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McFeely: Teddy Bridgewater brings down the house at U.S. Bank Stadium

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) drops back to pass in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) hands the ball off to running back Latavius Murray (25) in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS - Adam Thielen didn't say anything to Teddy Bridgewater after the Minnesota Vikings quarterback saw his first NFL action in almost 16 months. It's not that the receiver from Detroit Lakes, Minn., didn't want to. It's that he couldn't.

"I couldn't talk to him because I was too emotional," Thielen said in a jubilant Vikings locker room Sunday afternoon. "I would have lost it if I would have talked to him. I tried to just hold it in."

Thielen sounded more choked up about the special moment than Bridgewater himself.

"I didn't really feel much. It was just great being out there," Bridgewater said to a throng of interested reporters. "I have a ton of people to thank for getting me to this point. I can't name them all, but it was just a huge milestone to be able to get out there and call plays in the huddle, look the guys in the eye and sell hope to those guys."

Well, OK. But you'll excuse us if the rest of the sports world feels a little more impassioned than that.

The big picture after the Vikings stomped the wholly -disinterested Cincinnati Bengals 34-7 at U.S. Bank Stadium was that Minnesota clinched the NFC North title and a spot in the playoffs. Hope for the Super Bowl's host team getting to the game remains alive and well.

With all due respect to Bridgewater and starter Case Keenum, the tale of this team isn't who is playing quarterback. That's been a faux controversy. The real story is head coach Mike Zimmer's defense, which remains purely savage. That's what will decide whether Minnesota—the state and the team—can party hearty in early February.

The more interesting story on this day was seeing Bridgewater jog onto the field early in the fourth quarter and hearing 66,833 purple-clad crazies roar their approval while rising to their feet.

Bridgewater was back on the field and that meant something. Emotionally, it might have meant more than clinching the division.

It was Aug. 30, 2016, when the quarterback suffered a catastrophic injury to his left knee that had medical experts wondering if Bridgewater might lose his leg. While dropping back during a passing drill in practice, Bridgewater planted awkwardly and the knee dislocated. Every ligament in the joint was torn. The injury was so gruesome, it's probable quick work from the team's training staff saved Bridgewater's leg.

The initial belief was that Bridgewater, who the Vikings drafted in the first round in 2014 to be their franchise quarterback, might never play again. With that type of injury, how could he?

But more than a year of rehab brought Bridgewater to this point, 474 days later. He was activated six weeks ago amid much speculation of when, or if, he might play. The answer came after Keenum threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph with 12:53 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Vikings a 34-0 lead.

A chant began filling the cavernous football palace in downtown Minneapolis: "Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!"

"I'm just glad the glass didn't break on the roof, because I was a little worried once I found out he was going in," Rudolph said.

Zimmer obliged on Minnesota's next series and fans screamed. It was the loudest cheer of the day, louder even than when highlights of the Carolina Panthers scoring touchdowns on the Green Bay Packers flashed on the giant video boards.

"Usually when you have a dream and you wake up, you don't remember what happened in that dream," Bridgewater said. "I'm fortunate to pick up right where my dream left off. So that right there, nothing tops that. I'm happy I was able to experience it at home, in front of this crowd. They've been so supportive of me through tweets, emails, messages. It's just a great experience."

That Bridgewater didn't do much on his three series—a tipped interception, a drop by Michael Floyd and three kneel-downs—didn't matter. The act of playing, of being on the field after his knee was destroyed, was the big headline.

"It's just a great feeling. I don't think too deep into things," Bridgewater said. "The way I see it, you have a group of men in this locker room who uplifted their brother in a drought, in a hard time in his life. To see them so supportive of me, it motivated me. It was a great experience and I'm glad I got to experience it with this group of men in this locker room and we were able to clinch the division today."

If Bridgewater didn't seem overcome with emotion, there were many others who were. His teammates led the way.

"It was tough to hold it in. There was a few guys on the sideline who said the same thing," Thielen said. "What a class act, what a great guy, what a great football player. So excited to see him get the opportunity to go back on the field."

Said Zimmer: "It was kind of an emotional moment when he went out there, I thought, because we care so much about the kid."

By their reaction, Vikings fans feel the same way.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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