The injury was so devastating that Mike Zimmer, as hardened as they come, ended practice early. He barely could get the words out when talking with reporters. His quarterback was done for the season.
It was Aug. 30, 2016 when an ambulance was called to the practice fields in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where the Vikings train. Teddy Bridgewater suffered a horrific injury to his left leg: a torn ACL, a dislocated left knee cap along with some ligament damage.
It left Zimmer so stunned that he called his mentor, Bill Parcells, for advice.
Keep moving, Parcells told him. Fight for your team.
“You need to figure out what works, what recipe works,” Parcells told Sports Illustrated about his conversation with Zimmer. “And tomorrow morning, once the shock wears off, nobody’s going to give a [expletive]. It’s his problem. He’s gotta figure out how to win now.”
Zimmer did and last season he coached his team in the NFC Championship Game. And now Zimmer will coach the best quarterback of the 2018 free-agent class, Kirk Cousins, who recently signed a historic three-year, $84-million contract that is fully guaranteed.
Move on Zimmer did.
But what about the quarterback who was supposed to be the face of the franchise? Bridgewater has moved on, too. Last week the free agent signed a one-year deal with the Jets that could be worth $15 million with incentives.
Bridgewater had to overcome so much just to get to this point. He missed nearly two years of his NFL life before getting this chance. A chance to compete again for a starting job. To play in the NFL. To be a professional.
“I was a few feet away from Teddy when he suffered his injury,” said Giants coach Pat Shurmur, who was an assistant coach with the Vikings when Bridgewater got hurt. “Watching all year how hard he trained to get back on the field, I’m thrilled that he has gotten an opportunity to continue his career. Teddy is one of my favorite people in this business.”
At one point it didn’t seem as if the opportunity would be possible. After suffering the injury, there not only was doubt about his career continuing, there was concern whether his leg could be saved.
“Probably,” Bridgewater said last year when asked if he thought his leg would be amputated. “I just know that I was in the back of the [ambulance] and the trainer was back there with me and we had a conversation and I’m pretty sure that both of us were pretty nervous about that conversation.”
His leg was saved, and now it’s on to his career. He’s no longer a savior. If anything, he’s the backup quarterback to Josh McCown, who will be 39 when the 2018 season starts.
Bridgewater is a 25-year-old who still might have a bright future.
He was the Vikings’ 32nd pick of the first round in the 2014 draft. In 30 games, 28 starts, Bridgewater completed 64.7 percent of his passes with 28 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. In 2015, he led the Vikings to the NFC North title and a playoff berth. He also was selected to the Pro Bowl. The future looked promising.
Then it happened. During a non-contact drill in one of the last practices of training camp, Bridgewater made the wrong step and went down.
He couldn’t get up and Zimmer ended practice. Season over.
After the Vikings trainers quickly mobilized his leg to help save it, Bridgewater began the painful rehab process. Videos surfaced of him throwing passes with a heavy black sleeve on his knee.
“Right now, I’m still in the process of learning my body all over again,” Bridgewater said to NFL.com last summer. “And it’s been fun because you learn new things about yourself that you didn’t know before. And you find different strengths and weaknesses and you try to tweak everything so that everything is a strength. Right now, I’m focusing on my overall body from head to toe and that’s just what’s most important.”
Bridgewater didn’t quit and finally last season he was cleared to play in an NFL game.
He was Case Keenum’s backup for a Dec. 17 game against the Bengals. He entered the game to a standing ovation and got emotional.
“Man, I was trying to keep it together,” he told The Associated Press of his reaction to the crowd. “It’s just opportunities like these don’t come around twice. So when you get that second opportunity, you cherish it and you hold it and you never want to let it go. Today it got the best of me.”
It was his first appearance in an NFL game since a 10-9 loss to the Seahawks in the NFC wild-card game on Jan. 10, 2016.
Now we are weeks away from the first workout at the Jets’ practice facility, where Bridgewater will start throwing passes to Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse. He’s going to jog up and down the grass fields at Florham Park and take part in stretching exercises. He’s going to throw passes in the Jets’ field house.
He’s going to get adjusted to living in New York. He arrived here Wednesday night and spent several days working on the contract details and taking his physical.