contracted AIDS.

Sometimes Rogers couldn’t understand things his mother was saying because of medication. Sometimes she couldn’t provide the happy, safe environment that every child deserves. So Bridgewater opened his home to Rogers. Bridgewater’s mother Rose Murphy became a second mother to Rogers. The two boys spent time together as any friends would in high school, but Bridgewater made sure Rogers did not turn into one of those 22. Instead he pushed his teammate to become one of every 50 high school players that receives a Division-1 scholarship.

“Teddy is a great person,” Rogers said over the phone. “That’s all there is to it. He’s humble, he’s funny. He’s just a great man.”

On the football field, they had chemistry like Montana and Rice. Every time Bridgewater would be in a tight spot, Rogers would come up big. Turns out, the receiver did that off the field too.

When Bridgewater was 15, Murphy was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Rogers did the only things he could: Pray for his second mom and understand what his best friend was going through.

“With both of our parents battling their problems, that just gravitated us toward each other more,” Rogers said. “God places people in your life for a reason, you know? At the time, Teddy was in my life, we were in each other’s life for a reason. That purpose was fulfilled with us both here now, we’re both in the NFL, we’ve both fulfilled our dreams. That’s all you could ask for.”

Between Bridgewater’s junior and senior years, he threw for more than 5,000 yards and tossed 54 touchdowns with Rogers as his main target. When the time came, both players committed to Miami University. And when head coach Randy Shannon was fired, both backed out and made the decision to go to Louisville. It was there that Rogers saw his quarterback remain level-headed, though he was being hyped as a potential No. 1 overall pick. During Rogers’ college career, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound receiver caught caught 131 passes from Bridgewater.

(AP Photo/Garry Jones)

Rogers points out that part of the reason teammates believe in Teddy is that he takes charge when he’s needed most and Bridgewater’s calmness under pressure comes from those difficult years they worked through together.

“That’s definitely a part of his poise on the field,” Rogers said about the influence Bridgewater’s mother’s battle with cancer had on his mentality. “He may crack a joke or two on the field in a heated moment but [what he’s gone through] is a big factor.”

In training camp last year, as the receiver was fighting for a spot on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, Bridgewater sent a photo of the two in ninth grade with the message, “Never forget.”

Rogers responded: “You know I’m never going to forget. We came from nothing.”

In late August, the young receiver was preparing for his debut with the Steelers when he heard his friend went down with a severe knee injury.

His first reaction was to believe in Teddy Bridgewater.

“I felt bad for him because I know what that feeling is like,” Rogers said. “My rookie year I was injured for the entire season, so I felt bad for him, but I knew he would bounce back because he always does and he’s a resilient person.”

Shawn Watson was one of many people close to Teddy Bridgewater who was confused by his fall on draft night.

Were NFL teams so foolish that they could really pass on the draft’s best quarterback because he had a bad pro day? Were they really concerned about his hand size? Are they seriously drafting the overly-cocky, entitled, off-the-field nightmare boy Johnny Manziel instead of the brightest leader in the draft?

Watson had a front-row seat as Bridgewater’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for all of his legendary college performances. He remembers the guy who came off the bench with a broken wrist and injured ankle to throw two touchdowns in a 20-17 win against Rutgers – a win that pushed the Cardinals into a BCS Bowl game. He can still see the quarterback who starred in a Louisville Sugar Bowl shocker over Florida, then went 35-for-45 with 447 yards, three touchdowns in his final college game, a victory in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

“I remember [around draft time] and talking with him on the phone and he wasn’t shaken by it at all,” Watson said. “He’s so stable. He’s a very faithful man and he understands that he’s going to be OK. He knows his faith and his source of his strength is bigger than all that and he just has to keep being steady and living his convictions. He wills things to happen because he’s so convicted. He wills things to happen.”

Watson did his best to convince Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, a college teammate of his, to take Bridgewater.

“I remember telling him when [Spielman] was down looking at the guys, ‘Teddy is a franchise guy. He’s the real deal. And I’m talking about as a person first and as a player.’ Because I think you have to have the people quality to be a high-level guy and he is that person.”

Watson’s experience coaching Bridgewater gives us a window into why Mike Zimmer feels so strongly about his quarterback. From Day 1, Watson, who has been a position coach in Division-I college football since 1985, found that Louisville’s star recruit from Miami believed in the words of John F. Kennedy, who said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

“He said, ‘I want you to coach me hard. I want you to hold me accountable to the highest standard,’” Watson said.

