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Mike Zimmer was already smiling more than usual Womens Jason Demers Jersey , sporting a relaxed look of satisfaction rarely revealed in public during the NFL season, when he really let his guard down a few minutes into his postgame news conference deep inside Minnesota’s still-buzzing stadium.

”Hey, let’s open these things up!” Zimmer blurted out mid-sentence, prodding a Vikings official to push the button that removes the window shades and allows the premium ticket-holders in an adjacent lounge to peer in the room.

His wish to interact with the customers who cheered the Vikings on to a last-play divisional round victory was granted.

Zimmer then proceeded to slowly and rhythmically clap above his head, dignifying the ritual ”Skol” chant performed by the purple-clad fans at each game honoring the area’s Scandinavian heritage and the team’s nickname.

”You deserve it!” Zimmer said, again interrupting his own answer to acknowledge the crowd.

From peers around the league to players in the locker room to people up and down the organization, there’s a strong sentiment that Zimmer has earned this, too, pulling within one win of a Super Bowl appearance.

The way the Vikings finished their 29-24 victory over New Orleans on a last-chance 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs suggested they’re on some kind of charmed path, an uncharted territory for this championship-deprived franchise. Zimmer, for his part, has experienced his own share of painful setbacks.

”I just think he was so proud of us,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. ”Proud of us for fighting until there were zeros on the clock.”

Zimmer is only here, preparing the Vikings for the NFC title game in Philadelphia on Sunday, because he himself resisted the urge to quit.

After being passed over for so many head coach vacancies during a six-year run as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, Zimmer nearly canceled a second interview in Minnesota in 2014 after a different team that considered him chose a different candidate. He ignored the discouragement in his head, instead accepting the offer to become the ninth head coach in team history at age 57.

”Sometimes you wonder, but I have a lot of confidence in myself,” Zimmer said at his introductory news conference at team headquarters. ”I feel like I was destined to do this.”

That first season, the Vikings improved by two wins to finish 7-9 with rookie Teddy Bridgewater forced into action ahead of schedule at quarterback and running back Adrian Peterson absent for all but one game because of the child abuse case and subsequent NFL discipline dispute he was involved in. In 2015, they went 11-5 and ended Green Bay’s four-year hold on the NFC North title.

The potholes in the road were waiting, though.

Blair Walsh’s 27-yard field-goal try went wide left at the end of the one-point wild-card round loss at home to Seattle.

The 5-0 start in 2016 was washed away by a torrent of season-ending injuries, including Bridgewater, Peterson and several offensive linemen.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned the day after Zimmer had the first of eight eye surgeries to address a torn retina. The third procedure forced him to miss a game for the first time in his career .

The first quarter of the 2017 season brought knee injuries to quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook Luke Schenn Jersey Kids , who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

The Vikings didn’t blink, though, particularly with the experience of 2016 so fresh. Case Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

All of these on-field hurdles have paled next to the pain Zimmer has endured in his personal life. His wife, Vikki, died suddenly in 2009. His father and former high school coach, Bill, passed away during training camp in 2015.

Zimmer was hired by the Vikings because of his acumen as a defensive strategist and teacher, having started his 24-year NFL career as the defensive backs coach for Dallas before a promotion to defensive coordinator in 2000.

Calling plays has been his forte, a responsibility he has yet to give up despite his duty as the main man on the staff on game day, but his ability to mold a disciplined, selfless unit from a collection of alpha males and high draft picks helped the Vikings’ defense rank first in the league in 2017 in both fewest yards and points allowed.

Beneath the gruff exterior is a deep affection for his players, an emotion that has caused his voice to crack and his eyes to well up several times over the years in various public discussions of their development or character.

He’s a football coach just like his father, though, and the critical eye and demanding approach are always quick to come out.

”We can’t make these mistakes in playoff games or we’ll be going home,” Zimmer said on Monday, reflecting on the reality of the performance after the euphoria of the winning play had worn off.

Now the Vikings must go on the road to face a team with a 14-3 record just like theirs, the last and biggest obstacle looming before they can experience a Super Bowl.

”We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. ”They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”



Tom Brady wore a black wool stocking cap and a big smile. Bill Belichick sported a full suit.

