I spent Wednesday and Thursday flying around to two places, hitting Vikings OTAs on Wednesday and Saints OTAs on Thursday. This is my TV hit from Minnesota and here was mine from New Orleans. It was a whirlwind, but a productive experience. Now that my Columbia reunion is done, and I have some time, let’s recap.
Want some highlights?
First impressions: The first thing that struck me about both Winter Park in Eden Prairie, and the Saints facility in Metaire was the construction. Lots of it. Trucks everywhere, men working on things, both places are getting a facelift. Vikings VP Public Affairs and Stadium Development Lester Bagley told me now that the Vikings stadium deal is complete, redoing the practice facility is next. Good call. Both facilities are out-dated, and sparkling centers could help with free agents.
Best meal: The saddest thing about New Orleans was that I landed at 11 p.m. on Wednesday and left at 8 p.m. on Thursday. That meant no good meals. Quite sad. Even Cajun food, airport-style just wasn’t cutting it. I did dine well in Edina, Minnesota with Pioneer Press reporter Jeremy Fowler. Mexican food, tapas-ish cuisine was on tap, and the ahi tacos were fantastic at Barrio Tequila. So were the sopes (pictured). Who knew Mexican food could be so good in Minnesota?
Best random encounter: This is an easy one. I was a little surprised to run into Saints LB Jonathan Vilma at the airport as I was leaving to head back to Dallas and Vilma was flying to Miami. I was even more surprised that Vilma agreed to an impromptu interview about bounties and his lawsuit. I had to ask, but I didn’t know what he’d say. I know he’s been suspended for some alleged terrible actions, but in this instance, he was a total class act. I approached with cautioun, identified myself and simply asked if we could talk for an on-the-record interview. I knew it could go either way, but I was glad he did it. Afterward, we talked about his buddy Vince Wilfork and BBQ. So, that was nice.
Worst act of unkindness: I waited until Vilma’s wife and daughter went to the bathroom before approaching the linebacker. So when they got up, I had to move quickly. I grabbed my recorder and headed over to his gate. When I returned, someone had stolen my iPhone charger. Really guys? You needed a charger that bad? Wish I’d looked back and seen the dude who did it.
Best random show of competitiveness: During a slightly uneventful OTAs workout in Minnesota, injured stars Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson started racing. It wasn’t serious, but then again, it was serious. Harvin mostly dominated the races, but he dove at the fence twice when he thought Peterson was going to win. It’s a bunch of things that separate these guys from regular people, and insane competitiveness is one of them. It was easy and kinda cool to see.
What I learned from Rick Spielman: In Minnesota, I really enjoyed chatting with GM Rick Spielman, who helped with my piece on Christian Ponder. And I left not only with a belief that Spielman absolutely believes in Ponder, but also an understanding for how in-depth it is. I was fascinated by how far Spielman went to prove it. He researched it from different angles, poring over everything from Ponder’s personality tests to stats from his first season and comparing them to greats around the league. Ponder may not succeed, and the Vikings may continue to be terrible. But I really love the depth of their analysis.
And for the Saints: It’s way to early to know how the Saints will look in 2012. The assumption is that Drew Brees will sign, and they will be fine, but we’ll see. Still, the attitude they have is the right one. And it’s not just that they have taken on a bit of an underdog role. It’s also that they don’t hide from the bounty accusations and distraction from Brees contract. They don’t seem burdened by it, and they don’t seem to mind questions about it. Whatever happens, it’s a part of their season, and the players who talked to the media Wednesday seem to get that.
Joe Vitt is funny: OK, last thing. I know Joe Vitt is just an interim coach, but I bet a bunch of media members wouldn’t mind if he stuck around. Never one to be considered a media darling, Vitt has risen his interview game while filling in for Sean Payton. He was borderline hilarious with his comment about Brees dancing, for instance. For any question, he had a usable sound bite with a little bit of color. The Saints have been many things, and entertaining is one of them. Vitt helps that.