On Thursday, as with most Thursdays, the center of attention was on Adrian Peterson. Cameras lined up and fought for filming position a half hour before A.P. arrived, so as not to show up late to the party. When Peterson did make his appearance in front of a makeshift podium, the throng could choke a horse.
In the meantime, backup offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles sits quietly at his locker just about every day that the media are allowed beyond the velvet rope into the Vikings locker room. Media members walk by without barely glancing his way or posing a question about the next opponent. In many ways, he’s hiding in plain sight.
Earlier this week when what a former Minnesota governor referred to as a “jackal pack” made its way into the locker room, Sirles was literally the center of attention.
Not by design.
Not by choice.
Rather, by location, location, location.
Sirles locker sits in between starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Andrew Sendejo. Why an offensive tackle is in between two defensive backs is likely something only a sports psychologist can answer, but, as luck would have it, both Rhodes and Sendejo came to their lockers and Sirles became the double-stuff in between the Oreo.
Reporters almost stepped over him to get to both Rhodes to ask questions about Alshon Jeffery and Sendejo to ask questions about his health. Sirles was merely collateral media damage.
It’s nothing unusual for him. As a rookie with the Chargers in 2014, he experienced much the same.
“It started last for me last year in San Diego,” Sirles said. “I was in between King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker, who were the two mainstays on the offensive line that everybody wanted to talk to. It started there, where I just got booted out of my locker. Recently, a lot of the same thing has been happening here when Xavier and Sendejo come to their lockers.”
The worst part is that Sirles is sitting on a chair when everyone else is stepping over him to get closer to Rhodes or Sendejo, often resulting in awkward sight lines.
“You’re at crotch level when you’re sitting – nothing uncomfortable about that, right?” Sirles joked. “The worst part is when they’re talking to both of them at the same time. That’s usually when you say, ‘Enough, I’m out of here.’ But, it’s fun to mess with the guys and make comments to what they say. It’s more fun and games than anything.”
It hasn’t always been that way. In Week 3, the Vikings were having their four-year reunion with the Chargers. The wolfpack was heading his way, but cornered him – rather than the standard, “Excuse me, uh…” pausing to look up at the name plate above his locker and finishing with, “Jeremiah.”
He didn’t know how to react. It had been a while since he was the center of attention and was perplexed as to why.
“My third week here when we were playing San Diego, I was just sitting here like I always do and all of the sudden I turn around and everyone is in front of my locker,” Sirles said. “My first thought, was ‘Whoa, what did I do? Why is everyone wanting to talk to me?’ Then I figured out it was because I had played in San Diego.”
Sirles takes it all in stride. When his playing days are over, he hopes to transition into the media, providing insight on football. But there are times when a reporter’s crotch or a cameraman’s butt inches away from his face can get old quick. At times, he’s felt the need to abandon his locker for the sake of his sanity.
“Some days it can get to you,” Sirles said. “There are days where you just say, ‘Oh, my God! Here we go again.’ That’s usually when you go to the hot tub or the cold tub or anywhere but here. A lot of guys hide around because there’s always somewhere to go, but there are times when (the media) is in here and you’re like, ‘Just go away.’ It’s part of the business. We understand you have jobs to do, too. I think that’s what makes it easier is that we know you’re just doing your job.”
There’s always kind of a running joke that players and coaches view the local media throng with the same affection as the U.S. Government. They’re a necessary evil of doing business. But, even then, it can get to a breaking point.
Sirles views himself as being pretty even-keeled. But when he was a guard at Nebraska and a reporter crossed a line he felt shouldn’t be crossed, he has been known to see red and go ballistic.
“In college, I snapped on a guy,” Sirles said. “He was talking about our lack of a running game and was being very passive-aggressive about it. He was like, ‘You guys only ran for 67 yards.’ I just lost it and said, ‘No one cares. We won!’ I think it was actually closer to 120 yards, but that was bad for us apparently and I just lost it on this guy. Our media relations people were like, ‘Yeah. You can’t do that.’ I lost it. I kind of had a little rant when they said they were going to fire (head coach) Bo (Pelini) at the end of my junior year. I was like, ‘You guys did this.’”
The biggest problem Sirles and his teammates have is that, while being an NFL celebrity has its perks, answering questions from people who have little to no concept of what it means behind closed doors to be a professional football player can get you to bite your lip until blood starts dripping into your mouth.
Some reporters will asked loaded questions. Some will try to bait players into a sound bite that potentially can travel worldwide and some that are just plain ignorant.
Those are the ones that get a player’s hackles up.
“I think everyone understands that if they do that, they lose a lot of respect immediately from the players and everyone else. We have a job to do. You guys have a job to do. But we always come prepared. We think of questions you’re going to ask and think of things to say. When you start asking questions that don’t make any sense, it almost feels like you’re wasting our time.”
Sirles may never be the darling of the media. He’s a player who stands a few feet to the left or the right of the spotlight, but he’s a cool guy with some stories to tell. All you need to do is ask him.
He hopes the day will come when he’s in the starting lineup and the swarm of reporters encircle his locker and make life as uncomfortable for the teammate on either side of him as he feels now wedged in between Rhodes and Sendejo in the cramped Vikings locker room.
That will be a day he’ll remember for a long time.
“If you’re around long enough, you get used to it,” Sirles said. “I just look forward to the time when I’m playing enough that the crowd of reporters comes to talk to me and the guys in the lockers next to me gets to experience it. That would be pretty sweet.”