Teddy Bridgewater’s return: ‘I know it’s going to happen’

Published 9:34 pm Thursday, July 27, 2017

MANKATO — Minutes after Teddy Bridgewater’s left knee dislocated beneath him, the result of one bad step on a routine drop-back during practice nearly a year ago, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback was hustled into an ambulance.

Head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman went with him. Bridgewater’s promising NFL career was hanging in the balance. The fate of his leg was, too.

“I’m pretty sure both of us were pretty nervous about that conversation,” Bridgewater said in his first media address since the massive injury shook the organization 331 days ago.

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“I’m glad everyone reacted in a timely manner and we were able to save my leg, if that’s what you want to call it.”

Thanks to the quick work by Sugarman and his staff and the paramedics on the scene at Vikings headquarters that afternoon, Bridgewater avoided nerve and arterial damage that could have forced an amputation.

He still faced an arduous recovery from a torn ACL and other ligament damage that ended his third season just 12 days before it was to begin.

“Just a play-action pass. I can’t even remember, it was so long ago, but I just remember being out there laying on the ground,” Bridgewater said, as the Vikings held their first full-team practice of training camp.

“The biggest thing I remember was the guys supporting me. As I was out there on the ground, different guys came up, holding my hand, praying for me. It just says a lot about the character of the guys we have around here. I’m thankful to be a part of this team.”

The mystery now, after 11 months of rehabilitation that Bridgewater said has included no setbacks, is when he’ll actually play in a game again.

He’s made so much progress, mostly logged through bread crumbs he’s left on social media and incrementally affirmed by public remarks from general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and admiring teammates, that the “if” part of that question has essentially been eliminated.

“We don’t know when it’s going to happen,” Bridgewater said, “but for me, I know it’s going to happen.”

Flashing his signature wide smile often during the interview session, Bridgewater credited his “amazing DNA” for the fortitude to work his way back.

His mother, Rose Murphy, is a breast cancer survivor. He also spoke of renewed appreciation for simple skills such as walking and dressing and increased motivation for on-field success.

“You have your days where you don’t see the progress, but it’s a long process. I’m in it for the long haul, and I want to be the best version of Teddy that I can be,” he said.

“It’s a roller coaster that you go on, but for me, I’ve had so much support that I’ve had more great days than I’ve had bad days.”

Bridgewater is on the physically unable to perform list and will almost certainly start the season there. With Sam Bradford in place as the starter and Case Keenum added as an experienced backup, there won’t be much reason for the Vikings to rush him back this year.

Even Bridgewater, after speaking with Frank Gore and Willis McGahee about their recovery from similar injuries as NFL running backs, sounded accepting of the reality that he might not see the field until 2018.

“The common theme is take your time,” Bridgewater said.

He said he’s not worried about getting hurt again.

“That first initial hit or contact will tell me, ‘Hey, I can do this,’” Bridgewater said. “Like I said: ‘If I can do it one time, I know I can do it forever.’”

Bridgewater declined to answer a question about what doctors have told him about regaining his full strength and mobility. He has been seen moving around with a knee brace this summer, though.

He said on Thursday he thinks he’s running well. He’s able to take play-action drops like the other quarterbacks, the same kind of ho-hum, non-contact drill that led to the “freak accident” that forever altered his career and life.

“I think he’s in a good place right now, and I kind of think he sees the end-game now,” Zimmer said.

With Bradford playing on an expiring contract, the Vikings have found themselves in an awkward spot, business-wise at least, after predictably declining to pick up the fifth-year option on Bridgewater’s rookie deal.

There are ways they can table a decision, including using the franchise tag next season on Bradford, but at some point in the near future for salary-cap purposes they’ll have to pick between one or the other for the long term.

“It’ll play itself out, I’m sure,” Spielman said.