Forgive them if Sunday night’s win over the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North title meant a little more to them.
“I think as an older guy it means a lot more. Definitely,” Robison said Sunday night in the Lambeau Field visitor’s locker room as peeled off the tape that regularly surrounds his body on a game day. “You understand how hard these are to come by in the NFL and so a lot of the young guys don’t understand that. Hopefully they don’t have to understand that. Hopefully they keep winning them. As an older guy that’s kind of had some drought years and things like that, it means a lot.”
Black Rocktape creates patterns on a his back. White athletic tape encircled the fingers on his hands. After the weekly wars that feature oversized NFL bodies colliding at least 16 weeks a year, somewhere between 50 and 70 plays on average per game, there is little doubt the appreciation for the accomplishments among the elder statesmen of the locker room is heightened.
Sunday night, as the black t-shirts and gray hats adorned their chiseled, yet beaten bodies, the post-game attire was a reminder of what it felt like to win the NFC North.
“We haven’t won four in a row like the Packers. This is only our third in my 10 years and those guys nine years,” Greenway, said referencing the 2007 draft picks in Peterson and Robison that followed Greenway’s 2006 draft class. “We know how hard they are to come by, especially the way Green Bay has been the last four years. You appreciate moments like this. This why you do it. It’s just a great feeling.”
While Sunday provided a prideful production for the purple, Monday brought the same the sense of soreness that so often follows an NFL game. For Peterson, who suffered a lower back injury, he dreaded the Monday morning-after rude awakening.
But the punishment to the bodies was at least rewarded with a title of some sort this time.
“Going back to 2009, that’s the last time we won it, so the guys that have been around here for a long time, it hasn’t always been pleasant seeing Green Bay wearing these (NFC North Champion) hats and these t-shirts,” Peterson said. “With that, it definitely means a little more to the guys that are eight-years plus here with this organization.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer just finished his second regular season at the helm of a franchise, but even he could relate to the smiles surrounding the locker room, in the team bus afterwards, and the plane ride home following the 256th game of the 2015 NFL season.
He’s hoping the first win in the 2016 calendar year isn’t the last win clamed on the Vikings’ 2015 ledger.
“You never know how many opportunities you’re going to get,” Zimmer said. “I’ve been in the NFL 22 years and won the Super Bowl my second year and haven’t been back. It’s awful hard, and when you get these opportunities you have to try to take advantage of them. I think a lot of our older guys, as you said, understand that it doesn’t come every day. Hopefully our young players, when we continue on in the future, they don’t take this for granted. Just because they went 11-5 their rookie year doesn’t mean they’re entitled to do that.”
Some of the veterans weren’t even sure they would scratch their way back to top of the division. They had been to the penultimate peak with the 2009 NFC Championship Game and endured the ensuing lean years, which included a 5-10-1 season in 2013 and a 7-9 record last year. After that, 11-5 fits them well.
“I think I speak for all the older guys when I say that this is an opportunity we weren’t sure was going to come back around,” Robison said. “I think Zimmer has brought that mental attitude for us, that we feel we can do this. When you get an opportunity like this in front of you, you’ve got to go get it. … It’s going to be here today and may be gone tomorrow and it may never come back.”
The fact that the Vikings won the division on the final week of the season, in the last game of the NFL’s regular season on prime time, against the Packers – who had won the division the previous four seasons – made the moment more precious.
“We haven’t had a good record against them,” Greenway said. “Knowing if we lose we were coming right back here next week, we didn’t want any part of coming back to Lambeau twice in a row. It’s a great feeling to win the division. That’s the No. 1 goal when you set out in training camp and the No. 2 goal is get the conference and then title. We’re on our way.”
Taking it away from the Packers on their home turf didn’t hurt, either.
“Heck, yeah,” Robison said. “That’s a monkey that’s been on our back for a while and we were able to get that done.”
On Nov. 22, the Packers beat the Vikings 30-13. Two weeks later, the Seattle Seahawks pounded Minnesota again at TCF Bank Stadium, 38-7.
So pardon the Purple if they aren’t willing to concede a victory this Sunday against the Seahawks, who have won the conference each of the last two years.
“The only thing that’s left is a championship,” Peterson said.