EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Finally, Teddy Bridgewater has become truly part of the team again.
He will stand on the sideline this weekend when the Minnesota Vikings play at Washington, backing up Case Keenum with no guarantee he’ll play, but his mere presence in that No. 5 white-and-purple jersey will be a major milestone.
Walking without crutches for his surgically repaired left knee was the first big step, followed by a return to the field for football activities. Now he’s on the active roster, ready for action if Keenum is significantly injured or deemed ineffective.
“It’s always hard when the guys are going to work and you have to go in the opposite direction,” Bridgewater said Thursday. “It’s like when all the kids are going to P.E. and you have to go detention or something like that.”
There were days, undoubtedly, when the rehabilitation process felt like punishment. His refusal to let it get him down is one of the reasons he made it back. Now he’s able to participate along with his teammates in the fun part, their present-day gym class.
“Just being activated, knowing that I will be suiting up, coming out of that locker room and getting that rush and that adrenaline going through my blood and my body, it’s great feeling,” Bridgewater said.
The final exam will be how his knee, which was dislocated, resulting in multiple ligament tears, holds up during a game against a pass rush with tacklers coming at him fast from every direction. Bridgewater has not played in a non-preseason game in 22 months.
“No concerns at all. Our training staff, our strength and conditioning staff, they’ve done a great job of preparing me to get to this point,” Bridgewater said. “So once I get out there, there’s no regrets, no holding back. Whatever’s meant to happen, happens. I trust God’s plan for me, and I’m going to go with that.”
For the first time since the third game of his rookie year, Sept. 21, 2014, at New Orleans, Bridgewater will begin Sunday as the backup. Matt Cassel was hurt that afternoon, beginning Bridgewater’s takeover of the position until that fateful practice on Aug. 30, 2016.
The Vikings (6-2) have been playing well enough behind Keenum that, for now, there’s no obvious reason to replace him. Bridgewater said he’s not concerned about when he’ll have the starting job back, nor whether he’ll get any playing time down the stretch, even in a low-pressure situation. He’s not blind to the two-game lead the Vikings have in the NFC North race, with momentum they’ll be trying to maintain.
“We’re just going to go with the flow by how the game goes,” Bridgewater said. “If I’m asked to go in, then I’ll go in. I won’t have any hesitation. I’ll go out there and give it my all. But you always hope for the best, and I wish and I hope that we can just go out there and handle our business.”
One of the beneficial byproducts of the 14-month recovery was all the time spent in the weight room. By all accounts, Bridgewater’s arm has emerged with more strength. His leg will be more scrutinized, but coach Mike Zimmer said he’s seen no hesitation or limitation over the past three weeks of practice with the team.
“I don’t know if that’s the most impressive thing,” Zimmer said. “Just coming back is the most impressive from what he had to go through.”
GREEN BAY — Looking back, Josh Sitton said, it worked out for the best.
He’d always enjoyed his non-work visits to Chicago — come to think of it, given the Green Bay Packers’ annual success against the Chicago Bears, he enjoyed his work trips, too — and he and wife Kristen have found a home away from home in the Windy City.
“I love Chicago,” Sitton said as his current team, the Bears, prepared for Sunday’s game against his former team, the Packers, at Soldier Field. “I’ve been coming down here since I was a rookie in Green Bay, so I’ve always loved the city. So it’s been fun.”
Even though the way his tenure with the Packers ended — by being unceremoniously dumped at the end of training camp in 2016, after eight-plus seasons in Green Bay — was anything but fun.
This marks the second straight game in which the Packers have faced one of their former Pro Bowl guards. On Monday night, they faced T.J. Lang, who left in March as a free agent, joining the Detroit Lions on a three-year, $28.5 million deal. Sunday, it’ll be Sitton, whom the Packers surprisingly cut in the final year of his contract after three Pro Bowl appearances.
Unlike Lang, who had the offseason to think about not finishing his career in Green Bay — something he wanted to do, even though he ended up signing with his hometown Lions — the timing of Sitton’s career change didn’t allow for much contemplation. Sitton signed a three-year, $21.5 million deal (with $10 million guaranteed) one day after the Packers released him.