Watson is at Pitt now, where his quarterback Nathan Peterman was drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills. In order to teach Peterman how to read blitzes or execute a two-minute drill, the 57-year-old coach digs back into his film from 2011 through 2013.

“You know whose film I’m still using to teach my quarterbacks? Teddy,” Watson laughs. “All my cut-ups are him. I sit back and I think, ‘Man, this is the greatest player I’ve ever been around.’”

So when Bridgewater brought the Vikings to the postseason in his second year and won over Minnesota’s head coach, Watson was the least surprised person on earth.

“For me as a coach he challenged me because he wanted to be great,” Watson said. “He is the type of person that you can tell he’s driven. He pulls you in because he’s such a driven person. He’s willing to do the work, he’s so hungry. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words because I don’t think I do it justice – what type of man he is when it comes to people. I know this: He took a program at Louisville and put it on his back and elevated to a really high level. He did that as a player and with his performance, but what goes unseen is when you get to the locker room. He’s got such a unique personality, I mean, he’s for everybody. I think he gets as much out of seeing other people succeed as he does his own success. It’s very unique, especially in today’s world.”

And when Watson’s former pupil went down with a career-threatening injury in late August, Teddy’s  ex-OC had a very similar reaction to his best friend: To believe in Teddy Bridgewater.

“I don’t question what the outcome is going to be,” Watson said with emotion in his voice. “He’ll do it. I know him. He’s got a competitor’s heart. He’s going to find his way through all this. I don’t doubt it for one second.”

Bridgewater’s Viking teammates are behind him, but they might not be as optimistic as Rogers or Watson because they saw his knee injury happen.

When the play happened, it felt like the end of the world,” wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrote in an article for the Player’s Tribune. I’d never seen people react like that. They had looks of horror on their faces, and no one was moving. The whole field, the whole arena, was silent. All you could hear was Teddy shouting in pain.”

You get the feeling that we’re lucky that there weren’t cameras rolling. Sights like Joe Theismann’s leg breaking underneath Lawrence Taylor, or Napoleon McCallum’s knee bending backwards on Monday Night Football against the 49ers are still turn-away-from-the-TV worthy years and years later.

Vikings players are aware of the reality that Bridgewater might never play again. Doctors have compared his injury to that of Marcus Lattimore, the South Carolina top prospect running back who never played in the NFL after tearing every ligament and dislocating his knee.

Nearly nine months after the injury, the team is still completely silent about his recovery, which in turn tells you everything you need to know. Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole reported that Bridgewater would likely miss the entire 2017 season. Teddy has been sure to toss a few hints around that he’s on his way back though. He Snapchatted a clip of him throwing at a park and has posted other snippets running and doing small drills. 

Current starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who admirably filled in for Bridgewater despite being thrown into a brutal situation, told the media in late April that he’s given advice to Teddy on recovery. Bradford tore his ACL in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014. You might think it would be awkward for Bradford to take over as the offense’s leader with beloved Teddy still being around the team working on his recovery, but somehow it isn’t. Bridgewater has tried to help his receivers see through the eyes of Bradford.

“You might not see him on the field on Sundays, but Teddy’s impact on his team is still felt every week,” Diggs wrote. “He texts me and tries to help me play my best from a QB’s point of view. He feeds me that inside look, that inside scoop. He gives me positive energy on a daily basis. We play Madden a lot too…and he usually wins. I’ll cop to that.”

Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

While the Vikings opted not to pick up Bridgewater’s fifth-year option, a loophole in the Collective Bargaining Agreement will allow them to “toll” his contract, carrying it over through 2018 at his current rate of pay. If he is able to play, the Vikings will have to make a decision between going back to Bridgewater or signing Bradford long term.

At the owners meetings this Spring, Zimmer was asked about the possibility of trading his young quarterback if he recovers.  

“I want Teddy, I don’t want him going somewhere else,” the Vikings’ coach replied.

If you love someone, you believe in them. And Mike Zimmer believes in Teddy Bridgewater.

  • patrick

    fantastic article about a fantastic young man…..we’re all pulling for your full recovery, Teddy. You’re my 6 year old son’s favorite player. he even has a Teddy Bridgewater lego figure….

    • MarkWattsMN

      I hope he makes a full recovery but I trust my eyes, Teddy played very poorly in 2015 and got lucky that AP was carrying the team.

      • crashby89

        Then you need your eyes checked. Dont let the play calling in the red zone fool you, Teddy can and did make all the passes you could want from a QB.

