While Mike Zimmer tried to downplay the significance of the Minnesota Vikings taking on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, saying it’s more about preparation than who you play, he admitted he was the man behind having a t-shirt made up for his players this week.
On the front was an NFC North logo with the Vikings Norseman head. On the back was the message: “Beat Green Bay.”
“We’re making way too big a deal out of that,” Zimmer said Monday. “It’s just a t-shirt. You know, it’s a t-shirt. You can go down to the store and print them up.”
Sure, but this is the only game where reporters have seen a t-shirt printed up specifically for that game, and they were placed in every players locker with some of the support staff wearing them, too.
Rookie receiver Stefon Diggs said he didn’t know where the t-shirts came from.
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t make those types of decisions,” he said. “I just wear what I’m given.”
Nose tackle Linval Joseph said the black t-shirt was “nice,” but it might help emphasize the importance of the game. The Vikings (7-2) hold a one-game lead over the Packers (6-3) in the NFC North and would put distance between the two teams with a win in hand against them and a two-game lead if they can beat Green Bay at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Vikings are 4-0 so far this year.
“I mean, this is a big week, you know what I mean?” Joseph said. “Green Bay is a very good team, and we just have to execute small ball and 8-2.”
While fans are sure to be excited by the rivalry, veteran Chad Greenway offered some perspective. He grew up in South Dakota and played college ball at Iowa. But he pointed out that with such a young team, the border rivalry probably means more to fans than a collection of rookies and young players that reside on the team.
“Everybody’s young, across the league. The game has changed so much through the years; these rivalry games for players are a little different than for the fans,” Greenway said. “If you’ve been a fan of the Minnesota Vikings for 25-30 years, this rivalry probably means a lot more to you than Danielle Hunter, who’s been in Minnesota for six months. That’s just reality.
“So to a lot of these guys it’s about coming in and doing their job, and you’re just playing against another guy in another jersey. For me, being here 10 years, it means a lot more to me than it probably does for a lot of these guys.”
Brian Robison has been with the Vikings almost as long as Greenway, but for him it’s more about winning a division game. Still, he stressed the importance of the fans that will be attending Sunday’s game.
“Any time you have a division game, obviously it’s a little bit different than another game simply because it weighs a little bit more. Any time you can pile up wins in the division it separates yourself a little bit more so,” Robison said. “Obviously having Green Bay coming into our house, we need our fans in full force this week. It just allows us to get a key opponent on our list this week.”
Joseph is the sort of blue-collar player that won’t let outside influences affect his outlook on the game. He takes a big-picture approach.
“Like I said, I’m just focused on what I need to focus on, and I’ll let everything else fall when it’s time to come out,” he said. “But right now we need to prepare, we need to practice and we need to get better every day this week so we can go out and beat the Packers.”
Like Zimmer, Robison tried to downplay the significance of the shirts.
“Shirts are shirts,” he said. “I don’t care about shirts, it’s about what we do on Sunday.”