On Wednesday, Captain Munnerlyn became a two-time winner of the Korey Stringer Good Guy Award, given to the player who, on the vote of the local beat writers, was deemed the most accessible in good times or bad.
As long as they had Munnerlyn trapped in the semicircle of cameras and recording devices, he got peppered with questions about the malaise-filled 2016 season and his own future.
Asked if he expects he’ll have a chance to three-peat as the Good Guy Award winner – Munnerlyn is a free agent at the end of the season – he made it clear that, if he has a say in the decision, he wants to return to the Minnesota Vikings and finish what they started last season.
“Hopefully,” Munnerlyn said. “You never know. I know it’s a business. It’s the NFL. Things happen. Hopefully, I’m back around. I want to be here. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot here. I know the scheme in and out now. I know the organization, I know the coaching staff and I know my teammates. It’s not up to me. It definitely is a business, but, if it was up to me, I definitely would like to be here.”
Talking to the media is never a happy proposition following a loss, much less when the losses start piling up to the disbelief of coaches, players and fans. It’s easy to get players to speak up when the team is on a roll and the vibe at Winter Park is vibrant. When times are bad, the mood changes, especially when teams get off to such a strong start as the Vikings did.
Munnerlyn helped let the fans know that the Vikings weren’t giving up despite their injury woes and let them know they were going to keep fighting even when their numbers were depleted and the odds became more stacked against them.
“This year has been tough,” Munnerlyn said. “From a 5-0 start to being 7-8 right now, it’s definitely tough. But, just to talk to you guys, for you all to tweet or put out an article letting them know how the guys feel in the locker room. When we were going through that little slump of games, talking to you guys we were telling everyone, ‘We’re going to be OK. We’re going to be fine.’ The fans, they read that. The team still has high hopes and a great feeling that this team can turn it around. We definitely fell short.”
With the large number of injuries the Vikings sustained – from Teddy Bridgewater on down – the 2016 season has been an odyssey few teams have ever endured. They lost their franchise QB, their franchise player (Adrian Peterson), not one but two left tackles and numerous other key injuries along the way that sapped the depth out of the team.
Munnerlyn is no stranger to the NFL, but this has been the strangest season he’s seen in his career.
“This has been the weirdest and craziest season I’ve even been a part of,” Munnerlyn said. “Now I can say I’ve been through some crazy and weird. This is going to make us better as men and football players. Now we can move on from this season after this season and be like, ‘I have been through the ups and downs’ and now you just have to crawl your way out. We’ve got to see how this team will respond next year and the year after that.”
What has made the 2016 season such a source of frustration is that, for the majority of games, the Vikings were convinced they had their opponent where they wanted them – citing games against Detroit as examples.
But, for all the times players viewed the swarming media much in the way outdoors types view a swarm of wasps, the ritual of each NFL season is the same – the teams that win championships build momentum by playing well at the end of the regular season.
The Vikings weren’t one of those teams and that will likely be the legacy of the 2016 season – high expectations and lower results.
“In the NFL you have to start fast and finish stronger,” Munnerlyn said. “We didn’t do that. Teams that play well in November and December, those are the teams that make the playoffs and make that Super Bowl run. We didn’t do that at all. If you look at our record last year, we got hot in November and December. We won the games we needed to. This year we didn’t do that.”