        Here educate yourself: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/film-room/2016/film-room-teddy-bridgewater

        • MarkWattsMN

          31st in passing yards and 31st in passing TDs is not what I’m looking for in a QB, if he could play to the level of the QBs around the league then we have the worst head coach in NFL history because he did not want to put points on the board.

          • crashby89

            It’s clear you don’t know what to look for in QB’s. Maybe listen to those who do? It’s cute that you think bulk stats tell the full story. You must love Bortles then, he does throw for a lot of yards and TD’s after all.

          • MarkWattsMN

            Averaging 23 TDs a season (Bortles) is not good.

            Sorry.

            14 is pathetic in today’s NFL.

            Teddy also threw more interceptions than touchdowns in half his games in 2015.

            Is that good?

          • crashby89

            Are you trying to say Teddy is mistake prove now? Lol. A INT% of 2.0 is good yes. Look bud maybe one day you’ll learn a little about football and that box scores don’t tell the full story. Doubt it but maybe.

          • MarkWattsMN

            In Teddy’s last 2 games on the field I saw him throw 0 touchdowns, about 120 yards per game and tossed an interception with his left hand.

            But I’m sure you saw something different.

          • crashby89

            I saw him have a better game in the playoff loss than Wilson yes but you conveniently left that part out as well as why that game was so rough for both QB’s. You don’t like him for some reason. You also seem to know nothing about QB play. I’m guessing those two things are related. Don’t just take my word for it, see the article I posted for you. Again maybe one day you’ll learn something. Keep trying bud.

          • MarkWattsMN

            The difference in the game was Wilson was able to throw the ball into the end zone.

            That’s usually what decides games.

          • crashby89

            You seem to have a very selective memory. Maybe go look what actually decided the game and the drive that put them there. Quit embarrassing yourself.

          • MarkWattsMN

            What put them a FG away was the Seattle punter trying to jump over 3 Vikings as opposed to punting it.

            Stop making excuses for a QB that can’t get the ball in the end zone.

            He’s a poor man’s Alex Smith at best.

          • crashby89

            Yes the Seattle punter is why they went 52 yards in 6 plays lol. Learn a bit about football then get back to me. Or don’t. Either way don’t care. Your lack of understanding is your issue. Have a good day.

          • MarkWattsMN

            I know 14-15 touchdowns in today’s NFL is pathetic.

  • Jeeves

    I love me some Teddy. I’ve been a Teddy fan since day one. I am now a Bradford fan as well. The two are not mutually exclusive. Some small minds like to think so, but they are wrong on that point and many, many others. SKOL true Viking Fans!

  • virtualcynic

    Teddy is a quality young man and will succeed on or off the field!! #L1C4 !!

  • Kyle

    Nice article. Makes me believe in Teddy more than I already did. One correction though, Miami University is in Oxford, OH. University of Miami (where Teddy originally committed) in in Miami, FL.

    • MarkWattsMN

      I will believe in Teddy when he starts throwing like an NFL quarterback. The team had a bottom feeder passing game ever since Favre was here and that needs to change. You can’t be a great QB and only throw 14-15 TDs a season, this isn’t the 1970s.

      • Richard Max Perry

        There ate other intangibles to concider. For example smarts and insticts and being clutch. Bridgewater has all those qualities. They don’t show up in stats but you can’t teach them either. Players either have them or don’t. Also 2015 was teddy’s 2nd year AMD frankly even Aaron Rogers needed a few years to become Aaron Rogers. Stats are not the be all And end all of a player. Look at Michael strehans stats for his first 5 years and you’ll see what I mean.

        • MarkWattsMN

          Let’s not compare Teddy to an Aaron Rogers.

  • todd

    Teddy is a great competitor and a great man. It’s hard to count those kinda rare people out.

  • Nate Ras

    Much love teddy, our thoughts and prayers are with u as u continue to recover.. I went through 3 surgeries in 18 months and 2 yrs of rehab! And after almost 4 yrs away from football I’m back! I know u love this game the same way I do.. Don’t let anyone tell you u can’t do it bro I’m living proof.. We believe in you!

  • Scott Myhre

    Mathew, I’ve always enjoyed your articles whether or not I agree with you , but this one is a real good, heartfelt, story about a nice young man. It appears that you have a soft spot for Teddy and like the rest of us you too are hoping for a complete recovery. Thanks for the insight and it goes without saying, keep up the good work!

