Over the years, Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has earned a reputation for being a detailed talent evaluator, finding good players in the deep rounds of the draft that could fit in the Vikings’ system.
Not all of his picks have hit, but enough of them have that he has survived three coaching regimes without ever being mentioned as potentially following the fired coaching staff out the door.
But not all of Spielman’s decisions have been based on a wealth of experience or even logic. Sometimes, he just falls in the love with the idea of a player, not the reality of a player.
So it was that we climb into our Wayback Machine and set the dial for April 18, 2007.
Sports Illustrated had Sidd Finch – mythical baseball pitcher who could throw an ungodly fastball. Spielman had Todd Lowber.
Ten years ago today, the Vikings released a statement announcing the signing of Lowber, which brought a loud and decisive reaction from Vikings fans – “Who the hell is Todd Lowber?”
It didn’t take long for Lowber’s myth to build. He had never played college football. He was a basketball player at some phantom college in New Jersey – the fabled Ramapo College in Mahwah. You can’t make that up.
But what made Lowber of interest was his pure athleticism, which bordered on freakish. If we’re taking the word of the boys in Jersey, Lowber was reported to have run a 4.11 40 and could high jump seven feet.
At a time when you could start seeing just about every game tape of every football player in the world, Spielman saw a super-diamond in the rough – a guy who could be the second coming of Renaldo Nehemiah and exceed his non-football-guy-turned-football guy.
Lowber was 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and was faster than Randy Moss.
His legend spread through Minnesota as quickly and as prodigiously as Paul Bunyan. The heartbreaking loss of Randy Moss had fully scabbed over with the fan base and they weren’t thrilled with the post-Randy era of receivers the Vikings had.
It wasn’t like they were bums, but they weren’t Randy Moss.
Sight unseen, the Lowber legend was epic. A 4.11 40-yard dash? Are you kidding? The word in the NFL is that the difference between a wide receiver who runs a 4.51 and a guy who runs a 4.41 40 time (in that era before the rookie salary cap) was about $5 million at signing.
A 4.11? You’d need to call information on that one – and the documentation to attest that claim was hard to find. All that stood in the way was seeing the proof in the pudding.
It didn’t take long for people to start telling those new to the party not to eat the pudding. It’s gone bad.
Lowber wasn’t the next Randy Moss. He was the next Troy Williamson. He seemed have a problem with not only the symbiotic relationship between hand and eye, when asked to catch a pass over the middle he seemed to be much more interested in self-preservation than laying out to catch a poorly thrown ball.
It didn’t take long for the experiment to go wrong. Lowber made it through training camp, but was released on Aug. 27, 2007.
If there was any solace for Spielman and the Vikings, it was that they weren’t the only ones to fall under the spell of Lowber. The Giants signed him to the practice squad in 2007, The Cowboys signed him in 2008, and after being released, Miami signed him to its practice squad only to release him in 2009. He was signed three different times by the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL on three different occasions.
While he was a failed project, Lowber would have the last laugh. Although he never played in an official NFL game, because he was on the Giants practice squad in 2007 when New York ruined the perfect season of Moss and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, he owns a Super Bowl championship ring.
Ten years after the fact, Lowber has become a trivia answer that Spielman might just as soon forget. The legend of Lowber is one that will live on as an attempt by NFL teams to find the next big thing wherever talent (or non-talent) can be found.