Sunday slant: Vikings West hoping for best

A handful of former Vikings are trying to get another Super Bowl, but Kevin Williams is praying his long wait for a coveted ring ends on Sunday night. Their paths to Seattle were very different, but several former Vikings are worth cheering for in Super Bowl XLIX.

Don’t be alarmed. This is not the Minnesota Vikings playing in Super Bowl XLIX, even it may seem like it. Of course, after almost 40 years removed from their last Super Bowl, Vikings fans are unfortunately too accustomed to that.

Vikings West has become the popular bemoaning cry of Minnesota fans bitter for the players they lost to the Seattle Seahawks, but Sunday’s Super Bowl should be a celebration for Vikings fans that had the chance to get to know some of the more down-to-earth players that moved to the Northwest after the Vikings decided to move on from them.

Chief among them is the man they called Big Ticket with the Vikings, Kevin Williams, a downhome southerner whose laidback attitude is hard to beat. Nothing fazes the big man. His career started with controversy when the Vikings failed to get their 2003 first-round draft pick to the podium on time and two teams jumped in front of them with the Baltimore Ravens selecting Terrell Suggs to the bitter disappointment of the voice of the Vikings, Paul Allen. He was busy getting the draft party crowd into a lather over the possibility of drafting Suggs, but when the Vikings failed to submit their pick on time – convinced they had a trade in place that fell through – and eventually selected Williams, Vikings brass said it was their plan all along to take Williams.

In hindsight, it would have been difficult to argue with either selection, but now is the time to feel good for Williams, who endured that start to his career in Minnesota, went through the coaching regimes of Mike Tice, Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier, and suffered the national storyline of StarCaps.

Ain’t no big thing for Big Ticket. He handled it all in stride, developing from an introverted rookie to a thoughtful veteran locker-room leader. After 12 seasons with the Vikings, including the Super Bowl dreamed being ripped away from him with a Brett Favre misfire, it’s hard not to celebrate Williams being in the Super Bowl in his first year in Seattle.

“There was nobody I was more excited for on this team when we actually got Kevin Williams and were able to deliver the first Super Bowl for him after 13 years,” linebacker Heath Farwell said. “There was nobody I was more excited for. He was so close in ’09 in Minnesota and we were able to finally pull the trigger and get it for him.”

Farwell, a special teams ace with the Vikings who came to Minnesota after Williams and left before him, can relate. Farwell experienced his own Super Bowl high last year with the Seahawks and, while has been on injured reserve this year, he’s getting involved in coaching since he can’t play. He’s hoping for another ring so he will have two of those “gaudy” things to pass down to his young sons, Brock and Beau.

If Williams’ journey with the Vikings nearly spanned his entire career, the cup of coffee that kicker Steven Haushka had with the team is barely remembered. In 2008, he was trying to break into the NFL in Mankato, but for an undrafted guy there was little chance of beating out veteran Ryan Longwell and he knew it.

But, despite several training camp practices that his kicks hooked one way or another wide of the uprights, he performed decently in preseason games, earning the eyes of other teams. Since then, he has been with the Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL, then back in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and finally the Seahawks, who claimed him off waivers in 2011. Last year, he, too, won a Super Bowl with them.

But Haushka remembers other former Vikings who have come and gone off the Seahawks roster. Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin joined the Super Bowl celebration last year with Seattle and have since gone, Rice retiring and Harvin being traded away because “it wasn’t a good fit,” according to Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who also was with the Vikings under Brad Childress.

“There’s great talent up there in Minnesota, and then I think Coach Bevell is one of the reasons why a lot of these guys ended up here because he could speak on behalf of them,” Hauschka said. “It is kind of Minnesota West, isn’t it? I don’t know exactly why that is, but I think it starts with (head coach Pete) Carroll and (general manager) John Schneider and just putting together an amazing group of talent. And Coach Carroll setting up an environment with a consistent message.”

Bevell has been an advocate for several former players from Vikings Midwest joining Vikings West.

“I think the first thing is we’re looking for our kind of guys. There’s certain qualities that we look for in those players,” Bevell said.

Tarvaris Jackson, the second-round pick of the Vikings in 2006, never panned out as a solid full-time starter for the Vikings, but he’s been a good backup fit for the Seahawks for the last three years.

For him, the attraction to Seattle is simple.

“Winning. It’s hard to explain. It’s a situation where you can be yourself. We have a lot of fun. We get the job done, but we have a lot of fun doing it,” he said. “I think for the most part it’s the way that we’re winning. Pete’s a players’ coach; guys love to play for Pete. That’s very attractive when you’re winning games. A few of us just came over to Seattle and for the most part it’s like everybody’s joining.”

To a man, the former Vikings said Carroll’s fun-loving, open approach is a big reason for the Seahawks’ success.

“Coach Carroll likes to have fun every day so there’s music out at practice literally the whole practice. Guys are dancing. They shoot hoops at the team meeting room and coach is playing funny videos just to kind of boost the morale,” Hauschka said. “Those are things that really don’t go on in the NFL. It’s kind of a military attitude throughout a lot of the teams. So Coach Carroll has kind of lightened the mood and allowed guys to play without having to hold back. Guys are playing loose and free and just flying around. I think that’s the best, purest sense of football.”

There are plenty of purple reasons to feel good about the former Vikings in the Super Bowl, from the early-career struggles of Hauschka and Jackson to the unsung-hero ways of Farwell.

But, mostly, Sunday’s view of the Super Bowl from Minnesota should be an appreciation for Williams – what he meant to the Vikings and his first opportunity at a Super Bowl ring after a dozen seasons of yeoman work at Winter Park.

The irony for Williams is that his free-agent choice last March came down to New England or Seattle. He visited the Patriots twice. Both were winning franchises, but the connections and familiar faces in Seattle helped tilt the decision. And he thought Jared Allen joining him in Seattle “was pretty much in bag.”

That move didn’t pan out, but after a “surreal” feeling of finally winning the NFC Championship, Williams has, as he put it, a chance for “one more confetti bath.” If the Seahawks win, he will contemplate retirement after an understated but decorated career.

He’s gone from the Williams Wall to the Legion of Boom.

And if that ring finally fits the weathered finger of Williams?

“No telling what kind of emotions come out,” he said.

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