Holler: No prodigal-son welcome for Ponder

Minnesota Vikings fans moved on from Christian Ponder before the organization, but they will get another chance to see him Saturday night … on the visitors side of the ball.

As the Vikings prepare for the final preseason home game at TCF Bank Stadium, they will do so as part of an odd homecoming that, four years ago, most hoped and expected wouldn’t happen.

Their opponent Saturday will be the Oakland Raiders and under center for a pretty good chunk of that game is going to be quarterback Christian Ponder, who at one time was viewed as the Vikings’ franchise quarterback of the future.

Ponder’s time with the Vikings was never the idyllic storybook version of an NFL life that fans were hoping to see when he was selected with the 12th pick of the 2011 draft. At the time, the NFL and its players union were embroiled in a work stoppage that had many fearing we could see a fall with limited football. The NFL was preparing for it – when the schedule was released, it included an entire week of non-conference games in the event the league had to go with a truncated schedule that would eliminate at least one week of games. It was in that turmoil that Ponder came to the Vikings and things were never as they should have been with Ponder at the wheel of the Vikings ship.

In his rookie season, Vikings fans were clamoring for Ponder. Not because he was so impressive that it was difficult to keep him on the sidelines, but because veteran Donovan McNabb was so awful that the Vikings were left with little choice but as to replace him with Ponder.

To his credit, the only season in which Ponder played in all 16 games was the only season since 2009 that the Vikings made the playoffs. Adrian Peterson and his 2,096-yard rushing season had much more to do with the Vikings’ 10-6 record than Ponder, but he did his part as well, leading fans to believe that, under the right circumstances, he could be a solid game manager and an on-field winner.

However, the roof caved in on his Vikings career from there. Entering training camp in 2013, Ponder was the unquestioned starter. Following a playoff debacle in which Ponder was hurt and couldn’t play and Joe Webb stunk up Lambeau Field, the Vikings brought in veteran Matt Cassel as a backup. The point was made clear that Ponder was the starter and Cassel was the No. 2 guy.

A year later, the script was flipped and Cassel was the unquestioned starter, Teddy Bridgewater was the quarterback of the future and Ponder was the odd man out – playing out the string on the final year of his rookie contract with the clear indication that he wouldn’t be coming back following his lame duck season of 2014.

It was clear during the preseason, which also included a home game versus Oakland, that the fans had moved on. With the crowd chanting, “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!” at every opportunity, Ponder was booed when he took the field. The fans were letting their feelings be known that they didn’t have the confidence in Ponder as a long-term answer at quarterback and that they were fully prepared to move on.

By the time the season ended, Ponder had resigned himself to the fact that there likely wasn’t a scenario under which he would return to the Vikings. His time in Minnesota was done and, despite having led the only playoff season since Brett Favre, his services were no longer required.

Ponder may never be a full-time NFL starter again, but he will have a chance to show Vikings fans what he is capable of doing as the Raiders come calling to The Bank. Odds are he will likely hear the same chorus of boos he heard last summer during the preseason. The only difference is that it will be from the road fans this time, not the home fans.

Big things were expected from Ponder when he was a member of the draft class of 2011. It didn’t work out and the Vikings wasted little time in finding a replacement. The organization and its fan base hasn’t looked back since, moving forward with Bridgewater as the new face of the offense.

Whether he is viewed as a colossal first-round bust, a misspent draft pick or a victim of circumstance, the Ponder Era didn’t last long in Minnesota. As a firmly entrenched backup in Oakland behind Derek Carr, Ponder may never realize his dream of being a NFL starter, but, when he was allowed to start all 16 games, he led his only team to the playoffs, which should stand for something.

It will be interesting to hear fan reaction when Ponder takes the field Saturday night, but, if last year was any indication, he likely won’t get the prodigal son response.

Sometimes franchise quarterbacks don’t work out and teams have to move on. In the case of Ponder, it was a bad fit that never found a way to fix itself and now the Vikings move on with fans energized about a new young quarterback and leaving Ponder as a distant memory that doesn’t improve over time.

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