The guy in the shark costume, well, he was just trying to not wear out his welcome.

The New England Patriots were the first team on stage Monday at Super Bowl opening night, the kickoff to the week of buildup to the big game. They gathered at Xcel Energy Center, the hockey rink and home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, for their first on-site media obligation after landing in Minneapolis in the afternoon.

The Philadelphia Eagles Authentic Max Domi Jersey , whose charter flight arrived Sunday, had the second half of the NFL’s annual assembly of hundreds of reporters, camera operators and just-for-fun ”journalists” surrounding players and coaches with a ticketed crowd looking on from the seats.

Brady led his team out of the tunnel in the set made to resemble a giant glacier in honor of the host state’s wintry climate. Swarmed by a 12-deep pack of media at his podium in advance of his eighth career Super Bowl, Brady was asked often about his family ties to the area and his desire to keep his children from criticism and scrutiny. He fielded a query about his most attractive teammate, nodding to Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

And, of course, he fielded a few football questions.

As the Patriots filed out, Belichick met his Eagles counterpart, Doug Pederson, for a handshake and a photo op that produced a jarring juxtaposition of their wardrobe selections. Pederson had on a white polo shirt with jeans and a cap.

Belichick even flashed some smiles during his interview session, including questions from former figure skating star and lifelong Patriots fan Nancy Kerrigan. Working the room as a special correspondent for ”Inside Edition,” Kerrigan later asked Amendola about his favorite Super Bowl party food.

”Nachos,” Amendola quickly responded.

Eagles center Jason Kelce sported an Elmer Fudd-style wool cap with earflaps that the entire team was given as host-community gifts upon landing. He looked ready for an ice fishing expedition.

”If you’re in Minnesota, you might as well do as the Minnesotans do,” Kelce said.

Every player and coach on the team is required to be present, so they don’t get fined, as Marshawn Lynch reminded the football world during his appearance with the Seattle Seahawks three years ago . That includes the injured players not in concussion protocol, so ACL reconstruction patients Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and left tackle Jason Peters were part of the crowd, too, even though their knees won’t let them play in the big game.

”We’re all in the building every day. Carson, I think he shows up at 5:30 or 6, something like that,” Peters said. ”We’re just all embracing it and trying to help our position out.”

The aforementioned guy in the shark costume Niklas Hjalmarsson Jersey , wearing a credential for ”TYT Sports,” was attempting to dive into Patriots center David Andrews’ deepest fears. Andrews readily called himself a ”scaredy cat” and acknowledged a fear of clowns.

”Clowns are out,” he said. ”Birthday parties. Circuses. Clowns are a no go.”

In the thick of the throngs of media on the floor was 39-year-old Patriots linebacker James Harrison, the oldest active defensive player in the league who’s at his third Super Bowl after reaching two with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He wasn’t interested in reflecting on that or much of anything else.

”I’m just blocking this out,” Harrison said, after declaring the questions from reporters the most annoying part of his Super Bowl week. ”Football is always the focus in my head. I’m running through defenses right now. I’m not really listening to what you’re saying.”

Wait, why such malignant thoughts about media night?

”Because it’s unnecessary. It’s useless,” Harrison said. ”You ask me questions that don’t matter, that don’t have any consequence or nothing about the game.”

Patriots guard Shaquille Mason was more of a willing participant in the silly side of the event. Asked what precious metal Harrison reminds him of, Mason replied, ”some kind of iron.”

Up in the seats was Patriots bushy-bearded defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, in blue jeans, a leather jacket and a pencil stuck behind his ear. Leaning back in a seat as if he were a hockey fan watching a game, Patricia complimented a reporter for his focus in asking a repeat query about his impending hire as Detroit’s head coach. Patricia predictably declined to entertain any questions about the Lions.

”I am very concerned right now about making sure our players have the best possible experience,” Patricia said.

He meant the Super Bowl itself. Media night, well, for most of the coaches, players and even some of the media itself, that’s one to get over and get through.

”Can we go home now, coach?” one player playfully yelled to Belichick as he walked by his podium.

To which Belichick replied, ”I don’t know. We haven’t heard the whistle yet.”

01-31-2019, 11:44 PM
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