Looking back on life is never easy. For example, I have never fit in and people that I trust have let me down. It is painful, gut-wrenching, and most importantly, a constant. Even if loyalty has gone the way of chivalry, I still ascribe to it. As a Viking fan, there is nobody I have trusted more in my star-crossed tenure as a fan of the purple than Antoine Winfield. Unlike people that I know in my personal life, he is a rock. I know what he is and who he is: the heart and soul of my Vikings defense and my kind of guy because he is honest, tenacious, and dedicated. He is not my all-time favorite (probably a toss-up between Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss) or my sentimental favorite (Cedric Griffin because he signed my football at Ridgedale while chatting me up about the Texas Longhorns). But, he is the most reliable Viking to me because he is all heart; there is nothing that this guy won’t do to contribute to the mission of winning football games. The Vikings would have gone 0-3 to start out their season in 2008 if not for Antoine Winfield. He destroyed the will of the Panthers with an impressive strip and score just before halftime to ignite a comatose atmosphere and an apathetic fan base that grew tired of the terms “Chilly”, “T-Jax,” and “kick-ass offense.” Will the Vikings run the table and win four straight en route to a championship? It is unlikely but Winfield is so deserving of winning a title. Nothing would be finer than seeing him victorious on the grandest stage.
Antoine Winfield signed with the Vikings nearly nine years ago. I am amazed at how my own personal life has changed in those nine years on some simple level but I am more grounded and ashamed when I realized how things have not really changed or gone the way that I had wished. It gives me pause when I recollect, knowing that in the time that Antoine has been the heart and soul of my defense, both of my sisters graduated high school and college and are now productive and talented members of society. Antoine’s first game as a Viking cornerback came on the Sunday after Labor Day was against the Dallas Cowboys. The running back for that Cowboys team was Eddie George. It is amusing that as I type this, Eddie George is on the TV now as a FOX studio analyst as part of their Cotton Bowl broadcast. On the March evening that Antoine signed with the Vikings, I was driving my small red car down Highway 23 while battling the necessary evil that was a Minnesota winter that had no clearly designated expiration date. The black Ford Explorer ahead of me skidded and did an abrupt turn while resting on the shoulder of highway. I drove past the SUV but I never saw his/her reaction. It might have been like mine; stunned and overwhelmed. Or maybe scared? I guess I don’t know, most things are outside of my area of expertise. But I do know that if I was closer while trailing that powerful car, I probably would have been involved in an accident that would have totaled my car. I kept on going and proceeded to a four-way stop sign in Paynesville. I received a call from my friend. He notified me that the Vikings had signed the cornerback that I wanted them to sign, Antoine Winfield, and the wide receiver complement to Randy Moss that I would rather have lived without in Marcus Robinson. Getting Antoine was a blessing, a special addition that improves a football team in so many ways. Even though he is older now, the value he has as someone who has immense experience is vital to the younger players just getting started. He is an outstanding leader and tackler, skilled in the tactical and mental component of the game as well as making a difference with his physical abilities. While he was never blessed with elite timed speed or the prototypical 6-foot frame that general managers and myopic fans drool over, Winfield on the surface is the best free-agent signing during my lifespan as a Viking fan. Having to suffer through the play of so many inferior Viking corners like Cris Dishman and Denard Walker prompted all of us as Viking fans to put a stud cornerback on top of our yearly Christmas wish list. Antoine has been through so many coordinator changes, quarterback moves, and philosophical changes. But, he will be in the playoffs tomorrow night with his teammates. Different Vikings teams have disappointed me throughout my life to the point of me developing a special spider sense whenever the stakes are high as part of some haphazard coping mechanism that I can cling to when the inevitable painful outcome happens. It never works but I will always be appreciative of Antoine Winfield because he is still here as the heart and soul of my Viking squad, even if he is not the same player. I may have the same feelings of awkwardness and insecurity that I did on that winter evening of several years ago. It does not matter now though because like Antoine, I am still here.