    • Matthew Coller

      Thank you, Scott.

  • Jeff Villwock

    Mr. Coller, good article.

    One thing, though. As a Christian, my answer is “Yes, absolutely.” The ‘I hope’ is an indication of doubt, and there is plenty of that as to Teddy returning to the NFL playing field.

    Young Mr. Bridgewater is probably applying ‘I pray’ to his situation, and as a fan of his, so am I.

  • Troy Huston

    One of the best local sports interest i have ever read. Thoughts are still strong for teddy.

    • Matthew Coller

      Thank you, Troy.

  • Matt

    Teddy will be back. He had no nerve damage and it is an 18 month recovery injury. He will be 100% by the start of the offseason going into 2018 and have the whole offseason to prepare. Trust me. He will be back.

    • Sambo

      Uhhhh, no he won’t. He is DONE. Everyone knows this.

  • Gordon Guffey

    I wish Teddy all the best going forward ~ Hopefully he makes a full recovery and is able to walk without the brace ~ If football is still in his future my hat is off to him for working his butt off to get back and to the Vikings staff for taking such good care of him until they could get him to the hospital ~ I dont know how anyone could not want to see a full recovery ~ Pulling for you Teddy ~

  • David Prestin

    Great article Matt. Your best yet. Hopefully things work out for Teddy, Vikings, and Bradford. All three are in a tough situation.

    • Matthew Coller

      Thanks David

  • blutrainspotter

    Wow, what a great article! On any given Monday, I’ll take Matthew Coller over Peter King! Best wishes for Teddy in his fight for complete recovery. His Instagram videos looks encouraging to me, and this article has me believe that Teddy is a guy everyone rallies behind and in turn, he rallies behind everyone.

    • Matthew Coller

      That’s very nice of you, thanks! (Though I’ve got a long way to go before you can call me Peter King haha)

  • Steve Jensen

    I believe 100% that if it is physically possible for Teddy to come back, he will be back. It will be interesting to see what the Vikes do if Bradford has a good year and Teddy is declared healthy and ready going into 2018. Having 2 good healthy options at QB would be nice but it will be interesting to see how they handle it.

    • Matt

      I think they call it a good ole quarterback competition. Franchise tag Bradford and toll TB’s contract so you have them both under contract and let them decide. If it’s neck n neck, go with TB because he is younger. Also probably more likely to resign to a lesser deal during the season or before free agency to a long term deal than Bradford will be.

    • patrick

      kind of reminds me of the days where we had Tommy Kramer and Wade Wilson, neither of which was quite durable enough to consistently go 16 games

  • Matthew Rowe

    Whether he comes back with the Vikings or at all, he’s a strong young man with a bright future. He could be a coach in the future. Wishing him the best luck!

  • by_jiminy

    I love Teddy too. But suppose he comes back — then what? How much pounding can that knee take?

    The same is true of any quarterback of course, including Bradford. So my answer for who to keep would be, both.

  • MarkWattsMN

    “Were NFL teams so foolish that they could really pass on the draft’s best quarterback because he had a bad pro day?”

    At this point the best QB in that draft was Carr and it isn’t even close right now.

  • Andre Esters

    Funny… I was instantly taken back with an intro comparing religious blind faith to the recovery of a respected football player… but after reading through this article 2 times, I’m reminded of just how much I miss Teddy Bridgewater.

  • Bozman

    Great article Matt! Go Teddy go!

  • Jeff

    Sounds like a nice guy but lets see it on the football field. Weak arm and limited big play making ability, I just don’t see a franchise QB. But on the other hand he’s a leader and shows that he’s clutch when the pressure is on and that’s tough to find. My real concern is not if he can play QB but if he can stay healthy long term and I’m not talking about the knee injury either. He just doesn’t look like a guy that can survive 16 games consistently, I think more injuries are to come. Either way it’s good to have both Bradford and Teddy on the roster, hopefully they push each other to another level. SKOL!

  • Sambo

    Uhhhh, Bridgewater won’t be playing another snap of football in his life. This is well known by everyone. Vikings have already moved on.

  • Gordon Guffey

    BT you act like I hate Teddy but you know I dont ~ I dont hate or dislike a single players on the Vikings roster outside of disliking AP for the way he treated his kid ~ And even if I fuss about a player and he turns things around I’ll be more than happy to say I got it wrong ~





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Previous Story Is it time to make Anthony Barr a pure pass rusher? Next Story How many of Adrian Peterson’s incentives will he actually hit?