Two former Minnesota Vikings officially called it a career this week. Both of them were dynamic. Both of them were supremely talented. But, both of them couldn’t been more different.
Nobody can deny that Jared Allen and Percy Harvin were epic talents. The Vikings traded a first-round pick and two third-round picks to acquire Allen from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. The following year, the Vikings used their first-round pick on Harvin.
Both Allen and Harvin were larger than life characters. Allen was a difference-maker coming off the edge and constantly attacked quarterbacks. Harvin was a Swiss army knife that was bringing his unique, unorthodox style of play that electrified the SEC and brought it to the NFL.
Most players had to conform their styles of play to the NFL. Allen and Harvin never did. They didn’t need to.
Allen left the game on his own terms, announcing his exit from the league on social media while riding horseback. This week he made it official, signing a one-day contract that ended his career in Minnesota, where he enjoyed his greatest success.
He left on his own terms and smiling all the way. His next visit to a Vikings game may well be for his quick induction into the team’s Ring of Honor, which would be more the deserved.
Despite playing with a reckless style and blessed with speed that often got offensive linemen with bad intentions taking cheap shots at his knees, Allen was able to survive and thrive. However, by his own admission, by the time he left Minnesota, one of his closest friends was Eric Sugarman, the Vikings’ trainer. They spent a lot of hours together over his last couple of seasons in purple and gold working through injuries that rarely kept Allen off the field.
For Harvin, it was a different situation completely. He came to the Vikings in 2009. The Vikings already had a young player he admired very much – Adrian Peterson. They added a player his rookie season that pretty much everyone in the locker room – vets and rookies alike – were in awe of. That guy’s name was Brett Favre.
If there was anybody that was going to help the seed of a rookie wide receiver bear fruit, it was Favre. One of his primary Hall of Fame achievements was getting wide receivers paid. He did it with just about every guy the Packers threw out for more than a decade.
He got Sidney Rice paid.
He got Harvin paid.
It’s what he did.
Nobody knew how to exploit a player’s strengths more than Favre. Harvin was like a new toy at Christmas. He was a threat to break a play to the end zone every time he touched the ball. Brett loved those guys.
The knock on Harvin coming into the NFL was that he was going to be a dynamic fad. By his playing style alone, when NFL defenders get a chance to put your lights out, odds are they do when collisions come at high speed. Harvin’s quintessential moment may have come at Lambeau Field when three Packers tried to apply the kill shot and all went down like bowling pins as Harvin ran on.
Coming from a history of teams where losing was rarely an option in high school and college, Harvin’s rookie year was a dream come true. He won a ring – and made the play in the Super Bowl that nailed the coffin shut. But Harvin’s career – with the benefit of hindsight – was what so many predicted from the outset.
He’ll burn hot and burn out.
In his four seasons with the Vikings, he missed just three of the first 57 games he played. At the time of his injury in Week 9 of 2012, Harvin was on pace to catch 120 passes for 1,300 yards and was in the legitimate MVP discussion.
Unfortunately, 54 of 57 games played came to an end. Harvin played four more years, being traded to the Seahawks and the Jets and finishing his career last year with the Bills. From the time of his 2012 injury, of the 55 regular season games his teams played, Harvin was part of just 19 of them. According to the locker room legend, he threw more punches than that over those three years.
Allen will be inducted into the Ring of Honor and don a purple jacket emblematic of that honor. Harvin won’t. But with what both gave to the Vikings organization, they earned every dollar they were paid. That should be as much the judge of a career than anything else.
Kansas City had Allen and burned the bridges. Chicago had Allen until John Fox told him he was a linebacker. Carolina had him for a Super Bowl run. But he will always be remembered as a Viking.
Harvin won a ring with Seattle. He played for Rex Ryan in both New York and Buffalo – clearly Rex was a fan. But his history in the NFL will be as a Viking. If you want to see the real Percy Harvin, you saw him in purple and gold.
In less than two weeks, the smartest guys in 32 rooms are looking for guys capable of tilting the field in their favor. There will be a player who reminds a scout of Jared Allen. There will be a player who reminds a scout of Percy Harvin.
But, for Vikings fans, they saw the best of both and know that the Vikings are the team that brings back those memories.