Reunions are a fickle thing.
Sometimes, they’re a joyous occasion, such as a family reunion where one reconnects with loved ones that life has pulled in different directions. Class reunions are often reminders why many don’t live where they went to high school.
On Sunday, the Vikings are going to have a professional reunion with a former member of the family as the team travels to Tampa Bay to go up against the Leslie Frazier-led defense.
Frazier came to the Vikings family in 2007 after defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin was signed away to become the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was weaned on the Tampa-2 defense made famous by former Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy.
Almost from the outset, the even-keeled demeanor of Frazier belied a man who was a member of the most terrorizing defense of the modern NFL era – the 1985 Bears. It was unfortunate for Frazier that, as his teammates celebrated the culmination of their dream season – he was a background performer in the “Super Bowl Shuffle” video as a member of the Shufflin’ Crew chorus – he was underneath the Superdome preparing to head back to Chicago to get official confirmation that he had torn his ACL and his NFL career was essentially over.
He spent two years trying to come back, but his last game was Super Bowl XX. His career ended in an instant and, while some players would be bitter, Frazier moved on and went to the next stage of his life, becoming a coach and teacher of young men.
Frazier’s head coaching career didn’t last long. In three seasons, he made the playoffs once and lost double-digit games in the other two.
Frazier was fired, but didn’t stay unemployed for long. Lovie Smith was hired as Tampa Bay’s head coach after the Greg Schiano fiasco and one of his first hires was to bring along Frazier.
On Sunday, Frazier is the enemy. That’s how the NFL works. But prior to the game and after the game, there will be a lot of Vikings players coming up to Frazier to wish him well. Wins and losses are the only statistics that are associated with a coach in the NFL. Frazier doesn’t have a very good number next to his name. But if compassion, kindness and decency were factored in, he would be a Hall of Famer.
“It will be interesting. Obviously I’ve been with the guy for a long time and I have a lot of respect for him as a man and as a coach,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “It will be fun to play against, to compete against him. I had Fred Pagac this week in Buffalo, he’s the linebacker coach there. That was pretty emotional to have a guy coach you for eight years. You don’t have many relationships like that in this business. He holds a special place in my heart for sure and Leslie is kind of the same way. You go with a guy for that long, you’ve been through some stuff.”
When the Vikings meet the Buccaneers Sunday, the first job will be sparking the offense to take advantage of Frazier’s defensive scheme. No team has allowed more points this year and the Bucs have played one less game than most teams in the league.
Some reunions are great. Others have you shaking your head and questioning why you even went. For many of the Vikings players, the reunion with Frazier will be shared for a few seconds – a hug, a smile, a wave. He’s the enemy now and his defense is replicating why he isn’t the head coach of the Vikings anymore.
In the NFL, it’s a kill or be killed world and Frazier is on the other side of the wall. For three hours Sunday, he’s leading the charge for the Buccaneers defense. But Frazier’s imprint remains at Winter Park. Mike Zimmer inherited a roster largely influenced by Frazier the man, not Frazier the coach.
Those are big shoes to fill.
There will be a lot of love expressed on Sunday as Frazier’s former protégées pay their respects. He was the head of the family in which many of the siblings remain. It’s natural. They will wish him all the success life can bring him and his family. He’s earned that.
But for three hours on Sunday? Not so much.
Vikings prepare for Frazier reunion
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