Normally, this editorial page does not concern itself with the weighty subject of NFL football games and certainly not games that will be played in so distant a clime as Green Bay, Wis.
But we make an exception this week as the NFL playoffs get underway with four games this weekend. And we are particularly interested in how the playoff game in Wisconsin will unfold.
The Minnesota Vikings will play the Green Bay Packers on Saturday at 7 p.m. Chances are, more than a few area football fans will be watching and rooting for the Vikings.
Certainly, fans across the nation have been captivated by the story of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, whose 2012 season is one of the truly great accomplishments in NFL history. In his sixth season in the NFL, a time when most running back are beginning their inevitable decline, Peterson had his best season as a pro. The circumstances that accompany his story make that achievement even more astounding: Despite suffering a major knee injury that required major surgery just nine months before the start of the season, Peterson ran for 2,097 yards, only nine yards short of the NFL record for rushing yards in a season. Typically, injuries such as the one Peterson suffered require a full year of recovery. Peterson didn’t miss a game, though.
Given that, it is easy to understand why Peterson’s performance has earned the respect and admiration of fans everywhere.
But around these parts, there is another compelling reason to root for Minnesota.
The Vikings are coached by one of our own — Columbus native Leslie Frazier.
As it is with Peterson, the back story of Frazier’s ascension to prominence in the ultra-competitive world of NFL coaching provides inspiration. Raised in Columbus under difficult circumstances, Frazier excelled as a defensive back in high school, but was never considered a top college prospect.
After a standout college career at Alcorn State, Frazier’s dreams of the NFL might well have ended before they really began. No NFL team seemed much interested, but Frazier was not deterred.
He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears and played three seasons. Interestingly, he was among a handful of Bears’ players who were featured in the Bears’ “Super Bowl Shuffle” video, which became something of a sensation as the Bears stormed to an NFL title during the 1985 season. That Frazier would be cast in such a role is both surprising and amusing, given his natural humility and distaste for the spotlight.
Although his NFL playing career was brief, Frazier achieved an unlikely goal in making it to the NFL in the first place. It did provide a glimpse into his character, however.
After his playing days, Frazier began his long climb up the coaching ladder, again starting modestly with his first coaching job at tiny Trinity College, which was just starting its college football program. For nine years, Frazier built a solid program at Trinity before moving to the NFL as an assistant coach. For 11 seasons, Frazier moved steadily through the ranks, paying his dues as an assistant at Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and, finally, Minnesota.
Ten games into the 2010 season, he replaced Brad Childress as the Vikings head coach.
Until this season, Frazier’s success had been limited, with the Vikings winning just 16 of 38 games under Frazier’s tenure.
Those familiar with Frazier should not be surprised that he did not crumble under difficult circumstances. He never has, after all. At every point in his life, he has attacked the obstacles with quiet dignity and steady resolve.
This year, despite a roster that aside from the remarkable Peterson is considered only marginally talented, the Vikings finished with a 10-6 record.
Even after beating Green Bay in last week’s final regular season game — a win the Vikings needed to make the playoffs — the Vikings and Frazier are one again decided underdogs to the talented Packers.
You sort of have the feeling that Frazier wouldn’t have it any other way, though.
And, yes, we will be watching.
Correction: In Slim Smith’s column in Wednesday’s edition, Smith wrote Congressman Alan Nunnelee flies back and forth to Washington on a private jet. Mr. Nunnelee flies commercially. We regret the error and apologize to Mr. Nunnelee.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.