Chester Taylor was a valued piece of the Vikings offense, but far from indispensable. He was a 30-year-old backup to Adrian Peterson who, barring injury, was never going to take over his position or even get to the point where he would be in a time share. In a way, one has to feel sorry for Taylor, whose career has never been able to pan out as hoped or anticipated. When he came to the NFL, he played for Baltimore, which had one of the game's top backs at the time in Jamal Lewis. When push came to shove and both Taylor and Lewis were free agents, the Ravens front office opted to pay Lewis and let Taylor try the free-agent waters. He signed a four-year deal with the Vikings and, after five years of playing second fiddle in Baltimore, he was going to get a new lease on life with the Vikings.
That lasted all of one year. Despite setting a franchise record for rushing attempts in a season in 2006 with 303 and rushing for more than 1,200 yards, when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson, it was obvious that Taylor's days as the top dog in the Vikings backfield were not only numbered, but all but over. A.D. made an early impression and, after a month of splitting carries, Peterson took over the leading role in the backfield and never looked back. After carrying the ball 303 times in 2006, Taylor's rushing attempts dropped in each of the next three seasons (157-101-94). Along the way, his average per carry also dropped in each of those years (5.4-4.0-3.6).
What made Taylor's situation so sad in many respects was that he has the talent to be a lead back in the NFL – the only time he was given a chance in his career to be a starter, he proved worthy of the challenge. But he was facing an uphill battle in both situations – coming into Baltimore with an established star on board and being in Minnesota a year before the biggest impact running back in franchise history got drafted. But what made Taylor special in the minds of his teammates was how he handled his demotion from featured back to supporting player. He never demanded a trade. He never groused or complained about the situation. He was never a divisive influence in the locker room. He was team player who showed more class than most in his situation would have. He was a credit to his team, his family and young players who might want to emulate him.
In many ways, Artis Hicks followed much the same path. A two-year starter prior to being traded to the Vikings, Hicks started his first 18 games as a Viking at right guard. As the Vikings struggled on the O-line at the start of the 2007 season, Hicks was replaced by Anthony Herrera and never won that job back. While he would start six games in 2008 – four at left tackle and two at right tackle – and three games in 2009 – one at right tackle and two at right guard – he never got a chance to be a full-time starter with the Vikings again. In his first 18 games, he started them all. In his final 43 games, he made just 13 starts.
But, like Taylor, you never heard Hicks complain. He had as difficult a job as any player on the team, having to learn the varied blocking assignments and blitz pickups for four positions and be ready at a moment's notice to step in at any of them. A lot of players that had been three-year starters wouldn't have accepted such a demotion with either class or dignity. Hicks did both and never wallowed in the "what if?" type of scenario that often accompanies a starter being asked to take a reserve role. He was a leader in the locker room who led by example.
In the big picture of things, the Vikings didn't lose a huge amount over the last two days. Neither Taylor nor Hicks were starters. Although valued role players, they were just that – role players that the team can hope to replace. But when Brad Childress took over as head coach, the Vikings were viewed as a punch line to a bad joke. In the aftermath of the "Love Boat" scandal, the Vikings were viewed as a team run amok and coach Mike Tice was seen as little more than a lenient Dean of Boys at Delta House. When he had the pencil taken away from behind his ear by Zygi Wilf, Childress was given the mission to clean up the Vikings and bring in players not only of talent, but of high character. Two of the first players he brought in to change the culture of the Vikings were Taylor and Hicks. In an "American Idol" type of purge, the "Taylor/Hicks" combo were plucked away in the span of a little more than 24 hours.
While the Vikings will find athletes to replace both of them, the loss the team will suffer will be in the locker room more than it was on the field. Both players were the type of guys that coaches loved, young players could turn to for advice and role models in every sense of the word. That kind of loss isn't as easy to replace.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.