The coincidences in signing fullback Thomas Tapeh were many.
First, Tapeh, who played four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, grew up in St. Paul and was on his way back to the Twin Cities late last week. He arrived on Thursday in preparation for a charity event put on by running back Marion Barber to raise funds for children with brain cancer. Tapeh got a call on Friday morning that he was going to meet with the Vikings, who were in hot pursuit.
At 3:30 p.m. Friday, he was being introduced to the Minnesota media as the Vikings' first free-agent signing and hoping to get to his younger brother's 4 p.m. basketball game, which was another reason he was back in town.
Already being in the Twin Cities made it easy for Tapeh and the Vikings to work out a deal quickly (it is said to be a five-year deal worth about $1.2 million per season), but his familiarity with head coach Brad Childress also accelerated the process. Childress was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia for Tapeh's first two seasons there, and Childress also tried to woo Tapeh to Wisconsin on a recruiting visit.
"He's a fun guy to play for, but one thing, he is about details. Even in Philly, when he was installing those plays, he tells you how he wants a route run. If he has to, he'll show you how to run the route – he'll try to show you how to run the route (laughing)," Tapeh said. "He's a details (coach) and he's very particular about what he wants and I like that. Me knowing exactly what he wants, I can go out there and give it my all and if he doesn't like it we can work together. That's what I like about him."
What Childress seems to like about Tapeh is his versatility as a fullback.
"We knew what we were looking for in a fullback, and as Thomas mentioned, there aren't a lot of knock-you-dead-in-the-hole fullbacks, although that's part of the job responsibility. It's more about being able to cover people up and find holes," Childress said. "He was able to carry the ball a little bit this year, and I think another one of the prerequisites is the guy has good hands as a fullback out of the backfield. The protection goes without speaking, but he does have those good hands and has a little bit of make-you-miss, and he can cover you up and run his feet."
According to Tapeh, the road to his well-rounded skill set wasn't easy. He suffered through hip and Lisfranc (foot) in injuries. His first season, he played in only seven games. His second was a complete washout.
"My rookie year I dislocated my hip and that process coming back was not an easy one, but with perseverance and hard work, all things are possible," he said. "I kept looking forward and I never looked back and I really learned what hard work was because of that. Coach, he saw me, and he saw what I went through and he saw me push through it, so he knows what I can do and he knows what is in me. I'm excited and I'm fortunate to be here."
"I left as a boy and I came back as a man. There is a lot that is in me that needs to come out and I'm fortunate that Coach Childress is giving me the opportunity to bring that out of me."
So Tapeh was already in the Twin Cities when the Vikings called to arrange an interview, he had already played for Childress and had been recruited by him (even if Tapeh had originally forgotten about that visit) out of high school, but there was one more point of irony in the events. On his way back to the Twin Cities, he ended up on the same plane as former Vikings fullback Tony Richardson.
Richardson had been in Philadelphia for an NFL program for continuing education, and the two sat on the plane and talked to each during the approximately three-hour flight. By then, Richardson probably had a good idea he was not coming back to the Vikings as an unrestricted free agent, but he might not have anticipated that he was talking to the man who would replace him on the roster.
According to Childress, who was appreciative of the work that Richardson put in while with the Vikings, the two fullbacks have the utmost respect for each other.
"It sounded like it was a mutual admiration society," Childress said.
Tapeh looked extremely comfortable at his press-conference podium with his Vikings hat on and Childress to his side. He smiled widely and joked often with a certain senior member of the media. But mostly, Tapeh was happy to be back in the place he called home during his high school and college years.
Instead of blocking for Brian Westbrook, who had back-to-back career-best and 1,000-yard seasons rushing the ball when Tapeh was his full-time fullback with the Eagles in 2006 and 2007, Tapeh now gets to clear a path for second-year sensation Adrian Peterson.
"I actually wanted to come to Minnesota, but I didn't know what was going on," he said of his time entering the league after a solid college career at the University of Minnesota. "At that time I was still just learning about the game, about the league, and as things started happening, it's amazing how things work, how God works. … That was a couple years ago and now I am home."
Stars Align for Tapeh
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