Sunday Notebook: Fan favorites

Last week's "State of the Vikings" address was a night dedicated to celebrating some of the best players on the team. The roundtable participants were full of stories and accolades for their players.

Although it's a bit of a touchy topic around Winter Park, at least one fan attending last week's "State of the Vikings" address wanted the team to get a deal done with Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield.

At a few junctures along the approximately 80-minute presentations, Winfield's name was shouted out by at least one supporter.

During the forum, Vikings play-by-play announcer Paul Allen asked vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman about Winfield's status.

"Antoine is a great football player for us," Spielman said, needing to pause for cheers before continuing. "It's an ongoing process and ongoing negotiation. It's all part of the business. We're going to do everything we can because Antoine is such an important part of our team. I know Coach (Brad) Childress identifies some guys that are core guys and we try to keep them all together as long as we can. Hopefully we'll have the same success with Antoine."

The benefit of having a veteran presence like Winfield in the defensive backfield may extend beyond the boundaries of the game-day field. According to linebacker Chad Greenway, Winfield's influence is felt on more than game days and more than just during a 9-to-5 work day.

"Physically, he's obviously a very good player. I've had this conversation with Antoine for my own game. A formation will come out and – for example, we're playing Green Bay and he'll just know the split of the outside receiver, the slot receiver, the running back's depth, where we are on the field – all these different things just based on that one formation and obviously there's 60 or 70 snaps (on defense) a game," Greenway said. "It's just due to him putting time in, and we meet all day, practice, walkthrough and we get home around 5 or 5:30 and that's when he takes it to the next level and that's when you take that extra little bit and apply it to your game. … Those important situations, you can pick up an edge, maybe a stance, maybe when the quarterback checks his motions. And that's the stuff that Antoine's done to take his game to the next level. And that's something a player such as myself, that's what I want to get better at."

Another player that received a rousing ovation from the crowd was Jared Allen. The Pro Bowl defensive end is more outgoing than Winfield – well, he's more outgoing than almost anyone with his on-the-edge pursuits – and the tales on Allen backed that sentiment.

"He's a little off-kilter. The wires are a sparking," Greenway said, pointing his head. "We went to South Dakota for a little pheasant hunting during the bye week and he was kickin' on the couch at my parent's house, waking up, kicking on the couch. One of the most regular guys you can have. But when he gets on the football field or in general when he's around football, he plays 9,000 miles all the time, but he plays the game the right way. He's just a funny guy to be around."

Spielman experienced some off-the-wall behavior from Allen's camp when the Vikings were negotiating his contract late one night last offseason.

"It was one of the most bizarre negotiations with his agent. We went down to a suite and we were down there until 1 in the morning with his agent and Jared and one of his friends. It was one of the most bizarre things that will be in a book someday that we can't talk about right now," Spielman said.

During those negotiations, a number of calls were placed to owner Zygi Wilf, but, despite Allen's entertainingly zany attitude – he posts videos online of his hunting pursuits and wore a full animal hide on his head during an entire national television interview – Wilf said he has no problem signing Allen's hefty checks.

"Believe me, it's a pleasure signing a check for a guy like him," Wilf said. "Last year he played many games, really when it counted, in such pain and such injury that it would have taken probably 9 out of 10 players out of the game. He played the game like a wounded bear. Seeing him chase those quarterbacks the way he was hampered reminded me of what the great players do when they face adversity. Seeing him go through that when we really needed him was something that I really admired."

Greenway was also asked about another teammate on the other side of the ball. When asked what would happen if the linebacker met running back Adrian Peterson in the open field if they were playing on different teams, Greenway responded, "I've got teammates," which drew a guffaw from the crowd. "He's the best running back in the game, bar none."

LOVE FOR LEBER

With Greenway being the only player participating in the roundtable, he was naturally asked most about teammates on the defensive side of the ball, especially his fellow linebackers, Ben Leber and E.J. Henderson.

"Leber is what I call a consummate professional, a guy that I want to learn from how to do things the right way. He's always on his assignment, always helps you along knowing the situations," Greenway said. "You watch the film, he makes very few mistakes in a game. It's a reaction sport and mistakes are made, but he just plays really good football and I think that's why you want to get a guy like him on the field because he makes good decisions."

Spielman said Leber's name may not be popular among NFL fans around the country, but he said those who evaluate talent know well what Leber can do.

"A lot of these guys may not be household names, but us as evaluators, as we watch him play, you watch anyone on other teams play … people know who Ben Leber is," Spielman said.

LINEBACKER NIGHT

The return of middle linebacker E.J. Henderson also brought out the bouquets. Henderson suffered the season-ending dislocation of multiple toes in Week 4 of the 2008 season. He is fully recovered and looking forward to getting back into action.

"He may get a few tackles before I get there. He's certainly a beast, and when we lost him in Week 4 he was primed to have a really good season. It's frustrating as a teammate and a friend to see him go down with the way he was playing," Greenway said. "I know he's physically ready to go and mentally he can't wait to hit somebody."

HUNGRY LIKE A WILF

Wilf's passion for the game is becoming more familiar to Vikings fans as they get to better know the owner of the team for the last four years. There is little questioning his love of football.

He was asked last week if he is enjoying himself as the owner.

"Absolutely. It's been a dream come true. To be the steward of a really such a great franchise, with all the tradition it has – I'm really a traditionalist when it comes to football. … We're getting better all the time."

Allen asked Wilf what it would be like if this team was the first in franchise history to win a Super Bowl.

"I certainly don't want to get ahead of myself, but I'll tell you one thing: It would be the proudest moment in our organization if we could win a championship for all the fans throughout the country and bring that home for them," he said.

Greenway found out the fine line between regular-season success and playoff success. Last year, the Vikings beat the Cardinals 35-14 in Arizona on Dec. 14. Less than two months later, the Cardinals nearly pulled off a Super Bowl upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"You just see how close we were. That's the thing that's the most frustrating. … That's why I think the fans are so excited," Greenway said.

NUMBERS WATCH

  • Welcome to 40 days until the Vikings' first training camp practice.

  • The Vikings have 30 new players on their roster right now. The total number is 82, but they are carrying five unsigned draft picks. The official offseason roster limit is 80, so any picks (or Brett Favre) that sign will result in a few more releases. On Friday, the team released three undrafted rookies to bring the roster down to 82.


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