“You’re always going to be upset about it. There is the human side of it, the emotional side of it,” Sitton admitted during a conference call with Wisconsin reporters this week — after initially dismissing his departure as part of the business. “(But) honestly, I had to get right to work here in Chicago right away.
“I’m trying to learn a new offense, and learn a new team, and, hell, just learn where I had to be for meetings, learn a new building. Things as simple as that.”
The now 31-year-old Sitton is in the second year of that three-year deal and is protecting rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who was elevated to the starting job after veteran Mike Glennon played poorly in the Packers’ Sept. 28 victory over the Bears at Lambeau Field. Sitton missed last year’s Packers-Bears game at Lambeau Field due to injury, so that was his first game against his former team in his old stomping grounds. Sunday will mark the second time he’s faced the Packers at Soldier Field.
“I thought there would be more emotions, or more something, than there was. It was just kind of like playing another game, honestly,” Sitton said. “You have so much to do on game day. You’re so focused on doing your job, you can’t really think about where you’re at, or where you’re playing.”
Sitton said the back problems that troubled him off and on during his time in Green Bay haven’t flared up too much this season — “I’m not getting any younger, though,” Sitton said — Bears coach John Fox likes the impact Sitton, who sometimes rubbed people the wrong way in Green Bay, has had in Chicago’s locker room.
“He’s been a great addition,” Fox said. “I think Josh is really, really smart. I think guys gravitate to that because he understands defenses, he understands how it relates to the calls we’re making. I think he’s been a good sounding board for all of those guys. We’re fairly young, and he’s got a good football intelligence, which I think always helps and the other guys gravitate to him.”
There’s a new series on the Olympic Channel called “Foul Play,” though unfortunately it doesn’t address what is really foul about the modern Olympic movement.
For that, there’s no reason to look to the past. There’s plenty of foul play on display as the countdown begins to the Winter Olympics in February in South Korea.
Just this week the International Olympic Committee suspended Namibia’s Frank Fredericks as a member after he was charged in a French investigation of suspected bribery in the 2016 Olympic host city vote. The former Olympian allegedly accepted a $300,000 payment eight years ago on the day Rio de Janeiro was chosen as the host.
No surprise there, because the Olympic city selections have long been an exercise in corruption and vote buying. Not just for Rio, but for Salt Lake City in 2002 and assorted Olympics before and in between.
But what’s really foul is the way Olympic officials have responded to the state sponsored doping scheme that Russia employed to top the medal standings four years ago in Sochi.
On Thursday, four Russian cross-country skiers were found guilty by an IOC commission of doping in Sochi, including silver medalist Maxim Vylegzhanin. That brought to six the number of Russian athletes disqualified by the IOC, with at least 20 cases remaining to be judged.
That the IOC is finally dealing out some punishment is commendable, at least in some fashion. The Sochi Olympics will forever be tainted by a Russian scheme to switch out urine samples.
Not so commendable is how the IOC is dealing with the Russians themselves.
Less than 100 days before the Games begin in Pyeongchang, there has still been no decision on what to do with the Russian team scheduled to attend. Olympic officials are expected to consider some sort of punishment when the IOC executive board meets on Dec. 5, though any sanctions are expected to fall well short of the outright Russian ban sought by a number of doping watchdogs, including the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
If it seems familiar, it is. The same kind of situation that played out before the Olympics last year in Rio, where officials left it up to the individual sports federations to determine whether Russian athletes were eligible to compete.
The truth is, Russia should have been banned then, and it should be banned now.
The country still refuses to turn over stored urine samples from a Moscow laboratory, as demanded by anti-doping authorities. It still refuses to accept the findings of a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation led by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who found that 1,000 Russian athletes in 30 sports would have been involved in doping cover-ups from 2011 to 2015.
There’s no way to really know if Russian athletes will compete clean and on a level playing field in South Korea. Indeed, there’s every reason to suspect just the opposite as Russia tries to replicate its place on top of the medal standings in the upcoming Games.
Despite that, the Russians will almost surely be in Pyeongchang.
And every athlete competing against them will have to wonder just how level the playing field in this Olympics will be.